Thursday, December 10, 2009

My Consolation Column

[Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2009 edition of Ferndale Friends]

Welcome to my consolation column! Were I a presidential candidate I may have gotten a million dollar book deal and speaking engagements crisscrossing the country. All things being relative, after losing the Ferndale council race to incumbent T. Scott Galloway and new-comer Melanie Piana, I'm instead contributing an article to Ferndale Friends and my speaking engagements are limited to lecturing my kids.

On the plus-side of the ledger I won't have to balance a $15 million budget that's $3 million lighter than last year.

Losing does have its advantages.

This is probably the last opportunity comments on November's election can be indulged or at least forgiven. Please read-on with either one or both of those in mind.

Let me share a major difference I noticed between this year's campaign and 2007's. This year I limited the houses I visited personally to only those that voted in 2007's off-year election. When I ran in 2007 I used 2006’s gubernatorial voter list which had a couple thousand more voters. The difference between the two lists is the people I was lucky enough to speak with this year were generally more informed about local politics than the bigger list.

Believe it or not, in 2007 I had a conversation with a voter that went something like this.
"Hello, my name is Thomas Gagne. I'm running for mayor and would like to ask you a few questions."

"Mayor of what?" she said.

“Let me start with, do you have children?”
I also learned this year I can’t extrapolate election results based on the people I talk to going door-to-door. To be honest, I bet I spoke to fewer than 10% of the residents whose homes I visited. All were unanimously against spending any money on city hall and wanted council to immediately stop their Pay-Consults-For-Everything Economic Stimulus program ($65,000 and rising). Though most agreed Nine Mile and Woodward sparkles (Mayor Craig Covey’s word, not mine) many felt it was time the DDA stop baby-sitting our downtown businesses and agreed it was time to show Hilton some love.

If that’s how voters really felt and if those were my issues, then I should have been a shoe-in.

Well, there was certainly a shoe involved when the results were in, but not where I anticipated it.

It turns out the best predictor of 2009’s election was a gentleman I spoke to that told me he felt everything was OK. As long as he’s lived in the city taxes have always been high, council has always spent money on silly projects, and too much attention has always been paid downtown. But as none of that threatened him personally he wasn’t inclined to change anything.

Maybe that explains both the results and the low voter turnout (14%). Without pain, a mayoral contest, or a major issue on the ballot there just wasn’t much to get people to skip Desperate Housewives or Grey’s Anatomy.

A quick story.

At a meeting for the candidates held by the city clerk, Cherilynn Tallman, and city manager, Bob Bruner, we were discussing the lack of a current city map. Apparently the original map used to make copies from disappeared a couple years ago after Mayor Bob Porter left office. Greg PAW-lica suggested the map that hangs on the wall near the city council table could be used as a new original. We all went over to it to take a closer look.

While studying the map’s superior quality and imagining its potential to make dittos I couldn’t help but notice the little bit of real-estate cut-out of Ferndale’s northwest corner to make room for Pleasant Ridge.

“How many police officers does Pleasant Ridge have? Five? Six?”, I asked.

“Maybe six. Eight tops,” someone else replied.

“Hmm. And they don’t have their own fire department,” I said. “I bet if we took our 60+ police officers and fireman, along with a few allies from Oak Park we could easily invade on three fronts and take over the city. As liberal a city as it is there’s bound to be few armed residents. It should be easy.”

Melanie Piana’s mouth fell open and her face had that shocked you-can’t-possibly-be-serious look on it. Greg paw-LICA was LOL. Apparently, Melanie wasn’t familiar with my sense of humor. I mean really, who would want to annex Pleasant Ridge? Is the pool that nice?

I wonder. Maybe that could be an issue for 2011?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ferndale council acts predictably--and that's no compliment

Monday night's hearing on South Oakland Shelters' (SOS) request to move their administrative offices to unused space at The First Baptist Church (FBC) in a north-west Ferndale neighborhood brought few surprises. After going through the mechanics a hearing requires the council voted as expected; four-to-one in favor of letting the FBC rent to SOS. After the vote, two council-persons did surprise me, in a disappointed-surprise kind-of-way.

Freshmen councilwomen Kate Baker demonstrated how personal bias can muddle a person's ability to understand what people say. Ms. Baker sounded exasperated as she defended the commitment and professionalism of the many volunteers that serve on the Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals, and lamented how she was unprepared to defend them against accusations to the contrary.

I never said the volunteers (who serve without pay and too little gratitude) weren't dedicated or professional. What I said was that on the issue of allowing SOS to move into the church neither body supported their decisions by publishing their findings of fact or communicating to the community (and especially ZIP) their interpretation of how SOS' business is an accessory use. But I can see how a personal bias for SOS and FBC, a weak interpretation of the zoning ordinance, and the knowledge of having dismissed the concerns of nearby residents would make the councilwoman a little touchy.

If someone is going to vote on a matter that affects my family, neighbors, and community I believe residents and businesses deserve as unambiguous an explanation as those voting members are able to provide--especially an issue as controversial as the FBC/SOS zoning ruling became.

Councilman Mike Lennon also surprised me, but his lone "no" vote wasn't the surprise. Mike Lennon often casts the only dissenting vote against the majority. Also not surprising was Mr. Lennon's not advocating the sentiments of the myriad of phone calls and emails from residents he claimed were the reason for his vote.

What was disappointing was his blasting ZIP for being disorganized and redundant, and wasting the city manager's time countering their false claims.

Where to begin?

First, why was our city manager handling SOS' public relations (PR) in the first place? If they had enough money to hire two attorneys they surely didn't need Bob Bruner to volunteer his (city-paid) time to act as their press secretary.

And when did council defer to the city manager permission to speak for the city or give him permission advocate for-or-against political issues that may come before the council? I thought "speaking for the city" was the Mayor's job, and Mayor Covey is more than up to the challenge.

Maybe council hasn't given the city manager carte blanche but is complacent letting him practice his politics on the city's dime rather than making sure FBC is following ordinances already on the books--or even the lower standard councilwoman Baker suggested at a commission meeting: that FBC would only need to be, "close to compliance."


SOS' attorney asked that SOS be treated just like any other business. I bet every Ferndale business wishes they only needed to be "close to compliance."

But disorganized and redundant? I'm uncertain what standard councilman Lennon is comparing ZIP against, but I'm confident that if ZIP were given the same considerations the applicant was given they could have been more organized and less redundant.

Because ZIP wasn't the applicant for the zoning ruling they were not allowed to sit with the grown-ups. ZIP's concerns had to be posited in three-minute monologues--even during hearings. Being excluded from conversations, having questions ignored or repeated in patronizing tones does not inspire feelings of fair representation.

ZIP was certainly no more redundant than the FBC's or SOS' supporters were during the long parades of three-minute comments.
Perhaps if citizens living near FBC (or any church) thought anyone on the council held their interests before FBC's they wouldn't have felt the need to line up for their three-minutes of if-a-resident-speaks-in-the-middle-of-the-forest time.

Perhaps if one of the councilpersons hadn't delivered a "true Christian" sermon during a council meeting, or if another of the councilpersons didn't suggest lower standards of compliance for the applicants or state (and restate--redundantly) what long-time SOS supporters their family has been, ZIP wouldn't have felt the need to organize.

Perhaps if the city manager hadn't acted contemptuously in meetings and press interviews ZIP may not have thought the entirety of the city's administration was against them, and wouldn't have had to publish their own literature.

But maybe I'm being redundant (perhaps), so I'll try something different.

In the motion read by Councilman Galloway, five criteria were identified that the Planning Commission supposedly used to grant SOS' request. One of them was that the commission didn't feel SOS' operating their business at the Church would negatively impact the immediate area's economic value (or words similar to that). For the sake of argument let's suppose it doesn't. We could ask, "does SOS's operating their business at the church improve the area's economic value?"

I can think of multiple, better-suited and properly-zoned areas in Ferndale where SOS' arrival would improve the economic prospects of the immediate area, the economic prospects of the property owner, and the economic prospects to the city as the property owner would be better able to pay his property taxes, participate in city events, or sponsor a softball-team or scrapbooking club.

I don't have statistics or numbers handy, so I'll make some up and tell a story that can't be verified (which seems to suffice for some councilpersons' pet causes--like the PSD tax).

When you purchased your home or looked for a neighborhood to move to was its proximity to an SOS administrative office on your list of desirable neighborhood traits?

When cities work to increase property value do they focus on schools, recreation, police, fire, and other essential services or does SEMCOG, the Michigan Municipal League, or the Michigan Suburbs Alliance recommend deferring to churches' need to offset lower collections to really bring-in the house hunters?

I sincerely hope SOS is successful in all they do, just as I do that churches thrive. Their missions are important. But I am as sincere in my belief that zoning laws protect neighborhoods as much as they do churches and businesses. In this case, at least, there was no need for the three to be in conflict. There is space enough in Ferndale for all three without all three being in the same space.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A DDA Presentation I'd Like to Hear

I have a friend in the commercial finance business that has an interesting business goal. His goal is for his clients to become financially stable enough to no longer need his services. His list of successes are his former clients, not his current ones.

I wish Ferndale's DDA had a similar goal.

Monday night, the DDA made a presentation to city council I'm sure anyone who's seen a couple of their presvious dog-and-ponies before could have narrated--without notes. The DDA helps stores with facade improvements, the DDA decorates downtown, the DDA hangs flowers, and this spring the DDA pimped pots.

According to their presentations, they're a $300,000/year arts and crafts committee.

To liven up their next visit to council and throw the city for a loop, here's a message I'd love to hear at a future DDA presentation:
Good evening mayor and council members.

After nearly 20 years of attacking blight in our downtown we're proud to announce our mission is accomplished. Our downtown sparkles. Its largest and most successful events are produced and promoted by downtown business owners, and surveys show residents and visitors alike feel both welcomed and safe on our streets, day or night.

Therefor we are resigning our commission, disbanding the DDA, and returning our TIF monies to the county where it may be used for parks, public safety, or even Treasurer Andy Meisner's Land Bank.

Or perhaps the money may be used for our next adventure, securing a Central Business District designation for Hilton between Eight and Ten Mile roads to stimulate another of Ferndale's assets which has, for too long, been ignored.
It's time the DDA decides whether it's accomplished its mission or not. I think it has, and the DDA and our downtown businesses should be congratulated. They've crossed the goal line, they've moon-walked in the end-zone, and now its time to give the ball to another team.

I think the next game should be kicked-off on Hilton.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I want to be the first to say it: Newspapers are killing themselves

I just read The Ann Arbor News is closing its doors in July. They will join the Rocky Mountain News, The Seattle Inteligencier, and numerous other daily newspapers that will close their doors and blame it, in part, on the Internet.

I want to be the first to say Newspapers, especially journalists and editorial page editors, have done this to themselves. Under their watch the federal government has grown progressively bigger without their objection. In fact, the federal government's growth has been applauded and encouraged by many journalists whose liberal bias supports the notion that government can and should do more, and the more the government provides the better.

We're quickly arriving at a point where our federal government does so much and our state and local government relatively little, that most of the news fit to print comes out of a single location: Washington DC. Exactly how many newspapers and TV news shows does it take to cover a single city in America?

In the Detroit area there's only one locally-produced news program in the morning on Fox affiliate, WJBK. NBC, ABC, and CBS all produce their morning shows out of NY (one city) covering their favorite two topics, Hollywood and Washington DC. On those local channels the only local content is weather and traffic, and a brief three minute news interruption.

The blogosphere is hardly to blame. Most bloggers are covering the same national stories everyone else covers coming from the same locations--Hollywood and DC. Journalists like to follow the money trail, and since most the money is in those two locations it makes sense there's less interesting news everywhere else.

In a subsequent article I'll see if I can substantiate my hypothesis by looking at the growth in federal budgets, the growth in programs, and the decline in newspaper readership.

This quick article is just so I can go on record as having thought of this first. Actually, I thought of it a few days ago, but posted some comments on other blogs today and was finally inspired by the news story above to post here.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

ZIP responds: Seven Facts about zoning

Patti Ashmore, the leader of the group opposing First Baptist Church's leasing space to SOS, has published an editoral on FerndaleOnline. As neither the Daily Tribune or Woodward Talk has seen fit to print it, I'm glad she was able to publish it.

After reading the article, please join the discussion.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Is God a socialist?

Today's Detroit News contained an interesting op-ed from Doug Bandow, author of the book, Beyond Good Intentions: A Biblical View of Politics. I haven't read the book so can not comment on it, but his op-end, Is God a Socialst?, contains an interesting perspective on people, religion, and politics--specifically Christians.

The version appearing in the Detroit News is an edited-down version of a longer piece published in The American Spectator on January 9, 2009.

Rather than dilute his commentary with mine, I'll simply quote my favorite sections below and encourage you to read either the short version or the long version for yourself. I've only written two related articles to his points below. They are; Thou shalt not covet or graduate your neighbors' taxes and Christ among the partisans.

To understand the context of his comments and why I like them it is important to know the sections below were preceded with examples of churches, church leaders, and religious people praying and demonstrating to influence public policy. The implication being that some people's faith creates a desire to model public policy after their interpretation of scripture. But more importantly that compassion must be connected to consequence. Good intention are not enough and we should remember where the path paved with good intentions leads.

"However, applying Christian principles requires more than a little humility. The Bible tells much about man's relationship to God and man, but very little about the role of government. That is, Christian principles yield no specific legislative agenda.

"For instance, one cannot read Scripture without a profound appreciation of our duty to help our neighbors. However, we are commanded to give, not to make others give.

"The welfare state is a matter of political prudence, not religious principle. That is one reason why the Apostle James encouraged us to ask God for wisdom. Christians are expected to be compassionate, but God does not detail how we are to give compassion practical effect. The point is, compassion is not enough. Consequences matter.

"Should the government further bail out the auto industry? Channeling scarce resources into failing industries will divert needed money from existing companies and potential new enterprises, destroying even more jobs.

"Attempting to freeze the housing market would merely prolong the agony of many people who borrowed too much. Artificially propping up housing prices also will penalize potential buyers -- especially low-income and new purchasers.

"A Christian's walk in the political world will never be easy. But Christians should never forget that their principal duties have nothing to do with politics."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Ferndale First Baptist should break agreement with SOS

Ferndale's First Baptist Church should break its agreement with The South Oakland Shelter (SOS) to lease an unused building for SOS to use as administrative offices.

The best argument citizens have in favor of SOS's relocation to First Baptist from its current Royal Oak address on Main Street, is that SOS does good work. Personally, I think the Murphy brothers did a great job on my kitchen but its unlikely the church would have offered a lease to them for that reason and I don't think that's what was meant by "good work."

Instead, what was meant by good work is that SOS has a charitable mission. As charitable as the Murphy brothers may be charity isn't the brothers' mission so the church is still unlikely to lease space to them.

But ultimately, niether SOS' or the Murphies' missions are the issue that should be debated. The real argument is that by becoming a landlord to SOS, First Baptist's mission suddenly changed from leases on the after-life to leases in general.

I have nothing against landlords or churches and am on good terms with several of both. But if I purchased a property near a church I expect the church to do church-like things. I do not expect them to turn the temple into a den of landlords and not expect me to toss a fit or two.

It seems the neighbors supporting SOS at the church feel the church is simply extending its charitable and religious mission to include SOS' mission to the newly homeless. SOS' is indeed a noble and virtuous mission, but the church can support that mission by donating money or volunteering time to the SOS. It doesn't have to lease space or upset its neighbors to do that.

The church could also donate the space to the SOS. That would be charitable, too, and it would successfully silence my argument about their becoming a landlord (I think). As long as the charity isn't bartering with the church or paying a share of the utility bills I might change my mind.

But I'm pretty confident that won't happen. A Christmas-day article in the Detroit News detailed how the bad economy and worries of job security have driven-down donations to all charitable organizations. GM recently cut-off funding to arts and cultural institutions (I don't think anyone wonders why). Those facts combined with the area's other demographics suggest Ferndale may not be able to support as many churches as it used to with either members or donations, just as it can't support as many schools or tool & die shops.

So if churches, like automakers, are reluctant to close or combine with other churches; what are they to do with all that empty, unused space? Why not supplement Sunday collections by going into the property management business?

The residents protesting the 25-year lease agreement aren't evil or uncharitable. Councilman T. Scott Galloway's recent city-council sermonizing stated his certainty that the Christian thing to do was to support SOS. So, before Christ did his big "den-of-thieves" thing in Jerusalem's temple he should have checked with Scott first.

The much over-quoted Ecclesiastes 3's "To every thing there is a season.." is worth paraphrasing as, "To every thing there is a place." And that's why Ceasar created zoning commissions and zoning plans, so the interests and quality of Ferndale's neighborhoods would be balanced against the interests and quality of Ferndale's commercial districts. For a building surrounded on three sides by homes to switch from friendly neighborhood church to a competitor for tax-paying landlords violates zoning rules.

If the church doesn't see fit to break its agreement for biblical reasons the zoning commission or city council should break it for secular reasons.

Monday, February 16, 2009

John McCulloch interviews Tom Gagne on WJR

On Friday, February 13, I was invited to discuss BAMN's protests at Western Market and other downtown Ferndale stores on WJR's The Frank Beckman Show. John McCulloch was sitting-in for Frank Beckman.

Today, WJR posted the audio for that nearly 30-minute segment. Also on the program were Western Market's Steve Selvaggio and Ferndale School District spokesperson, Stephanie Hall.

Click on the links below to hear a recording of the broadcast.

BAMN's Ferndale protests featured on WDET

Today, Detroit Today host, Craig Fahle, interviewed Western Market's Steve Selvaggio, BAMN's Shanta Driver, and Ferndale School District's Stephanie Hall. The audio may be available on the Detroit Today's podcasts, but a lively discussion continues on WDET's forums.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Editorial comments, 2009-02-08

From today's Detroit Free Press:
"President Barack Obama's scolding of the Wall Street execs for passing out $18 billion in bonuses last year was long overdue. Wall Street argues that this level of compensation is needed to retain "good" people. Well, these "good" people failed to understand that you do not give mortgages to people who have no hope of making the payments."
Donald Patterson, Troy
Donald, on the top of your "good people" list should be Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, the Community Reinvestment Act, and other defenders of Fredie and Fannie that first required banks make loans to people that couldn't afford them, then insured them which encouraged banks to make more. Greed, like envy, can't be eradicated by law, but government interference can be voted out of office leaving greed to feed on something other than tax payer money.
"Presumably, the board of directors at Merrill Lynch felt John Thain fell into this "best and brightest" category when he was hired. How bright can Thain be to think that it would take $1.22 million to redecorate his office? Not the entire building, not a floor of the building, but one office! How bright could he be to lead Merrill Lynch to a $15-billion fourth-quarter loss?"
Chris Charron, Eastpointe
The free market allows people to pay whatever they think something is worth--whether it's an executive or a piece of toast with the Virgin Mary's image. The difference in both government and boards of directors is the relative lack of having skin in the game. It's easier to spend other people's money (government) or be derelict in your responsibilities because you've so little skin in the game (boards of directors). The first leads to an expanding government financed by debt and the second leads to overpaid executives detached from the success or failure of their enterprises because their wealth is only modestly impacted by the success or failure of the ships they captain.

When voters start insisting their local governments send pork back to the government (like Ferndale voters should have) then we may become more credible in arguing what executives are or are not worth and whether the stimulus build will stimulate the economy or campaign contributions.
"So the average Wall Street bonus fell to $112,000 in 2008, and they're down about that. Have they bothered to look at the rest of the country -- the way that people are being fired and permanently laid off, and having their pay and benefits cut? I would bet that any of them would trade places with them for just half of their bonus."
Leon Suchorski, Canton

Does each of us want our compensation looked at as closely as Wall Streets? Many non-executives receive incentive pay based on performance. Many work for departments unrelated to mortgages. It is both unfair and illogical to paint all bonuses with the same brush. We should also remember that all pay is relative. No matter what we make we're likely making more money than someone else, and their willingness to do our job for less indicates their belief we're making too much money. Be careful the stones we throw.

"Well, now. The Republicans say they have a better stimulus plan than President Obama's. So, my question is: Why didn't they put it up eight years ago?"
Kenneth G. Maluchnik, Lincoln Park

The stimulus plan should be measured on its own merits, not on whether it's a Democratic invention or opposed by Republicans. If its greatest quality is "because we won," then it is no law at all. It's retaliation. If that is how voters wish government be run then we can't complain about partisanship. Well, we can complain, but our complaints have no credibility, stand without principle, and can be easily ignored by those that govern us.

"[Mitch] Albom's general suggestion -- that the government should somehow stop what he implies is a universal "elitist immorality" among CEOs -- sounds like a call for total government management of business. ... it's unfair to the millions of managers who have improved our lives through good stewardship of their shareholders' assets.

"Our (predominantly) free-market system, even with all of its very real agency problems, has created too much wealth for such a cavalier statement, implying that government intervention would be better."

Jon Boguth, Sterling Heights

Such is the danger of generalizations and isms. Free markets and republican government have created the highest standard of living the civilized world has ever known. Let's not pretend their success is the prerequisite to making a success of centrally-planned economies and socialism, or that the latter is a desireable future of the former.

"When President George W. Bush took office, the national debt was about $5.7 trillion, and when he left office about $10 trillion, an increase of $4.3 trillion. Some have estimated that 40% of the increase is due to Bush's tax cuts mostly to the rich, or $1.7 trillion. Now if tax cuts are supposed to have the great stimulus effect that the GOP claims, why are we in the current economic mess?"

Jim Karavite, Royal Oak

Due to President Bush's tax cuts, the treasury enjoyed record-breaking revenues. The tax cuts were unqualified successes. The deficit didn't come about because revenues dropped, but because spending grew disproportionately to revenue. This is why even Conservatives disliked Bush--he abandoned fiscal conservatism and in trying to reach-across-the-aisle he literally stepped across it. Bush was fiscally more liberal than Clinton, which is why some conservatives believe Clinton was a better Republican president than Bush ever was. Theres little doubt no small amount of vicarious fantasies were involved as well.

"Any member of Congress who doesn't pay his or her taxes, hires illegal aliens, drives an import, is convicted of a felony, votes for a personal raise during the 'recession,' or bounces checks regularly should be removed from office. Period. No exceptions."

Dennis R. Green, West Bloomfield

It's hard to believe these are the best 535 candidates. Americans have elected quite a crew of taxs cheats, bad business managers, sex offenders, and other criminals to represent them. Apparently, Detroit doesn't own the franchise.

"With the economic downturn this state is in, am I surprised that there are those who wish that President Barack Obama's policies fail? That, instead, they hope more people lose their jobs and homes? That the bridges and roads continue to fall apart around us? That women have no right to decide their health care?

"I was hoping for bipartisanship in Washington. But again I guess it will be politics as usual."

Pete Kier, Ortonville

It is politics as usual, and Pete's letter is evidence of that. True, some hope Obama fails. Other's hope certain bills fail. Bad policy is bad policy regardless who sponsors it. I hope the stimulus package fails because it is laden with pork. McCain doesn't have to be president to call-out members sponsoring pork, and Obama's message of change seems only to be a message. Nothing will have changed if he doesn't campaign against all the pork. Again, politics as usual.

"How can the GOP rebuild when the entire basis of their philosophy has been proved wrong? Low taxes, less regulation -- look where these have led. Free trade -- ask nearly anyone in Michigan about that. War first, diplomacy second -- didn't work out so well. Telling everyone else to take responsibility while not taking it yourself for your own mistakes while in office -- not appreciated. The GOP will literally have to do a 180 to recover. This may be a while."

Michael Ross, Southfield

Michael, the philosophy is still intact and hasn't been proven wrong. What has been proven wrong is that when Republicans abandon their principles, Republicanism (and conservatism) get an undeserved black eye.

Remember, there were Democrats in congress as well, and congress had to approve Bush's spending plans--and both parties are responsible for that. Stopping partisanship means we stop blaming individuals (except for individual bad choices) and hold all our representatives responsible. In Michigan that begins with Levin and Stabenow--both responsible for passing spending bills.

Republicans will have to make a 180-degreee turn, but that turn is a re-turn to conservatism, not away from it.

"Do you think people like John McCain, who owns eight properties, really care about Joe the plumber? Why can't we the people, who have invested the $700 billion to aid the financial markets, get a little injection into our IRAs and 401(k)s when things turn around? We would like to share in this new American socialism."

Robert E. Burkett, Westland

Technically, we haven't invested $700 billion into anything. I believe most of the money will be borrowed from the likes of China and other buyers of treasury bills. The same is true of the $800 billion stimulus bill, which is more about borrowing than stimulating. Both are IOUs written by our elected representatives our children's children will have to pay, and the interest will create an economic drag and sap more money from our federal budget.

There's no correlation that someone with eight properties doesn't care about the little guy. There's a difference between caring for the little guy out of your own pocket and caring for them out of someone else's. There's no virtue in the latter. For the religious, there's no reward for voting to compell charity from your neighbors' pockets.

It was lack of government oversight that allowed the banks to get us into this mess in the first place.

Lawrence Luty, Livonia

Banks have plenty of oversite, it's the government that's lacking oversite. Bank's don't want to lose money, not do they want to make loans to people without jobs. Regulators changed the rules, regulators required loans to unqualified borrowers, regulators created the institutions that insured sub-prime loans. Yes, they had noble intentions, but noble beurocratic intentions do not make for good banking business. Especially when those intentions are less noble and designed to get votes are appease special interests rather than serve the interest of our country--which should be their first priority.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

You keep using that word...

Except for BAMN supporters' falacious and specious rants, the most frequent observation about Domestic Terrorists in Ferndale (posted February 3, 2009) in Tif's and my in-boxes are concerns about the word terrorism.

Webster's New World Dictionary defines terrorism as: the use of force or threats to intimidate, etc. [ibid] esp. as a political policy.

It's possible the colloquial use of the word terrorism has moved beyond Webster's, Princeton University's, or others' definitions. None of the definitions I read required violence, murder, assault, or property destruction. Threats as a means to coerce is a good enough definition.

To make our case for us, BAMN's national coordinater, Donna Stern, couldn't help but make more threats in The Woodward Talk regarding attempts to stop their intimidation:

The topic of police intervention led Stern to deliver a taut reminder that BAMN is well aware of its civil liberties. “If Ferndale (tried to stop us from protesting), they would be in violation of our freedom of speech and our freedom of assembly (rights), and we would sue,” she said. “Just because you don’t like what we’re doing doesn’t mean you have the right to block democracy.”

Maybe the problem with describing BAMN's actions as terrorism isn't with the word terrorism. Rather, it may be because the terrorists we're most familiar with; Hamas, al-Qaeda, Timothy McVeigh, as well as eco and animal-rights activists, have taken terrorism to extremes previously thought unconscionable. Sure, al-Qaeda may represent the vanguarde of uber-terrorists, but their pushing the envelope doesn't make BAMN's threats and intimidation any less coercive, it only makes other terrorists more blood-thirsty and desperate.

If you'd like to suggest another word than terrorism to describe BAMN's threats to Ferndale businesses to join their fight against a 3rd party or risk pickets, boycotts, harassing customers, and economic penalties to business and employees, I'm anxious to hear from you.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Domestic terrorists in Ferndale

Words are important. They have meaning. When used indiscriminately we either fail to communicate or dilute the meaning of the words we misuse.

Domestic terrorism is an appropriate and fitting description of BAMN's protests in front of Western Market, Como's and other Ferndale businesses. Before continuing let's look at some definitions.

Princeton University's WordNet on-line dictionary defines it:
terrorism practiced in your own country against your own people. "the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City was an instance of domestic terrorism."
The method of domestic terrorists, or terrorists in general, isn't to attack their enemies directly, it's to cause enough collateral damage that civilians, the ones paying the terrorists' prices, force their enemies to give in. BAMN doesn't really have a fight with Western Market, but they're hoping that slandering the owners and employees of the store, shouting at shoppers, and ultimately hurting them economically, that Western Market will give in to their demands and hang BAMN's posters accusing the Ferndale School District of segregation.

Wikipedia has a good introduction to their definition of terrorism:
Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion.[1]
As far as the definition of terror is concerned, the owners of Western Market, Steve and Tony Selvaggio, are justifiably scared. They're scared their customers and employees will be intimidated and harassed. They're scared disruption to their business may cause them to fail to meet financial obligations to their families and employees. They're scared that in our battered economy the employees they've come to treat as family may be unable to get new jobs if they're forced to lay them off, or that BAMN's slander may be irrepairable.

Terrorists should not be negotiated with.
"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
-- Edmund Burke
For reasons that infuriate me beyond words (and should also infuriate businesses) both Ferndale's DDA and Chamber of Commerce are incapable of defending businesses or supporting them against BAMN's attacks. Neither, I suspect, have they put as much effort into brain-storming how to protect Ferndale businesses or our city's reputation as they have increasing dues or taxes.

I oppose BAMN's methods. I oppose BAMN's tactics. I oppose BAMN's disregard for others' rights.

BAMN may wrap themselves in Dr. M.L. King's imagery, but their fruit has fallen a long way from the tree.

Please join Tiffani and me and stand up for Ferndale businesses', residents', and vistors' rights to work, live, and shop in Ferndale without intimidation. Please download the graphics I've attached to this post, print them at home, and display however you wish to demonstrate your opposition to BAMN's extortion, coercion, and yes, their terrorism.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

BAMN nominated for annual Basket Crab Award

The Detroit-based community activist group known as By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) has since last fall accused the Ferndale School District of Segregation.

No, you didn't misread that.

BAMN is alleging Ferndale Schools is segregating students.
To be honest, I had to look-up the definition of segregation just to be sure I wasn't misreading the newspaper articles. And to make sure we're all on the same webpage together, here's my working definition of segregation for this conversation:
Laws and policies designed to separate black students from white students.
BAMN throws the term Jim Crow around a lot as well. Jim Crow is the common name for laws designed to keep blacks out of white schools, restaurants, neighborhoods, and in the back seats of buses.

One last example for those of you born after 1965: if I were to write, "This is a whites-only article. I've written a separate but equally compelling and inflammatory article for colored people at the bottom of this page," I could be accused of segregation.

Admittedly, it wouldn't work well here because you can choose to read it or not (choice is important later in the article). I would never write such a thing anyway because I haven't time to write separate articles for black and white readers. I do write some for liberals and recent college graduates. Those posts use small words, shorter sentences and simple imagery so they may keep up with the rest of us.

The good news is, BAMN knows our school board is neither discriminating against nor segregating black students.
Their own website article betrays this as its Jim Crow arguments are the weakest and least compelling of all the points they make.

The bad news is BAMN also knows racially divisive politics are good for business. It provides a steady stream of press clippings and donations to an organization desperately seeking relevancy. That's partially why I've nominated them for the annual Basket Crab award.

a Washington Post article, writer Clarence Page describes the award just as I would have (if he hadn't published it first):
"The prize, which I just made up, is awarded to the public figure who best exemplifies the often retold legend of the basket crabs: Every time one of them tries to get out of the basket, the others pull it back in."
The problem with segregation and Jim Crow is it requires people not be given a choice. With Jim Crow, black people couldn't choose to sit in the same restaurant, attend the same theater, or drink from the same water fountains as white people without breaking the law.

In the case of University High School, a magnet school jointly operated by
Lawrence Technological University and the Ferndale School District, enrollment is a choice. The 400+ students that attend there do so because their parents choose to send them there. Their parents choose that school because they deemed it a better alternative to their neighborhood public school.

To be more specific, their parents discriminated against their local schools and in favor of University High because that's what good parents do--make decisions for their children between available alternatives. Whether it's the school they attend, the music they listen to, the movies they watch, or the friends they hang out with, it's what parents and other responsible adults do for their charges.

It's called parenting.

If BAMN got its way and University High closed, those parents would no longer have that choice. BAMN would be responsible for removing those parents' ability to choose a better education for their children.

From that perspective, who's segregating now? Now you know why they may win the Basket Crab of the Year award. Whenever a crab tries to escape the Detroit Public Schools' basket, BAMN reaches out and pulls them back in.

BAMN's real issue isn't with Ferndale Schools or University High. And it certainly isn't with Ferndale businesses like Como's, Western Market, or The Record Collector. Their issue is with the Detroit Public School system.

Ferndale resident and possible council candidate, Greg Pawlica, described it this way: "If you want a Whopper you should go to Burger King, not picket Taco Bell because their Spicy Chicken Crunchwrap Supreme isn't a Whopper."

BAMN is tilting at windmills because they lack the credibility, clout , or perhaps the critical evaluation to hold Detroit's own school board accountable. As the dentist Doug Madsen (Tim Allen) said in the movie Wild Hogs while recovering from a stress attack, "I'm in a hospital. It's a lot easier for me right now to blame other people for my problems."

In other news, both good and bad, even BAMN picketers know what the boundaries of Ferndale's DDA should be. They haven't wasted any time visiting business more than a block-or-so from Nine Mile because even BAMN knows where the foot traffic is. Coincidentally, representatives from the DDA are rarely seen that far from Nine Mile as well.

To read more about this specific issue, the Ferndale School District has created this web page with links to BAMN's articles, newspaper articles, and the school district's own responses.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Council tables vote to award $280,000 no-bid contract

At last night's council meeting, Councilperson Gumbleton motioned the agenda item that would award a $280,000 contract to Plante Moran CRESA without bidding be tabled until the next regularly scheduled council meeting.

I agree that some must-bid requirements are ridiculous. The costs for creating, publishing, and reviewing bids can often exceed either the amount of the service or item being bid-for or the potential savings between the high and low bidders.

But in this case, $280,000 (the projected upper limit) is a lot of money and there is little risk a proper request for proposal (RFP) would exceed either the potential savings or the value of the service.

There are many things we may share with Detroit, Eight Mile among them. But awarding no-bid contracts without considering alternatives or entertaining competitive bid process risks Ferndale sharing more with Detroit--like its council's ineptitude and corruption--than we'd like.

Imagine our own Kwame Galloway or Jakie do-you-know-who-I-am? Baker turning a reputable firm like Plante Moran CRESA into a Bobby-Ferguson-like subsidiary. Or relying on wink-and-grin agreements and ignoring the appearance of impropriety. It is also worth mentioning that Detroit's city council suffers little inconvenience to responsibly guard and spend its citizens' money--hiring unqualified relatives and granting undeserved raises to favorites at taxpayer expense and deteriorating service to residents and businesses.

To Plante Moran's misfortune, the city manager's premature solicitation of the management contract means all competitive bidders know the scope and cost of Plante's bid and are certain to under-bid it or provide more services and improved terms. Regardless, Plante Moran isn't new to municipal contracts, bidding, politics, and the risk that no-bid contracts may raise citizen ire.

The subject should appear on council's January 26th agenda. I encourage everyone concerned with responsible government and opposed to our council following Detroit's example attend the meeting. All council meetings start at 7:30 at City Hall.