Thursday, August 2, 2012

A summary, a requiem, a new start, or maybe just the truth?

It's been a long time since I was threatened over this blog, which is the primary reason I stopped blogging a year ago; by someone currently running for State office, btw. I can't say it was the only reason, as anyone who has fought this fight would understand the mental and spiritual exhaustion.

So much water under this bridge, so much change, and yet, has anything really changed?

Anyone who used to read this blog (8,500 unique hits) knows my position is one of open discussion. And what do we have today? Tit for tat. Old, old hat (read deep into this blog and see my predictions in today's reality). We recall her, or we don't. And the question no one ever seems to want to ask in this town is, then what? There is always a next, another move. And it begins again. We can't go on this way.

So tonight, after all this time, I post anew, albeit probably my last (oh yeah, we've heard that before), to make a point I've been trying to make for quite some time now: we have not learned anything after all this and we are doomed to continue in this sad spectacle of polar opposites throwing darts at one another until both sides come to terms with their own responsibilities for adding to this.

Well, that's my opinion. But maybe another opinion, a well stated and deeply considered opinion, from someone who also happens to know the data better than anyone in this city, and also knows the history of the last three years better (and I can vouch for that since I was present at all the meetings referenced), but also even knows the past 28 years as well, may move you. If you can, if you dare to read this new letter to the current City of Troy City Council, and seriously consider the points made, then maybe it was not all for naught. Maybe this could be a starting point for a new conversation, a new narrative. Lord knows we need that.

In my view, this entire community owes Mr. Clint Meyer a huge debt of gratitude. The so-called Hyland-Meyer Analysis is essentially 2% Hyland inspiration and 98% Meyer sweat. I honor Clint's efforts and you should too. Innumerable hours were put into this analysis, and so much overpowering detail that so exposed Mr. Szerlag's sophistry that he dared not address it and chose, as is his manner, to ignore it, again and again and again. This alone should offer insight to the man and his "argument" regarding the budget.

So please, carefully weigh the magnitude of what you are about to read. Please try not to jump to conclusions before you read it all. I was there; this is what happened. This is what the data made clear. If, perhaps, some of our analysis of what this meant was off, remember that no one, NO ONE in the city administration or city council told us we were wrong. No one. Ever. Ponder that. Please.

And so, with Citizen Meyer's permission, I present the following history, a history I assure you is accurate, fair and true:

Dear Mayor Daniels; Council Members McGinnis, Slater, Fleming, Campbell, Henderson, and Tietz; former Mayor Schilling; and former Council members Beltramini, Kerwin, and Howrylak:

Greetings.  I trust and hope things are going well for each of you. My assumption is that you have seen the news reports (or otherwise heard about) the recent adventures of former city manager John Szerlag in Cape Coral City.  For those who haven't yet had a chance to read about his actions, and especially his interesting defense of same (including a brand new use for the word extrapolated), two relevant articles on this subject have been attached below.

As a result of the publicity once again surrounding Mr. Szerlag, I became motivated to review certain events of significance in the recent history of our community.  Thank you for patiently making your way through the following discussion.  I believe there is a productive and educational reason for doing so, which may become evident as you read the discussion, and which in any event is addressed in my concluding paragraphs.

First, a brief introduction.  Barry Hyland and I: (1) are longtime Troy residents, (2) are political independents and moderates by anyone's definition, (3) are as a general rule not aligned with or supporters of TCU positions, TRUST positions, or the former city manager's positions, (4) are respectful toward and very grateful for the contributions of our police and fire departments, and (5) have voted "yes" on all three millage proposals placed before city voters between February 2010 and August 2011.  

Some of you will recall that the two of us communicated with those on the previous Council on a number of occasions during the past several years.  The subjects addressed were in each case issues of widespread concern to the city of Troy and its residents.  We additionally met in person with most of the members of Council (as well as with Asst. City Manager John Lamerato) in the spring of 2010 in order to explain our report Alternative Solutions to the Troy Budget Crisis.  This report acknowledged the serious General Fund budget deficit anticipated in the years ahead, and outlined a clean and workable plan to save the library and put the city's financial house in order.  Although the medicine recommended would have been painful, we also believed that putting our government on a sound financial footing was possible without raising millage rates or eliminating jobs.

To quickly review the report's highlights:  It began by showing that city manager John Szerlag had (in all likelihood unintentionally) misled council members and taxpayers in late 2009/early 2010 with his claims that the five-year budget shortfall facing the city was $22 million.  This was not an accurate number, and was in fact very misleading to taxpayers.  Mr. Szerlag's figure was not the deficit, but rather the sum of five consecutive (and "compounding") expenditure reductions that would be required to keep the budget balanced from year to year.  Over five years, these annual cuts, which continue on and accumulate in subsequent years, would in the end amount to $82 million in reduced dollar expenditures over the five year period.  The correct budget deficit, for the entire five-year period, taken as a whole (without changes in anticipated revenues and including mandated new expenditures), was $82 million.  
This was out of a five-year General Fund budget that, without spending cuts, was on pace to hit $342 million.  The $82 million shortfall (or 24% of these tentatively planned expenditures) was confirmed in general terms by Mr. Lamerato in April 2010.  

[For those of you who are confused by this arithmetical exercise, I want to assure you that this issue is not just a matter of semantics.  There was a real deficit looming, and it was a very large one.  Another way to think of the city's situation is that, without any cuts to 2009-10 baseline expenditure levels, and with several mandated expenditure increases coming, the city would have needed an extra $82 million in revenues over the coming five years  that is, an extra $16.4 million a year with budgets averaging around $68 million  just to break even.] 

I will explain why I believe Mr. Szerlag incorrectly characterized the issue as only a $22 million problem several paragraphs hence.  

The report also highlighted the manner in which Mr. Szerlag used his proposed "Option One" budget plan in an attempt to persuade residents to vote for an increase in millage rates in  February 2010. Option One was heavily publicized in the community, and its provisions were presented as a certainty to occur should the millage fail.  This was an overstatement on Mr. Szerlag's part since it would be months before the plan was officially adopted by Council.  In any event, Mr. Szerlag’s plan included spending cuts in many areas of the city’s operation, severe cuts in certain areas, and increases (yes, increases) in the Police Department budget.  This upward boost in police expenditures was sort of slipped into several of the informational charts released by city management during the pre-election period.  A routine examination of the numbers in these charts determined that they didn't "add up".  The discrepancy was cleared up in a phone call to Mr. Lamerato, who explained that what looked to Mr. Hyland and me like undisclosed annual increases in expenditures were in fact just that.  Mr. Lamerato then explained that the increases were necessitated by police pension funding shortfalls, along with contractually-mandated wage increases for certain members of the police department. [These wage hikes were, incidentally, negotiated in 2008, well after Troy property values had begun their precipitous decline.]   According to the provisions of Option One, this police spending boost would be accompanied by only modest (and greatly delayed) police layoffs. [In fact, Mr. Lamerato was privately skeptical as to whether any substantial police layoffs would ever really occur.]  There would also be zero in the way of downward change in other police pay provisions.  Among other things, this meant that 
the police department's share of total General Fund spending would grow rapidly over the coming five years.  

The library's budget, on the other hand, was to take a 100% hit – that is, the library would close its doors permanently on June 30, 2011.

I may be coming to an incorrect conclusion, but Mr. Szerlag's Option One plan seems to have largely been a political plan designed to utilize the threatened closure of the library as a technique to get the attention of voters and stampede them into agreeing to a millage increase.  But it also appeared to be a carefully calibrated plan, designed to avoid "needlessly" alarming taxpayers by informing them of the true size of the ($82 million) budget shortfall.  Had voters known the actual size of the problem, they might well have asked the city manager and members of Council to "turn in their executive washroom keys" for failure to plan for a rainy day (or to do anything about 
– or even comment on – the fact that the city had dreamily spent nearly every last dime of its sizable property tax windfall during the previous quarter century).  So it appears that city management decided that voters should only be told that there was a "serious" budget problem rather than a "gigantic" one.  No need to encourage examination of the numbers by know-nothing meddlers within the community (something to be avoided at all costs if the city manager was to be able to continue targeting cuts at only certain parts of the city’s operation).

Mr. Szerlag was therefore walking a “$22 million/$82 million” disclosure tightrope, and although he was never forced to acknowledge this fact, part of the reason that voters resoundingly defeated the millage hike in February 2010 was that they were understandably confused as to why the amount of new 5-year revenues would far exceed the publicized 5-year deficit of $22 million. Although Mr. Szerlag lost this millage battle, he won the larger information war.  Only two members of Council ever even privately acknowledged the accuracy of our budget analysis, and none of the seven chose to discuss the issue in a public forum.  Mr. Szerlag would therefore never be forced to acknowledge his (unintentional) error.

Following the February 2010 millage defeat, the city manager began to act in a manner that resembled (I know this seems unlikely) someone exacting his revenge on taxpayers. One thing that is certain is that he was determined to move forward with his targeted personnel/budget cuts, and, strangely enough, his targets rarely included what was by far the largest portion of the operating budget (the police department).  Please understand, Mr. Hyland and I were not and are not advocates of balancing the city's budget on the backs of the police department. We just believed that in a time of budget difficulties, all areas should contribute to the solution.

The Hyland-Meyer report recommended a very different approach from that of the city manager. Specifically we proposed: (1) equivalent expenditure reductions for all departments – that is, identical percentage reductions in an across-the-board manner, to be accomplished largely through (hopefully temporary) wage rate reductions, and (2) zero lost jobs.  Departments with contracts (the police) would have the option of accepting layoffs OR renegotiating their contract's relevant wage and overtime provisions.  The moves we recommended would: (a) get the city’s fiscal house in order within one year (quick action would have also required less in overall spending reductions than Option One's five-year drip), (b) treat all departments in an even-handed manner, (c) keep the city fully staffed to the extent possible (depending on the attitude of the police union), and (d) demonstrate good faith to taxpayers.  Such moves could then be followed, perhaps a year or so later, by another proposal for a millage rate increase.  Voters might by then be ready to say "yes" to plugging the revenue gap after having had an opportunity to see for themselves the seriousness of both the funding issue and its cure.   

Our efforts, and those of many other residents, seemed to help nudge the final May 2010 Option One budget vote from a preliminary 6-1 position (in favor of passage) to a final 4-3 squeaker (in favor of passage).  Mrs. Beltramini, Mr. Howrylak, and Mr. Fleming were the no votes, and we were grateful to them.  Just one more no vote could have prevented many unfortunate events in subsequent months, but the supporters of Option One carried the day.  As a result, numerous full and part-time city employees needlessly lost their jobs, and the level and quality of service to citizens declined in every department except for the Police Department.  Perhaps I have been misinformed, but it is my understanding that the police were able to continue operating in a more-or-less normal manner with overlapping shifts, the same pay rates, and regularly scheduled overtime. 

The police contract badly needed to be revisited during this period, but such a move was not to occur for more than a full year thereafter. The city manager decided instead to continue cutting non-police staff, watch “helplessly” as service levels declined, and let loyal former city employees wander aimlessly in the wilderness.  Although it's hard to believe that Mr. Szerlag would have been angry enough to do this next thing I describe, some city managers might have also decided to ratchet-up pressure on recalcitrant taxpayers by doing something like, say, refusing to spend budgeted road repair funds.  Decayed roads would without question show taxpayers how broke a city was.  

Jump forward to May 2011 . . .  

With the city approaching the end of fiscal 2010-11, Council was belatedly made aware (in a planning session presentation by John Lamerato, which was broadcast on local cable) that the General Fund, (which had already been reduced by $4.5 million compared with the budget of two years before) was somehow now "experiencing” an additional across-the-board spending shortfall.  In other words, in a time of already significantly tightened belts, there was still money left over in nearly every department.  What Mr. Lamerato had described, without directly naming it (and which was quickly confirmed by our examination of the city's nine-month financial numbers) was a plan to achieve across-the-board spending cuts of a similar percentage size in each department.  This was of course the centerpiece of the April 2010 Hyland-Meyer plan, rejected earlier as "impractical" by Mr. Szerlag.  These across-the-board (and unpublicized) spending cuts had apparently been instated early in the year (on top of Option One cuts) and had resulted in discretionary surpluses in most departments.  This extremely interesting (and controversial) bit of news, being discussed as it was shortly before an election asking taxpayers for more money, caused most of the Council members to look at Mr. Lamerato a bit nervously. Mrs. Beltramini finally asked how large the surpluses were, and Mr. Lamerato downplayed them as "minor."  After a brief period of grumbling (by some) and congratulations (by others), Mr. Lamerato moved on to the next topic.  Mr. Hyland and I were later to discover that these surpluses could have also been characterized by a reasonable person as anything but minor.  The city was nine months into the fiscal year, and more than half of the city's areas of operation were running surpluses in excess of 10%.  The General Fund as a whole had a 9% surplus.

You may recall that city roads had become a dilapidated disgrace during this same period, and the beleaguered library was within weeks of closing due to "lack of funds".  But for some reason even the Road fund and the Library were not spending their full budgets.  [The Library's budget, by the way, had already been calibrated for the reduced expenditures occurring in the last few months before its closing.  This surplus was on top of those savings.]   I know now this was just me being cynical, but at the time I couldn't help wondering if there could be a connection between: (1) the deep, unpublicized cuts to General Fund expenditures, (2) the horrible condition of the city’s roads, (3) the sad and soon-to-shuttered library, and (4) the third attempt at a millage rate hike coming before voters in August.  

When the millage finally passed in August 2011, the city manager was congratulated by supporters for his astute political strategies.  He had also managed to avoid ever having to admit that he had been presenting misleading data and messages to Council and voters for two years (even if unintentionally).  Carefully observed from the outside, however, it was a sad spectacle.  Although I voted for the millage, and was personally very pleased that the library would now have independent funding, it wasn't an easy thing for me to vote for that particular millage at that particular time under those particular circumstances. 

It also turned out that it would take six months after the close of fiscal 2010-11 before final CAFR numbers were released to the public.  There is nothing quite like dragging one's feet to keep voters distracted and disinterested.  I realize that it is very old news at this point, but the final General Fund surplus for fiscal 2010-11 was $4.1 million, out of a budget of $57.8 million (a rather shocking 7% surplus in a budget which had been characterized by some as unworkably small).  Roads and Streets had a surplus of 11%, and even the library – the already understaffed, underfunded, and near-starvation library – had a surplus of 8%.  It was clear that neither of these areas had been allowed to spend what in theory they had been given to spend.  It seems that someone had left no stone unturned in making certain that maximum municipal poverty was staring every voter in the face when polls opened that August.  [Please see the attachment below for full fiscal 2010-11 details.]

Oh, yes, and the police department was finally brought back to the bargaining table that summer, not long before the millage election. Better late than never, I suppose, and never mind that the police got another surprisingly gentle deal that time around, or that Council has been scrambling ever since to restore the police department (and no other department) to pre-crisis staffing levels.  Bottom line:  As the Hyland-Meyer plan had long speculated, demonstrating to the public that even the police weren't untouchable was a major step needed to convince voters to pass the millage.  It's too bad that just this one step hadn't occurred in the winter of 2009-10, before the first millage got trounced and the Option One disaster unfolded.

[Incidentally, Mr. Hyland and I subsequently analyzed historical city population figures and General Fund budget numbers (inflation-adjusted) for the past quarter century, and discovered that, although the current gap between revenues and expenditures was real, and substantial, the actual level of 2013 General Fund expenditures (as described in the May 2011 proposed rolling budget) was not nearly at the “crisis level” being advertised by city management.  In fact, such expenditures, in four of the six main General Fund sub-categories, were nearly identical to average inflation-adjusted per capita General Fund expenditures for the entire period 1984 to 2010.  The two departmental exceptions were Public Safety (up $3.4 million from historical inflation-adjusted averages) and the library (down $3.4 million from historical inflation-adjusted averages – and zeroed out – and this was long before the library's dedicated millage had passed).]

Amazingly, Option One only scratches the surface of Mr. Szerlag's unusual second term as city manager.  One of several other noteworthy parts of his tenure was the very confusing financial saga of the Transit Center.  For some reason neither Mr. Szerlag nor anyone on Council was ever willing to fully answer the public's simplest questions on this project.  I would be happy to provide copies of my detailed but futile Transit Center correspondence with Mr. Szerlag and Council members for any reader who wishes to be reminded about all that.  But in the end, the Transit Center was apparently the undoing of the city manager.  Reliable data about the center became a part (perhaps a big part) of his feud with Mayor Janice Daniels, and the feud eventually became heated and public, and eventually led to his voluntary departure for Florida.  Of course, the feud has also led to the attempted recall (still in progress) of Mayor Daniels by TRUST loyalists. 

In a sense the "John Szerlag Saga, Troy Edition" is yesterday's news.  But perhaps there are lessons that can still be learned from the city's unusual approach to its financial affairs over the past decade or so. 

Two and a half years ago Mr. Hyland and I were newcomers to city politics, and were drawn into the fray for the first time (at ages 50 and 58) mostly because of the way city management had made a political football of our award-winning public library and its staff.  In the process we discovered a number of other problems in both the approach and methods of the city, and as a result we were regularly treated with less than ordinary courtesy by certain members of Council.  And we were actively disrespected, and in a public way, by the city manager.  Very little of the many hours of work that we put into our financial analyses was ever acknowledged by Council members. Not one of our recommendations was ever formally discussed, and none was ever proposed or voted on by Council. The city manager's very stubborn four-member Council faction simply continued to wear solemn and stony expressions, and do little but shake their heads and complain about "those d--n TCU supporters".  

Which we weren't.  

Financial numbers always speak volumes if presented clearly, promptly, and voluntarily . . . and if Council and residents go to the trouble of examining them.  Perhaps the next time that reasonably well-educated, serious-minded citizens put as much effort into trying to help a traumatized and floundering city as Mr. Hyland and I did – in a truly non-partisan manner – Council members may decide to treat them with more open-minded consideration and respect.  I believe we would all be better off if they did.  

All of this, taken together, has been enough to get even the most placid person riled up.  The library should never have been on the chopping block in the first place.  And a lot of very good people (in the library and elsewhere in the city) lost jobs and were needlessly damaged by the city's machinations over a several-year period.  There were far more enlightened ways to solve the city's financial woes – such as treating all departments in an evenhanded and disciplined manner, treating top officials the same way that the rest of city employees were treated, and bringing the police department back to the negotiating table far earlier in the process – that would have caused much less trouble for the city and which would have shown good faith to voters.  And it most definitely didn't need to take three tries to get a millage passed.

There is one last point I would like to make.  In a certain sense, the entire municipal fiasco of the past several years was about a library's place  any library's place  in a community. Troy voters and Council members who were aligned with TCU were ultimately willing to let the library disappear in order to demonstrate that any government expenditures that aren't about property protection (police, fire, and courts) are "socialist" in nature and need to be restrained or eliminated. On the other side, voters and Council members who were aligned with Mr. Szerlag and TRUST were ultimately willing to use the library as a pawn in an unsavory power-play to prove that TCU's ultra-conservative stance on taxation was grossly misguided.  [They may have also wanted to prove that they could successfully force a tax increase if they wanted it bad enough.]

By my reckoning, both sides made a few good points and a bunch of bad ones.  Both sides certainly made dishonest and/or incomplete arguments on a more-or-less continuous basis for two straight years (and counting). And both sides should feel pretty bad about this.  It was, after all, the library we were talking about.  And not just any library, but the award-winning Troy Public Library.  And we almost lost it because of political gamesmanship.  The library is our community's intellectual center, and its "public square", and I daresay it is the city's emotional heart as well.  It would be fairly easy to make a case that a public library is the first thing that should be created with any community's public funds, and the last thing that should be touched when public funds become scarce.  Many intelligent, sensible people through the years have said that they would rather have a library and no other functioning part of government than a "perfect" government and no library.  

TCU followers, many of you are quite religious.  Have you ever considered the idea that a library is everybody's church?  It is a place of peaceful, quiet reverence where people can go to learn in a very efficient manner about God's creation.  It can very easily be thought of as a "holy" place where God's handiwork  which is certainly one of his revelations to all of us, and may be his only revelation to most of us  can be studied freely and at one's own pace.  

And the TRUST followers of Mr. Szerlag, surely you can see how important a library is to a community.  Mr. Szerlag himself is very proud of his intellectual achievements, and his communication skills, and his erudite taste.  I'll bet a library was a crucial part of the educational process at some point in his life.  And the four-member Council faction who supported Mr. Szerlag through thick and thin.  For goodness sake . . . do you need to be reminded that two of you were school teachers and one of you is an attorney?  Where do you think the world would be without libraries?  Where do you think you would be without libraries?  

Ladies and gentlemen of the current City Council, I don't mean to put added pressure on you, but your community is watching.  Be a good example.  All of us need a good example.  Speak the truth at public meetings, and speak the full truth. Don't hedge, don't play political games, don't tell just a fraction of the story, and don't use silence as your weapon.  If just one of you could become a forthright spokesman and statesman on behalf of the entire city, the rest would follow suit.  Much time has been wasted in the past decade with power games.  It's time to do better, and I believe you can.

For those of you still reading this lengthy discussion, thanks very much for staying with me to the end.

Very sincerely,

Clinton Meyer

3600 Old Creek

Monday, August 1, 2011

No debate

There is no debate. If you have followed both sides of this argument you are almost certainly caught in an uncertain middle where you are left to wonder: Who am I to believe?

I warned about this last October, what we could expect if we failed to free the library from the (toxic) political machinations of Troy. And so it is, ten months now of ugly accusations, confusing "facts" thrown about, further divisions in a city already divided, and both sides utterly convinced of each one's righteousness. And I'm left to wonder: When did talking to each other become blood sport?

But it really all comes down to one simple and irrefutable fact: the library will close if the No vote wins. There is no other "truth" out there that means anything. All other facts are useless flotsam in the ongoing argument between political extremes.

Even if you believe the City Council is wrong, then you must at least understand that they have no choice now - financially and politically. They simply must close the library if this fails. And they will. They have said so and there is no reason to believe otherwise. Anyone who says otherwise has their own political agenda that has nothing whatsoever to do with saving the library.

I have argued passionately on this blog in the past about another way, a fair and equitable way, backed up by a financially specific plan to balance the budget. But that path was not chosen. That's how politics works. I will always believe it was a missed opportunity, particularly by those who couldn't be bothered to read the plan, but it no longer matters. This is what we are left with. This is where we are.

The library lives or the library dies. That's the question. Nothing less, nothing more. The responsibility is ultimately yours and it's time to choose. And so I ask that you ignore the arguments from both sides now. Yes, I am serious. Ignore both sides and simply weigh your aspirations for our community; think about what a closed library means in both a practical daily sense (story time for children, studying high school, college and graduate students, seniors meeting/reading/connecting, unemployed access to computers for job searching) and a larger community reputation sense (unrecoverable damage to our image and, hence, our property values). It really is clarifying, yes? We have to stop this now. There is no tomorrow.

Vote for optimism. Vote for hope for a better community. Vote to stop they cynical and bitter arguing. Vote to save the library. Vote Yes on August 2.

Is it really a choice?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Thanks, Marv.

Nice shirt, Marv. It almost brought tears to my eyes. ;-)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Breath of fresh air?

There is a new Facebook page regarding Troy issues worth looking into. You can find it here. It appears to have been started by some TCU folks with integrity who came to understand that many legitimate voices were being blocked and honest dialogue was being stopped by the people who secretly manage TCU. I want to thank and honor their efforts at trying to start an honest discussion. That's all this blog has ever aspired to accomplish.

For those who might be new here, who have been denied access to the data that I've presented here in the past, many times, I wish to point out that there has been a legitimate "Option 3" on the table since May 9 (updated since May 6). Most of the Troy City Council and several of the senior administrative staff have been exposed to this directly, more indirectly. This plan is not for the ideologues and weak-spirited because it argues for across-the-board cuts (which balances the budget) and does so to make the point that that the city had broken faith with the voters and must, simply must, make dramatic and possibly Draconian cuts (~25%) per department to demonstrate good will and reestablish credibility within the community. Only then will it be possible to ask for what is necessary: additional revenue that are needed to back-fill at least some of the lost revenues to insure this community remains in the top tier of SE Michigan communities and poised to compete when the economy finally turns.

This is not an easy argument to make. Essentially we are saying, have been saying, that both sides are as right as they are wrong. I remain hopeful and confident that the good citizens of Troy will understand this nuance and given the complex times in which we live will "get it."

In other words, I have more faith in you than either the city or TCU has. Again, please review the alternative plan we call Option 3 (and Option 3a) and be sure to look closely at the Supplemental Data that demonstrates the City of Troy has had an operating deficit since 2002.

Study this, ponder this and come to the discussion better informed.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

I have a lot to be thankful for and I thought that given the extreme anger and bitterness in our community lately, I would say a few things about my own thankfulness. Much of this is quite personal, though I think knowing I'm real with real issues and a real family might make me somehow more real to you.

And so, I'm thankful for:
  1. My ability to return home and help my mom in her daily challenges of living with her condition and her continuing health degradation.
  2. The doctors who have kept my mom alive, who help her breathe, who have been supportive and helpful in getting medicines neither one of us can afford.
  3. For my older sister and one of my older brothers who have helped my mom and I stay in the condo we live in through their financial assistance.
  4. For the VA doctors trying to save my other older brother's life, and maybe his leg.
  5. The fact that all my five other siblings are alive.
  6. The medicines that help my older sister live (Google "suicide disease" to see why).
  7. The woman I love, who drives me crazy and leaves me flabbergasted. And yet I couldn't imagine my life without her.
  8. The knowledge that my younger sister has not only survived breast cancer, but fights hard daily to save her marriage and believes there is value in the struggle. She is a beacon of light to her sons. And me.
  9. The jobs I have, which while below my skills and experience, are decent, honorable jobs that allow me to serve the public, which is what I love the most.
  10. The city of Troy, which is dysfunctional, angry, bitter and broken, allowing us all the opportunity to come together as a community, a family, and come to terms with that which we don't wish to compromise. We will. And we will force them to, as well. It must be so.
  11. For God, the Force of life within us all, the Power that animates our otherwise empty vessels, filling with both fear, anger, sadness and retribution, but also joy, love, empathy and forgiveness. Why both? Because we must understand our weaknesses to appreciate our strengths. This is the path to our better selves.
I love this holiday because it's still mostly pure. We only wish to pause and give thanks, to our loves, our friends, our families or our God. Maybe a parade, with the kids. Or maybe a football game, with pals. But no shopping. No gifts. Just families and friends spending time at the dinner table with one another.

Maybe we can come together at another table, in a conference room somewhere, and give thanks for the community bequeathed to us, the community we are responsible to heal and grow. I give thanks for the belief that this is still possible.

May you all have a peaceful evening and know the true thanks we must all recognize we owe someone in our lives.

Monday, November 15, 2010

How I see it

I'm sorry if it seems like I'm not engaged. These issues are very intense, potentially explosive, and quite controversial. And that's why this site is about the truth. I could say something every day about the latest "news" or did you hear what so-and-so said. But that's not how I operate. It's been a time for reflection and deliberation for me and I wish more people would do that more often. I think we'd have a better understanding of things if we thought more and talked less.

Regardless, now 14 days after the fact, here's what I see:
  1. City council won. Yes, that's right. TCU did not win. City council won because they got what they wanted - continued control over the library issue. I tried to warn everybody about how this outcome would just create more dysfunction within our community, but evidently not enough people saw it this way. Just wait until you see this go on a few more weeks/months and once city council acts, or doesn't, then we'll get to see TCU hyperventilate and act, based on city council, and the game that cleaves this community will continue. Remember, I warned you. Several times.
  2. No one at TCU has a plan, a clue, or even a thoughtful idea to move us toward a solution. It's just more of the same "get your financial house in order" nonsense. This is nonsense because there are no actual suggestions on how to do that. I'm sorry, but gutting the few egregious pensions is a drop in the bucket and, while a nice political gesture (TCU's stock in trade - all show, no go), does not fund the library. The devil is in the details, as the old saying goes. To that end, there needs to be a real plan.
  3. There is a real plan. Clint Meyer and I submitted a plan back in early May. Our plan, the one we call "Option 3" and "Option 3a" is not rocket science. It's across-the-board cuts that balance the budget and saves the services, if not all jobs. Yes I know others have suggested across-the-board cuts, but they listened to the city council and the city manager talk about $22.6 million "deficit" and so they argued for a 7-10% cut. It seemed logical, though it wasn't. The city manager just sat there and repeated, "That won't work" without saying why. He still hasn't. Why won't it work? Check out the numbers: the actual deficit is over $82 million! Our plan is backed up with numbers, the city's financial data, and a rationale for action. It spares no one, but it destroys no one either. No one else has produced such a plan, to my knowledge. It's very tough medicine, at around 25% cuts per department, based on where we were in May, but it's the only path forward and the only path to demonstrate good faith to the community. This is something entirely lost on the council majority and the city manager. Until that broken faith is restored, we are lost. And eventually, even the police department will be cut dramatically because they'll be the only ones left.
  4. The Ed Kempen "plan", which really is only a wish, will either be ignored by city council or if it's seen in concert with the 15,000+ Yes voters, not to mention the other 1,546 possible Yes voters on the other proposals (the difference between total ballots cast and the total number of Yes and No votes cast on Proposal 1), it might yet have some political influence, though I don't see it moving a fourth vote. We'll see.
  5. The past is not to be ignored unless we wish to continue in this broken manner. I'm not arguing for placing blame. There is no value in that. But the past is where we can clearly see the errors that led us here, the obfuscation that hid the truth from us, and why we must act with full knowledge of the past to fix the present.
  6. The people behind the bogus proposals, whether TCU, the Troy Tea Party, Frank Howrylak, Bob Gosselin, or all of them, stole the election by subverting democracy and they should be ostracized from the conversation. They have no place at the table. They are not interested in dialogue (they continue to block me from their Facebook page to avoid the truths I present). No one should be surprised by this. Not now.
  7. Martin Howrylak's letter was not honest, his timing was no accident, and his previous commitment to me (and Clint) about supporting a library-only initiative "as long as it was below one mill" was a commitment we reported to library supporters and relied upon. Martin denies this, tells me ether I misunderstood him or he did not make himself clear. I could buy that, except that Robin Beltramini informs me that he told her the same thing and has publicly stated this in the recent past. So I'm not wrong in understanding Martin's artifice. I like Martin, personally, although I know that puts me in the minority in this town. He's a fascinating character, has a firm grasp on more things that people give him credit for, but he's not being forthright here and I don't respect that.
  8. It's inevitable that the police department will take real financial hits - at some point. The fiscal situation is dire and the truth is that our Option 3 or something very close to it is going to be the only path to getting the budget balanced.
  9. And lastly, thank you Rhonda Hendrickson for your efforts.
Look, there is a lot of blame to go around on both sides of the issue. I don't care about that now. I only care about getting a plan that begins to solve our city's problems and sets us up for the future. We've put such a plan on the table and it's high time people actually read it. It's not a gift to any "side" in this argument because while it hits the city hard, requires strong leadership to push the unions into cuts they don't want to absorb (not to mention city administrators who appear to be the actual main obstacle to this solution), it also demonstrates that this fiscal crisis is very real and will require additional tax support from the community to back-fill the significant loss in revenue that appears will continue for another couple of years. This is real. Mr. Szerlag is not lying to us, even if he's done a very poor job of communicating it and chosen a cynical political strategy (threatening the library/museum/nature center) to make his point. If you want the city you live in to survive and be positioned to thrive once the economy recovers, you had better look closely at real facts, not the useless nonsense of the uninformed, like TCU, who act from emotion instead of data. Both sides must now face the truth of the reality of the mess and the necessity of honest communications. We all need to pitch in. Please start by reading our Plan.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Still processing

I'm still too mentally and emotionally exhausted to offer value right now. But thankfully Sharon isn't. If you haven't checked into her blog, please do. You can find her here.

There are two things I'd like to say, though:
  1. Thank you to the Troy voters who supported us, who understood the actual stakes in this enterprise and who were not fooled by the deceptive strategy of TCU. Less than 700 votes out approx. 30,000 cast is frustrating, but not as frustrating as realizing that there probably 1,546 Yes votes on the other proposals that can't be attributed to "everyone just voted Yes on all proposals." That's their line and it's false. More on that when I'm up to it.
  2. For anyone still naive to think we can run the library on $2.2 million, please know this, and take from someone inside who knows the drill, but we're starving to death. We're bleeding staff and we're beyond maxed out in duties. Service is beginning to suffer and the only reason we haven't keeled over yet is that this is a highly dedicated, very professional and deeply caring staff.
Have a great weekend and don't forget to check in on Sharon's blog. And hold onto your hats Monday night.