LFC Comments: As a staunch defender of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, we provide a platform to any citizen that has a grievance against the government at any level. We also offer an opportunity for any individual mentioned in an article to provide a rebuttal to the complaints made by the citizen.
We welcome Mr. Walter Criggens II as a new contributor to our website.
My wife and I are empty nesters and relatively new to the area. We are enjoying exploring Northeast Ohio and beautiful Lake Erie. I am a freelance journalist with a long career in corporate communications. I now enjoy tracking and reporting on political issues relevant to the citizens and communities I serve. I work hard to provide fact-based information and challenging discourse. Please enjoy my labor of love…Walter Criggens II
What is Going on in Kirtland?
Written by Walter Criggens II
July 7, 2021
With the election of a young and new Mayor (Kevin Potter), Kirtland was buzzing with optimism and excitement about a promised new direction for the City. Unfortunately, after just 16 months in the position, things appear to be going in the wrong direction within this quaint little town.
I have spent the last few weeks investigating the behind-the-scenes stories and accounts of what is really happening within the walls of Kirtland’s City Hall. Suffice to say, I was shocked by what I learned.
Kirtland Staff is Demoralized and Leaving
Over the first 16 months of the new Mayor’s tenure, there is now a revolving door of Kirtland employees. Calculations indicate Kirtland has lost more employees in the last 16 months under Kevin Potter than in the previous 10+ years combined! The majority of these employees were long-standing public servants with excellent performance records.
Some of the lost talents include the Mayor’s first secretary (a 19-year veteran), the Mayor’s handpicked second secretary (who only lasted a few weeks before quitting), the senior center director, at least 5 members of the service department, the police chief, the fire chief (retired), building inspector, law director, 30+ year City engineer from a nationally renowned engineering firm, the cemetery maintenance manager, the economic development manager, and countless others.
Making matters worse, the service department voted for the first time in City history to bring in a union to protect them from the Mayor and his administration! Unions mean higher labor and benefit costs.
I have spoken with several of the former employees who have left. They all shared some very negative accounts of the new Mayor and his most negative leadership style. “He is simply not at all what the public sees. He is a horrible leader and man. I am so happy to be out of his employ,” proclaims one former Kirtland employee. “Kevin Potter is adamant about cutting trained and experienced staff and replacing them with $10/hour kids who have no idea of what they are doing.” Another former employee of the city stated, “I have worked in numerous communities and Kevin Potter is by far the most incompetent mayor I have ever worked with. He truly has no idea what he’s doing.”
I spoke with members of the Fire Department and Police Department and my contacts expressed deep concerns about the readiness of aging equipment, resources to do their jobs properly, low wages compared to surrounding communities, losing the best talent to higher-paying departments, and rapidly declining morale. How does Kirtland continue to provide proper services to its citizens when it cannot seem to attract or retain its best talent? How will Kirtland replace its aging emergency equipment when it is so cash-strapped?
Roads are Getting Worse
Kevin Potter ran on a ticket that promised to fix Kirtland’s horrible roads without raising taxes. The last professional estimate for such repairs prior to the winter of ‘20/‘21, was $14-17 million. Today experts put this number at close to $20 million. To date, little to no road repairs have been completed as we now prepare for another long and destructive winter. Mayor Potter has responded with alarming cuts in Staff and already stretched budgets in an effort to generate a small amount of funds to support more debt.
His current plan is to nearly double the city’s debt from $3.2 million to $5.3 million to make good on his campaign promise. The only problem with this strategy is $2 million is a mere drop in the almost $20 million dollar cost bucket required for complete road repairs. Where is the other $18 million going to come from? And, how is the city going to repay this debt? As the old saying goes, you cannot save your way to prosperity!
City Hall for Sale
Shortly after being elected, the Mayor approached a Kirtland developer with an idea. How about this developer buy City Hall? Mayor Potter explained, “Kirtland does not need anything so large and downsizing seems to be a good idea. “When asked where the downsized City Hall may relocate, he responded, “I am sure I can find some space somewhere. We don’t need much.” Is Kirtland so desperate for money they are now going to fire-sale off their own assets? Is Kirtland’s Mayor’s vision to continue to shrink the employees, real estate, and assets of the city? Is Kirtland destined to become a wasteland with eroding property values, failing infrastructure, and virtually no public services?
Development Has Come to a Complete Halt
Every Mayor I have ever known has openly stated that the lifeline of any city is its business base and business development. Without proper and responsible development, the burden of maintaining city infrastructure falls on its residents. 1/3 of Kirtland is occupied by tax-exempt properties, the fiscal burden of this geographically large town is immense.
This is why the road issues are so daunting.
Under the previous Mayor and now terminated economic development manager (Monica Drake….Mayor Potter terminated her contract), Kirtland experienced unprecedented growth. Old buildings down 306 were torn down or transformed into new and beautiful buildings the residents could be proud of. A significant number of new businesses, employees, and much-needed jobs and taxes were created. More development occurred in the four years under Mayor Davidson and Monika Drake than in the preceding twenty years!
Unfortunately, under Mayor Potter, this has come to a screeching halt.
Developer after developer have walked away from committed projects. Madelina Cocoa’s much needed and celebrated 55+ housing development has been put on hold with an unsightly deforested lot standing testament to this lost opportunity. A North Carolina IT firm has placed its plans to bring its corporate headquarters to Kirtland on hold. The nation’s largest HR-specific professional recruitment firm has also placed its plans to move its headquarters to Kirtland on hold. A combination development plan, the single largest in Kirtland history, which would boast a beautifully themed resort inn, dining, and retail center has also been terminated.
Worse yet, citizens witness numerous long-standing Kirtland businesses shutting down and boarding up due to the excessive strains from Covid, and an apparent most unfriendly attitude toward the business community stemming from Kirtland City Hall. Just drive around Kirtland‘s main roads and one is shocked by how many buildings are up for sale or lease. It’s simply awful! These beautiful and much-needed developments would have created 100’s of new, high-paying jobs and an incredible amount of taxes.
One financial professional I spoke with carefully estimated that if these developments had been brought in, the incremental taxes could fund as much as 50% of Kirtland’s road repairs! I have spoken with each of these developers or business owners and they all specifically stated they have halted their plans as a direct result of the current Mayor and his most unfriendly business policies.
Some offered even more disturbing details of Mayor Potter and select members of Council’s governmental overreach, excessive demands, and unlawful requests for control over their projects including the style of buildings, the color of siding and roofs, layout of developments, type of operations, and other which is not provided through current Kirtland ordinances.
One developer offered, “This mayor has routinely misrepresented and misinformed our beloved citizens. He would have them believe he is a protector of the city when over-policing and over-regulating businesses. These very illegal acts are now creating tremendous legal exposure for the city. It is only a matter of time until Kevin Potter and Jon Lesnick land the city in another very expensive lawsuit similar to the crushing Holden Arboretum lawsuit which Kirtland lost, badly! It is coming.” Another developer offered, “If I knew then what I know now I have never built in Kirtland. This Mayor and his devoted Councilmen are simply impossible to work with. Never again!”
As a result, Kirtland does without the much-needed incremental taxes, new job generation, and cross-pollinating business ventures. And if you drive around Kirtland you see the impact of Potter’s anti-business movement. This week my wife and I personally attended the Mayor’s “feel-good” concert at the for-sale City Hall. It was a pleasant evening with a nice polka band. However, we were surprised to see the Mayor brought in an ice cream truck from another community with his own Kirtland Creamery just across the street. Boy, talk about not supporting your own business community!
Kirtland is an amazing town with some of the nicest people I have ever met. Unfortunately, the current Mayor and selected members of council (John Lesnick, Rich Lowery, and Scott Haymer) who consistently and without challenge back his every move are failing their constituents. Kirtland gets 600,000 – 900,000 visitors each year. They enter and then exit Kirtland with full wallets. They use the roads and rely on public services. And yet Kirtland receives virtually no revenue from them. Why?
It does not take a Harvard MBA to design retail, restaurant, and lodging options that could easily take advantage of this revenue stream and bring vast amounts of taxes into this much needy town. Without this revenue stream, the necessary funds to repair the $20 million dollars of roads can only come from one place, its citizens in the form of much, much higher employment taxes.
Fortunately, voters have choices
I have learned that a small but very well-funded political group is coming together in Kirtland. They call themselves, “Choice for Change” (C.F.C). Reportedly, in November three Councilmen will be up for re-election. This P.A.C. shared they have carefully studied each of these councilmen and their voting history. C.F.C. has declared full support for the re-election of Matt Shultz. Conversely, they are seeking to replace John Lesnick and Rick Lowery. “Lowery and Lesnick are simply ineffective and threaten Kirtland’s future”, stated one member of this P.A.C. “They have alienated business owners and developers, insulted citizens, and proven completely ineffective in their jobs. Matt Shultz is an outstanding public servant, and we will support his re-election campaign completely. We are a small, but financially very strong group. We are passionately committed to making changes at City Hall and getting this city and its roads looking as they should. It is inexcusable how bad things have gotten. Mr. Lesnick, Lowery, and Potter must be replaced with competent leadership”, stated this C.F.C. member. “There is no reason for this Kirtland to look the way it does. Worse yet, Mayor Potter and these Councilman now believe (despite his campaign promises to the opposite) the over-taxed citizens should pay for the desperately needed repairs/improvements.”
Matt Shultz is an outstanding public servant, and C.F.C. will support his re-election campaign completely.
Over the coming months, I will provide additional interviews, reports, analysis, and articles on the true and unfortunate story unfolding within Kirtland’s City Hall. Kirtland is an amazing town needing new, educated, and effective leadership. Its potential is truly untapped!
LFC Comments: We are compelled to add our opinions to this article. It is very confusing to us how a certain State Senator residing in Kirtland could let his town turn to mush. Before he tries to save the State of Ohio and take over the Lake County Republican Party, perhaps he should try to clean up his own town.
A very talented Monica Drake should be employed at the county level. The Lake County Commissioners keep reinforcing the need for economic development. Why don’t they hire the best talent and forget the need to hire the same political operatives? Is it because she did not attend Leadership – Lake County and pay their fees, or is she not part of the “good ole boys club”?