Saturday, December 24, 2011

Most expensive rail in the world?

"And building the 3.4 miles of light rail would cost nearly $300 million."
--  Jeff Gerritt (Detroit Free Press)

The Light-Rail project was canceled recently in Detroit.  Officially, it was canceled due to Detroit's crashing finances and for lack of a regional transit authority.

After reading a Free Press editorial, the real reason is math.

The plan was to spend $300 million dollars on 3.4 miles of track.  That's $88 million-per-mile, or $16,711-per-foot.  Apparently, the tracks are made of precious metal that must be guarded to keep thieves from scrapping it.

Troy's recent decision to cancel its $8 million, 2500 square-feet transit station brought out a lot of comparisons between the Detroit and Shanghai metropolitan areas, mostly about how backward-thinking Troy's city council and other regional leaders are (I'm being euphemistic--the actual statements were much more insulting).

Construction costs for the the mag-lev in China are approximately $28 million-per-mile ($18mm/Km), and could get passengers from Downtown Detroit to Pontiac in less than 10 minutes.  

And according to other estimates--it will be self-funding.

We could go on-and-on about the comparisons, like relative distance between end-points in China and Detroit, the number of people in China and Detroit, the population trends between China and Detroit, the daily ridership, the population density between China and Detroit, and the minimum wage between China and Detroit, but only the minimum-wage is in Detroit's favor.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Oakland County commissioners prove party more important than policy

The Michigan State Legislature recently passed a bill, ready for the governor's signature, that limits the maximum number of commissioners for county's with more than 50,000 residents to 21.

If citizens knew nothing more about that, the major topic of conversation should be, "How does reducing the number of commissioners affect my representation?"

If citizens knew little more than that, but that reducing the number of commissioners might save the county $500,000 in pay and benefits by 2013, and $2.5 million by the next census (the math doesn't work out but I'm quoting here), citizens might amend their first question to, "Is saving $500,000/year in our cash-stretched county worth diluting my potential influence 7.4%?  If so why not cut another two commissioners and save $1 million by 2013?"  Or perhaps declare, "No loss in representation is worth a measly $500,000 by 2013."

But instead of debating policy issues, or whether the number should be reduced at all, or whether having county commissioners responsible for drawing districts as the legislature does for the state is a better idea than a committee that includes two non-elected county party chairs, Democrats are crying about end-runs around the first redistricting plan they've had a majority over in years.

The 25th district is represented by Craig Covey (D), former mayor of Ferndale until his election to the county commission.  Now on the commission, instead of representing his district on the weightier issue of diluting voters' representation for a debatable cost savings, Covey's arguing about which political party is best represented and served by redistricting.
"A years ago, I came here excited and filled with energy — today I'm crushed," said Commissioner Craig Covey, D-Ferndale, minutes before walking out on other votes."
Seven of 10 Democrats on the Oakland County Board of Commissioners walked out of a Board meeting Thursday after failing to get support from their Republican colleagues to oppose a redistricting measure in Lansing that seeks to decrease the number of county commissioners, among other changes.
County Commissioners may not be paid as much as state legislators or City of Detroit councilpersons (one of the few full-time councils even for big cities), but I'm pretty sure voters don't need what diluted representation they do have in government walking out of meetings because they're more incensed at how their political party was "dissed."

Which is really what politics has become about, a myopic take-no-prisoners capture-the-flag by-any-means-necessary battle whose first priority is party-control and thoughtful policy-making and moderates are casualties of war.

Oakland County is the biggest loser in this latest tantrum because it's Oakland County's voters that are being cheated out of the real debate--by all its commissioners.  And instead of discussing public policy like mature adults, our commissioners are arguing which party got the biggest scoop of ice-cream.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Eric Sharp blasts Pilgrims on Thanksgiving

Eric Sharp, staff writer for the Detroit Free Press, is the latest writer proving how arrogant we are when we pass judgement on previous generations. For maximum affect, Mr. Sharp's article appeared in the Thanskgiving Day paper where he proceeded to disparaging the Pilgrims from the safe, and arrogant distance of 390 years.

Mr. Sharp, wrote, "We should not teach our children that the Puritans were any more tolerant than most of their European counterparts." My memory may not be as fresh as it once was, but I don't remember "tolerance" and "diversity" being major lessons. Instead we learned they endured a miserable journey across the Atlantic in search of religious freedom.

Later in school we learned about the Salem witch trials coincident with studying the McCarthy era. In English we were supposed to read The Crucible. All were lessons about intolerance, gave meaning to the term witch hunts. Many years after graduating I realized those lessons also warned against political correctness.

Worse, perhaps, than teaching the wrong things (in Mr. Sharp's opinion) years ago is pretending we did for the purpose of building a strawman against which Mr. Sharp can work out his anti-Christian anxieties and moral-relativism.

Before setting out to re-write history, or even reinterpret it from a safe distance, we should remember the lessons of Professor Thomas Sowell and not judge people from years ago using today's "morality."
As soon as I can find the link to his article I'll include it above.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

DDOT is Detroit's poster child

DDOT has a lot in common with the city it serves, and the messages it sends are consistent with the city's, and the message DDOT drivers are sent Friday is, "We aren't safe down here, so we're refusing to show up."

That's not too much different from what many suburbanites feel, and if even the bus drivers feel unsafe, how are folks living outside Detroit supposed to feel safe, or endorse regional mass transit?

Channel 2 (Fox) is reporting today that DDOT bus drivers are refusing to work today because of safety concerns.
Earlier Friday, hundreds of bus drivers haulted their routes after several DDOT employees were attacked by passengers at the Rose Parks terminal on Thursday. "It was a melee," said union spokesperson William Williams. "It was bad."
The Detroit Free Press reported:
A walk-out by at least 100 Detroit Department of Transportation bus drivers today has crippled service for bus riders across the city of Detroit.  About 100 drivers came to work early this morning but refused to get on the buses, (Henry) Gaffney said [president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26 in Detroit, the union representing the bus drivers]. He said they're scared to drive without law enforcement presence.
And The Detroit News added
Dan Lijana, a spokesman for Bing, ... says the safety of passengers and drivers is a top priority.
The problem with cheering on Detroit is that despite the cheers, the story remains the same.  Or at least the story hasn't changed much since May 23 2007 when I wrote,
While Detroit's city council took the time to pass a resolution in favor of impeaching Bush and Cheney they couldn't find the time to debate and resolve DDOT's request for officers on buses to stem assaults and robberies on city buses.
Of course, needing police or sheriff deputies on buses increases the cost of public transportation, just as needing metal detectors and police inside schools increases the cost of public education.  If every public service requires police escort the services will always cost more than they should, or at least more than they do in cities where the customers of public services don't need the police to maintain civility.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The redistribution of...

It's worth researching the definition of what an oligarchy is to better understand the article, "Has America Become an Oligarchy?"

If American has, or is becoming, an oligarchy (as OWS protesters believe), the solution is not the redistribution of wealth, it's the redistribution of rule. Or put another way, within the structure of our existing constitution, a return to federalism would simultaneously dilute the power and corrupting excesses (and disappointments) of our federal government and dilute the influence of corporate and private oligarchs.

As a consequence, fewer taxes would accrue to the federal government and more taxes would remain in the states, as the proportion of taxes paid to the federal government over the state government would invert--increasing the 50 states' treasuries.

As an added benefit, federalism increases the representation of "the 99%" by increasing the power of their state-wide and locally elected officials.

All of this is possible within the framework of our existing constitution, but would require a supportive legislature and executive--both of which could be elected by both Tea Party and OWS with a common goal--improving our democracy through a redistribution of rule.

Radio worth watching: WNYC's Occupy Democracy

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Better to repeal campaign finance law than force donations to the black market

A recent protest supporting the 99% movement took place in Downtown Ferndale Friday, and it was covered by The Daily Tribune.

Nancy Goedert was quoted as saying public funding for campaigns is a soapbox issue for her, but I don't think Mrs. Goedert or others that like that idea have thought it through.

Publicly funded campaigns are a closely-related issue to corporate free-speech, and more specifically, corporate funding of campaigns.  But what protesters often forget is many of their favorite organizations, like, are also corporations that support both financially and otherwise, political campaigns.

As I wrote in February this year,
"MoveOn actually doesn't believe all corporations should be prohibited from free speech.  MoveOn.Org is itself a corporation--though a not-for-profit 501c3, and presumably wants to preserve free speech for itself.  What they must mean, then, is for-profit corporations should be prohibited from free speech, but that would include companies building green-products like wind turbines and solar panels, growing and selling organic foods, and other corporations that are in good standing with MoveOn."
Another complaint against corporate free speech is the amount of money donated, and the many ways corporate donations are hidden--being given to political action committees and other "issue" campaigns, is a by-product (read: unintended consequence) of current campaign-finance laws.  People, corporate or private, will find ways to support their candidates and causes either directly or indirectly.

Rather than create a black market for corporate donations by making direct contributions illegal, why not remove all the limits and let the donations speak for themselves and the candidates?

For instance, if Goldman Sachs wants to contribute $5 million to President Obama's campaign, wouldn't the public rather know that than have Goldman funnel those contributions through an array of grey-market PACs?  At least then we might now exactly who Goldman is supporting and to what amount the candidate may be obligated to return in favors--like bailouts for banks that are "too big to fail."

Or if local attorney-celebrity Geoffrey Feiger wanted to donate $125,000 to John Edward's campaign, instead of (allegedly) requiring his partners to make those contributions he could have made them directly himself and spared himself and everyone else a lot of time (and money) trying to figure out if what he did was legal or not.

The other problem with publicly funded campaigns is trying to figure out which candidates the funds would go to, and what money-raising restrictions would be placed on other candidates.

A lot of 99%ers complain about the failure and dominance of our (predominately) two-party system, but how much money would the government give to the Green, Socialist Workers, Libertarian, or Communist parties?  Should those parties be shut-out?  What of religious parties?  Mightn't contributions to their candidates' campaigns risk violating the so-called separation of church and state?

And who in the government would decide how much money to give to candidates, and how would that person or department be appointed or elected?

No, the better idea is to repeal campaign finance laws and let the public vote with their own dollars.  And if the public really wants to shut-down corporate free speech then they should look for a case to overturn  Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

"America is just not what it used to be."

"America is just not what it used to be."  Or so says Abdullah Pollard, a 58-year old laid-off telecommunications worker as reported by the Associated Press in the Detroit News story, "Protesters want world to know they're just like us."

But are we like them?

One of the problems with the Occupy Wall Street protesters is not knowing what their demands are.  Like the Tea Party, official lists are hard to come by as neither group is centrally controlled (though Nolan Finley thinks OWS is at least centrally financially supported).  The Wall Street Journal reports at least two of demands:
  1. Repeal the Bush tax cuts and
  2. Prosecute Wall Street Criminals
A few others they plan to vote on next week include forgiving student debt, reforming campaign-finance law and enacting the Buffett tax.

The first one is relatively easy to do, but relatively useless.

In February 2009 the WSJ reported what would happen if we taxed (or confiscated) 100% of all the income of America's top 2%:
"A tax policy that confiscated 100% of the taxable income of everyone in America earning over $500,000 in 2006 would only have given Congress an extra $1.3 trillion in revenue. That's less than half the 2006 federal budget of $2.7 trillion and looks tiny compared to the more than $4 trillion Congress will spend in fiscal 2010. Even taking every taxable "dime" of everyone earning more than $75,000 in 2006 would have barely yielded enough to cover that $4 trillion."
Along those same lines, George Will put it into a different perspective:
"In 1916, the richest man in America, John D. Rockefeller, could have written a personal check and retired the national debt. Today, the richest man in America, Bill Gates, could write a personal check for all his worth and not pay two months interest on the national debt."
The second item, "Prosecute Wall Street criminals," is more difficult to endorse until the protesters can be more precise on who they think the culprits are and what they think their crimes were.

I, at least, agree with the protesters that the culprits ought to be dealt with--and not gently.  But I suspect we'll disagree heartily about who the culprits are.

But for the sake of argument, let's start with Freddie and Fannie.  Or to save time and space, let me borrow from Thomas Sowell.  Writing in a recent column about realities over rhetoric, he writes:
"The political crusade for 'affordable housing' and minority home ownership drew many blacks into homes they could not afford. The net result was an especially high rate of foreclosure and, in the end, black home ownership rates lower than they were before the affordable housing crusade began."
In this case, Mr. Sowell's comments are not applicable only to blacks, but to everyone lured or enticed into purchasing homes they may have been able afford the lower down-payment for, but were unable to afford the maintenance, repair, utilities, and taxes.

Returning to Mr. Pollard's comment, "America is just not what it used to be," let's consider The Constitution hasn't changed much since its adoption in 1788, but American's constitutions have changed considerably more.  We may live longer than American's in the 18th century but we're frailer. We've created industries based on blaming others for our misfortunes and exacting our retirements from them.  More Americans are dependent on welfare than ever before.  Our debt to other countries is greater (as a percentage of GDP) than ever before, and we're less self-sufficient than ever before (think energy policy).

On the contrary, Mr. Pollard, America is the same as it ever was.  It's the citizens that have changed.  Immigrants used to come for the opportunity of America, not the steady paycheck.  They came for the rewards that would accrue to those clever and hard-working enough to build something new, not government entitlements.

The immigrants that came to America and built it were willing to risk everything they had so they might own a piece of the dream.  They settled the wilderness and risked dangerous and months-long trips to seek their fortunes out west.  Many lost their lives in pursuit of their dream.

American's today are risk-averse and want instead to be relieved of all discomfort and responsibility--even that they might stub their toe on uneven sidewalks.

No, Mr. Pollard, America is the same.  It's Americans that are different.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bullying is on the increase because adults are on the decrease

Warning: this article contains explicit language that may upset young children or naive adults

A child fakes illness for a week because a bully threatened to punch him in the stomach the next time he saw him.

Another child is told by the bully he'll cut his penis off. Another is told to go home and take a picture of his penis and bring it to school or his face would be bashed-in.

"I'm going to bring a chainsaw to school and cut your head off," says a seven-year old girl to classmate.

"Go home and sit on your couch and tell your parents you're going to commit suicide."

These are not stories from middle or high school.  These are stories from elementary school students bullied since the start of kindergarten.  These are stories from a district that has a policy about bullying.  Each of the threats is credible because adults hadn't proved able or willing to stop them.

But this article is less about bullies and their victims than it is about parents, teachers, and administrators.

There's a lot of talk about bullying lately.  But it's only talk, hand-wringing, and politicizing.  Children of all ages can be bully or victim.

The bully's greatest accomplice is a school system unable or unwilling to expel them for the safety of other students.  Bullies face few consequences at home because their parents aren't parenting.  Bullies are enabled by social workers and administrators more interested in experimenting with bullies to help them find "more productive" ways to express their frustrations than kicking, tackling, punching, touching the genitals of or threatening other children.

These adults may not enable the bullying, but they certainly prolong the victimization of other children.

And do you know what young children learn from adults?  They learn their parents are unable to protect them from daily abuse by other children.  They learn that telling teachers or lunch monitors about a boy touching little girls on the playground does nothing to arrest the behavior or remove the culprit.  It teaches them that sending the bully to the principal's office accomplishes nothing because the bully will return to class.

In short, the adults responsible to provide for children's safety turn their backs on the victims so they may trip over their platitudes about misunderstood or disadvantaged bullies.

Without specific punishment for either the bully or their guardians, a state-wide law requiring school districts to have a bullying policy will accomplish nothing.  Without the ability to remove bullies from the classroom adults have done little to protect their own or other children.

As much as you might feel for the victims or even the bullies, the problem is adults neglecting their responsibilities, even after it's too late.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Don't risk losing the news

News can be provocative.  News can be controversial.  Eliminate the provocative and controversial and publications risk eliminating the news as well.  A publication that intentionally avoids potentially contentious news and viewpoints does a disservice to its readers by not informing or exposing them to issues that may require the reader's action, the reader's deliberation, or even the reader to form new opinions or change old ones.

This thought occurred to me after reading an online publication's editorial policy regarding this November's election.
"We believe that objective community journalism should not thrive on drama and comment wars.  We do not run politically divisive stories, nor do we mix news and opinion by allowing comments on the site. 
"[The editor] typically does not vote in local level elections and is committed to her role of remaining politically independent and doing fair coverage."
It is rare for publishers of traditional journalistic properties to deliberately inject drama or hyperbole into articles except that which naturally seeps-in from the writer's or editor's biases.  Most of the drama is introduced by readers commenting on stories, with the worst offenders posting anonymously.

Regardless whether replies are signed or unsigned, they are the opinions of your neighbors.  Whether informed or uninformed, these are the opinions of citizens that may cast votes for or against your candidate or issue.  Readers may choose whether to read comments or not.  Readers choose whether to post their own opinions or keep them to themselves.

Comments, like the articles themselves, belong to the person that wrote them.  A well-written, well-thought-out comment can be as informative as the article itself or provide additional clarity.  As important, a comment might provide a counter-point, keeping both the publication and author honest.

The greatest risk in allowing comments, especially uninformed or vicious comments (or worse, anonymous), is that other readers may not be able to distinguish between good comments and bad, or may form opinions based on rumor or poorly-reasoned arguments.  But if a reader is unable to discriminate between good and bad comments however would the publisher expect them to detect editorial bias or read between the lines?

As valuable and informative as an article may be, as valuable (or disappointing) may be the reactions of your neighbors to the same article.

Granted, not every comment is civil.  Not every comment is kind.  Heck, many comments are barely on-topic.  But comments do reflect, if imperfectly, our fellow citizens.  You may be either encouraged or discouraged by that.

Whichever you are, I encourage you to leave a comment--we're unafraid of controversy.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

There you go again

[Note: This article originally appeared in the August 2011 edition of Ferndale Friends] 
Before becoming too big an advocate for everything the DDA does, some might reconsider their thoughts about trickle-down economics.

Whatever else President Ronald Reagan may be famous for, no other president has inspired as many synonyms for horse-feed economics as The Gipper.

Also known as horse-and-sparrow theory, the idea is that if you feed enough oats to the horse there will surely be something left (behind) for the birds to eat.

It gained national attention recently in 1980 (well, that’s recent for some of us) when Ronald Reagan’s primary opponent, George (the elder) Bush, described Reagan’s supply-side theory as voodoo economics. Voodoo economics became Reaganomics, also known as trickle-down economics.

Traditional trickle-down polices favor tax breaks and subsidies for banks, manufacturers, big oil companies, and the nebulously-defined but much reviled “rich,” with the expectation that those tax dollars will seep through jobs and yacht club memberships to the rest of us so we may afford Netflix’s price increases.

The idea is regularly pummeled wherever Liberals gather in large numbers. But here in Ferndale, and in many cities across the state, that is precisely what Downtown Development Authorities are, if only on a smaller scale.

The Ferndale DDA doesn’t provide tax breaks for downtown businesses (that I know of), but it does subsidize and promote them at taxpayer expense, relieving business owners of having to pay for, or pick out colors, themselves. The intention being, that government can improve the economy for all of us by focusing much of its attention businesses.

Ferndale DDA Director, Cristina Sheppard-Decius was wearing her best Reagan swag when she told the Ferndale Patch,
“This isn't just about businesses and downtown,” she said. “Downtown is the heart of the community, and if the heart stops … You know what happens when the heart stops."
The DDA director knows what her job is and what’s at stake. Our community reflects the health of its downtown.

This actually explains a lot. That noise keeping residents up at night on Troy wasn’t revelers and loud music—it was prosperity leaking into their bedrooms.

So to be consistent with our derision of government subsidies for dairy producers and chicken farmers, or tax breaks for manufacturers and green companies, we risk becoming hypocrites if we don’t also scrutinize our DDA, its revenue, expenses, and its impact on the city’s revenue and expenses.

And conversely, if you think the DDA’s work is important and your life or property values improved by their efforts, then you might consider that similar programs at the state and national level have merit as well.

Whichever path of reason you take, all uses of tax-payer money should be critically examined.

The Business of Government

Another threat to the city’s budget is our own school board.

Until very recently, the district planned to extract $50,000 annually from the city, and still hopes for more from district residents through a possible February millage increase (FF, June 2011).

It is said by many that government should be run like a business. Though many people say that, most aren’t clear what that would mean.

Few have as good a grasp of running government like a business as do Michigan’s Governor, Rick Snyder, and Ferndale School’s Superintendent Gary Meier.

While other school districts have teetering budgets, Gary Meier is running the school district like a business—looking to increase income and not just reduce expenses, and is safely in the black.

But Gary’s business is a hybrid. He can collect tuition from out-of-district students AND ask for a 7-mill tax increase from in-district residents.

It’s good business if you can get it.

The Ferndale Patch (my next favorite read after FF) quoted Mr. Meier saying,
"In order to move forward with a stable district as a whole, we have to look at revenue. We have to look at the revenue side of the ledger, not just the expenses.
"Every year, a percentage of the surpluses is saved for this project, for this work. Sometimes you have to invest a few dollars to make a few dollars."
Meier and the school board are broadening the district’s revenue by providing services to out-of-district and non-traditional students—which is another way of saying school-age kids and non-school-age adults that don’t live in Ferndale. The district may abandon their plan to purchase the Hayes Lemmerz site, but their desire to consolidate adult education, alternative education, and a possible charter school onto a single campus to make them easier for non-district residents to attend and our district to collect tuition makes too much business sense.

The residents living near the existing adult education center at Taft won’t be sorry to see it go—if it goes.

While campaigning around the school a couple years back, residents were ready with multiple stories about vandalism and drug abuse—anxious to tell them to anyone that would listen. But such sacrifices, perhaps, are necessary when government is run like a business and increasing revenue is as important as increasing test scores.

Except that according to the state’s 2005-2010 progress report, our district’s students aren’t performing as well as our district’s balance sheet.

There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with running a school district like a business as long as the quality of its product remains high and the impact on the environment is low.

Is the purpose of public schools to educate or turn a profit? As shareholders in the Ferndale School district, are residents more interested in its alternative revenue sources or the quality of its product?

Rain Barrel Math

There are 231 cubic inches in a gallon. Ferndale is 3.9 square miles, but if we annex a little bit of Pleasant Ridge we can make it four square miles to make math easier and the TIF district larger.

Four square miles is over 111 million square feet, and over 16 billion square inches.

When one inch of rain falls on Ferndale (and a little bit of Pleasant Ridge) it drops 69.5 million gallons of water, or 1.26 million barrels on our lawns, gardens, rooftops, roads, and parking lots.

One inch of water over 1000 square feet of roof will fill over 11 barrels with water. I’m catching only one of them.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Seniors may have paid, but they haven't paid enough

Ever since Michigan's new governor, Rick Snyder, proposed taxing pensions a parade of protests has been reported in the news media that "seniors have paid enough."  But to assert seniors, or any generation, has paid enough they must also have paid their way.

With a $14 trillion debt there hasn't been a single generation that can be said to have paid its way since before World War II.  Ever since then Congress, elected by the people, have been borrowing money to support a national lifestyle we cannot afford.

If today's seniors, tomorrow's seniors, and the seniors after them, ever want to arrive at a time in their (our) life when they can presume to have "paid enough" we must all start by first electing congressmen, senators, and presidents that can control their spending and welfare appetites.

But the rest of us ordinary citizens can begin balancing the budget by sending back money earmarked for our communities' historic districts, monuments, bridges, and firetrucks and resolving that if these expenditures are that important to us we must pay for them ourselves.  If we can't afford these expenses, or aren't willing to pay for them ourselves, then they must either be not that important or we'll have to live without them--just as earlier generations, much earlier, did.

Or we can continue as we have since the 1950s, just leave it for the future generations to either pay-off, or suffer the consequences of a default.

Friday, June 03, 2011

A tax increase by any other name is still a tax increase

[Note: This article originally appeared in the June 2011 edition of Ferndale Friends] 

I was just getting ready to write, “Boy, I’m glad THAT’S over,” when I realized the 21-38% city property tax increase won’t really be over until Dec 31, 2015.  That’s when the extra mills (up to 5.4552) will expire.

I wonder if that’s what voters expected would happen in 1994 when they approved 7-mills for a school bond for facility improvements.  Or if they thought the 7-mills renewed in 2004 would expire in 2012, or if they’ll think the 7-mills they’ll likely be asked to pass next February will expire.

Perhaps they’ll never expire.  Of course, to politicians, renewals aren’t tax increases.  Once you get taxpayers into the habit of paying taxes there’s little sense in breaking them from it, or even worse, let them expire and have to start from scratch.

But don’t take my word for it.  On May 11, Ferndale School’s superintendent Gary Meier told The Ferndale Patch, “We have a window of opportunity here to maximize our bond capacity and do so without a tax increase.  If we move beyond this window, we lost both capacity and the ability to have it be a no new taxes issue. [sic]”

It’s like a banker extending your mortgage a few years, but telling you it’s a good thing because you won’t notice any difference in your expenses.

But the question isn’t whether or not these are tax increases.  Instead it’s what is the seven-year plan for the district?  Will it have more or fewer students?  How many more or fewer and what is that estimate based on?  Will the district require the same number of buildings?  Or even, will the Ferndale School District still exist in seven years as it does today or will it consolidate with one or more of its neighbors to become a larger, more efficient, lower-administrative-overhead-per-student district offering even more educational opportunities than it does today?

Taxpayers will also be interested to find out what happened to the high school asbestos abatement the 2004 bond was supposed to pay for, and why is the board asking for another $14 million, for which the “biggest improvement” is asbestos abatement in the high school.

Most residents favor safe schools.  But many residents are also likely to favor knowing why the 2004 abatement wasn’t completed, or if it was, did the contractor not lift a ceiling tile? If they did, why was asbestos allowed to remain in the high school another seven years?

It’s hard to be certain in Ferndale, but there is something at least 47 other Michigan school districts are doing to help their taxpayers be certain—they’re putting their checkbooks online.

One-in-six Michigan school children attend classes in districts, including Berkley and Royal Oak, where anyone can visit the district’s websites and see who the checks are being written to.  Even better, at some districts you can see exactly where they money is coming from.

In Ferndale, it would be especially interesting to know where the district gets its money and where it spends it.  Especially especially (two especially-s are more especial than one especially) because the district is studying the purchase of the 34-acre Hayes-Lemmerz site immediately south of the high school for just under $1 million, and is prepared to spend another $7.5 million to renovate the buildings. 

Taxpayers should wonder to themselves, “If it takes 7-mills perennially renewed to maintain the buildings the district has now, how much more will be required to maintain whichever buildings remain on the site after the renovation?” or “If the student population is falling (as it has for 20+ years), who are the new buildings for?” or maybe, “Are the new buildings needed to generate revenue by diverting even more adult-ed income?”

Whatever the new cost will be (and ignoring where the $8.5 million came from and why it hasn’t already been being spent on students) we can be confident it’ll only be a tax increase the first time.  After that it’ll just be a renewal.

Going back to May 3 (remember May 3?  It’s a song about May 3), I was contacted by a reporter asking if I attended the victory party with the other pro-millage folks or if I had celebrated elsewhere.

“Celebrated?”  I asked.  “I don’t think increasing my neighbors’ taxes or needing to in the first place is anything worth celebrating.”

That quote didn’t make the article.

I still feel that way, and I don’t remember ever casting so distasteful a vote as I did on May 3.

And that was the easy part.

The hard part will be making sure city council spends the money in a manner commensurate with the narrow 198… er… I mean… 197-vote margin—which is to say frugally.

To make that job easier it would be helpful if the city had its checkbook online so residents and press could see where they money is going.  For instance, how quickly do you think you could find out how much money the city spent on the Withington lot screening wall, or software, or Plante Moran consultants, or furniture, or its labor attorney?

You could file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and the clerk’s or city manager’s office would hunt down and organize the information for you, or you could try searching and reading minutes from previous council meetings online, or even watch video of meetings over the internet.

But wouldn’t it just be easier to download a spreadsheet?  Certainly it would if each disbursement included the item it was for, which fund it came from, and the date the expenditure was approved by council.

I think this would be a great campaign issue for a council or mayoral candidate to take up—and to deliver—after they’re elected.

Oh, and I almost forgot, the ability to do math is always a good qualification as well.

If you have questions about transparency, the sources for this article, or have comments about it, you may write Tom at

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Pastor Camping didn't just miss the date, he missed the point

Pastor Camping predicted the rapture would happen on Saturday, but according to recently-filed missing-persons reports, it either didn't happen, the 2000-year-old estimate of 400,000 believers was optimistic, or at least none of them lived in metro Detroit.

Whenever the date arrives, now is a good time to take a refresher course in faith, and at Pastor Camping's expense, why he shouldn't have made the prediction in the first place regardless his convictions.

I worked with a man for nearly eight years that was a minister before he became a computer programmer.  His aptitude for programming probably influenced his uniquely insightful and reasoned interpretations of scripture.

Whatever his unique blend of talents was, he once explained to me what the word faith means.  It is important to know this, because it might help some avoid being caught-up in doomsday "prophesies," or wondering what we should be doing in the present.

The etymology of faith comes from the Latin root, fidere, meaning trust or confidence.  A popular New Testament story about trust, confidence, and faith is from Matthew (and Luke), about a Roman centurion who asks Jesus to heal his servant.
5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
 7 Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?” 8 The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
 10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.
What my co-worker pointed out from this story is that the Centurion isn't the only one with faith, or trust, or confidence.  Each of his subordinates has an equal amount of faith, and presumably, so does the centurion's commander.  The important, and often missed, point of the story is that each person knows where they are in the chain of command.  Each of them knows who is above them and who is below.  Having faith isn't only having trust or confidence in others, it is knowing where you are in the chain of command.  It is knowing your own place, whether that be as a parent, child, teacher, student, employer, employee, or a pastor in Oakland, California.

Where the pastor, whom I presume understands what faith is, tripped was he forgot both his position and his scripture.  Starting with Matthew 24:36, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father," Pastor Camping forgot that he is not God, and if neither Jesus nor the angels know, why should he?

The damage is already done.  Pastor Camping's insubordination (forgetting his place in the chain of command--or worse: abusing it) has caused many people to lose their homes and jobs, he's squandered the resources of his ministry, will lose dedicated employees, and may cause many Christians to stumble in their own faith.  Such is the cost of losing faith, not by losing trust in others, but forgetting where you are in relationship to them.

God is perfectly capable of pulling-off a rapture or destroying the world on His own and likely doesn't need Pastor Campings, or anyone else's assistance, to let us know when it's coming.  We're not supposed to know, and if you're good with that then you are a centurion.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Why it's important to embrace a 38% increase

Supporters of Ferndale's Headlee override proposal this May shouldn't run away from or deny it's an increase of 38%.  Instead they should embrace it, promote it, and use the magnitude of the remedy as a measure of how crippled the city may become without the millage's passing.

One of my favorite lines from "Clear and Present Danger" occurs when the president's advisors are discussing what to say about the discovery one of the president's close friends was laundering money for a drug cartel.

From FilmSite.Org:
The President's advisors suggested that if the news became public, they could defuse it by downplaying the President's association with Hardin. Ryan suggested the opposite - if the President were to be asked if he and Hardin were good friends, he should answer: "We're lifelong friends...There's no sense defusing a bomb after it's already gone off."
The budget bomb has gone off in Ferndale just as it has the rest of the country.  Pretending the collateral damage is a measly 11% is a whitewash of the problem and insulting to voters' intelligence.

Ferndale's operating millage is currently 14.5448 mills.  If approved, the May ballot proposal will allow council to raise that rate to 20 mills by 2013.  To keep all the deniers honest I'll show my work.
20 - 14.5448 = 5.4552 (the increase)
5.4552 / 14.5448 = 0.375061878
0.375061878 * 100 = 37.5061878% (the percentage)
round(37.5061878) = 38%
Another way we can find this number, or one very close to it, is by figuring out how big the deficit is as a percentage of the revenue Ferndale's general fund receives from property taxes.

According to the budget estimates for fiscal year ending 2012, Ferndale anticipates property tax receipts of $7,573,000.  The budget deficit is estimated in the same document to be $2.3 million.
2,300,000 / 7,573,000 = 0.303710551
0.303710551 * 100 = 30.3710551
round(30.3710551) = 30%
So, which property tax increase do you think has a better chance of covering a 30% hole; a 38% increase or an 11% increase?

Some people confuse my supporting FACT's publishing the millage is a 38% increase over the Yes to Ferndale's Future's 11% increase as evidence my support for the millage is superficial.  What it really demonstrates is my commitment to honesty and integrity, especially when lying is too easily proven by doing simple math (which I think should be a prerequisite to running for office).

Saying the increase is anything other than 38% is an attempt to make the tax increase more palatable to voters.  This is also known as spin, and is disrespectful to voters and property tax payers.

11% is wrong not just because it's unsupported by math, but because it trivializes Ferndale's desperate budget situation.  If the budget was only short 11%, then I'd advocate a NO vote and demand city council find 11% to cut.  An 11% deficit is not an emergency.  An 11% deficit does not warrant a Headlee override.

Instead, our budget deficit is an emergency.  The city can not replace over 30% of its revenue with traffic tickets or parking meter fines.  Our city's obligations to its retirees, whatever voters think of its extravagance or past-councils' approval of such rich benefits, can not be addressed with budget resolutions, wishful thinking, or understatement.

No, our city's deficit is real, it's large, and it requires appropriate and proportionate action to remediate.

There are other problems with both the Yes and No camps' literature and public statements I may address in future posts.  In February I recommended to voters what they should do in both May and November, and unless someone proves my numbers wrong I stand by my recommendations.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Oh, Farmdale is the place to be!

After reading various stories in the Ferndale 115, Ferndale Patch, and The Daily Tribune, I couldn't get this song out of my head.  So the only natural thing to do, was to share it.
(Sing to the tune of Green Acres)

Oh, Farmdale is the street for me
Coops of chickens laying eggs for free
Spreading feces on my garden plot
I'll pretend I'm a farmer and care for my neighbors not

 When I bought my house I felt lucky
Now, I'm living in Ferndale-tucky
I have a chicken coop next door
As if housing values weren't low enough before

.. Group think!
.. The stink!
.. I'll share!
.. Don't care!

 Madison Heights had 'em first
Ferndale couldn't do worse
Oh, Farmdale we are there!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Not paying our way

At Monday's council meeting I was reminded how big a debt I'm leaving behind for my kids to pay, and every voting-age adult should be ashamed.

Bluntly, if the ladder truck approved for purchase Monday night is so important to Ferndale then we ought to have paid its entire cost ourselves and not depended on a FEMA grant.

The truck's cost was $964,512.  Here's how those costs break down:

FEMA Grant$675,000
  Federal Taxes$405,000
  Federal Debt$270,000
City of Ferndale$289,512
  Matching funds$75,000
  City Funds$214,512
Total Cost$964,512
Some budget crisis, eh?  With one vote city council spent nearly a whole millage point of property tax revenue.

Ferndale Fire Chief Pat Sullivan noted the department's been without an operable ladder truck for quite a while.

So at a time when federal, state, county, and city budgets are bending under the weight of the economy, the United States of America, all its taxpayers and the world's biggest lenders chipped in nearly $675,000 dollars for a fire truck to serve a city of 19,900 where only 5% of 2009's 2277 runs were fire emergencies.

It's important to have the right equipment for the job, and that truck may be the right equipment.  But if it was that important to the council and residents of Ferndale, perhaps Ferndale residents should have paid for it themselves.

The question that needs to be answered is if we had to pay for it ourselves would we have bought it?

Certainly, if we had to pay for it ourselves there would have been more discussion and its necessity would have been more thoroughly analyzed.  We may still have purchased it, but we would have done so without depending on taxpayers from around the country and borrowing money the country's taxpayers will still be paying long after the truck is no longer in service.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What immigration giveth, emigration can taketh away

[Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2011 edition of Ferndale Friends] 

I promised Ferndale Friends’ interim managing editor I wouldn’t write anything about a specific ballot issue on May’s ballot for which the publish-date of this edition of Ferndale Friends presents an opportune time to promote my position on the subject.

Geography is against me here. The place to discuss the issue I’m not allowed to discuss is elsewhere discussed in this magazine. For this issue, at least, this column’s space has become a don’t-discuss-the-thing-you’re-not-supposed-to-else-you’re-sleeping-in-the-garage zone.

If that wasn’t hint enough, the interim managing editor is my wife, Tiffani (Hi, babe!). So for a while I can get away with admitting I think my boss is hot.

It is Lent, which means that for the 40 days leading up to Easter many Christians will either give something up or try to do something positive so they may become better Christians, or better spouses, students, or maybe just thinner. Many people will take a Mulligan on their New Year’s resolutions.

This Lent, I thought I’d try something similar and not criticize city council or even try writing something nice about each of them. But criticizing government isn’t really a vice and writing nice things about council wouldn’t fool anyone for a minute, so we’ll just see how it goes. I’ll definitely stick with my promise to Tiffani and not discuss the burning question on everybody’s mind as they head out to vote on May 3, “Do I need to bring a #2 pencil?”

The new Jamestown?

The latest census numbers show Detroit lost a quarter of its residents and Ferndale a tenth of its population.

Mayor Bing will likely both challenge Detroit’s numbers in court and go looking for uncounted Detroiters throughout the city’s 139 square miles.

It’s been said the two largest school districts in Michigan are Detroit Public Schools, and Detroit Public School students attending non-DPS school districts.

If estimations of Michigan’s second largest school district are accurate don’t be surprised to find Mayor Bing and DPS Emergency Financial Manger Robert Bobb driving through Centerline, Hazel Park, Ferndale, Oak Park, and other Detroit-bordering school districts looking for Detroiters that have falsified their addresses.

My favorite quote concerning Ferndale’s loss of 10% of its population (2205 people since 2000) came from Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter in the Ferndale Patch, “"My job is to make the city the best place I can for the people here now.”

(I’m counting that as a nice thing said about council.)

What I like about Mayor Coulter’s comment is its pragmatism. Neither nostalgia nor spin color his perspective. He doesn’t hearken back to images of Ferndale’s past when Irish Catholics bunked children one atop the other in bedrooms and closets.

Pundits, politicians, and cheer-leaders are tripping over themselves in the press, online forums, and Facebook trying to convince the remaining population that losing 10-20% of the population was expected, and that plans are being made to tie meat around south-east Michigan’s neck so Millenials will play with us.

Exactly how many Millenials does it take to screw in a compact fluorescent light bulb, replace the economic activity of 2205 residents with beer and Buffalo-wings, or repopulate our school system?
In case you’re unfamiliar with the definition of Millenials, they’re typically described as 20-somethings. But they’re not just in their 20s. Millenials are also in their teens, tweens, and many still have their baby teeth—and Ferndale lost over 1200 Millenials under the age of 18. Statistically, I’m not as confident as Craig Covey that folks in the narrow age range of 18-to-30 exist in sufficient numbers to make up the difference.

(Craig isn’t on council anymore so I don’t count that as a criticism.)

According to a focus group on the Craig Fahle show (March 28) 20-somethings are just as likely to uproot themselves from cool cities after they start families and go on the hunt for high-performing school districts as their parents’ generation did.

For a different perspective on our region’s population loss we need to back up 130 years-or-so to the late 1800s when waves of Italians arrived looking for opportunity, or the Irish before them.

If that’s too far back we can look at what put Detroit on the population map and gave it the one of the nation’s highest median incomes—the auto industry.

Between 1900 and 1930, Detroit’s population ballooned from 265,000 to 1.5 million with immigrants from other states and countries. 100 years later, people are now emigrating to opportunities elsewhere.

Can we blame them? Should we hold them back? Should we discourage our loved ones from seeking their fortunes in the southeast or southwest or anywhere else they’re lured by the century-later equivalent of $5/day?

Not if we want them paying our Social Security and other government health and retirement benefits.

We should be proud of anyone that leaves to seek their fortunes elsewhere. They’ve more in common with the people that came to Detroit 100 years ago and built the Paris of the West than they do the tour guides at The Coliseum.

Well, we’ve made it this far and I’ve kept my promises.

If you have comments or criticisms for me don’t wait for a religious holiday. Write me at

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wow, Ferndale's population decline worse than previously reported

More census data is in and the news is worse for Ferndale than previously reported.

The Ferndale Patch reported this morning that Ferndale lost 2,205 residents, over twice the 963 reported earlier in the year.

Complete age break-downs aren't available yet, but the number of eligible voters (18+) has been released and those numbers fell to 16,615 from 17,601 in 2000 or 5.5%.

Apparently, the in-flux of millenials (born between the mid-70s and early-2000s) isn't what we thought it was.

In Ferndale, we hear a lot from politicians and other community activists about how the face of Ferndale is changing because of the increased number of residents under 30.  But is that more propaganda than fact?

65% of Ferndale's population loss, or 1209 residents, were under the age of 18.  Even though they can't vote yet, that's half the Gen-Y population.

There's no data to prove it, but it may be that politicians and others are commenting more on the visitors to Ferndale's downtown than folks that actually live here.  If our downtown's population has increased between the hours of 8PM-2:30AM, it's fair to ask our council persons, DDA, and other armchair policy quarterbacks if that is the population our ordinances, zoning, and budget decisions should be based on.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Add pit bull terriers to the list

Like many people, I read with horror the story of the 10-day old child that was mauled to death in Jackson while sleeping in a basinett.

As reported in today's Detroit Free Press:
The mother of the boy said she laid her son down for a nap in the bassinet and fell asleep in another bedroom. The pit bull entered the room and attacked the sleeping infant.
Officers said a preliminary investigation has not uncovered any negligence at this time.
If I give the parents the benefit of the doubt and assume they're as responsible as ourselves in matters both of the child and the dog, the only guilty party is the pit bull.  The parents, providing they've any sense of humanity, will be tortured the rest of their lives for the gruesome death of their child.

I wonder if they'll ever question their choice of dog breed.  I wonder if they'd ever bring suit against the breeder or pit bull advocates for defending the breed in light of the evidence against it.

It reminds of cigarette companies and their defending cigarettes from the mounting evidence of their negative health affects, and the massive lawsuit and windfall that became for states.

Nothing similar will likely happen with pit bulls, rottweilers, or other dangerous dog breeds.  There simply isn't enough money to make it worthwhile for lawyers to start the campaign pro bono.

The question is, does the government have the right to tell citizens which animals they may or may not have?

The answer, at least in Michigan, is yes.  There are many animals citizens are restricted from keeping including  stock, exotics, endangered species, and wild animals.  

And eventually, maybe pit bull terriers and Rottweilers.

Would laws banning pit bulls and related breeds be for the family's protection or their neighbors?

Similar to smoking, the state has already decided it can violate private property rights and require property owners to prohibit smoking in their own bars and restaurants.  I'm not a big fan of that law but it is a Camel's nose under the tent.

In 2011, is there any practical reason to have any breed of dog in a residential area except that people want them?  After the feeding, vet bills, and poop scooping, isn't it less expensive just to get a burglar alarm?  No one has ever had to pick-up after their Guardian Alarm System in my lawn, nor has anyone's kid had to wipe the ADT stickers off their pants after playing in the park.

PS  While looking at pictures of pit bulls through history I noticed they seem to look different today than the pictures I found at  I wonder if something different hasn't happened in their breeding that can be reflected both in how they look and their disposition.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Yes in May, No in November

[Note: Unlike other of my posts, I reserve the right to make changes or corrections to this article.  Specifically if my math or facts are off a bit I'll correct them.  And I may change some statements to emphasize or de-emphasize a point.  If necessary, errata will be noted at the bottom of the article.]
Ferndale voters should pass the Headlee Override ballot proposal.  Then in November they should begin the process of replacing city council persons that would rather spend money on pet projects and self indulgences with candidates that promise restraint and self control.

The first part can be done quickly on Tuesday, May 3, in only a few minutes time.  The second part, replacing council persons with shorter "what I want to do for you" agendas with replacements promising "my agenda isn't as important as the city's" (as well as the ability to do simple math) will take over 33 months and longer-term memories than voters are normally reckoned to possess.

Households must manage their budgets, as should governments.  When a household's income is reduced its expenses must be reduced, depending on how much cash has been saved.  When a household can't meet its legal obligations (mortgage, utility bills) or its needs (food, clothing), the household is bankrupt and its assets liquidated to pay-off its obligations.

The popular theory is that governments should do likewise.  When their revenue shrinks so should their expenses. Just as employees don't have the privilege of demanding increased wages from their employers, governments shouldn't demand increased taxes from their citizens.

The difference is we created our government and charged it with the responsibilities of both custodian and guardian.  Its custodial responsibilities include the stewardship of public assets like buildings, property, parks, and infrastructure like streets, drains, and lighting.  It's also a guardian of the public and the public's assets through public safety and in keeping the peace between neighbors in the area of establishing and enforcing zoning ordinances.

But because we created it we are also responsible for it.  We are responsible for electing its trustees and for providing them the resources needed to discharge their responsibilities.  But citizens are not required to provide the resources for the trustees pet projects, pipe dreams, or indulgences.

That is why this article makes two related recommendations.  The first is to pass the Headlee Override requested by city council and recommended by the 12-member Financial Planning Committee so that the city may have the resources needed to meet its duties to the citizens.  The second recommendation is to replace at least three city council persons that have proven their willingness, or compulsion, to spend taxpayer money on frivolous and indulgent projects even when facts and economic conditions urged otherwise.

The immediate issue at hand, however, is May's ballot issue to increase property taxes by 5.4 mills through 2015.  There's is enough time before November to discuss council elections in other articles.

Many pass-the-override advocates point out it may take years to return to 2009's nearly $20 million revenue number.  They're correct in that it will take years to return to that revenue, but they're incorrect in using 2009 as the benchmark against which subsequent years should be measured.

They are wrong because 2009's $19.5 million budget was based on property taxes collected on 2007's inflated property values.  It's important to remember that inflated means the property values were irrational.  They were irrational because Ferndale's property values were not grounded on any objective measure like scarcity of land, Ferndale's location, the performance of its school system, job or population growth.  Instead, like real estate all across America, property values were based on speculation, weak mortgage qualifications, and a similar irrational exuberance that created the Internet Bubble that burst in 2000 and the savings and loan crisis that exploded in 1989.

So to find a rational budget number to begin with it is necessary to look at tax revenues before the housing bubble started; 2002/2003.  Since taxes are collected approximately two years after assessments a better budget year to begin with is fiscal year-ending (FYE) 2005's more modest $17 million ($16,955,150 to be more accurate).

To come up with some a grounded estimation of what our budget should be we can index 2005's budget to the rate of inflation and come up with more rational numbers ($ in millions):
Actual Revenue
So using an inflation-based, rather than an inflated-based projection, this year's budget should have been closer to $19.6 million rather than the $16.7 million it is, which is $2.9 million short of the indexed-to-inflation 2005 budget amount.

State revenue sharing also has a major impact on the city's revenue.  In 2005 Ferndale received $3.2 million, or 18.9% of its budget, from the state.  In 2011 that amount is budgeted to be $2.2 million--40% less than 2005's contribution adjusted for inflation, and only 13% of the budget.

If the numbers in the table above include state revenue sharing, the case for passing the Headlee amendment is only slightly less compelling with those numbers removed.  2005's revenue less state revenue sharing was $13.7552 million.  Adjusted for inflation that number should have been $15.8850 million in 2011, but will only be $14.6639 million, or $1.2 million short of where it rationally belongs.

If, as former city manager Bob Bruner estimated, each mill levied in Ferndale property taxes will generate about $500,000, then non-state-revenue sources are approximately 2.4 mills short.

Coincidentally, May's ballot language calls for limiting the first year's Headlee Override to just three mills.

Citizens created the government and have elected its trustees.  Dissatisfaction with council's earlier spending is, at least in the case of local elections, not a legitimate reason to vote no on the millage increase.  Nor is starving the beast a substitute for electing more fiscally conservative and market-aware  trustees.  Both the city's budget and its council need correcting, but medicine for one is not medicine for the other.  Even if the current council had a better record of fiscal restraint the millage increase would still be necessary.

In May voters should pass the millage.  November may require something different.

2011-2-24  Mike Shuler pointed out that immediately below the chart, 19.6 - 16.7 = $2.9 million,  not $1.9 million.

Inflation calculator

Inflation chart

Ferndale Budgets

Financial Planning Committee's 1/10/2011 Presentation to Council

Sunday, February 13, 2011

It's time for an American Reformation

I read recently (sorry I can't remember where) that more people are reading The Constitution, the whole thing, in unprecedented numbers than ever before.  The article attributed it to both the Tea Party and the Obamacare.  It seems people are are reading the commerce and necessary and proper clauses to discover for themselves if the founder's idea of limited government could really be stretched into what 235-years' removal has created from it.

And they're discovering stretch marks.

It reminded me of my first foray into Protestant religions, and the ministers' encouragement to their congregations to read the bible for themselves so they couldn't be tricked into thinking the bible says something it doesn't.

The Reformation hasn't died.

Protestants believed Christians didn't need a church to tell them what the bible says.  They didn't need a hierarchy interpreting sacred scriptures for them, or trying to sell them indulgences for their sins that were little more than fund-raisers for "the church."

Certainly, the Roman Catholic Church did a lot of good with that money, but all that money also corrupted parts of the church because in the end the church is operated by humans, and humans are imperfect.

There are a lot of parallels to our government and its sacred document, The Constitution.

More of us need to read The Constitution.  More of us need to read the Bill of Rights and ponder the power and meaning of those words, and consider their inspiration.

When I read sections of The Constitution my faith in the document increases, my faith in the founders increases, but my faith in the institutions and representatives responsible for protecting and guarding the nation is troubled.

When it comes to what our government should and should not be doing, or what our elected representatives should or should not be doing, and I think our nation is ready, perhaps over-due, for a constitutional reformation.

The entire document is only 4609 words, including signatures.  The Bill of Rights is only 714 words.  Together they're only 5323 words.  Both can be read in a couple hours.

If congress would only limit itself to legislation no longer than 5323 words, I suspect it might be a more limited government, have fewer earmarks, less pork, and be more deserving of sharing space in the archives next to the greatest constitution ever written for the greatest nation ever imagined, and ever born.

So try-on a little reformist thinking, cut-out the middle men, read it for yourself.  Find someone to discuss it with, then consider if we've made of it what we should.  We are all children of The Revolution, and shouldn't squander or take for granted our inheritance.

Strawberry closes, but to the DDA they're just a number

On Friday (2/11), the Ferndale Patch's Terry Paris Jr. reported on the closing of downtown favorite, Strawberry Moon Bakery.
"We just aren't making any money," owner Jon Glab said. "It's difficult and disappointing. We've had a good time in Ferndale. We just can't do it anymore." 
"We lost a lot of customers due to the recession that didn't come back." 
Glab said they stuck it out in the hopes that it might turn around, but it hasn't. 
"It's been rough," he said. "I haven't paid myself in a very long time."
Less than three weeks ago, the DDA trumpted to city council that 40 new businesses came to Ferndale in 2010, helping make-up for 14 that left in the same year and 26 vacancies from the year before (14 + 26 = 40).

Contrary to their boasting about new businesses coming to Ferndale, the DDA's communications and marketing directory Chris Hughes' struck a more sedate tone about Strawberry's closing:
"We're surprised as well as disappointed to see Strawberry Moon close," said Chris Hughes, communications director of the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority. "It's always sad to have a business you know and love (close)."
Hughes said she doesn't think the recent closures are a trend, especially because a few of the spaces have already been leased or sold. 
"Club 9 has been sold and is expected to reopen as another club. Rockin Soul is closed, but the space has been leased. We've learned to stop hitting the panic button."
Not hitting the panic button is a luxury the DDA has that downtown businesses do not enjoy.  The DDA is tax-payer supported and has a  $500,000+ budget that survives whether businesses do or not--as long as there are landlords owning the buildings.

Strawberry's owners hit the panic button--as did the owners of Amoure, Rockin' Soul, Nami, New to You Music, Angel's Cafe, The Chaldean Club, Josephine's and others.
"The bottom line is that businesses come and go, let's not panic," (Hughes) said.
Easy for her to say.  As successful as the DDA may be at recruiting businesses to downtown Ferndale, they seem far less successful at retaining them.  Of course, the DDA isn't necessarily responsible for businesses' success, but it is supposed to be responsible for a healthy business climate--for both bars and retailers.

The DDA has used the number of 210 as the number of core downtown businesses.  40 new businesses represents a turnover of nearly 20% (40/210*100=19.0476%).  If the DDA were a business with 20% turnover in employees, they'd be performing horribly.  But a 20% turnover in office supplies (paper clips, staples, white-out) is OK.

So the DDA's lack of reaction to downtown's turnover may be a good measure of how they regard downtown businesses--easily replaceable.  Better to assign them numbers like farmers do steer and sheep for slaughter so they don't get too attached to them.

Perhaps its simply an occupational hazard (".. businesses come and go..").  I'll believe the DDA has sustainability on the mind when I start hearing from downtown retailers that the DDA is spending more time asking them how they can help their stores (or get out of their way) than bars or the DDA's reputation with the Main Street program.