Friday, August 29, 2008

Don't Ya See? It's a.......! No No No! It's a..........

Trying to define the thought logic of New Albany's elected (choke, cough) leaders is like trying to stand on your head looking at an abstract art painting in an attempt to find that elusive Bengal Tiger that is hinted at in the title of the work.

Add a few top shelf progressive pints to the exercise and one can easily walk away convinced the world really is flat afterall.

Following this past Tuesday's BOW meeting I approached our Tribune reporter, Daniel Suddeath, to ask if he had been present at the inaugural Council Committee meeting on housing.

His reply was no, but that he was drafting an article on the subject and had spoken with CM Price & others that were in attendance. He went on to ask for my impressions of the event.

His report was in Friday's Edition of the Tribune and can be read in it's entirety here:

What I found to be most interesting was Steve's stated response to the reporters inquiry after having witnesssed his out of the ballpark reaction at the meeting itself.

If I'm reading the paper correctly, it is now OKAY to have another "Barney Fife" runnin' round town with a clip board so long as he is properly hobbled.

Perhaps during Sunday's Service he saw the error of his ways and repented (at least partially!)

Perhaps there was a vocabulary lesson afterward to define "communication" which seems to be the watchword that came forth from Saturday's gathering.

Or perhaps, as my Daddy used to say "He just spittin' on his hands to take a new holt!'

Only time will tell.

At any rate, at least for my part, Daniel has done a good job getting the issue out in print for the public to see. It's just too bad he wasn't present for the live show.

Perhaps next time?

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

If They Can Do It.........?

All over America during the last two decades cities have confronted their run down housing debacles and devised many differing ways to turn them back into liviable neighborhoods.

Some have had great success while others have been declared null & void by the courts.

What follows are the links to a few that we've found that are currently in place and making a positive difference in the communities that created them.

From Blacksburg, VA- A good example of a community that took steps to create affordable housing and led the way to making its population aware of it.

From Kokomo, IN- A sister city of ours that has made rental property registration nearly painfree for the its home rental industry.

From West Lafayette, IN
Yet another "Common Sense" approach to nusiance code enforcment.

From Evansville, IN- In particular see Section 15.150.012 Illegal Use of Property & Section 15.150.176 Property Maintenance. Yet another great example how blighted properties are being cleaned up.

In searching for what laws were already in place at the state level concerning rental housing, & tenant/landlord rigghts and responsibilities, we found the following to be very helpful- A very good reference tool.

And let us not leave out our very own New Albany Building Code (such as it is)-$fn=altmain-nf.htm$3.0#JD_Chapter150

The one thing all of these examples have in common is the willingness of each, both financially and politically to improve their individual communities.

So the question becomes does our Common Council and Administration as a whole have the veracity and courage to not only admit that New Albany has a substandard housing problem?

But to research what others have done, develope a workable solution from such, put it in place and commit the financial & personell resources as well as the political will to make it work??

A mouthful I know but the core of the matter none the less.

For what it is worth I have forwarded these links and others like them to Council President Gahan, Council Members who have working email, Deputy Mayor Malysz, Buildiing Commission President, and many other adminstration officials as well.

The point being, the information is out in the hands of those who have the power to make a difference. The "I've never seen this" dog won't hunt in these woods.

Now we wait & see.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Barney Fife, Roger Miller, & 8 Track Tapes!

Question; What do all of the entities in the title have in common?

Answers; A. They were all entertaining.

B. They all enjoyed a signifigant popularity in their hey-day.

C. They are all deceased!

So what does this have to do with a 21st century discussion? Funny you should ask as I was wondering the same thing a few short hours ago in a meeting chaired by three of our city councilmen concerning New Albany's housing woes.

It came as a surprise to more than a few that the turnout for this first meeting was so large in number. I did not get a specific head count but there was an estimated 40+ souls present.

Although the intent of the chairman was organizational as opposed to getting deepl;y involved in a public debate this early, it quickly became evident that the public was going to speak!

As with any such endeavor the room was magically seated nearly equally with pro activists ( homeowners, neighborhood organizers) on one side of the room and anti activists ( landlords, real estate agents) on the other. To be fair to all there was some intermingleing but not much.

The Anti side erupted first with cries of unfairness, discrimination, and potential loss of their business's & income. (Note; members of this same group a few short days ago in a meeting of their peers were saying that renting houses for profit was not in fact a business.)

They began by objecting strenously to rental property registration and even more so to the prospect of (gasp) property inspections being required. They felt this disscussion was moving way to fast and needed much more time to be researched before any action was taken.

Pardon me, but isn't thirty years of talking long enough? But I digress.....

To continue, Ron Hartman, the city's Building Commissioner was asked to speak to the size & seriousness of unsafe/uninhabitable housing in New Albany. He acknowledged that there are significant numbers of such dwellings in our city but seemed to think that with increased communication between the public, his office, and other responsible government entities it could be successfully addressed with the laws & ordinances already in place.

The Pro side, when finally able to get a word in, presented the committee with references from other cities as to how they had resolved these problems. There were also first hand testimonials to instances of those self same government officials that Ron had sited, being notified repeatedly to no avail. To wit some still haven't been addressed.

Again, to be fair, there were a couple specifically mentioned that have been at long last resolved but the damage to the neighborhoods surrounding them has already been done. Four years to solve an issue that is evident to a school child is a bit much don't you think? It was further documented that much of that was the result of the public's involvement in absence of the city's!

To their credit, the councilmen for the most part did much listening and very little talking. After all this was an organizational meeting which purpose was to look at which decaying tooth in this hounds' mouth to extract first. It is after all a long standing issue which has no one solution.

I said for the most part. Councilman Price (my representative by the way) took issue with the whole concept of additional government intervention in peoples lives.

"All that is needed is a common sense approach to this problem" he offered. He referenced the 1980's as being commiserate with the Emaculate Conception in terms of New Albany housing.

Yes Steve, that's our point. It has gone downhill like an out of control freight train ever since. And by the way, it is 2008!

He also fears beefed up inspections as an assault on the rights of common citizens. "I don't want Barney Fife runnin' around with a clip board!"

Well Steve, unfortunately due decades of bad business practices of some who rent housing to others for an living and/or, city/county officials who willingly turned a blind eye to such the inspection option is now a necessity.

"What goes on in my home is none of your business!" Right again Steve so long as your activities do not endanger my home & family!

And so it ended. All in all I thought the body of the meeting went well and at the very least the conversation has begun in a more or less affable fashion.

There were other issues brought to the table such as where does the health department, fire department & law enforcement fit in this equation? Or who pays more in taxes on housing in New Albany?

But there were others present that are more versed in these subjects than I so I'll leave it to them to discuss further.

Myself, I'm looking forward to the next gathering.

Trailers for sale or rent...... Roger Miller

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Cost's of Doing Business

Today over at New Albany Confidential my good friend Roger Baylor questioned a concept that has plagued me for most of my adult life.

That being why do most individuals or entities in this country hesitate to take actions that are obvious to the welfare of their particular endeavor prior to heavy handed government involvement.

As I've eluded before, my experience base has primarily been in the transportation industry. For decades now trucking has been hammered by the public, insurance companies, the govenrment and its customer base about safety concerns.

Some of us saw the writing on the wall years ago and began formulating solutions to solve some of those issues on our own. Most did not and in more than a few cases when government finally stepped in the results were disasterous. Jobs, homes and lifetimes of work as well were and continue to be lost.

So now back to the base question of why. Why do we choose to wait to act until we are forced to?

As one who has twice attempted to go independent (and failed by the way) I understand that on a financial level it is a scary thing to try something contrary to what the competition is doing.

Our goals, to name a few, are to create a product that is marketable, keep the governmment off our backs, keep our employees, our customers, the general public, & our bankers resonably happy, and turn some semblance of a profit.

While that is an extremely tall order on any given day it is the world we strive to survive in. For the majority going out on that limb of change that disrupts the time honored ways of doing things is beyond their willingness to take a risk.

However the few that do move ahead of the curve usually find that the fears were more imagined than real. Sadly, much of the time their attempts while paying dividends, do not totally protect them from costs incrurred by the ultimate government intervention.

So my questions (and there is apparently no one answer to them) is how many business' must fail before the rest see the handwriting on the wall?

Why is there so much resistance to cleaning our own house as it were, when there is so much emperical evidence to prove that failure to do so is folly?

What is that defective gene within our societal DNA that resists change prior to the aforementioned governmental edict?

These quires apply not only to the restaurant/bar industry, but to trucking, rental properties, and most all else that one could name as well.

And for me at least,they remain unanswered.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Let's See...the Chicken or the Egg?

Albeit there is a plethora of examples within the city limits of New Albany that could be and indeed have been sighted for the arrogant behavior of elected officials, I couldn’t help but notice the apparent spread of the disease.

An article in today’s Tribune affirms that this assumption of omnipotence is not isolated to just our river town.

The subject at hand was concerning the widening of a street in the Parkland Heights subdivision in Greenville. Some of the residents were voicing their displeasure of the how the project was handled and were consummately rebuked for doing so.

In expressing his displeasure for homeowners having removed survey stakes from in front of their homes, Council President Richardson is quoted as saying;

“I was willing to look at the situation, but when they took those signs up, it did you no good,”
“I’m in favor of going ahead with this (project) because I will not be intimidated.”

But Richardson was not yet done!

Cherry asked how many of those who supported the project lived on the street where the widening was taking place. Richardson then told Cherry he was not allowed to speak because he was not on the agenda.

The conversation continued until Board Vice President Johnes expressed his frustration at the Council’s supreme authority being questioned by stating what he and other elected officials seem to view as a given;

“You elect representatives. This is not a democracy; it is a republic,” he said. “If you want to see something done differently, you should run for office yourselves.”

For some odd reason, all of these statements carry a familiar ring but I’m having difficulty putting my finger on it. Hmmmm….OH YEAH!

I seem to have heard these self same proclamations offered up by various members of our very own Council right here in New Albany on occasion!

Do tell!!

In staying in rote with the playbook, on yet another road widening plan involving State Highway 150 Richardson took the exact opposite position.

He said the highway will be shut down for two years and could cause many of the town’s businesses to go bankrupt.

Once again, familiar ring tones.

So let’s see if I understand correctly how this works. Citizens are allowed to speak only so long as their views do not contradict the already decided upon position of the governing body. So much for freedom of speech and the open door laws.

Further, even though the municipalities in question are hard pressed for funds, any assistance from outside that dares to improve the local conditions in any manner, be it State funds, commercial benefactor grants, Federal Government grants, or private investment is to be assumed as detrimental to said recipients without further ado.




To be fair I must confess that my only knowledge of Greenville and its specific situation is what I read in the local papers and hear at the water fountain. However, one could safely insert New Albany, or Floyd County or Indianapolis or even Washington DC in the article and read the same expose.

Apparently there must be some late night prerequisite courses for our elected leaders that I’m unaware of. Perhaps I missed too many days of government class when I was in school.

Can anyone enlighten me on this??

Are these yet another series of published public meetings that never get published?

Closing questions as the November election looms near and as 2011 gets ever closer that befuddle me.

Does this status quo type of government really serve the needs of its constituents?

Are the long term results of such the lasting legacy we choose to leave our prodigy?

Can we really look our grandkids in the eye as we tuck them in and say sweet dreams?

Does either or for that matter any political party really give a rats' a..?

And last but not least, dare we get off our duffs and find our way to the poll booths in sufficient numbers to change that behavior??


Friday, August 08, 2008

Mayor England's 1st Semester Report Card

I’ll be the first to admit that I along with many others are critical of city government for both its actions and inactions. The events of recent years have made some of us nearly maniacal about it. However most of us strive to be fair and long for those instances when we can pat even some of our officials on the back with a “Well Done!” This is one of those times.

My first real job as a lad was working for a concrete flat work contractor who was meticulous about his work. As such he expected everyone on his crew to follow suit.

I being the youngest and physically smallest of his employees meant I had to put forth extra effort to learn the job skills and keep up with the old hands. Me being me, I was determined to do just that.

That first summer dragged on and by the time school started I felt like I’d carried my own reasonably well. My employer however had said nary a word about my progress either good or bad.

One day at lunch break I broached the subject with him and his reply was “If you’re doing the job correctly, I have no need to tell you so. If you’re not, rest assured you’ll know it!”

Being a somewhat sensitive type dealing with my teenage self esteem demons, that response didn’t set well with me and I vowed then & there to give credit where credit was due.

So now we come to just past the six month anniversary of this administration to say “Happy Half Birthday One & All!” and to review their report card.

During the conversation at this past Monday’s pre-council workshop, Deputy Mayor Malysz presented the Council members with reports concerning code enforcement and building & zoning departments work for the first six months of 2008.

Here are the highlights of those efforts.

From January 2 thru July 30 our Code Enforcement Officer has acted upon 81 complaints. Of those, 74 have been resolved completely. Two have been referred to the Building Commission for further action and 5 are ongoing and being monitored for compliance. These last 5 dates from May 27th to June 18th. Well done Pam, keep up the good work!

The Building Commission has so far this year authorized the demolition of 19 unsafe, abandoned buildings in our fair city. Of those 15 have been completed and the remaining 4 are scheduled to be razed in the near future.

For 16 of them the city has recouped the costs of doing so from the property owners. That results in the the most of the original appropriation dollars for demolition remaining in tact thus negating the need to come before the Council for more. Sounds like good stewardship to me.

In addition our Building Commissioner is in the process of getting the legal clearance for disposing of 6 more dangerous structures. Kudo's Ron, carry on!

From October 2007 thru July 2008 the Zoning & Planning office along with the Building Commissioner has dealt with 21 violations. Eight of those have been resolved and closed. Eight more are being monitored for compliance as per agreements reached with the property owners, one is pending follow-up, and four are pending lawsuits against the owners.

In addition there are three other legal actions pending involving the New Albany City Plan Commission versus code violators that have thus far refused to comply.

So it would appear that efforts are being made with the tools they currently have available.

All in all I’d have to give Mayor England & staff a hats off for their efforts and encourage them all to continue moving forward. It appears to me we’re making progress albeit unhailed.

This brings me to question why that is. Why do we the public have to find out about these forward advances quite by accident? Why do we continually have to dig through the rubble to find that acorn?

Why don’t our leaders take the lead & solicit our support by letting us in on the secret? Why isn’t the ever present press reporting these actions?

Lots of questions but I’m not hearing any answers. Oh that’s right, it’s after hours isn’t it.

Now back to my normal cantankerous self!

To any Council Members who may stumble upon this essay. Do not read into this that no further action is required. Yes there apparently is code enforcement going on but it is just scratching the surface.

We still need more stringent legislation on the books to deal with the roots of our housing woes. We still need more staff and more will to pursue and prosecute the chronic violators of those codes.

But fear not. Keep the conversation going, step up to the plate & do your job and you too can look forward to a “Well done!”

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Kudo's For a Job Well Begun!!

There was a pre-council meeting workshop held last evening during which council members heard from various city officials the administrations take on code enforcement and housing issues.

Although public comments were not allowed during this time, I must give credit to the administration, the building commission, and the council members for at last acknowledging what citizens have been advocating for the past several years.

Members from all of these entities went on record as recognizing rental property as a business and vowing to seek out ways to regulate it as such.

Aspects of the subject such as citywide registration of rental property, inspection of such prior to occupancy, beefed up code enforcement, and looking to how other cities in Indiana have dealt with the issue were discussed.

In the end a three councilmen committee was formed to take a closer look at the subject and come back to the council with recommendations as to solutions that fit New Albany.

Well Done President Gahan!! Keep it up!

As for the Council Meeting proper, there will be others posting elsewhere on the details but the big news of the night was the passage on first reading of a comprehensive smoking ban for our city.

I’m quite sure there will be much more discussion both within and without before this one hears 2nd & 3rd reading.

Still, I’ll always give the devil his due and this Council for the first time in a very long time actually looked like an advocate for it’s’ city’s best long term interests last evening.

Good job ladies & gentlemen! Keep up the momentum!!