Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Maddening Kabuki Dance

I finished phase two of the budget "workshops" last night. It lasted only an hour (maybe even less) but afterwards I spent the next three hours RANTING about the process.

In short, it was the administrator's rule that no changes could be offered to the budget at these two sessions and at the next session, each alderperson will be given one chance, and one chance only to offer changes to the budget. So last night was Act II of the Administration (and Administrator's ) Kabuki Dance.....

For those of you not familiar with the term (or, more accurately Art Form) here's a short lesson:

Kabuki, like other traditional forms of drama in Japan as well as in other cultures around the world, was (and sometimes still is) performed in full-day programs. Rather than attending a single play for 2–5 hours, as one might do in a modern Western-style theater, one would "escape" from the day-to-day world, devoting a full day to entertainment in the theater district. Though some plays, particularly the historical jidaimono, might go on for an entire day, most plays were shorter and would be arranged, in full or in part, alongside other plays in order to produce a full-day program

and what makes it relevant is:

Nearly every full-length play would be performed in five acts, the first one corresponding to jo, an auspicious and slow opening which introduces the audience to the characters and the plot. The next three acts would correspond to ha, speeding events up, culminating almost always in a great moment of drama or tragedy in the third act and possibly a battle in the second and/or fourth acts. The final act, corresponding to kyu, is almost always very short, providing a quick and satisfying conclusion.[13]

the "quick and satisfying conclusion" is passage of the Administrator's/Administration's budget without change.

How bad is it when the local newspaper and radio don't even show up for a Common Council Meeting?

In addition 4 of the 10 Alderpersons weren't at the meeting last night. I suspect they had good reason...(two were out of town on business if I recall correctly) but still that was an indicator of how seriously these "workshops" are taken.

It was a useless exercise, complete with what I suspect were scripted, or at least transparently supportive, dialogues between Administration apologists and staff members, high praise to staff members from Alderpersons over embarrassingly small "efforts to reduce costs"...all played out for the TV cameras and to set the stage for the inevitable, "You should have asked that last week" charge if anybody dares question the budget at the final act...er...ah....workshop next week.


Is it any wonder why people don't run for local office?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Mental Health day/Attitude Readjustment

I have a bad, bad, bad attitude right now....

From my perspective, which is, admittedly, purely personal, the forces of evil won a big one on Friday....and now I have to decide whether to accept it or raise the "ante" and push it to the next level...

Need to calm the mind and think clearly...what's best for the City?

Here's where the good mental health state comes in....here's where I went yesterday...

Wisconsin has built-in relaxing mechanisms.....this one is a good one.....

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Hierarchy of (local government) Values

I used to pound my head against the wall explaining to lay persons in local government that a budget is not a financial document, instead a budget is a POLICY DOCUMENT. This is an extremely timely document because, even as I write, the State of Wisconsin is finalizing its budget which is something like three months overdue, and, on my paltry little, local level, the battle of the budget began in earnest last night and will continue for two more weeks.

To me the distinction is so obvious that it needs no further explanation but, apparently, I'm wired differently than other folks. So let me...for the umpteenth time...espouse my views on budgets and policy documents.

An unfortunate fact in local government is that everything you do, costs something. It costs either money or effort (manpower) which in itself costs somebody, something. Another unfortunate fact is that money is a finite resource. We in local government get most of our money from taxpayers through the property tax and some of it through "user fees" and still some more through "intergovernmental transfers" , which is a nice term for State or Federal Funds.

Contrary to what some citizens believe, local officials do not (and as far as I know, they never have) looked upon taxes as a bottomless pit. Additionally, for as long as I can remember, the State legislature has imposed levy limits on municipalities to keep them from raising taxes at will and for as much as they needed in order to impose some cock-eyed form of "fiscal responsibility" on municipalities. Truthfully we never needed it. The nature of local politics being what it is, raising taxes was (and still is) moderated by the very real fear that it will trigger the dreaded "taxpayers revolt" which will swiftly remove tax and spend local politicians from office.

So the amount of money available is finite, either through self-discipline or state-imposed mandates and that means that you can't fund everything you want to fund and you have to make choices....and it is those choices that will be a direct reflection of POLICY.

What it amounts to is WHAT DO YOU VALUE MOST?

Where will you put your precious resources?

What programs will you fund and which will you let wither on the vine?

When you "get back to the basics" of funding local government, you come down to the primary mission of City Government...which just happens to be the same that the first, ancient, organized tribes held dear:

Protection of Health, Safety and Welfare of the City (tribe)

That means that the first money always goes to Police Protection, Fire Protection and Street Department...the safety of your citizens depends upon these pillars. These shall be the first to be funded and the absolute last to be cut. It is also important to note that when you start "screwing around" with these services - perhaps by consolidating with another jurisdiction (e.g. Central Dispatch, fire districts, private contracting of snow removal, etc., etc.)- you'd better make DAMNED CERTAIN that service levels are maintained and even if you've thought once, or maybe even twice about any of those actions, you'd better think again before you jump.

Almost everything else we do as municipalities is secondary to these services although I've witnessed some making vague, ambiguous ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT activities either on par with or even more important that the public safety issues. This too is a matter of policy, and, in my opinion, an example of BAD POLICY.

Protecting the WELFARE of the city is in my opinion becoming one of the most overlooked policy aspects in local government budgeting. If we are truly concerned about our communities we need to protect the integrity of our neighborhoods and that means to make sure that the housing is decent, safe and sanitary, that roads and sewers are serviceable and safe and that the neighborhoods have local, easily accessible playgrounds and public facilities appropriate to the neighborhood size and character. A good, sound, CODE ENFORCEMENT program is necessary to implement this along with and equally sound Community Development Plan.

It is also important to note that there is a trend in suburban and small town Park and Recreation Departments to build "mega parks" or consolidated community parks. These are usually large complexes with playground equipment, sometimes even camping facilities but almost always with picnic area and ballparks or soccer fields attached to them. They usually have sanitation facilities attached to them.

The problem with these consolidated parks is that they are difficult to access from neighborhoods and are usually crowded gathering spots. We need to "decentralize" those recreation facilities and provide for more simple, less expansive (not to mention expensive) facilities. Hell...........just a big, vacant field where three or four neighborhood kids can play ball within a couple of blocks of their homes would be good.

So what will you fund?

What is your policy?

There's so much more I could write but I'm not sure there's that much more you could read.\\

More later.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

What am I to think?

In the past 36 hours or so, I have been confronted with two separate instances where staff people have provided the Common Council with false or misleading information which was obviously intended to justify the expenditure of some pretty substantial sums of public money.

In both instances, the information was provided to the public as well as the Common Council.

But in both instances, the information was wrong.

Now what am I tho think?

Were the public officials who provided this information mistaken? Mistakes do happen. It's not uncommon.


Were the public officials who provided this information incompetent? Dis they not check their data? Did they not know how to analyze the data? That happens too, I suppose

Or, were these public officials acting dishonestly?

Qui Bono?

Who was to benefit from this? That's what I've got to determine....

I've told my companions that our job is to be skeptical. To refrain from taking anything at face value.....there's good reason to be skeptical, apparently....skeptical indeed.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

About that new firestation.....

I participated in a round-table discussion last night concerning building a new fire station for our fair city....actually, the discussion and budgetary emphasis for the past XX number of years (truthfully, I don't know how long it's been in the works) has been to build a new station in the northern part of the city. There are a lot of advocates of this plan but probably an equal number of detractors.

After listening to the debate last night, it became clear to me that there is no, single COMPELLING rationale behind building a fire station in the northern part of town, but there is ABUNDANT rationale for doing three very important things as soon as possible:

  1. Replace the existing fire station in the central part of town...Honestly, the place is a nightmare.

  2. Hire more firefighters. We've been understaffed for years and we're literally "whistling past the graveyard" pretending the potential for loss of life and disaster don't exist as long as we don't do it. WRONG! We're gambling with the lives of our citizens as well as those dedicated public servants we call firefighters.

  3. Pass the @#%$#^& SPRINKLER ORDINANCE! Cheeeeeeezzzzzzzzzz......This has been on the agenda since 2002 and we still haven't done anything about it.

Our City is cut almost perfectly in half by some heavily-used railroad tracks. And, truthfully, the greatest potential for HAZMAT disasters rests with what's transported over those tracks. Prior to the construction of the "Boulevard" in our fair City, there were only two access ways from the fire station to the north under those railroad tracks. In those times, there was absolutely no question that a second fire station on the north side of the tracks was required...but it was never built....

After the boulevard was built, the need was less obvious because a new underpass was built and the old one completely rebuilt and modernized with a four-lane road under it, but the momentum to build "north of the tracks" was still there....

It's also, equally true that a great deal of the commercial development and a significant amount of residential development is taking place in the North end....but that is counter balanced by:

  1. The transportation access to those sites is better than in the Central, East and South.

  2. The construction is more modern, fire-blocked construction for residential units and perhaps even sprinklered for the commercial development.

  3. There is less elderly and low-income residential and group homes in that area.

Not to throw some more "crap" in the game.....

In 2011 or 2012 a major US Highway will be four-laned on the City's SOUTH side....there will be "interchanges and exits" in that area immediately south of the City limits. We're hearing rumblings about retail and commercial (fast food) enterprises scrambling for land in that area and we'll see some semblance of growth, both commercial and industrial in the arterial roads leading to that four-lane.

What will our emergency services needs be then?

Deal dealer deal!


Lots to think about....

I've been following some of the discussions on Naomi Klein's new book, The Shock Doctrine, and I'm finding it darkly interesting. I was struck, however, by this post by our friend Digby concerning the entire concept laid bare by Klein.

The underlying principle of The Shock Doctrine is "disaster capitalism" and Klein does a splendid job of documenting examples of how disasters have lead certain companies and individuals to great wealth and, disturbingly, how "shock doctrine" is used as a means to the ultimate end...personal, individual wealth. I don't want to get distracted by the fascinating and ultimately horrifying effects of disaster capitalism, instead, I want to "riff" on Digby's idea.

And it's a shocker...

Digby believes that the great entrepreneurs of disaster capitalism and, indeed the biggest corporate "shakers and movers" of our modern times are disciples of the late Ayn Rand, and, more specifically, disciples of her "magnum opus", Atlas Shrugged. (indeed....a few right wing blogs are dedicated to Ayn Rand's works, or, claim in their masthead that they were inspired by Atlas Shrugged.)

Take a look at this praise of Atlas Shrugged....and then I'll SHOCK you by telling you who the quote belongs to.

Shortly after “Atlas Shrugged” was published in 1957, Mr. XXXXXXX wrote a letter to The New York Times to counter a critic’s comment that “the book was written out of hate.” Mr. XXXXX wrote: “ ‘Atlas Shrugged’ is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should.”

Note the date: 1957

The passionate advocate of Atlas Shrugged and that "Parasites....perish as they should" is none other than the guru of American Capitalism

Alan Greenspan

And, in truth, many modern-day capitalist credit their success to Rand's work, but not so fast....is her work really a celebration of capitalism?

Digby doesn't think so, and neither does Gore Vidal, who says,

For years, Rand’s message was attacked by intellectuals whom her circle labeled “do-gooders,” who argued that individuals should also work in the service of others. Her book was dismissed as an homage to greed. Gore Vidal described its philosophy as “nearly perfect in its immorality.”

Digby coins a new phrase for modern "Randy Conservatives" and I think I agree with her.

They are "...modern manifestations of cruel free-market fundamentalism".

The whole misadventure in Iraq was caused because of the modern neoconservative movement that was documented in the book Iraq, Day One, in which Bremer and his merry band of fundamentalists (both religious and economic) tried to make Iraq into a capitalist Utopia immediately after the invasion.

I'll riff more on this later because the real world is demanding my attention...

(why am I talking on two telephones at once?????)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Sober reminder

I think one of my first posts on this blog talked about the nature of public service being a pretty profound undertaking. (Here's the link to that post)From time-to-time I forget about that and take my responsibilities in a more light-hearted (okay, okay, okay...irreverent) fashion. Then....something like this happens.

The council approved first reading of the request last month, when Ward tearfully explained that his barbershop would go under — with most of the 101st Airborne deploying to Iraq — if the council did not approve the request.

“If this (zone change) doesn’t go through, I lose my home, I lose my shop, I lose everything I got,” he said then.

After Thursday’s 5-7 vote was cast, Ward stood and walked steadily toward the council.
“Johnny (Piper), I know I can’t speak,” Ward said over the mayor, who was telling Ward the public comment period had ended.

“Y’all have put me under,” Ward said, pulling out a small silver handgun.

“I’m out of here.”

A gunshot punctuated his sentence, and Ward fell at the feet of those sitting in the first row. He appeared to have pulled the trigger with the gun in his mouth.

What we do. What we say. The decisions we make affect real people in very, very real ways.

I don't think anybody could have done anything about what happened in Clarksville, Tennessee, last week. And, truthfully, not every applicant for rezoning is suicidal....as a matter of fact, this is the only case I've actually seen documented in my 30+ years of public service...but nevertheless..

The sober reminder is to treat all our decisions with dignity and compassion. To understand that in local government, more than any other governmental endeavor, we are directly affecting the lives of our friends, neighbors (and oh yeah, our political adversaries too).

Friday, October 05, 2007

Longest Month of my life...

has been the four days I spent in Milwaukee....

honestly...I felt like a hostage to the city as soon as the sun went down...I guess I've been living in rural Wisconsin for so long that I'm simply not accustomed to what is considered normal by big-city dwellers....

I suppose I could get used to it but for now I'll just kick back and pour a glass of wine, take off my shoes, put my feet up and relax.

As some of you know I attended the League of Wisconsin Municipalities Convention in Milwaukee. I usually don't attend but I wanted to see one of our favorite bloggers, Al Arnold, the self-appointed (not begrudgingly) Mayor of Commonsenseville, USA, who was conducting two of the break-out sessions of the convention. His first was based upon his book Moving Mountains and Molehills, Local Politics 101, and the second was on his newest project, Citizens against Apathy. He had some pretty good suggestions that I just might try locally but I'm not sure it's going to get off the ground....I'll give it a shot though.

As far as the rest of the conference was concerned, I picked up some new information...primarily on the the new Open Meeting Law Rulings and also on the Public Records informationn. Also some info on Nuisance properties which may be helpful.


By-and-large, these conventions are not, in my opinion, a wise use of my time....I think I'll just keep corresponding with Al and skip the rest of the convention next time.

One of the most productive things that happened at the convention was a series of conversations with my counterparts in which I laid out my theory that, locally, we are in dire need of fundamental change in the way we do business. I know that it's not in vogue now, but the term, CHANGE OF PARADIGM, comes very quickly to mind. I feel that we are caught in a paradigm which is no longer useful or productive to the people we represent and we need to change course. My colleagues seem to agree and if there is any difference of opinion, then it is only on how quickly we need to change. Do we go for "evolution" or "revolution"? Good questions.

When I came back, however, there were several issues that seem to have grown from small brushfires to major conflagurations.... Here we go again...fight off the alligators but don't forget that the need is to drain the swamp!

Monday, October 01, 2007


( Note: photo lifted shamelessly from Firedoglake)


Finally, the truth appears in headlines.....even if they are only headlines in a sub-third-tier liberal blog......but at least the truth will appear somewhere.

In case you don't know what I'm talking about, here's a snippet from Salon.com via Digby:

Salon reports:
A powerful group of conservative Christian leaders decided Saturday at a private meeting in Salt Lake City to consider supporting a third-party candidate for president if a pro-choice nominee like Rudy Giuliani wins the Republican nomination.

The meeting of about 50 leaders, including Focus on the Family's
James Dobson, the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins and former
presidential candidate Gary Bauer, who called in by phone, took place at the Grand America Hotel during a gathering of the Council for National Policy, a
powerful shadow group of mostly religious conservatives. James Clymer, the chairman of the U.S. Constitution Party, was also present at the meeting, according to a person familiar with the proceedings."

The conclusion was that if there is a pro-abortion nominee they will consider working with a third party," said the person, who spoke to Salon on the condition of anonymity. The private meeting was not a part of the official CNP schedule, which is itself a closely held secret. "Dobson came in just for this meeting," the person said.

The decision confirms the fears of many Republican Party officials, who have worried that a Giuliani nomination would irrevocably split the GOP in advance of the 2008 general election, given Giuliani's relatively liberal stands on gay unions and abortion, as well as his rocky marital history. The private meeting was held Saturday afternoon, during a lull in the official CNP schedule. Earlier in the day, Vice President Dick Cheney had traveled to Utah to deliver a brief address to the larger CNP gathering. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also addressed the larger group.

The decision has also been reported in an unsigned article by WorldNetDaily, a conservative online news service. "Not only was there a consensus among activists to withhold support for the Republican nominee, there was even discussion about supporting the entry of a new candidate to challenge the frontrunners," the article said. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, WorldNetDaily's editor, Joseph Farah, attended the larger CNP gathering.

Did you catch the significant phrases?

This is a "biggie":The private meeting was not part of the official CNP schedule, which in itself is a closely held secret."

So among the radical religious groups meeting in Salt Lake City, there is an even MORE radical SECRET right-wing religious group that is sending a clear message to the front-runners for the party's nomination: Conform to OUR radical agenda...OR ELSE!

Digby, Firedoglake and a few others have picked up on the story and riffed on the theme upon which I started this post....namely, why isn't the vaunted MSM screaming at the top of their lungs that the radical elements of the Republican party are taking control just like they were screaming about the radical "leftist" MoveOn.org taking control of the Democratic party.

Why aren't they?
Because their true allegiances lie with the Republicans and they would rather have their collective tongues cut out rather than criticize their sources of power...or at least, perceived power.

So the story is really two stories...the blatant power play on the part of the Taliban wing of the religious right and the fact that the MSM won't report it.....