Archive for January, 2014

More Of What Didn’t Happen

January 25, 2014

            The latest installment of Newark’s Property Maintenance opera reads like a Dilbert comic panel. The Newark Advocate (1-25-14) reports on the findings of a downtown property review by a Miami University student (Ally Kohler). The study was sponsored by the Heath-Newark-Licking County Port Authority (who knew we had a harbor?). The article (Retail use stable; office space down: Port Authority sponsored city center review) gives some of the findings, in percentages, of property conditions, occupancy, use, etc. The area covered is roughly the same as that investigated by this blog (Ownership Of Downtown Newark 3-25-13) with the exception that Kohler’s study specifically elides ownership (just assumes someone owns it) while the study conducted by Analysis elided conditions and use of property. Analysis finds the percentage results given to be ambiguous. 25% of parcels are vacant, 22% are parking lots. Is that one and the same? If not, does that mean that 47% of downtown properties are not in use (though specifically owned by someone)? 52% of properties are rated in good condition (fits perfectly with the 47% unused) while 19% are unoccupied. Is an unoccupied property in good condition? Again, is a parking lot occupied or unoccupied, in good condition or poor?  (The car washes were still open and working in West Virginia during the water poisoning which was good for the economy) Maybe folks need to raise the cry “Occupy Newark!” Analysis tends to believe that is not exactly what the Port Authority has in mind (Analysis wonders if they have a harbor master on payroll. Maybe there’s an Unclaimed Freight Warehouse on the horizon).

 

            But Analysis covered all that in order to complete the Dilbert analogy. There he is, seated in his office, the manager (mayor) of the big company with his associate (the business owner, landlord developer extraordinaire) seated next to him and the bespectacled David, er, Dilbert standing there in his white shirt and tie sticking out (something so very un-David, especially since David is more blue collar, sans tie). Dilbert (David) has just reported to the manager (mayor) that only with the creation and rigorous enforcement of regulations and measures that have teeth will the properties in the city start to look better, attract tenants (occupants). Here’s the carefully engineered plan on how to accomplish that which you requested. The manager (mayor) launches into the oft repeated cliché tirade about how he was elected to do the people’s business and business is about being fiscally responsible. He should know (he was an accountant). He’s the manager and managing business is his business. We can’t afford doing anything that doesn’t work. What works “is keeping buildings occupied because the owners are then more likely to keep them properly maintained.” In the last panel his associate (the business owner, landlord developer extraordinaire) says doing what works is exactly what needs to be done. We could have done more.

 

            And that’s more of what didn’t happen.

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What Didn’t Happen

January 23, 2014

            It became official at the 1-21-14 Newark City Council meeting that Mayor Hall had disbanded the Property Maintenance Committee. What didn’t happen? Future meetings of this committee, as well as any recommendations/legislative drafting were not scheduled. Hundreds of outraged citizens did not appear at the Mayor’s residence, or the municipal building, or anywhere else to demand reinstatement of the committee and its work. And finally, living conditions for an uncounted number of tenants did not change, and blighted derelict structures, like the one immediately next door to the municipal building, did not suddenly go away or become un-blighted. What did happen? A lot of buzz was generated.

 

            Wikipedia describes buzz as “the interaction of consumers and users of a product or service which serves to amplify the original marketing message, a vague but positive association, excitement, or anticipation about a product or service.” Considering what didn’t happen, this sounds “right on the money” (with the emphasis on money). Joe Williams’ headline in the 1-22-14 Newark Advocate bears this out “Property maintenance remains priority, despite differing viewpoints”.

 

            Analysis has looked at Newark’s property ownership/maintenance issue repeatedly in past blog postings. This latest incident, with its plethora of non-happenings, definitely calls for critical inquiry, what inquiring minds need to know. Imagining a survey of inquiring minds within the Hall administration/city council would be a non sequitur. It would, however, be interesting to ask how many folks within the Hall administration (including the mayor himself) as well as the City Council are residential tenants (rent or lease), and how many are owner occupants? What has dogged any regulation/enforcement of property maintenance has been claims of discrimination regarding these two (owner occupants should be as liable for their properties as landlords for rentals, etc.). What has dogged any legislation regulating rentals, their registration/licensing, and conditions has likewise been this very same fear of discrimination; rental properties are interspersed among owner occupied properties, what applies to one ought to apply to the other. Is that valid? Is that an imagined fear or a justified concern?

 

            License and responsibility. One receives a license to drive (commercial or private) after passing a test, paying a fee and meeting the obligations and responsibilities legislated to regulate this area of commerce. These responsibilities include being current with contemporary traffic rules, obeying them, and maintaining the vehicle one uses, insuring it, etc. Commercial use of real estate, as well as most businesses, is already regulated by the state as well as municipalities in terms of building construction, inspections, location (zoning), etc. This is not breaking news. There are “grey” areas, such as farming, home businesses, mobile businesses (a licensed hot dog vendor located on the Grill’s real estate, which is the right of way of the public sidewalk, at lunch time, would definitely create more than a buzz). City council and past administrations have conscientiously kept residential real estate rental in this “grey” area. A community garden is not really a farm; so I guess it’s alright to have one in town (though some of the folks involved may be earning a living directly or indirectly from its production). Selling Mary Kay from home (or real estate, stocks, DJ services, decorated cakes, etc.) does not generate traffic concerns or parking requirements or … so I guess it’s alright (as long as the advertising is kept discrete). The city administration’s/council’s disposition toward residential property rental has been ditto. This completely ignores the fact that the city of Newark has one of the highest (if not the highest) non-owner occupant residential housing in the state (around 43%). It is probably one of the largest businesses in Newark (especially if conjoined with commercial property rental). Which brings us back to the imagined survey, and what wasn’t asked. How many of the folks in the Hall administration, as well as City Council, own some of that rental property (commercial or residential) — outright, partially (in partnership) or have some vested interest (as shareholders, part of their “investment portfolio”)? Is it any wonder that what didn’t happen, actually took place?

 

            A priority for the “new” Newark City Council should be to legislate a binding declaration designating that ALL real estate rentals within the fair City of Newark are a business. Take it out of the grey, “Oh, I guess it’s alright” area and give it defined legal status (which is what legislated action is defined as doing). This would be an excellent first step, one that for sure would have the backing of the pro-business community since it would help swell their ranks.

Whipping Boys

January 19, 2014

            Two articles appeared in today’s Newark Advocate (1-19-14) that Analysis finds complimentary. “State Medicaid hotline can’t keep up with consumer calls: Misses benchmarks despite additional resources” by Russ Zimmer (CentralOhio.com) and “New teacher evaluation system concerns schools” by Hannah Sparling for The Advocate. Mr. Zimmer’s article reveals that all is not hanky dory with the state’s Medicaid hotline, established to assist Medicaid recipients, applicants as well as answer questions/provide help with discrepancies found with the online site. The hotline is what is provided when an online inquiry results in clicking “help/contact us”. In spite of the fact that the funding (both federal and state), the contracting and the projected load of the site were established well prior to the start-up of healthcare.gov, Sam Rossi, Ohio Medicaid department spokesman, made a lame attempt at linking the department’s own inadequacy with that of the official ACA site (““What we could not see at that point in time is that December would roll around and that HealthCare.gov would not be working yet,””). Analysis finds that since the Mediciad hotline was not newly originated but operating continuous well prior the healthcare.gov start up, any link is truly spurious. Even if healthcare.gov’s start-up had been ideal (flawless), it still would only have been a supplementary assistance to what were Ohio Medicaid’s responsibility (as Zimmer points out with his citing that Ohio Medicaid’s “call center took 124,620 consumer calls in December” while “the additional money approved in September was in anticipation of monthly call volume rising to as high as 180,000, far above what was handled in December.”). Hannah Sparling’s local response to the State’s mandate of teacher evaluation compliments Zimmer’s piece in that it also exposes a lame, political excuse for performance inadequacy. Teaching professionals in Ohio’s public schools now fall under legislated scrutiny, as opposed to medical professionals, legal professionals as well as private school or charter school teaching professionals, or any other “professionals” (those granted accreditation to practice their expertise within the State of Ohio). Analysis finds that the inference is made, without challenge, that somehow or other these singular professionals are “out of control” and failing. Within the other professional applications, evaluation and expectancy (based on applicable circumstances) is done in house (JobsOhio’s house is located in a gated community). Recently a medical professional residing in Pataskala was convicted of rape, murder, etc. resultant of a history of ongoing unethical behavior. Would his abhorrent behavior have been detected/anticipated through “evaluation” at his place of public employment? The answer is irrelevant as Analysis finds any such testing/evaluating is done in house and for the most part remains confidential within house. Private practice (medical, legal, engineering, etc.) is even more guarded and unreported. Negligence and liability concerns maintain the status quo. Yet public school teachers are singled out. Why is that? Two immediate online commentaries to Sparling’s article contribute context. One likened school administration to business management, so time consumed is miniscule on a 40 hour a week, 50 week schedule (though most work more like 60 hours). And the second scoffed at those employed within the public schools having three months off. Teaching or school related work (like administration) is not really considered “work” by these folks, or it needs to prove itself as such. Analysis finds that akin to Sam Rossi’s lame excuse, there is likewise a lame attempt to exploit a vulnerability that is politically inviting and accessible – namely the correlation of most public school teaching jobs with organized representation. Individualizing teachers, within the teaching profession, fragments solidarity and renders structured organization ineffective. Does this expenditure of time and money consumed by the administrators and public school teachers for evaluation purposes contribute to what and how children learn? Or is it rather more like the voting laws and regulations meant to weed out voter fraud? The professionals themselves have voiced that it does not contribute substantially to educating students (funding resources and parental involvement would be much more effective). Analysis reveals that teacher evaluation is a mandate created by the legislature because it could. It could not do likewise with other state professionals, such as emergency responders, law enforcement or health professionals. Like the legislation to counter voter fraud, it addresses a problem which is not the “problem” with a solution that is not the solution. The legislature’s mandate is a lame attempt at linking their own inadequacy of guaranteeing quality education equally to all of Ohio’s students with that of the organized representation of Ohio’s professional public school teachers.

Beneficial To The Economy

January 15, 2014

Recently Analysis came across this description of “Jonathan Swift’s attitude toward what he names his modest proposal “for preventing the children of poor people in Ireland from being a burden to their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the public” by establishing a criterion for separating out a portion of the children at a certain point of their lives to be prepared as food.” The author had used it to emphasize “how close our treatment of the helpless can come to Swift’s proposals.” Jonathan Swift was an early 18th century English satirist and acerbic social critic. Most Americans know him through a Disneyesque lense of Gulliver and the Lilliputans, as a writer of children’s stories. Almost all of his vast publications were done under a pseudonym or anonymously, something quite common and accepted in the years prior to the American Revolution. The Newark Advocate has a strict policy against publishing anything of the kind (Even though J K Rowling pulled it off, for a brief while at least. The Newark Advocate would have made an exception to THAT, if only they’d known ahead of time!).

 

The quotation would read quite differently if it were modified to be like this:

Jonathan Swift’s attitude toward what he names his modest proposal for preventing the children of poor people in Ireland from being a burden to their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the economy by establishing a criterion for separating out a portion of the children at a certain point of their lives to be prepared as food. How close our treatment of the helpless can come to Swift’s proposals.

 

Did you notice the difference? Displacing “public” with “economy” makes it so much more up to date, 21st century, so now. Can you remember when what is beneficial to the public didn’t necessarily mean what is beneficial to the economy? The recent poisoning of the water in West Virginia immediately springs to mind (although most media coverage slips ever so “naturally” into referring to it in terms of the economy). If Swift were writing (under a pseudonym and, of course, not appearing in The Newark Advocate), he’d probably say something like “at least the car washes are still open and working!” Can you remember when what is beneficial to the economy was not beneficial to the public? No brainer – our contemporary “shared” time; the stock market is at record levels and continues to rise, money available for too big to fail banks is at record low interest rates (or free), and income disparity continues to expand.

 

In this blog’s December 1, 2013 posting (Can We Talk – Income Disparity?) Analysis pointed out that, like the Newark Advocate’s policy eliminating anonymous or pseudonym authorship, “income disparity,” “income inequality,” have likewise been banned from our available media forums. Analysis wanted to say “public” media forums but, as that posting points out, they have become (covertly) “economic” media forums (what appears is dictated by purely financial criterion). The word “public” is quickly slipping into “economy”; the assumption being that what is good for the economy, is always good for the public (so why even bother to use the word “public”? Efficiency benefits economy.).

 

“Public, adj. 1. of or pertaining to, or affecting a population or a community as a whole”  (Webster’s College Dictionary)

 

Eye Care Prescription

January 12, 2014

            Double Dip Don scores another benny from his years of dedicated public service! When we last met Don a month ago, he was cashing in his chips and retiring from dedicated public service, knowing full well that he’d be back doing the people’s business the very next day. (this blog’s December 12, 2013 post, Communist Or Republican) Double Dip contributes a whole new meaning to “visionary leadership”. The Advocate headlines “Transit buildings: $320,000 to buy but never used Councilman questions fellow member’s role in purchase of structures”, 1-12-14 by Joe Williams. The story, in a nutshell, is that Federal Transit Authority money was used to purchase land and two buildings in February of 2011 for anticipated storage of city mass transit vehicles (remember when cities had mass transit? But I digress). The purchase resulted in a commission being paid to the buyer’s agent, in this case a firm under the “dedicated” private leadership of Double Dip Don himself. All perfectly legal according to current City Law Director Doug Sassen. The story has immediately generated a side story of mud slinging politics and news suppression within the “Facebook” commentaries that accompany it online (Lust us on Farcebook!). Couple this article with one that received no Facebook comments, “Start Talking initiative aims at heroin Program to include $1 million in grants” by Carrie Blackmore Smith of The Cincinnati Enquirer, 1-9-14. The Governor of Ohio released info on an information education program “for schools and nonprofit organizations to boost their efforts to encourage prevention [of opioid addiction].” The program will cover free email notification (!), discussion groups (!!), State Highway Patrol and National Guard in our schools (!!!), as well as “help schools and nonprofits create tools to help students resist substance abuse and peer pressure.” (no exclamation points here since the schools and nonprofits will probably only receive token partial reimbursement for their commitment) Way down towards the bottom of the article one reads “The $1 million will come from federal funds provided through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program”.

 

            Analysis finds the two articles inform each other delightfully in terms of our culture, and why we find ourselves distracted by political mudslinging and polarity. Travel back with Analysis to those exciting days of yesteryear at the start of 2011, an “election year” (aren’t they all?). B Rock was running unopposed as the incumbent for president. His opposition appeared to have challengers to what the consensus took to be his eventual opponent. 2011 was also an election year for the city of Newark. Primaries had not kicked in yet. All seemed undetermined. One thing for sure, agendas and talking points on both sides of the political spectrum were dominated by the hegemony of jobs and the economy. The existence of the one major social program that was meant to benefit people (the public), en masse, was far from certain as a done deal, with politicians of both parties, at all levels, keeping their distance from “embracing” it. Looking around we find the Freedom School initiating and organizing a lobbying effort on behalf of creating fixed route public transit in the city of Newark. The council and mayor were totally non-committal to “embracing” any kind of programs to benefit the people (the public). In short, at the time of the purchase, there was only a short sighted vision for obtaining a grant from money that was available (a dollar value asset for the city). Additionally, Analysis needs to point out that the current mayor stressed his personal history as an accountant as an essential for why he is the best man for the job. Accountability, especially for how money is spent, was a big “issue”. As Double Dip has pointed out, grabbing the money while you can, when it is there is an integral part of our near sighted culture. The cynical aside would be to say that visionary, committed leadership, one that could imagine a vast horizon, died with the multiple assassinations of the 1960’s. But that contributes nothing in terms of what is at stake here. No one, neither the current council president nor the side story commentators present any kind of imaginative or creative alternate use for the city’s assets (purchased through federal grant money). The Governor found a creative alternative to utilize money earmarked as “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families” yet no one within the city of Newark’s administration can think outside the ledger sheet. Truly a lack of creative imagination. Is it the absence of interest, vision and commitment in utilizing this resource for the “public” good or is it the intimidation of doing something that is outside the box of fiscal, dollar-ocracy? If Liz Argyle and Steve Layman can stretch the definition of “historic” value to qualify for tax credits, certainly some people within the Hall administration have some imagination and creativity somewhere. Which brings the cultural aspect into play. Analysis cannot let it slide. Folks who demand accountability of education, who demand that learning lead to jobs (or not be funded as education) are accountable for having no vision, no imagination or commitment. Nothing comes from nothing. If you remove the sources of creativity and inquiry from learning — the arts, literature, music, philosophy, etc. – because they don’t lead to jobs, then it is no wonder you have leadership without imaginative vision.

IT Politics

January 11, 2014

            Of course, the fiasco of the Affordable Care Act website last year is on everyone’s mind. It now has refocused the opposition’s attention from eliminating the law entirely to “over” regulating it on account of that failure (ironic in that it comes from folks who otherwise push for de regulation). Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars initiative, 30 years in the making and totally IT dependent, has yet to successfully conduct a spontaneous, unanticipated test. Edward Snowden’s exposure of the NSA also springs to mind, though this is not a failure of information technology but rather a “success” of information technology, especially considering the ongoing construction of the huge new facility in Utah to expand this (in)security success. Target has also reappeared in the news with revelations that even more customer information was obtained from its credit card transactions than initially reported. One TV news program cited that now 1 in 4 Americans are affected. UPS/FedEx also failed Santa at Christmas time with IT projected “guaranteed” delivery dates. Closer to home we have the recent failure of the Ohio BMV’s operating system for issuing/renewing ID cards (what some say ought to be needed for voting), driver’s licenses, etc. Whether that “glitch” has been worked out by this time is not known. Likewise, though officially Ohio’s online Medicaid application site is working “just fine”, there are some reports that for home computer users without the latest and fastest upgrades, it is not. Often we read of legal, law enforcement, or local government failures attributed to things that fell through the cracks of an IT system employed.

 

            Analysis looks at these and many other such “systemic” instances of failure that appear in the news and asks “Why does the inadequacy of the federal health care website receive such incredible scrutiny?” All of these are mega information/user interaction systems. Many operate at less than 100%. Some are outright failures. Taken as a whole, the reliance on such systems to deliver product and services, they all have the IT component in common. Yet the public relations “spin” is that they have nothing in common – this is a commercial criminal invasion, this is a political disaster, that one is a minor “insignificant” glitch, etc. depending on who is running the program for whom. Analysis would like to consider that all of them, perhaps, stumble because they outstrip the expectations “built in” to their deployment. The systems are being asked to fulfill tomorrow’s dreams with yesterday’s technology (technology is the solution to all our problems, whatever they may be). This, at least, appears to be especially the case with what the NSA is doing in that they are racing to fulfill even greater abilities to utilize systems that are not even here today but are projected to be. The focus on the political usefulness of some of these failures displaces the reality that, like other aspects of infrastructure (highways and bridges, water and sewer, utility delivery, etc.), IT likewise is bound and limited by what is available only today, and not by what it can promise for tomorrow. After all, we still are not commuting in yesterday’s anticipated flying cars though today we are promised they will drive themselves tomorrow.

Newark Advocate Editorial Needs Careful Scrutiny

January 4, 2014

            It is quite unusual to analyze an editorial as an editorial is itself an analysis, something used to “connect the dots” of the many facts, sides and directions which have made the news and are designated as significant by the editorial itself. The January 4, 2014 Newark Advocate editorial (Etna tax proposal needs careful scrutiny) calls for analysis as the dots connected by the Advocate are all over the map. The issues involved have been covered by this blog’s previous post. Additionally, the paper itself revisits what is involved with that edition’s report by Chad Klimack, Etna, chamber still at tax impasse Trustees promise public forums on proposal. Ultimately the Advocate Editorial Board states that “We agree with the chamber on this one.” What, within the rhetoric of their analysis, led them to such a position? How did they arrive there?

 

            The Advocate lays out certain dynamics and scenarios which they assume others will agree with. Primary claim is that “At issue is Etna’s consideration of a new JEDD or JEDZ, acronyms for two types of joint economic development districts. Normally a JEDD or JEDZ is created to fund improvements to land making it possible for new companies to locate there. Normal income taxes are assessed on the new workers to help pay for things such road and sewer improvements, which made their new jobs possible.” But then a shell game of voters rights and business interest enters in. We are told that “Even worse, Etna trustees could begin taxing current residents and workers without a vote of the public if they chose the JEDD option. A JEDZ must be approved by voters.” and also that previously “One key issue here is that Etna voters have been unwilling to support tax increases of late”.  But the editorial board also notes that “The concept also has been successful in Etna as evidenced by the current JEDZ covering ProLogis Park, where the township says 90 percent of the workers come from outside the township. They pay a 1.5 percent income tax to the township.” The Advocate reinforces its position by stating “Etna’s success is key for Licking County, not only for jobs but the flow of traffic and goods.” And suggesting that “it’s time for Etna to begin looking at other long-term options necessary to create jobs and serve its residents.”

 

            Analysis finds this analysis (editorial) to be somewhat convoluted, but definitely in keeping with the times. What is at issue, the cost of needed infrastructure and how to pay for it, is not covered as an “issue” in the Advocate’s editorial. What we have is a jingo-ist appeal to voters rights and taxation. The Klimack article summarizes the reasoning by the trustees for going down the JEDZ road (which the editorial touts as “successful”) – ““The township’s businesses, [Etna Township Trustee John] Carlisle said, generate traffic, which affect its roads. For that reason, those businesses should pick up some of the cost of maintaining those roads, Carlisle added. “Nobody likes to pay taxes, but somebody has to pay for the infrastructure,” Carlisle said.” A little later Klimack writes “The township for years also has wanted to build a park for its residents, but it has not had the funds to undertake such a project, he said. A zone could fund such an endeavor. “Would it spur economic development?” Carlisle asked. “Who wants to move into a community where the kids don’t having anything to do, like go to a park?”” The Newark Advocate editorial completely ignores that southwest Licking county is one of the most active and growing residential areas in the county. Likewise that the 310/70 interchange is used by these folks to access their employment outside their home neighborhoods (and likewise immediately becoming part of the “90 percent of the workers [which] come from outside” some other community). To which Klimack adds ““The letter [from the Chamber] said they feel the (bridge) project is premature, but how can you say it is premature?” Carlisle asked. “There has been an outcry from business owners to widen 310 to get trucks to and from the corporate park for the last four years.”” There was even movement, some time back (contemporary with the development of Pro Logis and Etna Corporate Park), to build an additional interchange onto I70. So far Analysis finds that the infrastructure must be dealt with to accommodate both the business as well as residential growth of the community, that The Advocate considers JEDZ successful, and that JEDZ rely on someone else to pick up the tab (the “90 percent of the workers [that] come from outside the township”). Inferred is The Advocate’s promotion that the Chamber, which represents the business “residents’ of this community who do not vote but have all the rights of its citizens (but not the responsibilities?), should be instrumental in deciding any outcome. It is disingenuous for the editorial board to claim this is about voting rights while promoting the Chamber’s “vote” over the outcome; eliding that “the flow of traffic and goods” benefits the business community as well while advocating that they have a say without bearing any cost. By announcing that “We agree with the chamber on this one.” the Advocate endorses the shell game of taxing “workers [that] come from outside” and the citizens that reside in the community, but not the businesses for whom infrastructure maintenance and improvement are vital to their success. Unspoken (by the editorial board) is that the people of this (or any) community should be beholden to those who “create jobs”, and be more than glad to pay (for) them. This is definitely in keeping with the times. Twenty years ago it was claimed that job losses and lower wages were on account of jobs going overseas or Mexico, as well as goods coming in from there. Today’s news brings “In the end, Boeing worker Bob Dennis told The Associated Press as he prepared to vote for the deal Friday, “I think this is our last opportunity to keep those jobs in the state.”” (Boeing’s Machinists union OKs benefit cuts to keep 777X in Washington state Gil Aegerter NBC News 1-4-14)  The Advocate has reported the same on the demise of Meritor which made even less of an offer to its workers. The Advocate begins its editorial with “We hope the Etna Township Trustees are listening” It appears as though the newspaper itself needs an adjustment with its own auditory reception capability.