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Is the city government really this blind to how bad it looks?, by John McGauley

Hey, is there some little old charity hanging on by a thread around here that’s been helping poor people for a half-century that we can kick in the shins?”

Was that the discussion that came up in the meeting where the City of Keene decided to start charging $600 a month rent to the very modest Project Share Thrift Store, which for five decades has operated rent-free from a little room at the city’s recreation center?

Keene’s City Manager Elizabeth Dragon said when she found out that this itty-bitty place had been operating rent-free for so long, it was “concerning.” So, the city said the nonprofit had to start paying $600 rent a month. Project Share said they couldn’t afford it, and asked for some deal at a lower rent, which the city rejected. So, Project Share has to either find a new home or just shut down.

Oh, I know there are subtleties and nuances to this story that we may not know, but this decision has such terrible “optics” and tin-ear resonance. It’s such a clumsy unforced error that a City Council committee will now discuss the matter this coming Thursday, according to the mayor.

I’ll save them the time. Just rescind the order.

For a measly $7,200 a year, the city has purchased about a half-million dollars in poor publicity.

Strangely — or maybe not — $7,200 is exactly the amount the city recently stiffed local real estate agent Greg Johnson out of when it refused to pay a finder’s fee to him when he found a buyer who’s starting a new badly needed business in town on some useless, once- toxic land the city owned. Who says there’s no symmetry to life?

You know, this story tees itself up so high as grist for a column, it arrived gift wrapped at my front stoop and included a “kick me” sign that can be draped from the front entrance to City Hall.

It gets even worse — or better — depending on how you look at this story. Besides operating at the same place since a time before most city employees were even born, every year Project Share organizes an annual charity initiative called Project Santa, which focuses on grandparents who have custody of their grandkids due to the opioid crisis, providing clothing, toys and other items.

Dragon said she is not sure what the space can be used for once the good folks who run the thrift store — as volunteers, by the way — are out on the street.

Well, I’ve got some suggestions:

The City of Keene’s Office of Stopping Global Warming: dedicated to achieving its goal of having Keene’s citizens living in an environment powered only by oxen by the year 2050.

The City of Keene Office of Nuclear Nonproliferation: Following up on our City Council’s resolution to send a strongly-worded letter to the White House opposing nuclear war — for certain going out on a limb politically — this office, staffed by a newly hired bureaucrat who graduated from an Ivy League school and who is related to one of the City Council members, can develop other strongly worded letters to a whole bunch of other places. Also, this office can organize a city-funded expedition to the border between nuclear-armed Pakistan and India to help diffuse the tense situation there. It has not gone unnoticed that ever since the council mailed that letter to the White House, with two stamps on the envelope, we’ve not had a nuclear conflagration.

The City of Keene Office of Bringing in New Business: Building on the city’s plans to mount an expedition to the India/Pakistan border, it can dovetail neatly with our community’s aggressive business-development initiative to bring more industry to town, to whit: weavers, sand-castle artists, crystal shops, tattoo parlors, vape stores and the like.

How about renting the space as an annex to the Hundred Nights homeless shelter? They’re looking to expand and it can fit about a dozen bunkbeds.

Are we a sanctuary city? I forget. Maybe the space could be used in connection with that.

And, it could be a staging area for storing all the moon-suits that will be needed to help in the removal of the radioactive brownfield the City of Keene is planning to buy — you know, the former Kingsbury plant, which practically glows in the dark.

It could also be the office of the City of Keene Parking Meter Kiosk Czar; the City of Keene Office of Looking for Potential New Consultants to Hire; or City of Keene Office of Supervisor of Fancy Crosswalks.

Oh, one other possible use — a city office to investigate and prevent all the “dark money” that’s flowing into the city’s connected with the upcoming mayoral election.

You cannot make this stuff up, and from a columnist’s view, the City of Keene is the gift that just keeps on giving. It would have been so much easier to just negotiate a rent the place could afford, and use it to partly pay Greg Johnson what they owe him.

John McGauley, an author and local radio talk-show host, writes from Keene. He can be reached at mcgauleyink@gmail.com

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