— Anderson's inability to annex land to the southwest of current city limits and absorb key property along Interstate 69 is a classic example of the failure of local politics.
Is it Mayor Kevin Smith's fault? Is it city council President David Eick's fault?
Yes and yes.
They're both smart men, and they both claim to have the best interests of the city at heart. But they have failed to work together to make an annexation happen.
Last winter, Smith went public with his Anderson Fast Forward plan to annex acreage to the southwest and northeast of the city. The proposed northeast annexation would have absorbed about four square miles in Union and Richland townships and added 2,900 to Anderson’s population, including 1,163 homes, five businesses and 25 miles of road to the city.
The southwest annexation would have encompassed 17 square miles and extended Anderson’s city limits to the Hamilton County line, positioning it to take advantage of the commercial, industrial and residential growth moving north from Indianapolis, Fishers and Noblesville.
But when the annexation proposals went before the city council, one failed by a 7-2 vote and the other by a 6-3 margin. Eicks voted against both but said he had an alternative annexation plan that would serve the city better while arousing less opposition. He suggested a much smaller “strip” annexation from County Road 700 South to the county line as a way of capturing the economic development potential of I-69, and use tax increment financing for roads and other infrastructure.
Fast forward (pardon the expression) to June 20, and the disconnect between Eicks, a Democrat, and Smith, a Republican, blunted another annexation attempt. Smith, striving to challenge a strip annexation attempt by Lapel-area farmers designed to thwart Anderson's potential designs on Lapel-area land, called for another city council meeting to consider a revised Anderson southwest annexation plan.
The meeting was set for 5 p.m. Thursday, but Eicks and the six other council members who voted against Smith's Fast Forward plan in March did not show up for the meeting. Russ Willis and Ty Bibbs were the only two council members who showed. They also happen to be the ones who voted in favor of both of Smith's annexation proposals last winter. Councilman Rodney Chamberlain voted last winter in favor of the southwest annexation but against the northeast annexation.
Eicks complained Thursday that Smith hadn't checked with council members to make sure they could attend that afternoon's meeting. Smith countered by noting that Eicks was well aware that the meeting was necessary to stave off the Lapel strip annexation and contended that it's the responsibility of council members to work such important meetings into their schedule.
Perhaps Smith should have had the foresight to schedule the Thursday meeting (which he announced on Tuesday) further in advance. But, yes, Eicks and others could have, should have found a way to be there. That is, if they planned to give true consideration to another annexation plan.
Eicks said Tuesday that he was eager to learn about the mayor's new annexation plan. But then he couldn't clear his schedule to show up for the meeting. That's not good leadership.
It all amounts to bad politics.
What would good politics look like in this instance?
How about Smith and Eicks sitting down together behind the scenes and coming up with an annexation plan that they can both agree to and that would have significant benefits for the city of Anderson? They could both come out of such a collaboration as champions of the community's future — and, for their political benefit, could point henceforth to the Anderson annexation of 2013 as proof of their willingness to collaborate across the partisan divide for the sake of the city.
Anderson's future wealth and well-being is directly tied to Interstate 69 and its attractiveness for new businesses and industry, and the city must figure out a way to expand in that direction. There's not much unincorporated acreage left along I-69 in Madison County, meaning the city's window of opportunity is rapidly closing.
Highly effective mayors and council presidents, even when (particularly when!) they have political ambitions and even when they represent different political parties, figure out a way to work together to assure a prosperous future for the community.
Smith can point a finger at Eicks as often as he wants, and Eicks can do likewise. But the fingers of voters should be pointed directly at the two of them when it comes reckoning time for an annexation opportunity missed.
The message should be loud and clear: Don't play bad politics with the future of Anderson.
In summary Anderson's mayor and city council president have failed to work together to make important Interstate 69 annexation happen.