Sunday, December 19, 2010

My money is on Madison

In the December 13th Free Press, Mitch Albom wrote Tax Cut Debate is Missing the Point, and it drew several comments in today's (December 19) Letters to the editor.
Naomi from St. Clair shores wrote:
If I was a wealthy American, which I am not, I would be outraged by those who are upset at my inclusion in renewal of the Bush tax cuts. If I was lucky enough to have earned enough to live well, or inherited wealth from family success, then as an American I am entitled to share in the same benefits as other citizens and legal residents.
Her letter brought some criticisms from on-line readers.  One writer, marytee, wrote:
Naomi's .. hypothetical statement professing outrage ... shows a significant amount of ignorance regarding how the rich actually feel about the cuts. Several dozen millionaires, including Warren Buffett, the third richest person in the world, recently urged that the cuts be allowed to expire for the good of the country.
It's far more likely that Ms. Solomons' outrage is selfishly political--she'd rather see the deficit increase--which what happens with these cuts--than see a Democratic president succeed.
I believe Naomi's comments are no more "politically selfish" than maryteee's.  maryteee seems to measure a budget's value by the revenue it collects (and from whom it's collected from in particular) than how much it spends.

Unfortunately for maryteee, being wealthy doesn't make Mr. Buffet's opinions correct--it just means Mr. Buffet is wealthy. Even as the third wealthiest person in America, Mr. Buffet doesn't speak for all America's wealthy.

On a related note, the national budget isn't broken because it doesn't tax “the rich,” it's broken because it overspends.

James Madison wrote, "If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the general welfare, the government is no longer a limited one possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one subject to particular exceptions."

In the last several congresses, our government has become less limited by its constitution than by foreign governments' willingness to buy our debt.

We should be ashamed of our complicity with federal spending and our greed at accepting federal grants and ear-marks.

Complicity and greed are not the franchise of "the rich."  Gifts from the treasury have corrupted us all.

Friday, December 10, 2010

It's a modified world after all

[Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2010 edition of Ferndale Friends] 

It’s a modified world after all
In mid-November our family visited the new Harry Potter Park at Universal Studios in Orlando.  While waiting in line for one of the rides I noticed a sign that read, “Modified seating, row 3.”
Modified seating?

I searched the internet with my new Droid X (great device) for an explanation.  As expected, we weren’t the first people to notice the sign.  The Orlando Examiner’s Seth Kubersky noticed it, too.  
“Author J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter fiction franchise is the biggest cultural phenomenon to hit the literary world in a decade.  But Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the groundbreaking headliner ride at (the park) ran headlong into another major cultural development: the rapid expansion of America’s waistlines.”
For safety reasons, seats that might accommodate “modified” persons are unsafe for “unmodified?” persons as the latter may slip out.  

At 6’4”, I might be considered “non-standard.”  Though the restraints at the rides easily secured me safely in my seat, I noticed none of the head-rests on the rides were high-enough to guard against whip-lash, and my knees frequently knocked the sides of whatever vehicle I was riding in.  But tall people rarely, if ever, invite sympathy.  Tall people can’t blame their height on McDonalds, soft drinks, saturated fats, low metabolisms, or thyroid conditions.  

I was reminded of Universal’s “modified” seating—and the reason for it, when our family hopped on Disney World’s “It’s a small world” ride.  As our boat floated past the 289 animated dolls, 147 toys, and 36 animated props, I made another observation: none of the dolls is fat, or short, or tall. They’re all a uniform height.  In fact, due I’m sure to Disney’s meticulous attention to detail, none of the dolls were handicapped or otherwise not operating according to design.  They’re probably all equally educated and from similar socio-economic backgrounds as well.  Sure, they had different color skin, different clothes, different hairstyles, and the British dolls were easily identified by their bad teeth, but those are superficial differences.  That’s lip-stick diversity.  But it is the kind of diversity that’s easier to promote, accept, and include on questionnaires than diversity of opinion.

But it is a children’s ride after all, and children shorter than 42” can’t be expected to appreciate how superficial the diversity we see is compared to the diversity we hear, read, speak, or write.

But we’re adults.  We shouldn’t think we’ve conquered Everest when the only mole hill we’ve climbed is how people look.  We’ll have arrived at a much better place when we’ve overcome the xenophobia of opinion.

Overcoming that fear doesn’t mean we patronize those we disagree with.  In fact, it means quite the opposite.  It means we engage them in discussions, debates, and yes, even (civil) arguments.

But don’t expect that achievement to be celebrated by others, reported on the news, included in school advertisements, or recognized by advocacy groups.  It is truly its own reward.

Happy Anniversary!

This article marks the anniversary of my first “consolation” column published after Scott Galloway shellacked me in the 2009 election by 78 votes, or 3%.  Not as bad as the pounding Covey gave me two years earlier when a 318-vote margin separated us by 9%.  The good news is, if anyone believes the charter amendment’s success was a reflection of my political sway, it only passed by 2%.  

I’m not a mathematician, but I think this phenomenon (9%, 3%, 2%) is similar to exponential decay: an equation that may approach zero but is forbidden by the laws of mathematics, habit, or handicap from ever crossing the finish line.  If you’re not convinced, grab a calculator and see how many times you can divide any positive number by 3 until it actually reaches zero.  If you’re not sure, keep dividing it until it reaches zero or goes negative.  Write me when you get there.

I bring that up not only because of the anniversary, but because Ferndale was a stand-out when compared to the state election results.

Republican Ruth Johnson beat Democrat Jocelyn Benson for Secretary of State by 5.5%, but lost in Ferndale by 35%.

Republican Bill Schuette beat Democrat David Leyton for Attorney General by 9%, but lost in Ferndale by nearly 34%.

Finally, Republican Rick Snyder beat Democrat Virg Bernero for Governor by 18%, but lost in Ferndale by 19.5%.

Now, Michigan is pretty much a “blue” state, meaning it normally leans toward Democrats.  Though the state as a whole went in the opposite direction, Ferndale stuck to its guns and is so far out of the mean to be bordering on becoming not just a statistical outlier as much as a statistical outcast.  This lopsidedness is reflected in our city council as well.  While many voters may interpret the council’s many 5-0 and 4-1 votes as evidence of what council person Kate Baker describes as collaborative, others see it as uniformity, homogeny, or monotony of thinking.
Essentially, Ferndale’s council may have straights, gays, males, and females, but is otherwise absent of diversity of opinion.  Which is to say, it reflects the hegemony of its voters.

We’ll see in January if city council appoints a council person to replace the resigning Mayor Covey that will give it the “new dynamic” it claims to want.  That would be an act of leadership, and that, too, is its own reward.   

Friday, October 29, 2010

Ballot initiative has Daily Tribune editors scratching their heads, too

Today's edition of The Daily Tribune includes an editorial on Ferndale's ballot initiative titled, No reason to give city manager authority over four officials.

In it, they write,
It's unwieldy, we suppose, around budget time. It could be unwieldy in contract negotiations. But the city has done quite well under the 83-year-old setup. The city has done no worse and perhaps a little better fiscally than some of its neighbors, including the last calamitous couple of years.
In a video taped forum organized by Citizens for a Fair Ferndale, the most obvious conclusion is there are no obvious (or compelling) reasons to pass the proposal.  To be fair, there's no obvious or compelling reasons to keep it, either.

Except prudence.

Supporters of the charter amendment (which will give the city manager authority over the clerk, fire, and police departments) admit there are no certain dollars to be saved.  They admit the new arrangement won't necessarily save time.  They admit they can't quantify the meaning of "efficient."  Their strongest point is Ferndale's organization is unique among Michigan municipalities, and so we should adopt a everyone else's model theirs is a "best practice" and ours is "quirky."
(Oh, and it has something to do with the investigation between the police and county prosecutor, but it's a secret.)
How much money would you pay for a used car without any verifiable benefits over your existing car?  How much would you pay for a car that isn't newer than you have already, isn't more fuel efficient than you have already, isn't faster, isn't roomier, isn't more entertaining, isn't more comfortable, and doesn't even smell nicer than the car you already have?

I wouldn't buy it either.

Based on what we've been told so far, I'll stick with both the car and the charter I have today.  Vote no.

Friday, October 22, 2010

If you're scratching your head on Ferndale's charter amendment, the answer should be, "No."

On June 14, 2010, Ferndale's city council passed ordinance #1094 which transfers supervisory responsibilities of the city clerk, police, and fire departments to the city manager.  Basically, the city's charter is amended to read:
The Division of Law and Records and Division of Safety set forth in Chapter III, Section 11 of the Ferndale Charter, shall be under the supervision, direction and control of the City Manager.
In folks-like-us terms; the city clerk, fire chief, and police chief now report to the city manager.

A petition signed by 400 registered voters suspended the ordinance, and on July 26, council voted to repeal the ordinance and put the issue on November 2nd's ballot.

There were three basic reasons residents signed the petition.  

First, some like Ferndale's structure exactly the way the charter proscribes it, feeling the chiefs and clerk are more accountable to citizens if they work for council, whose members are directly accountable to voters than for the city manager who is not accountable to voters.

Second, others feel they'd already vetoed this idea the last time the charter was revised and the new arrangement was included.

Lastly, most signers objected to how council went about making the change.  So important a topic as amending a city's charter is, voters felt the issue deserved some special explanation or even a special meeting dedicated to the topic.  At such a meeting council could have provided specific benefits to the new arrangement, allayed voter anxieties about the clerk and chief's apparent demotions, provide examples on how the new arrangement will benefit citizens, and provide the dollar and time savings the budget and staff should expect to see.

Over four months later, council has yet to elaborate on the definition of "efficient" (in time and money--the best measurement of "efficiency") or explain why "being like other cities" is OK for some things and not others.

In simple terms, the ballot measure could ask, "Should the city create a layer of bureaucracy between public safety and city council?  Given the amount of justification provided so far, the answer is no.

Or how about, "Should the city manager be given disciplinary powers over the fire chief, police chief, and city clerk?"  Again, without justification as to why council-appointees should be castigated by anyone other than city council or citizens, the answer is no.

If after everything that's been said by council leaves you at all uncertain, the answer is still no.  City charters, like constitutions, should not be amended or revised without clear understanding of the precise limits being expanded, created, or delegated.  Nor should charters be amended for reasons that aren't definable.

Some people go to a restaurant planning to tip 20% then work their way down depending on the quality of service.  Others start at 0% and work their way up.  Ballots should be approved using the second approach--don't change what's already in-place without a clear and precise definition of the benefits.  If the argument given is efficiency, then clear and precise is defined as dollars and hours.

Certainly, if council can make its case, and deliver to the Financial Planning Committee a commitment that this change will save $447,930 annually, then a yes vote may make sense.

But unless proofs are given and can withstand scrutiny, voters should say, "No."  Voting "No" will give council more time to consider if there are any time or dollar savings, time to survey other cities to see how they measure "efficiency," and provide an opportunity to hold a public hearing to share all their findings.

After four months, there's no rush, no imperative, no savings, no staff reductions, and no service improvements.  And until proven otherwise, on November 2nd there should be no changes to the charter.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Round #2 :Federal court upholds Obamacare

"In a 20-page decision, U.S. District Judge George Steeh refused to issue an injunction to halt preparations for putting federal health reforms into full effect in 2014, a law known as the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress in March. Steeh also dismissed the major points of the suit — requiring Americans to buy health insurance and penalizing those who don’t starting in 2014."
Before applauding or berating the opinion, I thought I'd read it first.

I need to confess I haven't read the entire order, but the plaintiffs seemed to clearly miss establishing their standing.  The fact they may have to arrange their financial affairs differently three years from now doesn't excite me either, but I understand where they're coming from.  I'm glad they're planning ahead.  More of us should follow their example.

But it made me wonder: regardless whether Obamacare exceeds constitutional authority, by passing laws that go into affect in the future it is difficult to impede their enactment since until they hurt someone no one has standing to bring a case against the law.

Let me put that in simpler terms for recent college graduates--you're not hurt until you're hurt.

In the court's opinion, if your child is tied to railroad tracks they don't have standing to stop the train.

I think this is brilliant.  Congress should pass all unpopular and potentially unconstitutional laws this way.  No one can stop their passing or implementation because until folks have been victimized there are no victims, no plaintiffs, and no one "with standing." 

Of course, the judge's reasoning would also eliminate criminal conspiracy--since no one was harmed.  It may also prohibit the apprehension of terrorists since until the plane blows up, no one is actually hurt.

As long as the missile is climbing or hasn't entered US airspace there's no eminent threat.

I know, I know.  The judge's order blushed that "standing" is influenced by the immediacy of the threat.  But immediacy is both ambiguous and subjective.  If I'm planning ahead, three years from now is nearly a present danger.  If I don't plan ahead then three years from now is, well, three years from now.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

There's a Visa commercial in Hazel Park... somewhere

Well, we know how Hazel Park will try balancing its budget--it's charging $35 for copies of its 2010-2011 budget.  I half-expect mine to be mimeographed.  If they could just sell 25,713 more copies they might balance their 2011-2012 budget.

I wonder if they mail-order office supplies from Scrivenshaft's Quill Shop?

Meanwhile, Ferndale's 2010-2011 budget may be downloaded for free, without wasting gas on a trip to the clerk's office, without wasting paper, and without missing work.  Priceless---really!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Pump up the volume. Dance! Dance!

[Note: This article originally appeared in the October 2010 edition of Ferndale Friends]

NIMBY is an acronym for Not In My Back Yard.  It’s a term thrown around whenever a bunch of folks are in favor of a refinery, an incinerator, a jail, a half-way house, adult book store, or anything else many think is Good For The Community (GFTC – not an acronym) but they don’t want it near them.  It’s ok to be by someone else’s home, to increase someone else’s health risks, or increase traffic on someone else’s streets as long as it’s not our health, our safety, or our streets.

The current issue that has all the NIMBYs out in force is Ferndale’s noise ordinance.  A petition circulated this summer proposes to lower the nighttime volume from 65 to 60 decibels.  Not surprisingly, there are many that feel those five decibels would kill the downtown, drive away night-time revelers, shutter the bars, and return tumbleweeds to Nine Mile.

As much as Ferndale likes being like everyone else, I wonder how Ann Arbor manages to survive with its residential nighttime limits at 55 decibels.  Birmingham, East Lansing, and Kalamazoo are 60, 55, and 45 decibels respectively.

According to Ferndale reactionaries, these cities must be ghost towns.

At a city council meeting earlier this summer, council-woman Melanie Piana (or was it Kate Baker?) suggested Ferndale consider New Jersey’s “model” sound ordinance.  I doubt either of them actually read it as it recommends a residential night-time limit of 50 decibels.

In Detroit, amplifiers aren’t even allowed to be used if they’re within 250 feet of a residential area.  I don’t think anyone enforces that, but this summer Mt. Clemens’ new noise ordinance ordains that any downtown sound that can be heard 500 feet away is too loud.

Heck, according to other cities’ standards, at 60 decibels petition organizer Sherry Wells is a partying sorority chick gone wild.  Reserve your “The Girls of Troy St.” calendar at a Ferndale retailer near you!

So, before everyone shouts-down the residents on Troy asking for a little consideration, remember they aren’t nearly is prudish as the folks in Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Kalamazoo, or San Francisco (45 dBA measured inside the house).

At their September 27th meeting, city council directed the DDA director and city manager to retain a sound engineer (spend money) to develop guidelines (spend time) for a non-sound-pressure-based measurement (spend credibility).  I humbly submit the research provided above for free, printed in a free magazine, dropped on your porch every-other-month for free.

It’s just my little contribution to help Ferndale balance its budget.

It’s always darkest just before it goes pitch-black

Speaking of balancing the budget, if you haven’t visited, you should check it out.  If you’re sick of reading all those motivation posters hanging in the hallways at the office, this is the website for you.  My favorite is named, Mistakes.  It’s a picture of a sinking ship in the middle of a tranquil sea.  You’ll have to read the caption for yourself when you visit the website.

Anyway, on September 13th, council appointed 12 residents to accomplish in 55 days what council couldn’t accomplish in 163 days—fill a three-year budget deficit of approximately $12 million with expense reductions and tax increases.  Believe it or not, the 12 people selected were among 29 that volunteered for the job (including yours truly).

One of my favorites was Melanie Piana’s nomination of a guy she admitted she didn’t know, hadn’t met, but heard was “a nice guy.”  With keen and penetrating rationale like that I wouldn’t trust her recommending a hair dresser much less someone with influence to cut city services and raise property taxes.

Heck, with those qualifications she may as well have nominated Ashton Kutcher.  I suspect they haven’t met either and he seemed a nice-enough-guy on That 70’s Show and the Nikon camera commercials (at least until rumors of his pulling a Tiger-Woods on Demi More).

To bring everyone up-to-date, the Financial Planning Committee has met three times.  The first was a get-to-know-you meeting with a few people declaring the DDA and Kulick Center off-limits (out-of-the-box-thinking).  The second was elections of a chair, vice-chair, and secretary (Bob Porter, Joel Petrie, and Bob Bruner respectively), followed by 100-level Municipal Accounting primer given by the city manager to catch everyone up on the definitions of fund, expense, income, and statutory.  I don’t remember if he covered the words discretionary, frivolous, indulgent, and reckless, or if he’ll just show video of the July 26 council meeting when they approved spending $447,930 for a $21,500 chair lift while staring down a $3 million deficit in next year’s budget.

Conformity is its own reward

On this November’s ballot Ferndale citizens will vote on whether our police and fire chiefs should report to the city council as they have since the city’s beginning, or report to the city manager.  After council attempted to make this change without residents’ input a petition forced the issue to the ballot, hoping that by election-day city council will have provided some justification for why both chiefs’ visibility and independence should be eliminated.

Residents have been waiting since mid-summer for council to explain themselves.  If the new arrangement is as efficient as they claim it should be easy to back up with numbers rather than anecdotes (“other cities do it”), whining (“they’re making fun of me”), or hissy fits (Galloway’s wanting police and fire personnel to account for their time in 15-minute increments).

If city council can’t explain their actions other than to say others are doing it, then we don’t need our city council.  Instead, Ferndale can just imitate Madison Heights’ charter and ordinances, or Royal Oak’s, or maybe Ann Arbors—then we can resolve the who-reports-to-the-city-manager, medical marijuana, and implement a 55 decibel residential noise limit from 10PM-7AM and free-up two Monday evenings a month.

So until that time comes, residents should vote NO.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Obama admonishes the faithless

Perhaps the diagnosis is wrong.  What President Obama sees as "Democratic voter apathy" may actually be buyer's remorse.  And as all American's don't fall neatly into Democrat or Republic boxes, assigning apathy to "Democrats" misses the point--it wasn't just Democrats that voted for him in 2008.

It's also wrong to assume his presidential legacy is the responsibility of "Democrats" to rescue and they're being apathetic on the up-take.

When Obamacrats voted for change they put "The Best of Obama" on their iPods and listened to them over and over, memorized the lyrics, and hummed the melodies in local government, facebook, and the pages of the NYTimes.

In many ways, they're feeling a lot like Republicans did after Bush passed NCLB and the huge prescription bill, and their malaise is for THE SAME reason.  Republican melancholy was due to Bush's breaking a promise and Democratic lethargy is because Obama kept his promise.

But ultimately, both Republicans and Democrats were disappointed for the same reason.  In essence, Bush acted liberal and Obama, well, is liberal.

The good news is, I still see a lot of Obama bumper stickers.  The bad news I still see Mondale/Ferraro stickers.  Maybe Obama's diagnosis isn't so far off the mark.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It pays to be bland

From "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen"
Captain Nemo: I am Captain Nemo, putting myself humbly at your service. I have heard of Mr. Quartermain.
Quartermain: And I've heard of you, Captain. Rumor has it you're a pirate.
Captain Nemo: I would prefer a less provocative title.
Quartermain: I'm sure you would.
Believe it or not, there are only three self-described Democrats on Ferndale's Financial Planning Committee.  There are also five self-described independents, two that didn't identify any affiliation, and two that weren't on the list at all (and were yet still appointed).

There are no self-identified Republicans.  I find that fascinating.  During the Bush administration, Republicans pretty much lost their "quals" as fiscal conservatives, so in that regard Republicans are indistinguishable from Democrats.

Another possibility is both are ashamed of their parties, and not without reason.
Quatermain: I may have been overly rude earlier... when I called you a pirate.
Captain Nemo: And I may have been overly charitable... when I said I wasn't.  But I try to live in the now... where the ghosts of old wrongs do not abide.
Nemo, at least, eventually admitted he was being "overly charitable."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Council appointees to Ferndale Financial Planning Committee

A list of people nominated to the planning committee, for a term ending December 31, 2010.

Nominator  Nominee              Motion
Baker      Kathryn Hershberger  carried
Galloway   Scott Helmer         carried
Lennon     Steve Kuzmanovich    FAILED
Piana      Mark Van Dyke        carried
Baker      Robert Porter        carried
Galloway   Dennis Whittie       carried
Baker      Joel Petrie          carried
Piana      Jacqueline Smith     carried
Galloway   Greg Pawlica         carried
Baker      Ben Updyke           carried
Lennon     John McQuiggin       carried
Lennon     Thomas Gagne         FAILED
Baker      Sharon Chess         carried
Baker      Daniel Harteau       carried

A couple quick notes (longer ones may follow).

There must be something poisonous about Kuzmanovich and Gagne.  What do those guys have in common (besides Lennon's nominating them) that none of the other council members would second the motion?

Baker, Galloway, and Piana all batted 1000, going 6-6, 3-3, and 2-2 on their nominations.

How is it Baker was allowed six nominations?

Why did Mayor Covey allow Baker six nominations?

Monday, September 13, 2010

You read it here first!

Whether it's my comments that Johnson's touchdown-receiption-that-wasn't was only the last in many missed opportunities in Sunday's game against the bears being repeated by Coach Swartz to the media, or Greenspan agreeing with me about why we were fighting a war in Iraq, I enjoy it when a national or local figure repeats something I might have said earlier.  It boosts my ego, and we all know how fragile male egos can be...

Most recently I was reminded of an article I wrote in 2007, Accrediting Your Adversary, while reading Kathleen Parker's column this weekend.

In my column I warned about the dangers of focusing so tightly on a political target that you give them more attention, and political weight, than they deserve.  By singling them out you give them a power similar to how Voldemort marked Harry Potter--and we know how that one ended.

So Kathleen Parker writes:
No one is enjoying Obama's attempt to demonize Boehner more than Boehner. The White House seems to relish playing target practice with an enemy du jour and, in the process, elevating its prey. When the administration singled out Rush Limbaugh as the leader of the Republican Party, no one was more delighted than Limbaugh.

Even though his critics say he's prematurely measuring for new drapes in the speaker's quarters, Boehner is hardly a household name beyond Washington and political parlors where the chattering class feasts on the latest polls.

Effective immediately, Boehner is the un-Obama, and that is not a bad thing for Republicans. If the president were confident in his programs, some of which Republicans also support (research and development tax credits, for example), he wouldn't need to challenge Boehner on his own turf. Successful leaders ignore the hecklers and noisemakers. 
So now we all know (or are learning) who Boehner is, even though we didn't know him until Obama started arguing with him.

Of course, had then-senator Obama been reading my blog he would have known that.  But as a regular reader of this blog, you won't make that mistake.

(pat self on back)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Still waiting...

[Note: This article originally appeared in the August 2010 edition of Ferndale Friends]
Among other provisions The First Amendment guarantees is the right to, “… petition the government for a redress of grievances.”  July was a busy month for redressing Ferndale’s city council as two petitions were being circulated; one to repeal an ordinance and another to amend one.

The latest word on the petition to amend Ferndale’s sound ordinance initiated by Troy Street residents is that it has been suspended (or slowed) while petition organizers arrange to meet with councilwoman Melanie Piana and Mayor Craig Covey.  Troy resident Sherry Wells has appeared multiple times before council complaining about the sound level of music from Rosie O’Grady’s and other downtown hot-spots interrupting her and her daughter’s sleep.  The copy of the petition I read didn’t include any recommendations on dealing with the parking, discarded prophylactics, drug paraphernalia, and other Animal House debris that accompanies the DDA’s master plan. 

Wells’ most recent visit to city hall brought an interesting comment from Mayor Craig Covey.  After congratulating Rosie’s late-night patrons for practicing safe sex, the mayor suggested Ms. Wells use an electric fan to drown-out the noise--just like he does.

Apparently, the mayor uses a really BIG fan that drowns-out a LOT of noise.  So much noise, in fact, someone broke-in to his house, stole items from his bedroom, and made their getaway in His Honor’s own hybrid SUV.  Even criminals, it seems, are as interested in free-parking downtown as they are free plasma televisions and jewelry.

The other petition repealed ordinance 1094, passed by council at their June 12th meeting, over the objections of a very animated councilman Mike Lennon.  That suspended ordinance read in-part, “The Division of Law and Records [Clerk] and Division of Safety [Police and Fire] … shall be under the supervision, direction and control of the City Manager.”

Councilwomen Melanie Piana and Kate Baker both said it was a good idea because “modern” cities like Madison Heights, Hazel Park, and Oak Park do it, so Ferndale should, too.  Modeling Ferndale after any city other than San Francisco caught a lot of residents off-guard.  In just 22 days, petition circulators gathered 400 signatures from shocked voters which were turned-in four-days early by petition organizer Tiffani Gagné (Hi, honey!  If your name is misspelled it’s Steffie’s fault).  Only 266 signatures were required, but Mrs. Gagné believes anything worth doing is worth over-doing (Who loves ‘ya, babe?).

By the time you read this city council will have likely insisted to wear their “pants on the ground” and be like other cities—when it suits them—and the question about 1094’s adoption will become a matter for voters to decide in November.  Perhaps by then, city council persons will have come up with better reasons for the ordinance than, “all the other kids are doing it” and “the other kids are making fun of me.”  If responsible moms won’t accept that argument for getting a tattoo or body-piercing I don’t see why voters should accept it for revising the charter.

A (not-so) quick story

I’ve barely used-up half of my 900-word column and so have extra room for the “quick story” section.

On coming home one evening I spotted a well-known Democratic candidate going door-to-door on our street.  I noticed them leave one neighbor’s porch, skip our house, and head to another neighbor’s porch.  As I pulled-in to my driveway I yelled out the window to the candidate and encouraged them to stop by the house as soon as they finished the house whose porch they were stepping-on to.  After exchanging a few welcoming words that were responded to with a quizzical look I was confident they understood the invitation.

Excited they would be coming over I ran inside the house.  Having done the door-to-door thing in hot weather I knew they’d be thirsty.  I filled a big bowl with ice, water bottles, and Diet Pepsi™ (a favorite of mine), threw a cloth napkin over a small table on our front-porch, pulled up two chairs, and waited.

And waited.

After several minutes passed I saw them cross the street to visit Nancy Goedert’s house (former Mayor Goedert’s mom).  I thought to myself, “Well, of course they’d visit Nancy!  Why would a Democrat come this far up West Woodland and not check to see if Nancy’s home?”

They entered Nancy’s house and I waited.

And waited.

I ended-up drinking both Pepsis™.  Eventually I gave-up my vigil on the porch and moved inside hoping for the door-bell.

That was weeks ago.  I’ve sent two emails since.  No response.  But I'm not waiting.

I share this story to remind people that voters are responsible for partisan gridlock.  They’re responsible for electing politicians that define themselves as partisans first and will deliberately turn aside an invitation to reach out and share their views or listen to ideas dissimilar to their own.  This is the last frontier of diversity Ferndale needs to conquer.  Americans can’t change the partisan divide in one election, but they can start by electing better council persons and county commissioners.  Local politicians become county, state, and even federal representatives.

In this city, you know who you’re voting for.  If they’re not the kind of politician you’d respect if they were on the other side, then you shouldn’t elect them to represent yours.

Depending on the outcome of the August Democratic primary, I may reveal that candidate’s name.

If you want to take a guess at who that candidate is or have a short story you think would make a great tag-ending to this column, write me at

Friday, July 23, 2010

Are the council and DDA turning a deaf ear to noise problems?

The long-running conflict between residents living near downtown Ferndale, the city council, and business owners seems to be coming to a head.
  • A petition is being circulated by W. Troy residents to put a new noise ordinance on the November ballot.
  • Last night, the DDA's Board of Directors held a special meeting, "..  to discuss residential and business concerns relating to the City of Ferndale's current noise ordinance and proposed changes to it."
  • At the last city council meeting, council woman Melanie Piana confessed that while on a late-nite bike-ride with her husband she experienced, first-hand, how loud the music is on residential streets, and asked the city's administration to give the matter some attention.
  • Earlier this month, the city of Mt. Clemens passed an ordinance banning sound that can be heard more than 500 feet from its source.
These are just some of the stories that have been in the news lately.  In Ferndale, city-leaders' dedication to reinvigorating its downtown by turning it into a night-club and entertainment district has proceeded despite regular complaints from residents living near downtown about loud music disturbing their sleep as well as the attendant parking problems, public urination, disorderly persons on residential streets, and drug paraphernalia and discarded rubbers found on homeowner's front lawns.

At the DDA's special meeting Thursday night at Rosie O'Grady's approximately 30 people including one acoustic engineer, the Chief of Police, two city councilpersons, members of the DDA board, its executive director and other staff, and residents gathered to discuss the noise ordinance.

Here are just a few of my impressions.  I invite everyone to leave comments with their own, or share their own opinions as they will.
  •  Craig Covey suggested the problem may have become worse recently with more of the nightclubs opening patios and having outside entertainment.  Though there is certainly more outside music than before (both live and recorded) it doesn't explain residents complaints before outside music became popular.  Additionally, it shouldn't matter where the music's source is--if it's too loud inside a resident's home it's too loud regardless whether it came from the club's patio, bar, or a bathroom.
  • One of the board members reported that in addition to the $75-500 fine they may owe the city, the Liquor Control Commission (LCC) may add additional fines up to $5000.
  • Brian Kramer gets the "Best Comment" award for when he said (paraphrasing), "I want to resolve this issue as quickly as possible.  I don't like having this problem and I don't like having these meetings."
  • Kramer also said his original site plan included 15' walls and a tree barrier around Rosie's, but those features designed to limit noise leakage into the neighborhood were eliminated by the the city's Appearance Review Committee.
  • I forget who mentioned it, but the idea to make W. Troy a one-way street was re-introduced, as was the idea to remove the sidewalk leading from W. Nine Mile into the neighborhood, to discourage late-night revelers from stumbling in the direction of the nearby homes.
  • One resident suggested the public urination problem may be due to the lack of accessible restrooms to folks on Rosie's patio.  In a conversation afterward another resident pointed out that Como's has restrooms accessible directly from their patio, and suggested that had Rosie's site-plan included outside-accessible restrooms the Appearance Review Committee would likely have eliminated those as well.
  • Rather than trying to tell people what 75.0 DB(A)s sounds like it would have been much better to bring a device that makes a 75.0 DB(a) sound, use the police's sound meter to check it, then see how far away the meter must move before the sound level falls to 0.0 DB(A)s.
I'm unconvinced an ordinance listing allowable decibels (on any scale--A or B) is the best approach for Ferndale's noise problem. I admire the simplicity of Mt. Clemens's approach.  If you're 500' away and can still here it, then the noise is too loud.  Unfortunately, Ferndale homes are, in many cases, less than 100' away.  It's hard to imagine any night-time music, ambient or not, would dissipate to nothing before traveling a mere 100'.

I'm thinking that some kind of barrier may be required, as well as a possible resurfacing of W. Nine Mile, Planavon, Allen, and perhaps Withington and W. Troy with a material designed to absorb noise--along with a healthy growth of trees.

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

In the Democratic Primary: Vote Covey for 25th District Commissioner

The only scheduled debate between candidates for the 25th district County Commissioner seat was Monday, July 19.  Both Comcast and WideOpenWest will broadcast it multiple times.  You may also watch it on your computer by visiting Ferndale Cable's video of the debate.
If you plan on voting in the Democratic Primary Tuesday, August 3rd, Ferndale Mayor Craig Covey deserves your vote for County Commissioner in the 25th district (Ferndale, Hazel Park, Royal Oak).

The other candidates on the Democratic ticket are Ruel McPherson, former county commissioner, and Tomiko Gumbleton, former Ferndale Councilwoman.  A fourth candidate, Richard Parisi, is unopposed on the Republican side of the ballot and did not attend.

At the debate Monday night, the candidates were given a minute to respond to 13 questions submitted by audience members.  Some impressions about the candidates is below.

Ruel McPherson

If any candidate can be said to have knocked one out of the park, it was Ruel McPherson.  

When asked what one of the first things he would do as county commissioner he went right to cost-cutting.  It's hard to imagine a county run as tightly as Oakland and with as high a bond rating as it has might have low-hanging-fruit, but McPherson sees a big one.  He sees little reason the road, parks, and drain departments couldn't be managed under a single roof, sharing all their facilities, equipment, contracts, and personnel to more efficiently manage what is mostly common between them.  I hope that whomever wins the November election takes this great idea to their first commissioners meeting.

McPherson also mentioned tax-base sharing several times.  Even after reading about it, it's unclear how this idea compares with how property taxes are already distributed--unevenly and inequitably--throughout the county.

Tomiko Gumbleton

Tomiko has been an active member of the community for years; as a volunteer, as a city councilwoman, and as a member of Ferndale's Democratic Club.  Tomiko's commitment to all things Democrat probably make her a great asset to Senator Debbie Stabenow, but that same dedication and single-mindedness makes her a poor candidate for the Board of Commissioners.

With the recent death of Republican commissioner Jeff Potter, the board is now evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.  No one knows what the new mix will be after November, but it is certain that both the 25th District and the county will be poorly served by rabid partisanship.

Gumbleton repeated multiple times that she prefers to make decisions based on data and facts rather than gut instinct.  From her votes on Ferndale's city council it would appear her appetite for facts is inversely proportional to her predisposition (euphemism for prejudice).  In other words, if her gut doesn't like an idea it needs data.  If she likes an idea the data doesn't matter.

In 2007 she sat through a presentation from Ferndale's DDA asking for a special tax on downtown businesses.  The presentation was rife with misinformation, bad comparisons to Royal Oak, Birmingham, and Rochester, generalizations, and no ideas what the DDA would do with the increased revenue.  That was all fine with Tomiko.  Data didn't matter because she was already in the DDA's pocket.

In 2009, in a city bleeding from foreclosures, falling property values and taxes, and staring down the throat of a $3 million budget deficit,  Gumbleton repeatedly voted for more money spent on consultants ($110,000-worth) to consider building a new municipal complex with price tags ranging up to $8 million.

In a recent Observer & Eccentric article, Tomiko defended her spending on consultants for the municipal project by saying, "No one knew 2 1/2 years ago where we would be now."  Apparently, Gumbleton didn't pay attention to the 2006 gubernatorial election and how important Michigan's plummeting economy was four years ago.  Nor did she listen in 2008 when the DDA changed its mind about the tax increase (helped by a petition signed by over 400 voters) saying that due to the economy, raising taxes was probably a bad idea for downtown businesses.  And she didn't listen in 2009 when resident after resident pleaded with city council to abandon its pursuit of an expensive and unnecessary building project and stop wasting money on consultants.  Apparently, 2 1/2 years ago, Gumbleton was one of only a few council persons who didn't know "... where we would be now."

Those are not the credentials of good policy making.  Those are not the credentials of someone that claims to be interested in data.  Those are not the credentials of someone that can help Oakland (or anyone else) through the upcoming budget crunches.  Those are not the credentials of someone the 25th district needs representing them on the board of commissioners.

Craig Covey

Many Ferndaler's biggest problem with Craig's campaign for county commissioner isn't his leaving his post as Ferndale's mayor as much as it is the fact councilwoman Kate Baker will replace him.  As legitimate as that disappointment may be it does not excuse electing a less qualified candidate August 3rd.  If Ferndaler's don't like Kate as their mayor they can fix that next November.

In bad budget times, like the next several years promise to be, fiscal responsibility and the ability to work with folks on the "other" side of the aisle will be important traits of the elected officials we need in Oakland, and other places throughout the state and in Lansing.

Craig's "government isn't always the solution" comments during the debate appeal to a broader spectrum of voters than do candidates claiming they can solve all our problems with more federal grant money.  His ideas on sprawl, land use, and the conservation of existing infrastructure are also more appealing than the oft-parroted land-bank sound bites from other candidates.

Craig isn't the perfect candidate, but he's the best for District 25 in the Democratic Primary.

No matter who you're voting for, be sure to vote Tuesday, August 3.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Repeal ordinance 1094

On June 14, 2010, Ferndale's city council passed ordinance #1094 which transfers supervisory responsibilities of the city clerk, police, and fire departments to the city manager.  Basically, the city's charter is amended to read:
The Division of Law and Records and Division of Safety set forth in Chapter III, Section 11 of the Ferndale Charter, shall be under the supervision, direction and control of the City Manager.
In folks-like-us terms; the city clerk, fire chief, and police chief now report to the city manager.

There are at least three strong reasons this ordinance should be repealed.

First, Ferndale voters have already twice turned-down initiatives to rewrite the charter.  Apparently, many residents feel strongly about the fire and police chiefs reporting directly to someone accountable to voters rather than a city manager who is not.  Even if that someone is five someones, voters believe they have more direct control over the composition of council than they do the occupant of the city manager's office.

Second, council was both arrogant and derelict to not inform residents of their intent to change the charter.  Heck, they were even negligent about warning Councilman Mike Lennon about their intent.  Of course, Mike Lennon is less likely to ignore his neighbors or dismiss their concerns about accountability as petty, quaint, old-fashioned, or as Councilwoman Piana said, ".. embarrassing."

Third, council provided no justifications beyond the superficial for why the ordinance was necessary, or why it must be voted on immediately.  Below is a summary of their reasons:
  • Melonie Piana (2 minutes 23 seconds): 
    • It's hard to get accountability with five part-time bosses and
    • It's more stream-lined (take her word for it)
  • Kate Baker (1 minute 23 seconds): 
    • "What Melonie [Piana] said" and
    • Other cities scoff at us and her colleagues are astounded she represents so backward-thinking a city as Ferndale when she was used to representing the much-more-impressive Henry Ford Museum where she used to work (I made that last part up, but it fits).
  • Covey: Wants to get copied on press-releases (really!)
  • Galloway: No reason given.
So, with a combined three minutes and 46 seconds of anecdotes our city council was satisfied it had sufficiently plumbed a "major change to our form of government," as Lennon said, and voted 4-1 to pass the ordinance.

If Piana and Baker think it's difficult to get accountability with five part-time bosses, they should try remembering what it's like getting a satisfactory explanation why they wanted to spend millions of dollars building a new city hall or why the rush to move the clerk and two chiefs under the city manager so soon after laying off police officers and firemen.

And after what recently-elected Library Trustee Pat Dengate had to report at the June 28th council meeting about the delays, mis-communications, and bureaucratic red-tape working with city inspectors and the Community Development Services (CDS) to design and build the new library, residents are justified in doubting Covey's, Galloway's, Piana's, and Baker's confidence that our city manager will manage public safety  any better than he has CDS.

Some may argue that council didn't really modify the charter with ordinance 1094.  Even were that true, the change they made to the operation and accountability from the residents' perspective  is significant enough they may as well have.

Consider also:
  • the language of the ordinance itself reads, "... set forth in Chapter III, Section 11 of the Ferndale Charter...,"
  • in the city charter's own opinion what council wanted to do was so extraordinary it required four votes to pass the ordinance (normally, only three are required),
  • the memo from City Attorney Dan Christ (sounds like wrist) to city manager Bob Bruner reads like a Carvillian talking-points memo, calling out the city charter's own language, three court cases, sections of the Michigan Constitution, and his own rah-rah talk encouraging Bruner and council that they may proceed with impunity and little concern for the arguments and protests any accidental resident or union representative may fling at them during the ordinance's surprise hearing.
Council seems more interested in impressing their colleagues, preparing their next political steps, giving radio interviews, pre-scripted surveys, and consultants to either listen to residents or take the time to explain why council suddenly wants to be like other communities when they ordinarily try to be as different as possible.

Luckily for residents, the city charter also provides a mechanism for registered voters to repeal any ordinance council passes by presenting sufficient, qualified petition signatures within 30-days of an ordinance's publication.

That petition has already started circulating.  If you would like to sign or circulate the petition, please send an email to or, or leave a message on my Facebook page.

If 1094 is as good a thing as most members of council believes it is, they'll have plenty of time to convince us before November.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A funny thing happened on the way to the council meeting

In case you missed the Ferndale City Council meeting of June 14th, when an ordinance passed transferring supervision and control of public safety to the city manager from council, I've written a brief play recounting the highlights.

[The stage is dark, but the lights gradually come up.]

Mayor Covey: Madame Clerk, our next item please.

Clerk Tallman: Item 8B, consideration of an ordinance dissolving the council and transferring control of our city government to the city manager.

Councilman Lennon: WTF?

Tallman: I mean, an ordinance transferring control of an obscure department no one every knew about as well as public safety to the city manager.

Lennon: WTF?  Do you mean Bruner will be in charge of police and fire?

Covey: Cool, isn't it?

Lennon: He's too young to buy alcohol or play with matches!  Why would we put him in charge of police and fire?

Covey: We all agreed about this.

Lennon: No one talked to me.

Councilwoman Piana: Whoops?

Covey: I meant, we talked about this before.

Lennon: Before what?

Piana: Before you showed up?

Lennon: Why didn't this go to the Ordinance Committee?  Shouldn't something like this be reviewed on by the ordinance committee or at the Elks?  I'm on the ordinance committee.  I would have remembered.  This is a major change.  Don't you need four votes?

Covey: We already have four votes.

Lennon: WTF?

Piana: Mike, I am perhaps the most qualified person on this council to speak to this item?  Besides, I was the one that went to the Mackinac Policy Conference?  And when I told them I was from Ferndale they laughed at me?  Because we haven't made our city manager the scapegoat for all our poor policy decisions?

Manager Bruner: What was that?

Piana: I mean, because we haven't made our city manager a king yet?

Bruner: Huh?

Piana: I mean, our city manager can more efficiently do.. you know.. stuff.. faster than we can?

Covey: Ms. Baker, did you have something to say?

Baker:  Has Scott said anything yet?

Covey: No.

Baker: I'll wait.

Piana:  When I went to the Mackinac Policy Conference..

Lennon: You already said that.

Piana: .. they were mean to me?  I was embarrassed being from Ferndale?

Lennon: They weren't laughing at you because the police and fire chiefs report to council...

Piana:  Everyone agrees with me, that to streamline government it's best to use our taxpayers more wisely?

Baker: Has Scott said anything yet?

Covey: No.

Baker: Then I agree with Melonie [Piana].

Covey: I need a motion.

Lennon: I've got your motion...

Covey: I mean, I need a motion we can vote on.

Lennon: We've only been discussing this 10 minutes and you want to vote?  We harassed a women for 50 minutes last year over selling flowers on Mother's Day and you want to change our form of government in 10 minutes?

Covey: Cool, eh?

Councilman T. Scott Galloway: Mike [Lennon], this was discussed at several meetings.  Everybody should have been aware this was coming.  Besides, the woman selling flowers wasn't from Blumz... I mean... we were concerned about public safety.

Baker: I agree with Scott.

Piana:  But now that'll be Bruner's problem?

Covey: Cool, eh?  [Covey looks up and notices an uncredited extra has walked onto the stage]  Did you have something to say extra #1?

[the entire council looks attentive while the extra speaks her lines]

Covey: Thank you extra #1.  You know your name won't even roll on the credits, don't you?

[Three more extras approach the microphone, speak their lines, and exit stage left.]

Covey: Did you hear something?

Baker: Did Scott say something?

Covey: No.

Galloway:  Does this actually change the charter?  I mean, really.

Bruner: The charter gives you the right to change sections by a four-to-one vote.

Galloway: So, since the charter gives us the right to change the charter through mechanisms provided in the charter and since the charter was voted on by the people we're actually changing the charter with the charter-provided mechanisms for charter-changing with voter's approval, right?

Audience: What?

Baker:  I agree.

Covey: I'm voting in favor of this because I wanted prior notice of when the Chief of Police was going to issue press releases.  When I asked him what I need to get copied on those releases he said three votes.

Lennon: What would it take for residents to get prior notice of council's changing our form of government?

Covey: At least 1700 votes.  Cool, eh?

Covey: Madame Clerk, roll call.

Tallman: Piana?

Piana: Yes?

Tallman: Baker?

Baker: Yes?

Tallman: Galloway?

Galloway: Yes.

 [Baker pumps her fist]

Tallman: Lennon?

Lennon: Not just no, but HELL NO.

Baker: Does that count as two votes?

Galloway: No.

Tallman: ..and Mayor Covey?

Covey: Yes.  The motion passes as everyone but Lennon agreed to ahead of time.  Madame clerk, our next item please.

Tallman: Consideration of an ethics rule regarding the Sunshine and Open Meetings Act...

Galloway:  WTF?

Tallman: ... just kidding.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Go ahead and boycott BP, your government, and yourself over gulf oil spill

Facebook (as much of a time-suck as it is) can be wonderfully inspirational.

A little while ago I read a ('nother) post encouraging folks to boycott BP by not buying gas at BP stations. This is shortly on the tail of news reports about a picket outside a local BP station.

Before joining the picket lines or demonizing private industry, or the oil industry in particular, it's worth asking, "Why are we drilling in 5000' of water in the first place?"

Charles Krauthammer writes:
"As production from the shallower Gulf of Mexico wells declines, we go deep (1,000 feet and more) and ultra deep (5,000 feet and more), in part because environmentalists have succeeded in rendering the Pacific and nearly all the Atlantic coast off-limits to oil production. (President Obama's tentative, selective opening of some Atlantic and offshore Alaska sites is now dead.) And of course, in the safest of all places, on land, we've had a 30-year ban on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

"... why have we pushed the drilling from the barren to the populated, from the remote wilderness to a center of fishing, shipping, tourism and recreation?"
In addition to environmentalist and bad energy and natural resources policy, we have ourselves to blame.
"We want gasoline to be as reliable as electricity, and we don’t want to give any thought to where it comes from."
In fact, BP is drilling in 5000' of water for the same reason we invaded Iraq, because we want them to.

For a long time law enforcement has known that the best way to stop drug violence is for people to stop using drugs. Our irrational behavior and dual dependence on both oil and spineless public policy is worthy of Lindsay Lohan reality show.

When we're ready to stop oil spills, correct our middle-east policy, and stop sprawl, we'll check-ourselves in to rehab.