The Real Reason There’s a “Skating Rink Lady” in This Municipal Election

Last night I was lucky to attend the candidates’ night hosted by the DeKalb Area Rental Association. Candidates running for DeKalb mayor and aldermen participated.

Some performances I liked real well, others I didn’t. Later, I realized the people who impressed me the least were the ones promising regular town hall meetings, ward coffee sessions, open-door policies, transparency!™ and citizen input up the wazoo.

Can it. I don’t believe you. You cross your hearts, and then all the promises are forgotten within months of each election (the notable exception being Mr. Naylor, who still holds occasional coffee chats).

Heck, I emailed the city council a few weeks ago and guess how many members responded? That’s right: not one. And yet some of these same people told me last night how important my input is.

Let’s bring the conversation around now to Skating Rink Lady. This is a new nickname that’s surfaced for mayoral candidate Jennifer Groce, who, as executive director of ReNew DeKalb, was head cheerleader for the $71,000 (plus Public Works and property costs) TIF skating rink boondoggle.

Ms. Groce first tried joking about it and later got serious about this “mistake,” basically saying that a few crash-and-burns are inevitable in a big project like the downtown redevelopment. Unfortunately, she is missing the point. The reason voters won’t let her live down the fiasco isn’t just because it failed, it’s because a small in-group was allowed to roll like a runaway train over the will of the people.

There was a large public outcry against the proposed purchase of the skating rink — remember the record numbers of comments at the Chronicle website after each rink story? — but ReNew DeKalb and the city ignored the opposition. They thought they knew better. They thought they had “vision,” while the public had none.

It was a case of incestuous amplification, AKA “groupthink run amok.”

So a moniker millstone hangs around the neck of mayoral hopeful Ms. Groce, and while she now works to rid herself of the burden, the irony is that she sculpted it herself. Citizen input was dismissed then. Why on earth would we think it is suddenly valued now?