Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Stupid Campaign Sign Tricks - Joe removes his signs

I was kind of hoping that city council candidate Joe Moore would have had secured rights to put his signs up right outside my polling place, but today those signs were gone. It is nice to see that he is learning how to campaign "Illinois style" in the political job he has fallen into.

Oh well, I was hoping for better.

I wish I had written this, it is a smart blog entry.

From the Shawnee Net site, there is a interesting blog entry about the Carbondale mayor's race.

I have written about many of the things in there, but maybe not as well. Nice work by the Great Marmaduke.

Stupid Campaign Sign Tricks

Everyone by now has caught the mass vandalism of Brad's signs by Sheila supporters. It is interesting when your support includes a bunch of vandals. I also think it is curious how many of Sheila's signs are in places where they clearly don't have authorization from the owners of the property. For example, at the corner of East Walnut and Jackson there is a big Cole sign that has been vandalized and two or three Sheila signs.

I read a nice letter from John Rendleman in the SI yesterday about this. John is a smart guy and should easily be able to figure out who has access to the 50 or so Simon signs that have been put up illegally over last weekend. You could easily draw a line between the people who put up the encroaching signs and the vandals. Their method was to destroy a Cole sign and put up a Simon sign or 3. I guess asking them to go remove the Sheila signs from the places they don't have permission would be to much?

It was interesting to see Joe Moore's signs up in what appeared to be illegal locations next to my polling place yesterday. He had one on SIU land and one on the other side too (I think that land belongs to the fellow who daughter was a great CCHS runner a couple years back). They were just off the Church lot, so maybe they were legal? Does SIU let you put up political signs? You can check it out at the corner of Chautuaqua and Glenview. Strangely enough, I gave him a vote yesterday. Decided I would rather have him then most of the other choices.

Hey, pro-Sheila commenters. What is her plan to support small business?

We have seen lots of comments from Sheila's supporters here about how pro-small business Sheila is. Great, she is pro-small business. What does that mean? Will she give checks to small business people? Demand the city buy everything from small businesses that are in town? You can't tell me that handing out a "business of the month award" is a plan, there are Dilbert cartoons about programs like that.

So, what is her plan? At the moment, it looks like a campaign promise that will be very hard to keep. It is pretty lame to say you are pro-business and not walk the talk.

Every other time I have asked this in the comments, the Sheila supporters have ducked for cover. Now it is out here in the main thread. What have you got?

Where does Sheila's support come from?

We know that Brad won a close race with Maggie last time based on his pro-business plan, being smarter then Maggie, Republican party support and Maggie's anti-Iraq War vote (which looks pretty good based on "W's" bungling of that situation). He went on and has done better then we could really expect him to, based on results. As a matter of fact, we can only hope that Glenn Poshard has as good a run at SIU in the next few years.

I can understand Sheila's political base in this election as being our super-liberal college community (I say super, because I'm a liberal in most parts of the country. Here in Carbondale, I'm pretty conservative in comparison), the Democratic party, environmental groups, anti-smokers and bicyclists. As I have said before, I think Sheila is a good candidate and if we didn't have a mayor coming off a successful 4 year run and/or if she had an interest or plan for economic development, I might well be supporting her.

What is interesting is driving around town and seeing signs for Sheila up in yards or businesses of people who should likely belong to Brad's camp. One thing I found is many of the people who have Brad and Sheila signs up, the Sheila signs are up because of Sheila's supporters dirty sign tricks campaign. But, talking to the ones who put the signs up themselves is interesting.

I have talked to around 10 people who I thought would be in the Brad camp and asked them why they have Sheila signs up. Each told me because of their history with Paul Simon. All but one thought Brad had done a good job for the city, but 20 years ago Paul helped them or they worked on Paul's campaign with Sheila way back when or they are a life long Democrat and just want to support the party.

Then I asked each if they thought Sheila was going to do a better job then Brad. Each said, having Brad work full-time as mayor is better then having Sheila working part-time. But, they felt they owned it to Paul or history to vote for Sheila. I asked if they felt that letting the city manager run the city without a strong mayor was a good idea and each said no.

I have been confused about this, I'm really surprised to hear that people would vote for someone they think will not do a better job. I don't care who your parents are, I would always hire the person I think would do better result. Maybe this is just the way that rural Southern Illinois works? Heck, is there any doubt that "W" was elected because of his father? Is there any doubt that Hilary Clinton was elected Senator of NY and might be elected President of the USA because of who she is married to? Al Gore, Teddy Kennedy, Jessie Jackson Jr., maybe every politician in Chicago, the list goes on.

I guess in America we have had a long line of people elected because of who their father is or was. The election comes down to a referendum of their father's career and not one of merit. Kind of disgusts me, if it is true, but to each his own.

Your comments are welcome.

Most reasonable pro-smoking letter - Put your money where you mouth is.

It is interesting to read about the Carbondale non-smoking discussion. Here is the best letter I have seen against the smoking ban so far.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Is the Carbondale system of "strong city manager" form of government broken?

I have been wondering of late if our weak mayor and strong city manager form of government is most often less effective then a more traditional strong mayor system (no city manager). If we look at the advances the city has made in the last few years, it seems like having a full time mayor produces better results then we have had under the city manager. If we look at the city's results over 40 years before, it is certain the city has fallen behind where it should be.

Maybe it is having the mayor working 40+ hours a week, instead of working 15? Maybe the city manager's position removes him from the will of the people and turns that roll into a servant for the city council members, so results don't matter much? Maybe Carbondale has just been unlucky, time after time?

It is hard to believe that any city could do as poorly as Carbondale has done, given the gifts of SIU, the regional hospital and medical, and the regional mall, unless it was programmed to have poor results.

What do you think, should Carbondale change over to a strong mayor system? It is a great time to think about it, the city manager might well retire in a few years.

Unintended consequences of our educational system.

Interesting piece on today about college students. At least the problem is nationwide?

DE endorsements - I wonder who will be paying for Sheila's inspector fee?

As the DE editors were drinking their green beer and trying to figure out who might be the best candidate for mayor of Carbondale, maybe they forgot who the cash cow of this town is. If Carbondale is going to institute a new tax on rental units, who is going to pay for it? If you guess it will be the student renters, you would be right.

Let's say that the city levies a $10 per unit fee to do an inspection, might there be a $10 per unit increase in rent? Might there be a $20 or $50 increase to pay for the trouble?

Another question, if you think a unit you are thinking about renting isn't up to par, can you call the city today and get it inspected? I think you can fairly easily. Since there are unlimited places to rent right now, wouldn't you be better off renting someplace else?

Your comments are welcome, even if you have a green beer stain on the front of your shirt.

Monday, February 26, 2007

I wish Chris Wissmann wasn't on the city council

I remember he used to be a social critic, using his column in the "Nightlife" weekly newspaper. Once he got on the council, the good ideas when away and he became much more of a "yes man" pro-city council guy.

I wish Chris would write with some fire about the issues in Carbondale, like he used to.

Sheila says, she will stop the big boxes from competeing with the small local business?

She didn't really say there did she? I have seen it in the paper and now I hear she said it again yesterday. No one really thinks this is possible, do they?

To be clear, everyone is completing with everyone else. Tom's Place is competing with Mary's, that is completing with Quatro's, that is completing with Papa Aldo's, that is completing with cans of spaghetti in the grocery stores. You aren't going to stop Lowes, Staples, Walmart, Best Buy, Barnes and Noble and Krogers, from competing with the Coop, Shawnee Trails, B&L Photo, Rosetta News and True Value. That is the way the USA works.

Further, the citizens of the USA like the big box stores. They are generally well run, have lots of merchandise, and low prices. There is a reasonable argument that the low prices in the big boxes (and in particular Walmart's low pricing of Chinese made goods) are driving the efficiency of our whole economic system.

Could someone explain how Sheila plans to keep the big boxes from competing with the locally owned small businesses. If you can't explain it, we will have to put this down as another one of Sheila's silly ideas. IMHO, stopping a fair and open market can't be done legally and would be a bad idea if it could.

The DE drinks the Kool-aid - Pepper is their #1 Mayor pick.

The children that are running the Daily Egyptian editorial board clearly went out and did the green beer on Friday and lost their minds on the Carbondale Mayor primary. The amazing thing is that in a race with 4 candidates, they managed to pick the only candidate without the skills to run the city as their first choice. Had Sheila as their second pick, so they got one out of two.

Didn't any of you talk to Pepper before you decided to print this?

If this is the decision making you show the world, how can any reader take you seriously?

Throwing Lewin under the bus - why it is bad when a superintendent lies to parents.

The other day I did a little run down of the city council candidates and wrote that
Then we have Liz Lewin who has never been anything beyond an unprepared and incompetent in my eyes. I have never dealt with Liz where she hasn't lied directly and with purpose to me. If you dig into this at all, you will find that the scuttlebutt is that Liz cut a wide swath of lies, incompetence and deception in her time as District 95. The best her supporters in District 95 have to say is, "we have had worse." I sure am not going to vote for a her and in a race of weak and unproven candidates, she is the one to avoid based on her lack of ethics IMHO.
Had a comment that said I was making stuff up about Liz, so I thought I would write up my first encounter with her here and let you decide.

When we moved to town 5+ years ago, our oldest child was home schooled and about the right age to start playing a band instrument. My wife went by Winkler School and asked the Principal if home schoolers were allowed to take band. It turns out you were allowed to take band if you jump through a couple of simple hoops - register with the state as a home schooler, have your shots, that sort of thing.

So my wife did what was required and off the kid goes to band. Turns out the band teacher (Sara Hansen) for 4th - 8th graders was really good and everything goes well. The kid plays in the Christmas concert, even does a little solo. We are pretty happy, it is nice when the teacher is a star and the kid practices.

In February, we get a call from "Dr. Lewin" about 9:00 PM on a Sunday night and she tells my wife the kid can't do band the next day or every again. When my wife asks why, Liz tells her she isn't following a correct curriculum - wife says we are both following one and it isn't a requirement according to their rules. Liz says your kid does have her shots, my wife says she does. Liz says your kid isn't registered with the State, wife says she is. I think there were a couple more lies in there, but Liz basically went through the list of possibilities seeing if we would go away.

Wife hangs up and she is pretty confused and a little pissed. Like any super smart person she starts doing the research. We find that in Illinois home schooled children don't have to be allowed to participate in extra circular school functions until high school. The District 95 rules say you can participate as long as you jump through the hoops (which we did).

Next morning the moment the State office opened my wife called and talked to the one person who is in charge of registering home schoolers. They had chatted before when my wife registered the kid in the first place. Wife tells state employee about the Liz's call and what was said. The nice State employee tells my wife that District 95 hasn't called to check our kid's status, ever. While they are chatting, the State employee tells my wife that she just got a handed written message that Liz Lewin had called and was checking the status of our kid.

When Liz called us at home and told us our kid couldn't participate anymore, she hadn't check her status with the state. Liz hadn't read her own district's written policies. She hadn't done her homework and she lied. In my book, this makes her unethical and a lier. How about you?

At this point I called Nancy Stemper (AKA - spineless school board head) and told her what was going on. Nancy's first question was, "have you told the papers?" Jerk. I pointed out that I didn't really care what they did next year, but if they threw my 10 year old out of her class at this point, against their written policy, I was going to sue them. Nancy said, she would look into it. Nancy Stemper called back a few days latter and said the kid was back in the class.

At this point, my wife decided that District 95 was wacko and started lining up a different path. Hired the band teacher for private lesson. Found another group to play with, etc.

About 4 weeks later District 95 changed their written policy about home schoolers taking extra circular activities officially. Turns out you can't kick kids out of school by changing the rules in mid-year legally in our state. I check with the lawyers and this is illegal and the school board knew it. So, the question is do you want to sue the wacko school board or just realize that they are losers and walk away?

As is my tradition in times like this, I started to research Liz Lewin and the District 95 Board and system. The good news is that Liz supported her teachers and earned some respect from the ones in middle management, but hey if you pay most people they will like you. Liz is also known to show up for meetings unprepared, not understand details of important items and there are lots of reports of back biting and double dealing running around in town. In addition, District 95's results weren't good when Liz started as superintendent, and have only gotten worse.

As an example of how bad District 95 is today, the new superintendent quit after only 6 months. There was some excuse about his father/wife/dog being sick, but the insiders say that nothing has changed in his life. The people who are sick now, were sick 6 months before. If things were terrible in the school district, why didn't the new Super take a leave instead of quitting? They are conducting an internal only search to replace him. Sounds like the Titanic doesn't it?

I am biased against Liz Lewin, because I have a clear case where she lied directly (where there is no confusion or misunderstanding, she lied multiple times about multiple issues), went out of her way to attack a child who had done nothing but be a excellent student and who was following the written rules.

Ignoring the rules, lies, deception and terrible work results are great reasons not to elect Liz Lewin to city council. I certainly hope we don't, this isn't the person to serve this city.

Your comments are welcome.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Should SIU try to be more diverse?

No, not based on skin color, but on skill set. I have written several times in this blog about how people with PhD's don't seem to have a clue about management. There have been several comments about salesmen are better if they don't have PhD's. I commented in this entry - "hiding out in a college town and only dealing with people with multiple advanced degrees ... might not be sharpening a true view of the state of the world?"

Should it worry you when the only input you get is from the people who worship at the same Altar that you do? Makes you understand how some people think that "W" is doing a good job, they don't expose themselves to diverse ideas. There is a real style of learning to US higher education and most professors are bound to that style. A question is what is lost because of the lack of diversity in educational styles? Would a drill Sargent do better, would an intercity Chicago high school teacher do better, would a Nun with a fast ruler do better educating the students? More important, would adding one of these diverse skills sets improve the teaching of the entire department?

For example, SIU would never hire an administrator that didn't have a doctorate in something. Doesn't that say that the university rejects anyone who doesn't play their hoop jumping game? I have received a majority of my education laying on my couch with books and at work at a high tech company. Is this an invalid way to learn? It is invalid for US universities, if you want to be an employee who is promoted. When did these giveaway EdD/PhD in Education become a valid measure of knowing something? I prefer results to dogma myself. Education doctorates are really lightweight, the company business plans I have written should earn me a doctorate each, if that is the quality bar.

Maybe SIU needs to stop recruiting management and faculty from the same white bread group they are currently using and diversify with new ideas and different views? If diversity is really important, professors who are black aren't really that diverse compared to a business person are they? There are many people with different colored skin, from many countries at SIU already, but do they bring true diversity? Yes, in a way, but I'm framing an argument here, so let me gloss that over for now.

If 10% of the SIU faculty was African-American and 25% of the students, would that change anything for the better? Would there be better learning, better results or any other positive results? If 10% of the administration were business people, things would be changing for the better (once they washed the blood off the walls). Of course, bring in the right university administrators would work too, SIU just doesn't seem to be able to hire the right people.

Quick story, they are hiring a new Dean of Science and I hear someone asked one of the candidates about his research. The guy has been in management for a while and I bet hasn't published for many years. Should he not be hired because he doesn't want to discuss some low level research in his field? What does his research from 20 years ago have to with with his capacity to be a great manager? Microsoft hires programmers like this, since they don't have real people skills or training in interviewing job candidates, they only ask technical questions. We have seen the results in the pieces of their products that require people skills to design. Does this seem like a management team that you know and work with often? Better researchers and politicians then leaders and managers?

Your comments are welcome.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Grade inflation again - Nationwide problem, so it is OK not to learn?

Here is the story out of the LA Times from yesterday (made the front page of the Post and inside the SI). I wrote about this the other day commenting on Poshard's proud announcement of SIU's 2.96 overall GPA. I like this quote out of the LA Times story
"I think we're sleeping through a crisis," said David P. Driscoll, the Massachusetts commissioner of education, during a Washington news conference convened by the Department of Education. He called the study results "stunning."
One of the interesting differences between those of us that hire people and those of you who educate, is I am only interested in the product. I don't care that the kid should know more, but you decided to pass him anyway. They show up in my life, I take a snapshot of what I think they might be able to do to help me and move on. I can tell you that SIU students aren't good enough, but maybe that is true across the country? It sure looks like the high school students aren't good enough either.

When you talk a step back and ask people if they think we are at the end of the American Empire, the results might surprise you in how negative people around you really are. I suspect we will look back at the Baby Boom generation (mine), their two family income greed, divorce rate and general lack of parenting interest (beyond their kids doing well at sports, of course) as a key moment in US history. The kids in school today are not getting as good of an education as kids 20 and 40 years ago. All the computers, calculators and other toys are not as good as having your parent care more about your school work then they do about America Idol, the NFL or their drugs.

It is hard work to discipline your kids all the time, it is even harder to discipline yourself. Maybe we will get a work ethic again if we go through another depression? Maybe our scientists will deliver unlimited clean power and everyone will have everything they want? It maybe time to reread the Foundation Trilogy and see that Asimov has to say about what will happen when humans don't have to strive to have all commercial goods. Hopefully we will not find ourselves in the William Gibson future instead.

Sometimes I wonder if teacher tenure is a good idea. Should you have employment for life when you do a bad job? If teaching standards are going down, does that mean we are protecting the teachers from excellence by securing their jobs? Not talking about researchers and tenure, but grade school and high school teachers. If standards are dropping, why are we protecting their jobs?

It is interesting when a reporter puts really facts behind what we all know isn't it? Kind of brings things into focus.

Your comments are welcome.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Green beer today - anyone want to weigh in on the Carbondale bars opening early?

I guess the students at SIU are going to copy U of I's tradition and do a drunken St. Paddy's day party today, because the normal date falls in spring break this year. Quotes in the DE from underaged drinkers planning to get drunk before classes, make me fear for my life as I drive to work.

I'm not sure what to think about Pinch Penny opening early to help this "movement" or how so many underaged drinkers are getting served. Like illegal drugs, underaged drinking by college students can't be stopped under current laws. If they can't do it at the bars, they will do it at home.

Interesting look at the state of the SIU students and their dreams, goals and aspirations isn't it? :)

Here comes the Illinois no smoking bill.

An idea that is going to happen sooner or later, the State of Illinois is moving its anti-indoor smoking bill through the process. Clearly, if this passes, the Carbondale debate about smoking bans will be over. The complaints by bar owners that they will lose business to bars out of town will end.

Clearly, this will be a good result. Everyone might call your local state reps, this would be a good result for all of us.

Ad placement in the Carbondale Times and the City Council race.

I was reading the Carbondale Times and got to the second half of the mayor forum article on page 8. There are 3 ads on that page, the top one is boring, but the next two down the page are kind of interesting because of the placement. On top there is an ad for Lance Jack for City Council and below there is an ad for Shawnee Trails for their new line of Mountain Khakis. When I see a political ad and right below there is shot of the rear end of a pretty young lady, I have to ask if the Carbondale Times is making a political statement?

I think that Lance has been a pretty poor city council member and under normal circumstances, I wouldn't vote for him. I like that is somewhat pro-business, but his ideas of how to do it or any real ideas or drive to do anything seems to be missing.

Steven Haynes has been pretty average as a council member, he seem to run from every difficult issue. His one issue seems to be the Eurma Hayes center (his mother used to run it?) and is somewhat pro-business. I don't see any ideas or drive here.

Then we have Liz Lewin who has never been anything beyond an unprepared and incompetent in my eyes. I have never dealt with Liz where she hasn't lied directly and with purpose to me. If you dig into this at all, you will find that the scuttlebutt is that Liz cut a wide swath of lies, incompetence and deception in her time as District 95. The best her supporters in District 95 have to say is, "we have had worse." I sure am not going to vote for a her and in a race of weak and unproven candidates, she is the one to avoid based on her lack of ethics IMHO.

I sure wish that Jessica Davis was running for city council instead of mayor.

I think that Mary Pohlmann is smart and worthy of our votes. I wish there were a few more like her in this field.

Joe Moore is 20 and seems lightweight because of his age, like Jessica Davis needs to serve in a smaller job to prove himself.

Paulette "Wills" Sherwood seems like a one trick pony in support of the Northeast. Don't know her, and I have just read one article about her. If we were electing council members to represent a region of the city, instead of the whole city, I think she would be a good choice for the NE. But we aren't.

Luanne J. Brown is invisible to me. At some point Dave wrote that she will have a blog sometime, but I can't find it. Anyone know her story? Google shows nothing on her.

It is an interesting field for a town already experiencing white flight out of its elementary school district. I guess that we could elect 3 black candidates who's platforms are support of Eurma Hayes center and the rest of the Northeast, over any other issue. I guess Mary Pohlmann's addition to the council would get us a no smoking law fairly quickly, which is also interesting.

It wouldn't surprise me if we ended up with our two current council members and Mary Pohlmann. I would be happier with Mary Pohlmann, Jessica Davis and Sheila Simon though.

Anyone have a roses or rocks to throw on this election? Are we just getting rid of Joe in the primary because he is young and the students don't vote, then zero in on facts after that?

Crime - Carbondale Times does nice job on Candidate forum

I don't think they have a website, so you might go pick up a copy at your local newsstand. I think Rosetta News still had some yesterday afternoon. I have often felt that the Carbondale Times had the best coverage of local Carbondale politics, the same what that I think Caleb Hale at the SI does the best job covering SIU. Good work on this article Jerry and the gang. One issue that I might not have written about, without reading their account, is crime in Carbondale.

Crime in Carbondale is driven by drug use. Illegal drug addiction and the costs of getting those highly addictive drugs are driving crime in Carbondale. From the guys who sell out of their white Chevy in the gravel alley just West of the Hookia station on E. Main and Wall (that accesses from the street behind), to the homeless who steal everything that isn't tied down in the TIF district all summer, to the young men of the North East who are drinking malt in the early afternoon and really getting rowdy some nights, it is all about drugs and their high prices. In the 1920 we had gangs running moonshine, carrying Tommy guns and making huge amounts of money because of prohibition. Today Al Capone has been replaced by Mexican and Columbian drug lords. The crime problems we see are from the Northeast side poor district, our newly annexed trailer court, our gang banger imports from Chicago at SIU and other areas that are inhabited by the poor. The poor are being robbed by the drug addicts who live among them. This is simple capitalism, the profits in illegal drugs are so good that it drives the motivated to sell drugs. The need for money to buy the very high priced drugs, drives their users to steal. The drug war is over and the good guys have lost. It is time to try something else.

I know it isn't popular to talk about drugs driving the crime problems in the USA, but they are. Not that I expect anyone to say that when running for office, but isn't it time we stopped kidding ourselves?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Getting the Most Out of Life: The Concept of Opportunity Cost

A friend sent me this article about opportunity costs. I like it and think it is worth your time to read, a way better return for your time then most of the stuff posted here. :)


Real world vs. fantasy and hopes. Why I write about both sides of the street.

I received one of my now typical poorly written comments yesterday, accusing me to being inconstant in my writings about government. The person who wrote the comment had an interesting idea, but their work wasn't worthy of publishing (an example from this comment was "Peter = schizophrenic"). Let me frame up their argument for them and write a little about it.

The argument is that I have written that we don't need bigger city government, but that government is needed. I have written I don't think Carbondale should increase their number of building inspectors and make a new tax on property owners, but that the Federal Government's solar rules and tax breaks really have driven that industry. I have also written that building inspection is needed, as are government rules, but that capitalism is a better driver then big government.

How can you have all these things? How do I dare to write that big government exists and that growing our government into a bigger and more intrusive form is wrong? I guess that I understand the difference between the real world, goals and fantasy.

Here are the facts as I see them. The US government is huge and growing out of control. Our military spending is headed toward 2/3 (66%) of the money the US government spends. Under "W" the rich have gotten a free ride, not only tax cuts, but lack of enforcement of all forms of federal rules to make the rich richer. The Federal Government under "W" has damaged the country by cutting funding to the States and Universities, they gave that money to the very rich through tax breaks. The Iraq War and the whole Middle East are a disaster, and "W" has mismanaged his war. The State of Illinois government is corrupt to the core. The State of Illinois has underfunded their retirement system to the tune of $44B! The State of Illinois is growing the government out of control. The last governor of Illinois is going to jail and it is likely the current one will follow him at some point. SIU is a poorly run organization. SIU is and has been in decline. Walter Wendler was a poor leader and manager who did a bad job. James Walker was sick and as a result did a poor job. The City of Carbondale was managed under Neil Dillard, but there were no new ideas and so the entire community stagnated. Brad Cole has provided the good ideas in the City of Carbondale for the last 6 years or so, there have been positive result because of it. Brad has big campaign donars (of the $1000 kind, not $1M kind) and some people think they will own him after the election. Sheila is raising about the same money by using the Democratic Party to do the work and some people thing she will be owned by the state Dem's if elected. There are good and smart people everywhere. The people in Carbondale don't want to see the big picture, it is just to painful. I often can't figure out what form of to/too/two to use and I don't care if I put in commas.

Then there is the world I aspire to. I want to have a happy marriage. I want my kids to grow up healthy and smart. I want to ride my bike fast. I want to bench the stack on two of the Nautilus machines at the Rec Center. I want my company to succeed. I want SIU to get much better. I would like Carbondale to continue on its reasonable path forward economically. I want the madness in Iraq to end. I want government on every level to be run more efficiently. There are many others.

In my fantasy world there are lots of things I wish would happen. I wanted to be Tom Brady once (when one beautiful actress is to pushy, you get her pregnant and move on to a Victoria's Secret model), still be paid millions to play a game and be everyone's hero (of course, I'm to happily married now to want this anymore). I want to race in the Tour de France, not win, that is asking to much, just race and finish. There is a fellow who is working out at the Rec center of late who is really strong, I chatted with him and he is a Indoor Football League player (he is about 6' 2" and 285 and really strong), I want to be that strong. I want to be so smart that I can figure out a new math or science theorem that will make my name be remembered forever (like Newton for example). I want to sing well enough to be on Broadway, but I don't want to work at it. I would like SIU to be come a top 75 research university. I would like Carbondale to become a business mecca and have fantastic economic prosperity. I would like all the rental houses in Carbondale to be fixed up to my liking and zoning to change so we have a downtown like the good old days. I want the city of Carbondale (or the park district) to build a water park that rivals Disneyland, but makes money too. I wish everyone would live in peace and harmony, war and hunger would end, there would be no pollution, that everyone would be happy all the time (sounds like a Grateful Dead concert on acid doesn't it), etc.

I figure (for the sake of simplifying in this blog) that there are 3 levels - hard reality, things that can reasonably be done and a fantasy world of perfection that it would be nice to have (but ain't happening in my lifetime, or at least there is no clear path to get there today). When I talk about almost everything, I look at what I think is true and write about how much better it would be if they did the right things. Mostly, I think about the world in the reality areas and things that can reasonably be done.

When you think about it, this is the real difference between Brad and Sheila. Brad's plans aren't grand and his accomplishments aren't changing everything to an aspired fantasy world of perfection. But, if he keeps going the way he is going, we might get to a much, much better place. Sheila's plans are grounded in fantasy. Her heart is in the right place, the problem is that almost no one succeeds following her methods. There isn't the money, will or talent in Carbondale to make Sheila's big dreams work, and so they will not work.

How do you see your life? Are you thinking you deserve to race in the Tour de France or do you just want to ride your bike around the block? How do you see Carbondale's city government? Do you think that our city government is going to solve all our problems, start businesses, right wrongs, leap buildings in a single bound or should the government shoot to make it so the downtown isn't blighted and set the table for one decent employer of 200 well paid people to have a place to go?

This kind of reminds me of Jessica Davis running for mayor. If she really wanted to be mayor, she should have run for city council this time. The council candidates are very weak and I think she would have won a seat. She can't become mayor by running for mayor, that is a fantasy. She needs to do the hard work first and so she is going to lose this time.

Anyhow, that is how I can write about multiple and conflicting things in the same sentence or blog entry. That is how the world really works, it is complicated.

Your comments are welcome.

Green Homes: The Price Still Isn't Right

Interesting article about solar electric homes in the Feb 12th, 2007 issue of "Business Week". It says that high end builders in the US are now offering solar electric on houses, but that almost no consumers are buying. Apparently home buyers are more interested in upgrading to granite counter tops.

Interesting number - 8512 houses has solar electric installed, up 75% from the year before (numbers from Solar Energy Industry Assn.).

They note in the article that "change maybe coming: New federal and state subsidies could cut the cost of solar panels in half.

So if we combine the government tax breaks with the improved technology that the industry is making, you might see the world changing.

Kind of interesting isn't it?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Cheap solar power only 5 to 10 years away says optimist.

Check this out. I posted a reference to Ray Kurzweil and his estimate that we are 10 or 20 years away at some point recently. There has been an optimistic view of the world that I like to think of as the Star Trek TNG future, unlimited power and devices to make anything (Earl Gray Hot for example) for you from that free energy.

If you had free solar power, how would the world change? It looks like in most of our lifetimes this will happen.

Isn't it interesting how fast science and technology are changing the world?

I have been wondering how much our Jimmy Carter era push into solar set us back on these issues or moved us forward? What if that big US government push hadn't happened until 15 years later, when the technology really worked? What would happen if we didn't have an oil man in the White House and the US government pushed hard now? I'm certain for less then the cost of the Iraq war, we could have no need for Middle Eastern oil, through solar and wind power.

I think we can thank Al Gore and this film making buddies for driving this issue toward the top of the priorities. To bad he isn't President, we might have our energy problems under control now.

A committee for the camel.

When I think about Sheila's big idea in her campaign document, it is she is going to run the city by using citizen committees. This has amazed me, she really can't think this is a good idea can she?

I like the idea that the committee who was assigned to design the horse came up with the camel. Here is the Wikipedia entry about this. A key quote when we apply this to Carbondale -
The defining characteristics of "design by committee" are needless complexity, internal inconsistency, logical flaws, banality, and the lack of a unifying vision.
Clearly, the best example of this in Carbondale is our Study Circle "program" and their pool idea. I have written about the Carbondale outdoor pool initiative in some detail before, but like the horse turning into a camel, the Carbondale outdoor pool has turned from a pool into a theme park in the hands of the study circles.

I can't tell you have surprised I was when I read that Sheila was in favor of this plan (or maybe she isn't, it is hard to tell). From Sheila's campaign document -
In Lee's work for a public outdoor pool he is always focused on comparing the dividends that will result from different priorities in spending.
The city of Herrin when through this recently, if you build a pool it costs around $2M less land. If you build a theme park of the water variety, you are looking at $6M (plus overruns). That is a big difference. The $6M park is scheduled to lose $250k to $500k a year from the last plan I saw (from the Carbondale pro-pool crowd). That is real money going out the door. The $2M pool would lose much less, because it would have very few working parts and many less employees.

I'm thinking that given the number of users, it would be cheaper to figure out how many kids were going to use the theme park and buy them each a Rec Center pass and then give each of them a full ride through college. Yes, it is going to cost that much money and more. I'm almost in favor of the $2M pool, I know it will a racial mess like the Boys and Girl's club, unless there is real management in place, but it would be nice to have.

I'm not sure the citizens want to afford a pool, even it is the cheapest version. The special interest group of parents with swimmers clearly drove the study circle to this result. Just as the people who live next to Hickory Lodge intend to drive the result of that startup committee in the park district too. Kind of interesting isn't it, only the people with a real vested interest or nothing better to do show up for the death march of committee meetings that these sorts of things provide. Unfortunately, in Carbondale this almost always leads to poor results.

This is the form of government that Sheila is putting forward, management by committee. The voters should be afraid, be very afraid.

Interesting comment method has started on the blog.

I have been writing a whole lot of text into the blog for 6 months or so, and my essay style entries have been of some interest to readers. I have had people complain about what I have written, but they always complained in full paragraphs and with real ideas. My recent series of posts analyzing Sheila Simon's lightweight mayor platform has brought a new sequence of comments that is interesting and I thought I would share it with you.

So, I write a couple of page essay about some topic that I think is interesting. There is a comment that has paragraphs that I write another page of stuff in response. Then I start getting comments from the language lawyers. They pull out one sentence from the 4 pages (or so) I have written and complain that I'm wrong because of that one sentence.

The interesting thing is that with the exception of nitpicking, the pro-Sheila commenter's don't seem to be able to defend her platform very well. Facts, details and meaningful analysis seem to be lost. I'm sure at some point these people wrote paragraphs with details, but they seem to have lost the ability to here.

I will grant you that my posts about Sheila's ideas are direct and hard, but people who run on a platform of attacks and usurping their opponent's accomplishments, while trying to frame themselves as ethical, should be expecting a little flack.

I suppose one of the reasons that John Kerry and Paul Simon before him, lost their run at the White House is because Senators have no real accomplishments. The main problem that Sheila has is just that, she has done nothing so far beyond being one of seven voting on Brad's accomplishments. Four years ago, Brad and Maggie had the same problem, but because they weren't running against a sitting mayor it balanced out. Today, we have one person with accomplishments and one person who wished they had some in the mayor's race. Makes for an interesting problem for Ms. Simon doesn't it?

I have decided answering one line "snips" of my blog entries is a waste of my time, so I'm going to stop publishing them. Of course, if they have a point that is interesting I will put them up. I like the idea that to appear here you have to write paragraphs and I think that is why people choose to spend their time reading my rants.

Your comments are welcome, assuming that you can do something better then quote one line I wrote and complain about it.

Grade inflation comes to SIUC - 2.96 out of 4? You should be ashamed.

I caught the article in the Southern about Poshard's talk to their leadership breakfast thing the other day and Poshard proudly told the world that SIU was doing a great job because of this high GPA. Now I know BS and management hype, and I'm busy trashing mayor candidates right now, so I just let this pass.

Got this email from a friend yesterday, the first quote is from Poshard's speech -
"The institution's average GPA is an impressive 2.96 on a scale of 4.0, impressive particularly because SIUC is still largely considered an inclusive institution, not an exclusive one..."
The teacher union backed NCTAF said the same thing in 1998:
"Meanwhile, what has the commission to say about the academic competence of the work force? The NCTAF report is silent on this issue except for this remarkable assertion:

Talented recruits are entering schools of education in record numbers. Due to recent reforms, both standards and interest have been steadily rising. By 1991, graduates of teacher education programs had higher levels of academic achievement than most college graduates, reversing the trends of the early 1980's.

A reader encountering this statement would probably assume that it referred to scores on the ACT, the SAT, or other standardized achievement tests. In fact, the commission's evidence for this proposition consists solely of self-reported college grade-point averages obtained from a series of Department of Education surveys of recent college graduates. Because the average GPA of education majors is higher than engineers, the commission concludes that education majors have higher levels of academic achievement.

This is preposterous. The commission ignores differences in grading standards familiar to virtually everyone in higher education. The average grade awarded in the education courses taken by 1992-93 graduates was 3.41 on a four-point scale. By contrast, the average in social-science courses was 2.96. In science and engineering it fell to 2.67. Yet science and engineering majors have significantly higher college board scores than education majors."
Anyone who read Poshard's comments knew that he clearly didn't understand what was happening or has chosen to hype a bad statistic. The thought that SIU's lowly qualified and under achieving students have earned a university wide 2.96 GPA is pretty silly. We all know that SIU's management has been driving GPA higher through management practices and promotion of professors and it is working. It is likely that by lowering the standards they are damming the institution for the long haul, but who cares? They will be retired before anyone figures it out.

I have written about this before, but I was hoping for better from Poshard. Giving away degrees isn't a method for building up SIU.

Your comments are always welcome.

Monday, February 19, 2007

A stupid comment about the Tap business - honestly, some people have no clue

I wrote a post about the American Tap business and got this stupid reply.
How much would eminent domain cost in legal fees? How many years would it take? Then they would have paid Henry his $150k at the end. I'm sorry, your argument doesn't hold water in the real world.

There is no court in the word that would make a city pay that much more than the assessed value of a property in an imminent domain action. I'm afraid your argument doesn't hold water in the real world. Or, at least, you should have to follow the rules of your own blog about providing documentation for such a silly claim.

And if you're really worried about legal fees on such an action, I wonder what you feel about the mayor's absolutely unrealistic plan to seize power lines (which has no basis in reality).

The city should have paid as much as it took, it isn't the cost of the building that counts. It is the cost of not doing it.

Wow, what horrible logic is this? If this is the way the city were to do business, why wouldn't every profit-monger take over buildings, let them deteriorate, and then hold out until the city pays "whatever it takes?" Talk about a formula for pure disaster.

Maybe the council rules should be changed so if one person does show up there is no voting? Oh wait, there are rules about this already. The vote on the Tap was 5-2 (Maggie and Sheila against wasn't it?).

Not as I understand it, no. Its not the only time decisions have been made without the full council. To wit, the council hasn't heard word one about Target's supposed $6 million dollar ransom that the mayor mentioned at the candidate forum on Friday. That's not the way our government is supposed to function.
The bold words are mine in the above quote. I really get tired explaining the simple facts to commenter's sometimes.

You go to court and the property owner shows up with an expert witness that knows the property values in the area. The expert says the clerk who guessed at the appraised value is wrong and here is the right number. The expert is better then the clerk and the price goes up.

The reason you are in court is the city has no good reason to eminent domain on the property. They don't have a road to build, city hall to expand or any other reason to take away the property rights of the owner. So you are going to lose there too.

If Brad's plan to take over the power lines pencils out, I'm for it. What I mean by pencil out is the city goes and borrows the money in low interest bonds, then pays the bond holders back from the revenue from the lines, it would be a good idea. If the tax payers make money by doing it, I'm for it. I own the old CIPS office building and as fat as I have written SIU is and as fat as the City of Carbondale is, "our power company" is wasting more money. It wouldn't be very hard to make Brad's idea a commercial success.

I'm working on researching Brad's repaving project for Carbondale. If it is cheaper and better, I'm for it too.

About paying more for the Tap -
My point is called "opportunity costs" and is a business concept so basic that it is taught in business 101 classes. Here is the basic idea, that something is worth as much as someone will pay for it. Things are not worth the sum of their basic parts. For example, if you buy a tee-shirt, you might pay $5 or $200 for almost exactly the same tee-shirt.

If the city bought the Tap for $1M, but make an additional $1M per year in revenue, that would be a good deal. The city paid $50k to much for the tap (worst case), but is certain to have made well more then that in sales tax revenue each year, because of the revitalization of downtown. If the city makes the extra money back very quickly, it is a good investment.

You get it now? This is called capitalism and it works.

On the way the city council works -
I don't think you have any idea of how our city council should and does work. You show me a law that says every piece of day to day information should be shared to every city council member and citizen. Where are the thresholds of sharing information, I assume you don't want a press release every time the city changes the oil in a car. The bigger the organization, the more effort it takes to communicate. Once you are above a certain size, there is no way to communicate effectively in the absolute way you seem to be seeking.

Do you want a city government that does work or one that communicates how little they are doing in a nice way. Seems like that is our mayor's race at the most basic level. Personally, I want them to have new ideas and do good things. Lots of meetings asking for uninformed opinions is for losers.

OK, one more about the smoking ban or Sheila plays both sides.

Brad put forward a plan to give business owners economic incentive to ban smoking. Sheila voted against this plan. Was it the right thing to do or was she just playing politics? Maybe if you look at how effective the US Senate and Congress are, this kind of political game makes sense? ;)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Steve Jobs with harsh words for teacher unions

Here is the link.

Don't you wonder how much better life would be at SIU if there was no tenure and everyone made real world salaries? I realize that business, music, law, art and a few others make as much or more as they would in the real world now, but I mean everyone.

I don't think that anyone could argue that getting rid of the unions for janitorial and other support functions would be a huge win at SIU.

If you don't work, you would be fired. Seems like a good news and bad news kind of thing.

As always, your comments are welcome.

Smoking ban. Why stop there?

OK, so I personally would like to never breath in smoke in a restaurant or bar ever again. I already don't go to bars because of the smoke and I'm sure there are many more like me.

We have seat belt laws, motorcycle laws, and maybe smoking bans to keep us healthier. Why stop there? American's are fat and eating bad food. Let's ban french fries, fast food, cheese sauce, teen pregnancies, and cars that get less then 30 mpg.

Walmart should be fined for carrying Ben and Jerry's ice cream?

As long as we are at it, since there is a huge percentage of pregnancies by girls who were not "of age" when they became pregnant, should we be digging up the fathers using DNA and putting them in jail? That could be a city law too.

There are traffic fatalities, shouldn't we start to enforce the speed limits and traffic laws? Shouldn't we start with ourselves first?

Should we mandate gym membership and 5 hours or more of exercise for every citizen?

Let's really put an end of the unmarried pregnancy issues and force every woman to get a year long birth control shot if she isn't married.

If the city doesn't like the siding on your house, they should write you tickets everyday until you change it.

If you don't graduate from college, you have to work for the city at minimum wage until you do?

Feel free to tap other people's phone without a warrant, it doesn't bother me.

It isn't to hard to go to far is it? I'm guessing that if you are a smoker with your own business, you might think that a smoking ban is going to far as well.

Do we really want the city to dictate lifestyle to its citizens? Where should they stop? I'm guessing for most people in Carbondale, the answer is they should stop right before they get to my bad habits.

Your comments are welcome.

I'm anti-smoking, who has told the restaurant management?

I was just driving home and heard a little of the mayor thing from Friday on WSIU. Was listening to the smoking ban question, but then pulled into the driveway and had to get on with life.

I'm for the smoking ban, though I know it could be handled by boycott (or the like). There would be a smoking law today, if bars were excluded from the ban. It turns out that 60% of the US population lives where there is a smoke free law, so the time is coming when this will happen everywhere.

Most restaurant owners would be happy to have no smoking, but don't want to lose business to the restaurants just outside of town. I don't think they will, but the smoke free forces sure did a poor job representing the economic upside to a ban. In California and NYC, they have seen increases in bar business after their statewide smoking ban.

My question for you faithful readers is have you gone and told the restaurant manager or owner about your wishes for a smoke free environment? Have you told them you will take your business elsewhere? If you are willing put the sign in your yard, shouldn't you be willing to talk or maybe write letters too?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Doctors just playing a hunch?

Interesting Time Magazine article on medicine based on science and not profit. Worth a read, clearly this is the way thing have to go.

More about inspections in Carbondale - An intelligent response.

Here is my last post about Sheila's drive for bigger and more intrusive government. I have received a few responses, but this one was intelligent and well thought out. Wanted to pull it out and respond. From Anonymous of course -

As I understand it, you believe that the market will solve the problem of run-down houses in Carbondale, and your concern with Sheila Simon's proposal is that additional set of red tape and fees would be a disincentive businesses to locate in Carbondale.

I don't agree with the first belief. Once a landlord owns a property outright, a bad landlord can charge way less than everyone else and still make a nice profit. In most parts of Carbondale, property values are low enough that a landlord doesn't have to be all that wealthy to own properties outright, so it isn't that hard to be a bad landlord. All he has to do is find the student who is naïve enough to believe his unwritten, verbal promises about the repairs that are going to happen and clueless enough to not check around the Web for complaints about the landlord. In a student housing market that turns over every few years, it isn't too hard to find that naïve student. Instead of sitting empty, that house in bad shape is occupied with a poor student who learned a lesson the hard way. Yes, the bad landlord could make a lot more money by charging market rates and maintaining his building, but he's lazy and thinks of the rentals as passive income rather than as a business. Perhaps a more ambitious landlord will buy the lazy landlord out and create better housing in the area, but the market doesn't guarantee that outcome, and it certainly doesn't guarantee that the buyout before the building becomes an eyesore.

What about Sheila Simon's proposal? It would fall on all landlords, both good and bad. In some ways it could hurt the good landlord more. While the good landlord calls the tenants in advance to let them know that the inspector is coming, the bad landlord just shows up one day with an inspector. While the good landlord walks around with the inspector to find out exactly what the inspector looks for and what remedies the city considers acceptable, the bad landlord chats with his friends on his cell phone. Although the inspection is a hassle for both landlords, the good landlord has a lot more extra work than the bad landlord who just pays his fine and does minimal repairs.

Since it is in the city's interests to avoid blighted properties, it is sensible to do something to prevent them rather than paying off property owners after the blight. Perhaps Sheila Simon's proposal isn't the best way to prevent blight, but doing nothing isn't either.

One thing that I've thought of is to make inspection worth more to the landlord than just avoiding a fine. Restaurants in southern California prominently display a simple letter grade that they get from the health inspector. Restaurants with poor letter grades lose business. Should rental properties in Carbondale prominently display their ratings from the building inspector? Would that be enough to keep the naïve student from renting the cheap apartment from the bad landlord?
This is a well reasoned set of ideas, but at the most fundamental level I don't agree with your conclusions.

Here is what we agree on, that Capitalism is imperfect and sometimes doesn't give us the results we want (though using great effort really helps). Then we part ways, you are in essence claiming that the Carbondale City Government can be run in an almost perfect way, so the results of the city government are better then capitalism. Think about this carefully and give me some examples, I'm going to claim now that there are very, very few instances where government performs better then capitalism.

Where I do think that there should be rules and our rules is one of the reasons you should live in Carbondale instead of right outside of town. For example, you will not have a Super Walmart appear in your back yard because of our zoning laws. There are almost no fires in the City of Carbondale, because of the construction inspections. OK, so we are together there.

Carbondale is a small town and the laws are enforced unevenly, on a historical basis. For example, there is a funeral parlor that has built a crematorium, without permits and inside the setback, in the back yards of "THE ARBOR DISTRICT". The state plumbing inspector is well known to be corrupt and punishing outsiders with expensive plumbing work (or he could just be getting kickbacks from the plumbers, I can't quite figure that one out). Under Neil Dillard (and Tom Redmond, Sheila's campaign manager), the city hall zoning department did their best to stop every business project in town through negative readings of the rules, poor communication and generally being obstructionists. You are right, that when Brad became mayor the zoning problems was greatly eased, it is amazing what a little management can do.

Another problem is that you are making assumptions about what is better for the city based on very limited information. So you don't like seeing unkempt (got to love spell checkers, I didn't know how to spell that word before) yards and houses that are less then perfect, that is just to darn bad isn't it? That isn't against the law anywhere in this country, but it can be enforced by contract by home owner's association's and the like. Doing building inspections weekly isn't going to change the cosmetic appearance of these buildings.

Some rental units in this town are empty and the students are choosing to live in beat up houses, could it be that those students know what they want better then you do? Could it be that the students don't need the city's noble protection? If SIU had 25,000 students, then maybe this would be different, or maybe not? Are these students dieing or being injured by living in these old houses? No more then the students living in apartments and dorms I bet.

If Carbondale really needed another army of inspectors there would be warning signs, for example we might see lots of fires? Lawsuits from students who have fallen through their floors or the like? Does anyone see that?

As usual, as politicians start their 100 meetings with their committees and constituency groups, the business world has taken action. The worst rental houses in Carbondale are being torn down and replaced or fixed up (does anyone want to jump into this and say this isn't happening?). While politicians talk, the business world has already jumped.

One of my frustrations with professors, state employees and other people in the public sector in Carbondale is you guys have been on the reservation to long. The USA is a incredibly efficient capitalist machine. Capitalism isn't perfect, but it is better then all of the options. So many people in Carbondale and Illinois don't honestly look at results of this huge government machine we have made (and their trailing costs). I guess, if you are part of the system it is hard to admit there is a system wide problem. More government isn't the answer, we have plenty already.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The American Tap - Leadership or a payout? The mayor's race in a nutshell.

The main issues that Sheila Simon is banking on to become mayor of Carbondale is the city's purchase of the American Tap building and land. I thought I might review what happened and try to figure out if the city did the right thing when they bought it.

As most of you know we are talking about a now vacant lot that is just to the south of El Greco's and north of College on Illinois Ave. 20-some years ago when I was in college, the American Tap was a hopping bar in an old converted house. You could be outside in the yard drinking and the place had a nice business (no parking, but everyone walked back then). It gets a little fuzzy for me in what happened while I was out of town, but at some point "The Tap" closed, had a fire and generally because a unusable mess. It also was purchased by Henry Fisher.

As time when on, it sat empty and like any building in Southern Illinois that sits empty, it begins to fall apart. So the city sent their inspectors in and tried to get Henry to fix the building or tear it down. Henry Fisher had developed a problem relationship with the city into a full out war of city abusive tickets and fines against him and his refusing to pay them or cooperate to stop them. I hear that he owed the city $250k at one point and negotiated down to pennies on the dollar.

The real problem with having a ruined building in the middle of downtown wasn't really the building, it was the drug addicts. It turns out the police just couldn't keep the drug addicts out of the American Tap building (who can blame them, it is private property so they can't just setup an office there, there is no place to observe without being seen). The drug addicts started to do the circuit of stealing and panhandling for money, buying drugs and then using the American Tap building to get high. They were sleeping in there, there were wild cats in the basement, used needles and condoms on the ground, it was gross.

Pretty soon, the whole downtown become polluted and honest citizens don't want to go there. Groups of college guys didn't have problems traveling in packs and I'm not sure the drug addicts were really violent, but still who needs it? You just go somewhere else.

The owner of this problem in any honest assessment should be Mayor Neil Dillard and our city manager. For many years Neil Dillard and the boys at city hall continued the war with Henry Fisher and decided to make "The Tap" one of the focal points. They would inspect the building and write up some problem, Henry would send his in house fix-it crew to make that problem better, the city would come back and do it again. Because of the way American law works with our strong property rights, the city really can't do much about this sort of thing. Most people get tired of being harassed by the city and will eventually give in and fix the problem or sell it. Henry isn't most people, he seemed to enjoy winning each petty battle with city hall and our longtime mayor.

In addition to be being a slum lord scumbag, Henry Fisher is also had a reputation as sexual predator. For the record, I have never met Henry, just know him by the stories. Over the years Henry, it is rumored, would get drunk and use his pass key to open apartment doors of coeds who rented from him and demand sex. If there was a legal problem, Henry would pay off the victim and wouldn't be prosecuted. His luck finally turned when he had a bad breakup with a girl friend in Marion and she accused him of sexual assault on her daughter. Knowing Henry's history, "the heat" in Marion got a legal wiretap on the victim's phone and waited for Henry to call and offer a payoff. With the bribe attempt on tape, they prosecuted and won a conviction and a 12 year sentence of hard time against Henry.

This sets the stage for the issue of this mayor's race. When Brad was elected almost 4 years ago, Henry has been convicted, but is still appealing (I think), of course he still owns the American Tap building. Brad beats out Maggie in a close race for mayor. Sheila is elected to her first term on the city council and there is a crack house in the middle of "The Strip".

Brad was elected as a pro-business mayor and had a real problem on his hands. The American Tap building was killing the downtown businesses. It was the number one issue for the business community in Carbondale, it was number one for Carbondale Main Street, it was number one for me personally. It had to be fixed. But Neil Dillard had already proven that a direct assault using the city's play book wasn't going to work, so something new was tried. You got it, Brad went and found Henry and talked to him.

It is an interesting thing about being a leader, sometimes you have to things you don't like for the good of the cause. You deal with people you don't like and hold your nose as you do it. You make deals you don't like because it is the best thing to do. Henry had the city in a corner, the building had to go, but Henry wasn't going to sell cheap.

Let's do the business analysis for buying "the Tap". The fair price was say $100k and the city paid $150k (maybe, it doesn't really matter), so they paid Henry a ransom of $50k or so to remove the tumor (Sheila's claim about appraised value is total BS, she had an issue and she had to go over the top. Plain unethical.). In business development for cities, this is a bargain. For example, the city gave "The Gap" $250k in tax breaks or so, in the Neil Dillard era. We are spending more then $50k on the TIF district on the east side of the tracks. In exchange, we have a revitalization of our downtown. I wrote an entry about downtown last week and there were some very interesting comments including one from Carbondale Main Street's executive director Roxanne Conley that says downtown is really doing well (I kind of fooled her by posting that early and linking them didn't I?). How many locally owned businesses would be out of business or on the ropes if this deal hadn't been done? How much sale tax revenue would the city be out?

Here is the problem that Brad faced, there was a cancer in the middle of Illinois Avenue that was going to kill the business around it eventually. Should it let them die or should he do painful surgery to fix the problem? If our child had cancer, hopefully we would be brave enough to do surgery. This is leadership, a nasty, painful job that someone had to do. You hold you nose and do it.

If Sheila had been mayor or if Maggie had won the last election, the drug addicts would still be shooting up in the American Tap. Henry Fisher wasn't going to sell it unless he could get a win in the local papers. No lawyerly BS was going to make Henry give up that land and our laws say he didn't have to.

I think a reasonable question is why that land hasn't sold yet. The answer is that the land is blocked right now by the doctor's office on the corner of Illinois and College. Once that doctor sells out (in a few years I hear, he just hates Henry too and doesn't want to sell to him), that building will come down and someone will build a nice business with those two prime lots.

This is a long explanation and thank you for reading this far into it. In the end, I have to support Brad in this election because of issues exactly like this. I want leadership and I want the city to win. Without Brad and his ideas, we are going to go back to the do nothing years we saw before he was elected.

Poshard's letter in the DE - Glenn that is management and not leadership.

Here is Poshard's rebuttal to the DE editorial, which looked a whole lot like my blog entry?

Here is the problem with what Poshard has written here, he is just managing. If we wanted to work his political magic behind the scenes, he should have said that he was working the issue. That he was going to do his best to have SIU's employee's backs. As a reference of how to do this see the ISU President's letter. Who would you rather work for?

We are down to one brave professor with backbone at SIU and all the rest have been bullied into signing a stupid document for a stupid reason. It isn't leadership to let bullies kick around the people that work for you.

It isn't leadership to only say you are working the issues after people call you on your inaction. It is just management and management is for congressmen, senator's daughters, SIU administrators and other people who can't change the world. In general, managers don't win, leaders win.

Someone needs to explain to me how working on this ethics test for 11 minutes is better then 10. You have to carefully read 60 pages and then answer questions. Shouldn't they flunk everyone who completed the test in less then 30 minutes? Illinois' state government is really a dumb.

Which would you prefer in the place you work (live or study), to win or to have management screw up and demoralize everyone? Give me a leadership and a chance to win, it isn't to much to ask.

SIU employees - who is Steve Beck and why do you care?

Management has seen fit to bring in a motivational speaker to SIU for 10, 3 hour sessions. Someone found an old entry here and wrote a comment about it, but I already had the yesterday's DE folded back to that page.

Here is my comment, you should go and see him. I have never seen an organization that could use a motivational message more then SIU. This is really standard practice in the real world, I have done it many times. Always, I have learned something new and it has been worth my time.

I think the ad in the papers should said that everyone in the administration had already been trained by him. But given SIU's history, I'm sure the administrators are "far to busy" or "special" to do it in mass. This is a typical lack of leadership issue that SIU's administrators have, they just don't get it.

I wonder if they would let me and everyone in my company go sit in? Someone should go and report back on how it went. I talked to someone at the gym yesterday who did the pilot program and said he it was good.

I'm completely behind this. It is a good idea. Poorly executed in many ways, but it is the first time they have done it.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I notice that 17th Street BBQ is one of the SI Top 20 - drop in quality?

One of the biggest slides in food quality I have seen in Southern Illinois is the 17th Street BBQ restaurants. 5 years ago I thought that 17th Street was a world class BBQ place. Today the quality of the groceries they buy just isn't as good and the quality of what they serve isn't as good. The spices are the same though.

I have been going to Memphis to see the ear surgeons at the Shea Ear Clinic and eating at Corky's for the last few months. 5 years ago, 17th Street was as good as Corky's. Today it just isn't as good, because the quality of the ribs put into the cooker aren't as good IMHO. Another example, they used to serve good rolls at night at 17th Street, today they are serving wonder bread. You should taste the rolls at Corky's, they are so good they are evil.

It is a shame, but I can't count 17th Street among my suggested restaurants anymore. It used to be a place to take my West Coast visitors to for a treat. Judging by the line waiting for seats, I think everyone else has figure this out too.

What do you think? Is 17th Street still up to level it used to be?

Strategic Faculty Hires on Hiatus

From Caleb Hale's article, front page of Southern Illusion today, above the fold even. Just wanted to touch on how much SIU doesn't understand business, based on this article.

There is a difference between revenue and profit. SIU claims that revenue dollars are up from research. OK, that is great. What we have to assume is that their profit from this extra money is really a loss. If they were making money each year from these "strategic hires" they would keep making them and hire more teachers with the extra money. Anyone can make more revenue while spending more then the revenue to do it, we can now assume that this is what SIU has been doing.

You have to wonder if research dollars are up from $44.5M per year since 1999, where has the money been going? Faculty employment is flat and they have only gotten 2 or 3% pay raises every year. My view is that SIU is a big leaky bucket, the more water you pour into it, the more leaks out in waste. These numbers and decisions seem to support that view.

Since the strategic hire program started in 2003, it would be way more interesting to hear the research numbers between 2003 and today. That is if you wanted to provide information on this program. My feeling is that the current SIU professors could have easily done the increase without the strategic hires, just by having management focus that research money was important. Of course, by applying focus there, they also removed focus from the classroom and got one of those unintended results that I always write about.

As always, your comments are welcome.

Sheila's drive for bigger and more intrusive government - Code Enforcement.

She is a Senator's daughter after all, bigger and more expensive government is the family business.

From her plan -
2. Build code enforcement into an effective, efficient system, one that responds to needs of the entire community. Pay for the system, in part, through a small inspection fee.
This is just genius! Hire a small army of code inspection people, go door to door and let the people pay for it! I'm wondering how many houses in my 1960 era neighborhood could pass this kind of inspection? :) This is exactly the reputation that Carbondale needs, we are already a place that is way more expensive to do business then anywhere else in Southern Illinois and now we can go even further down the path of unreasonableness.

In the real world, that everyone who wasn't born with a silver spoon in their mouth lives in, code enforcement on buildings is a tricky thing. Honest people know the building codes exist for a reason and follow them. Sometimes this costs more money, but how much does having your house burn down cost? The problems is there are always a few people who want to cut corners, make a few extra short term bucks and ignore our fairly common sense laws. In the last 20 years, the biggest example of this is a company called Home Rentals, owned by Henry Fisher.

We all know about Henry's story and his current location. We also know that Home Rentals has been nothing short of a juggernaut of property purchasing. A partial list of what they own - building next to 710 (that houses Attitude Designs), Corner Dinner building, Walk the Line building, Booby's Subs, old Papa C's building on College, office building next to it on College, all the big apartments on College between University and Popular, all the houses behind the DQ, check out their ads for what if for rent in the student papers in a few months.

Home Rentals also used to own the "American Tap" building on Illinois avenue. Since the city's purchase of the American Tap building is Sheila's only hope of winning this election, it should be called out. Yes, you can expect a whole series of posts about Sheila's BS about "the Tap" purchase. Isn't it amazing how someone running on a platform of ethics can throw mud at the same time? Guess it would be impossible for her to win on merit. Daddy's name and mud are her game.

The problems with enforcement on Home Rentals (in the old days) and the like is they just don't follow the rules very well. Since all the city can do is write them up and fine them, maybe try to keep people from being in the building, it is fairly easy to ignore what the city wants. This is one of the downside of one of the most important rights of US citizens, our strong rights of property owners. If you need examples of how to do this, feel free to challenge this idea in the comments and I'll explain it there.

If the city were to put through a law like this, it might have the good result of cleaning up a few rental units, but at what cost? The market forces are working on fixing this problem already. New apartments are going up all over and houses that in bad shape are sitting empty. As usual, market forces in student housing are powerful in Carbondale. Of course, if SIU had 25,000 students again, people would be living in basements, on dirt floors like the old days.

Does the city really need a tax increase and more city employees? Does the city need to become the city of crazy code inspection and draconian anti-business laws? A clear difference between Brad and Sheila, Sheila puts forward plans that just will not work in the real world, because she doesn't understand the real world (IMHO). The unintended consequences of this plan would more then negate any positives.

Your comments are always welcome.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sheila's plan to convert rental units of owner occupied housing?

Here we have yet another one of Brad's good ideas and Sheila trying to make it her own by adding something stupid to it. Like many of Sheila's ideas it would be super-d- duper if there was a fantasy world where it might work, but on this earth they are going to work.

Here is the lowdown. Brad figured out that Carbondale needed more houses built and he figured out the reason they weren't being built was it cost more to build in Carbondale then just outside of town. Brad came up with a cheap tax break to help cover the cost difference. I think the numbers are there have been more houses built in Carbondale in the last 4 years then in the previous 20. This is a home run success for Brad and his simple and smart ways to improve Carbondale.

Sheila's stupid add-on to Brad's successful plan is to make the incentive apply to rental housing in Carbondale. I guess there might be someone out there who is willing to convert rental housing to single family, but let's run over how it might work. As I have written in this blog before, the houses in Carbondale are small, have very few garage spaces and are old.

In the 1990 US Census, Carbondale has the smallest houses, with the fewest garage spaces of any small city in the USA. It turns out our small houses, that are a little trashed, are worth a whole lot more as rentals in Carbondale. A guess would be that converting the rentals on Cherry Street from R-4 to R-1 would lower their value by 50%. In other areas it would be more.

As you know, the average house being built in Southern Illinois is around twice the square footage of the average rental house in Carbondale. The normal house being built has a 2 car garage. Bottom line, families don't want to live in a house that is 1,200 or 1,500 square feet with no garage space. A big house with a garage is the current American dream.

To fix up a house that has been rented for many years requires a massive fixup and resurfacing. New carpet, new floors, new kitchen cabinets, new paint, new roof, new gutters, replacement windows. I bought, fixed up and sold a house around the corner from my house last year, spent well over $50k on it (we wanted to use the house for a while, but also we wanted to make it nice enough so it wouldn't become a rental). For many of the rental houses in Carbondale, you are looking at more then $50k to make them right.

There is a market for these old and worn houses as student rentals. There is a large contingent of students who want to live in a house and howl at the moon. They pay their damage deposit and beat it up. Part of owning these houses is fixing them up every summer.

It turns out that capitalism is taking care of many of the problem houses. When they get to a really bad state, someone buys the bunch of them and puts up student apartments. We saw this around the old Lincoln Junior High building and Home Rentals is doing the same on College Street in the form of those lovely, formerly blue barracks. That you don't like the way it looks or the building owners really doesn't matter, when there isn't enough housing for students, someone will build it without the City of Carbondale needing to give them money.

Who are those nice folks on Cherry Street that are buying houses and fixing them up and renting them out? Jane Adams and D. Gordon (sp?) isn't it? I wonder if they are going to convert their houses to R-1 and kill the resale value? They don't need the city to do it, they can just write it into the contracts. That would be a real service to the city wouldn't it? Have to think about that one.

In a Senator's daughter view of the world, I guess spending government money on everything makes sense. On the Earth the rest of us live in, Carbondale doesn't need to do anything about rental housing. The capitalist market is doing fine without them in this area.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Sheila's economic development plan is really, really stupid.

Here are her goals, taken directly from her campaign document -
1. Budget for a full time city employee who has the sole mission of business development and advocacy.

2. Establish a program of recognition and appreciation of businesses that have stayed in Carbondale and helped build our community.

3. In cooperation with organizations that recruit and support businesses, establish a program of regular assessment of the needs of local businesses.

4. Work with major employers to encourage their employees to live in Carbondale.

5. Establish a pilot program of microcredit, very small loans, for area youth who have a desire to build their own small businesses.
Let's see, Brad cleaned up the mess that was Carbondale Business Development Corporation that was left for him and budgeted and hired a city employee to do the work. So number 1 is Brad's plan, but he already did all the work. I guess there is some issue about if we should be adding headcount to city hall or if we should be cutting fat. Brad seems to be interested in doing more with less and Sheila in spending more taxpayer money (a clear difference between them).

Establish a "program of recognition" for business? Everyone and their mother already does this. Maybe Sheila has never heard of the Chamber of Commerce? It would be better to leave city politics out of this sort of thing. The good news is she is stealing this idea from someone beside Brad for a change.

Assess the needs of local businesses? Since almost everything in town is a service business that makes money off students, people who serve students or shoppers from neighboring communities, let me save everyone time and effort. What local business that exist today need is 25,000 students on campus and the City of Carbondale government to continue the current pro-business movement that has been in place since Brad became mayor. Otherwise, the city should keep their attention to running their business and let the business people run their businesses without interference from a petty bureaucrats.

Sheila thinks that employers are going to get their employees to live in Carbondale? What a stupid idea. Two thoughts for Sheila - District 95 test scores and house size. If you believe school test scores are important and you have (or plan to have) children, then you are obligated to live out of town. If you want the average sized (or much bigger, if you are doctor) house that Americans are building today, you are going to have to live out of town. Even given that, why would an employer risk their relationship with their employees to back such a stupid plan?

The microcredit idea is interesting, but is unlikely to work. I guess I'm for this one, even if it is a long shot. But if you only have time to do a few things, this sure feels like something that should be priority 20 and not priority 5 on your list.

I have written about business development in Southern Illinois extensively in this blog and I don't feel like doing it again, in painful detail right now. Quickly, what Carbondale needs is for SIU to stop messing up and for a couple of businesses to emerge that export something beyond a 50 mile area. They also need the city to continue to be pro-business, instead of returning to the anti-business city hall of the Neil Dillard era.

Since Sheila isn't clearly calling for a pro-business city hall, I assume she doesn't want one. Last election, Brad quoted someone, "that business goes where it is wanted and stays where it is appreciated." At the end of his term, Brad is going to have the best business development record of any Carbondale mayor in my lifetime. Sheila is going to stink in comparison if she is elected.

For the city government of Carbondale supporting business (and really not be obstructionist) is critically important. This issue is clearly Brad's strength and Sheila at best clueless on these issues.

One of the problems with SIU having an politician president

This is the pubic letter that the president of ISU sent to the state about ISU employees taking the ethics test to quickly. This is what the "leaders" of SIU should have done, but this kind of letter requires real backbone and not just political mind games.

The new goal of the SIU administrators should be to understand why writing letters like this is an important skill for a true leader and start doing it.


Dear Executive Inspector General Wright:

Recently, hundreds of Illinois State University employees received a letter from your office notifying them that their governmental ethics training certificates of completion were invalidated on the grounds that they completed the training in an inappropriately fast period of time.

As a result, my staff and I have received numerous complaints from university personnel regarding the tone of the notice as well as the poorly communicated provision that the testing time was monitored. I, along with employees of this academic community, am offended that one would be penalized for the ability to read and comprehend information quickly when these same skills are a necessity to succeed in an environment of higher learning.

The only failure is that the Inspector General's office exhibited an alarming lack of judgment and common sense. In my 28 years as a professor, I have never given a failing grade to a student for taking an exam too quickly. It is groundless and insulting to accuse employees of cheating simply because they finished the exam in less than 10 minutes.

Please note that while disappointed in how some aspects of this training have been administered, I recognize the importance of the training and appreciate all good-faith efforts to educate the Illinois State University community on the provisions of the State Employees Ethics Act. As a University, we will continue our work to ensure compliance with the Act.

Al Bowman

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Tipping point at the University Mall - tax break to "The Gap?"

The University Mall is doing pretty well these days. Granted that the food court is a disaster, but we don't really need more fast food in Carbondale anyway. Like downtown back then, it looked much different when I moved back to town 5.5 years ago. Everything was pretty empty and something like the Marion Mall looks today.

I think that giving the tax break to "The Gap" store and getting Old Navy in the bargain was the tipping point that turned the Mall around. At the time, I didn't like it. The results sure look good now.

What do you think, was the city giving The Gap a tax break a good idea? Would the Mall have rebounded and be doing this well without it?

Your comments are always welcome.

Bush vs. Obama

I have been of the opinion that "W" will go down as the worst foreign policy president in US history and depending on who write the history books maybe the worst president ever. I have thought that one of the unintended side effects of "Scrub's" policies was going the be the spread of nuclear weapons across the world, because it is the only way to be sure the US will not invade your country. The president of Russia just pointed this out the spread of nuclear weapons can be credited to "W" yesterday.

It is interesting to look at Bush 2 and realize he is a perfect candidate for about half of American voters. Country club raised with a silver spoon, rich because he is lucky, drug user (in his younger days), born again Christian, son of a major political player, educated at the best schools, war dodger and anti-intellectual. He represents the best and worst of the groups that make up the Republican party. Isn't it amazing we managed to elect an idiot like this to be our president, not once, but twice?

Now we see the Anti-Bush running for president, Barack Obama. From a mixed background of limited wealth, educated at the best schools, intellectual and super smart, inclusive and charismatic. Obama was incredibly lucky to be elected senator in the last election, when every opponent fell on their own sword. His wife seems smart too and not to be a huge liability (like John Kerry's wife, I wonder if he would have won if she wasn't such a negitive). What an American success story.

I don't know if Obama will win, but I'm for the self made man over the man made by his daddy (or granddaddy). I like smarts over family connections. Merit over political ties. Intelligent and reasonable plans over political sound bites. I'm not sure that Obama represents the perfect Democratic candidate for the constituency groups the way that Bush does for his, but maybe he can run on merit and ideas instead?

We can't be rid of Bush and the Bush family support team fast enough IMHO. Hopefully the next president will bring more reasonable plans and more for sight to the job.

Now back to the Carbondale and SIU content.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Should the city of Carbondale work to help Downtown/"The Strip" do better?

Clearly, the big box stores and the students not walking has really hurt the downtown businesses on "The Strip". Should the city do some of those city kind of things to make it a better place to conduct business? Should they work to reroute 51 around Illinois Ave in the downtown to make a pedestrian mall? Should they offer an incentive to fix up some of the old buildings or build new ones? Tear down the Varsity and make a parking lot? There must be something else they could do?

What do you think, should the revitalization of the Downtown/Illinois Ave./Strip be a civic priority or should we just let all the business go out to the mall area and the big boxes?

Your comments are welcome.

How fat is SIU? A good comment and link.

Before I started working on Carbondale politics, there was a thread about SIU and the DE's editorials. Way down in that thread, about comment 20 I think, there is this link to the SIU fact book. The person who wrote in said, "I fully expect Peter to freak when he sees the increases." Total employment at SIU has gone from 4,993 in Fall of 1997 to 5,305 in Fall of 2006. I have to admit that I don't understand the numbers listed, so maybe one of you can explain it?

This seems to support the idea that SIU is doing less with more. I guess you might be able to justify everything except the growth of AP and CS staff by calling it normal ebb and flow of the hiring cycle? Why are there so many more AP and CS staff people around now?

Your comments are always welcome.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Rules for comments on this blog

If you are just going to attack someone and give absolutely no data, facts or information, your comment is going into the bit bucket.

Now, back to the political discussion.

Interesting what you can learn reading the Bytelife blog - Carbondale goes green.

After my last post about how stupid it would be to put solar electric systems on city buildings, I read about something smart and green. Bob Pauls wrote about Carbondale Signs US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement over on the Bytelife blog.

My feeling is that the difference in results we can expect from Brad as Mayor or Sheila, Neil Dillard or Maggie as mayor can be found here. Sheila put forward a really optimistic plan to make Carbondale green, but it can't really work as she wrote it. Brad went out and researched what other people are doing and found a movement to join that had a smart and reasonable solution. It sure looks like Carbondale can go do things on the Climate Protection Agreement and I'm convinced it would be silly to do solar electric.

This is a good example of why Brad as been our best mayor in many years. It isn't wizzy, it is just hard work and clear thinking that works.