Tuesday, November 25, 2014

TOP STORY >> Communities should unite to help base

Leader senior staff writer

The man who created the template for vigorous public-private-military partnerships spoke to the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council last week, encouraging further partnerships to a community that is already so inclined.

Fred Meurer was a colonel and director of public works at Fort Ord, at the Presidio in California, before he retired and in 1986 went to work for the city of Monterey, Calif., which has several military installations, including the Army’s Presidio.

While at Fort Ord, which later closed in 1994, he discovered that 37 military families at the Presidio were, of necessity, living in tents.

“I was a lieutenant colonel,” he told the community council members.

“We had acres and acres of land, but no money (for housing),” he said. “I went to the general…and suggested we lease military land to a developer.”

Thus, base housing privatization was born.

The military owns the land, the developer builds and owns the houses and apartments, maintains them and collects the rents.

“We did 225 units, and they were 100 percent occupied,” within a year, he said. “Then we did a 300-unit apartment complex.”

That’s when he first realized the power of partnerships between the military and the community — the power of building permanent partnerships and alliances.

That was the first known military-housing privatization. The idea got off to a shaky start later at Little Rock Air Force Base, when Carabetta Enterprises and Shaw Infrastructure — doing business as American Eagle Communities — defaulted on a contract to raze old, substandard base housing and build, maintain and lease hundreds of homes at the base.

As the base commander said of that effort at the time, “two years in, they were three years behind.”

But they were forced to sell their contract to the Hunt-Pinnacle partnership, doing business as The Landings, which has built scores of homes on the base since that time and rehabilitated hundreds.

Meurer said Hunt-Pinnacle was known for their good work in privatized military housing.

Meurer said leadership helped Monterey survive the base closure of Fort Ord in 1991 and to stave off similar actions in 1993, 1995 and 2005 for the Defense League Institute and Naval Post Graduate School and the Presidio of Monterey.

He also said that the city of Monterey began providing contract public works services to the military and other area towns at a savings to everyone.

Soon Monterey was providing plumbing and electrical, roof repair and paving economically to the military, then fire alarm and elevator maintenance and repair, and sewer and broadband service.

“We realized we had six fire departments in the same general area, and saved money through consolidation,” Meurer said. “We now have one department that serves several communities and the Army and Navy.

“We’re saving millions in duplication without degrading our capability,” he said.

Meurer said savings are possible because of the economies of scale. “We structured ourselves, operating like a business with services accountable to a government bureaucracy.”

The city also operates a childcare facility in the Presidio.

“We asked the Army to audit us,” Meurer said, “and we are saving them 41 percent on those services we supply them.”

The Presidio provided land for ball fields, and the city provided construction and maintenance. During the day, those are parade grounds, but, by evening, they are fields of play — military land, community construction.

“What we’ve been able to accomplish in Monterey has been possible only because we’ve been blessed with leadership at the city council level and at the department head level that understood the value and necessity of maintaining consistency with ideas that gave mission-type direction, and then provided the resources to achieve the objectives,” Meurer said.

The city council there authorized a sizable budget to Meurer and let him turn over day-to-day city operations to his assistant, giving him carte blanche to do whatever was necessary to convince the BRAC commission its recommendation was wrong.

Then the mayor gave him mission guidance — “When it’s over, don’t look back and say, ‘I wish I had done this or that.’”

According to the Army, “Meurer has done more for the military in Monterey than anyone over the last 32 years. He’s helped the community deal with Fort Ord closing, helped prevent the closures of the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center and Naval Postgraduate School, developed a business model that saved the city of Monterey and the Army millions of dollars on maintenance, and been the voice of reason amidst fiscal crises and other emergencies.”

Meurer said he works as a consultant for the Panetta Institute on how to move into the future and also on national security issues.Leon Panetta is the former secretary of defense and director of the CIA, director of the budget, Bill Clinton’s chief of staff and served as a congressman.

LRAFB and the local community, while not as widely integrated with the local community as Monterey, nearby towns and the Presidio there, have a long-standing history of private/public/military partnerships, most notably with local residents taxing themselves $5 million to help build the Jacksonville/Little Rock Air Force Base Joint Education Center, a consortium of colleges now located in a new building on the base but outside the fence.

There is currently a dilapidated public elementary school on LRAFB, but the Air Force has offered to make land available for a new elementary school — with some construction money likely to come from the Department of Defense.

Land may also be offered on base but outside the wire for a new high school when the new Jacksonville-North Pulaski County School District completes its breakaway from the Pulaski County Special School District.

The greater Jacksonville area, in cooperation with Little Rock Air Force Base, has twice won the Abilene Trophy for greatest community support among the nation’s Air Mobility Wings.

Meurer said that, while he didn’t have a chance to visit the air base, he had driven by the Joint Education Center, calling it “a pretty terrific partnership.

“I’m very impressed with the (Col. Patrick Rhatigan) base commander and his focus on partnership,” Meurer said.