Councilman files request for answers

Published 10:47 am Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ward 6 Councilman Don Blythe wants to know the number of empty store fronts, such as this one on Armory Drive, as well what the city's getting for its money from Economic Development. -- Stephen Cowles | Tidewater News


FRANKLIN—Ward 6 Councilman Don Blythe on Monday filed a Freedom of Information Act request demanding answers to some of his questions regarding the city’s economic health.

This comes a week after fellow City Council members did not second a motion made by Blythe to assign City Manager June Fleming and staff to research and report the following:

• Survey all empty buildings in the downtown, South Street, Armory Drive and shopping centers. Find the percentage of empty storefronts. Estimate revenue and jobs lost from these closed businesses, especially those that have closed since Jan. 1, 2010.

• Provide a list of large empty buildings in the area and asking prices.

• Since its inception, how much has been spent on the Pretlow Industrial Park, and how much revenue has it brought the city?

• How much is Franklin Southampton Economic Development Director John Smolak’s salary? What is the city’s share? Was his contract recently renewed? What do his counterparts in Isle of Wight County and Suffolk earn? Further, since Smolak took his position, list the industries he was responsible for attracting. Include the number of jobs and pay ranges. Do not include the Franklin Business Incubator. What are Smolak’s publicly stated goals and is he meeting them?

• What is the percentage of foreclosed home sales versus total home sales since January 2010?

Blythe said his FOIA request is specifically aimed at the details on Smolak’s salary and contract, as well as what he’s brought to Franklin in the past five years.

As for the rest, “All the information’s there. It’s just a matter of processing,” he said.

Blythe doesn’t buy the argument that researching these matters is “too costly for the staff.”

“That’s what they get paid for,” he said. “I think we need to focus on that to get a true picture. Franklin is steadily dying. Businesses are dropping out every day.”

Fleming had no comment Tuesday on Blythe’s request.

Ward 3 Councilman Greg McLemore said Tuesday he didn’t support the motion during last week’s City Council meeting because “I was unfamiliar with the details of his concern.”

McLemore acknowledged that Blythe’s interest is very reasonable, that citizens deserve that information and he will support Blythe if he brings it back.

Ward 5 Councilwoman Mary Hilliard said she figured Blythe could get the information related to downtown businesses from Dan Howe, director of the Downtown Franklin Association.

“I don’t think that city staff would have time to do that because of budget season,” Hilliard said.

Asked for his estimate of empty shops, Blythe figured it’s in the low hundreds.

After this information is collected and presented to the council, Blythe said he wants to share it with the public; he believes people want more transparency and accountability in their local government.

As with the recent issue of the Navy’s proposed plan to conduct practice landings at the airport in Franklin, citizens “need to be involved with City Council on this, and not just give it to the economic development commission and forget about it.”