Saturday, March 31, 2007

Tip of the hat to the Carbondale Times

Clearly the best coverage of the Arbor District Mayor's debate last weekend. I haven't seen the Nightlife this week, so maybe they did great too (Jerry and Chris made the SI front page, so we know they were going to publish). Keep up the good work guys.

Follow up on Brad's weblink - the back story

I figured that if you were running a clean campaign, you would just call your opponent and tell them if there was a minor web link problem, but not Sheila Simon's campaign. In keeping with their practices of vandalism and dirty campaign tricks, Sheila's people called the DE's political reporter and generated a story. Of course, Andrea didn't give her sources, but you just have to ask two questions to know the answer. Their trick worked and earned them a story in the paper, so much for ethical campaigning.

I'll get into Sheila's dirty campaign tricks soon. The amazing thing is they send out email to their campaign workers and don't expect at least one of them to forward me a copy. Go figure, seems pretty naive doesn't it?

Of course, your comments are welcome.

Steven Haynes - how can he not have a position on the anti-smoking issue?

I was amazed that Steven Haynes had no position on the anti-smoking issue in the Thursday debate. How can you not have a position on this issue by now? How long has he been on the city council? Why is he running again?

I thought the writeup in the SI was better then the DE this time. But the SI version is gone into the bit bucket, or at least I can't figure out how to find it.

Why would you vote for Steven Haynes for City Council? Hasn't he proven himself to be a no-op yet?

I wonder if Steven reads the documents the city manager prepares for him before the city council meetings? Maybe someone could ask him?

Your comments are welcome.

Lance does something on his own! A smoking law compromise proposed

After almost 4 years in office, Lance Jack has proposed a rule, idea or law. We all know that if the anti-smoking gang had wanted a compromise deal, the law would have sailed through. But, they don't, they want a ban. It doesn't matter anyway, because soon or later there will be a state law and that will be that. Here is the SI article from today's paper.

I have been wondering if Lance reads the documents the city manager prepares before the city council meetings? Maybe someone might ask him?

I wrote a little thing about Lance and if he should be reelected, but there was no discussion. I can't figure out if this matters to me one way or the other in that regard.

Anyone want to laud Lance or throw him under the bus?

Friday, March 30, 2007

Cole, Poshard and Madigan - Grass roots politics against Ameren

I don't know if anyone else caught the story about Ameren being deregulated and electrical rates going up? There has been an interesting grass roots effort started by a local politician to hit Ameren where it hurts, the profit margin. First Brad Cole went and found a different power company for Carbondale to use, then he had meetings with all the other Southern Illinois mayors to help then find cheaper power, Brad then proposed that Carbondale take over the Ameren power lines in town (I might have commented about this?). After a little pause, Glenn Poshard jumped in and proposed a $200M coal fired power plant for SIUC (I might have written something about that too?). Now one of the really powerful people in Illinois (you know because of our system of corruption there are only 6 right? Gov., Dem Leader of House and Senate, Repub Leader of House and Senate, Mayor of Chicago) House Speaker Mike Madigan has proposed the state doing something great about power.

Madigan's plan call for building a series of huge, coal fired, power plants. Our local power expert Bob Pauls has interesting things to say about this. Bob's take is that Coal Power plants are a really bad idea, and really bad for the environment. It is hard to argue this. A better plan would likely be to cover the big state buildings with solar electric panels and start to make Illinois the solar state, but as I have written before we are 10 to 20 years away from a great solution like that. At least the state has something on the table to discuss.

What about this Grass Roots nonsense? I can remember Margie Parker standing in the rain with her "Peace" sign on Saturday around noon, all by herself, working to end the war in Iraq. Why did Margie do it? She doesn't have the power to do anything, does she? I'm sure it was because she believed in the message and hoped that others would see her and join her cause.

Brad has shown how to start a grass roots movement in politics. I liked the idea to get power from a different company then Ameren (at a lower price) of course. I liked how he got other cities to see the option too. I didn't like his power delivery system takeover idea, but maybe it can work. A little later some of the big Dem's started rolling out their plans. Poshard and now Madigan. Are they the right plans for Illinois? I don't know. But at least the politicians of Illinois seem to have awoken that this is a problem and the state might do something about it.

Is Brad going to fix our power problems? Well, no. That is outside the power of a mayor of a 24,000 person town. Is Margie going to stop the Iraq war? Well, no she isn't. But both of them are working hard to move the cause forward and that is what leadership by grass root campaigns is all about.

I'm now sorry that I didn't throw Margie under the bus in my lucky series, she was a perfect addition.

Of course, your comments are welcome.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Was Brad separated at birth?

I used to love "SPY Magazine" and their separated at birth pictures. I was trying to talk about Brad's work ethic earlier today, but found a better example of someone who thinks like he does. Here are some quotes from today's Post-Dispatch
I just like it to be run in a proper fashion," he said, adding, "I don't know if you can tell this, but I am a detail-oriented guy. ... That's the difference between winning and losing. That's the difference between being good and great, successful and not successful. It's all about the little details.
As long as we stay focused, get every detail right, I mean, he won't stop us and do the same thing he's doing here.
I really apologize for that yesterday; I've heard about it plenty," he said. "But I'll tell you, we had background noise coming ... "

Coach is always into it. He's going to be like that for the rest of his time.
Of course, these are quotes about the UCLA basketball coach, who has his team in the Final Four of the second year in a row.

But they seem right on for what Brad is about. He is a detailed-oriented guy. He works really hard to get the details right. Sometimes, he is high handed, but it could be worse, he could be willing to lose, to not do well.

Hard work, attention to detail, drive to get it right and win. Yep, maybe Brad and Ben Howland are cut from the same cloth?

Your comments are welcome.

Letter from Sheila's campaign worker in DE today

You can check out the letter here. I'm was going to do a real piece on the power thing in the next couple of days, but doing other stuff today.

You have to wonder how this works with Sheila's ethics in campaigning promise? Oh well. Mr. Calzolari doesn't understand how politics works. Sometimes grass root efforts lead to good things.

Thanks to the commenter from the last entry for pointing out the conflict and association with Sheila.

I need the make and licence of Dan Celvi's (DE guy) car!

Don't know if you saw the DE today with this idiot Dan Celvi's piece on graffiti. If someone will send me Dan's contact info, a few local business men would like to spray paint his car. Don't worry, it will be artistic Dan and we feel you will think it is art.

What a jerk.

About work ethic in Carbondale

I was enjoying Dave's entry from yesterday and the pro-Sheila blog he links to there. I thought Brad's comments about being a perfectionist were interesting and after commenting in both of these threads, I realized there was something more to say.

Is it only in Carbondale that promising to work harder would be a campaign issue that is used against you? Can you imagine the job interview where you have two candidates on campus, and the search committee asks each how hard they work. One says, I'll do whatever it takes, work at least 40 hours a week (maybe more) and be there day in and day out to be successful. The other says, I think that I will work for 10 to 20 hours a week, because I have lots of other commitments and family issues. The search committee would say, let's take the 10 hours a week! Not even at SIU does this happen. We all know what a business would say.

When did it become OK to run for public office on a platform of little work and less effort? The work product is effected by the effort, in the most fundamental ways.

Maybe this is what happens when almost everyone is town is a state employee? When did it become a point of pride to work less and do less?

When you can hold two records up next to each other, when did become OK for the person who has done nothing to complain about the person who does a lot?

Is this a sign of a broken culture? Should we be worried?

Why would anyone vote or hire someone who promises to do less and have less accomplishments?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Sheila takes credit for Arbor District PAC's idea? Is lying to the press ethical?

I don't know if you caught the story about building inspectors today in the DE. Looks like the Arbor District is winning the war on this issue, congratulations to the hard working folk there (even though I'm not sure more inspectors are needed). I don't know how to describe the center of that neighborhood association, except by calling them a Political Action Committee (PAC). Wouldn't it be great if more people cared about the city as much as that group?

We now have two plans to look at - Sheila's that will not work well, because it is underfunded and Brad's "you want it, you got it" hammer of a plan. You can read both overviews in the DE article. Brad's plan penalizes the jerks for making the inspector come back. Sheila wants to charge the honest people the same as the slum lords. Kind of typical, Brad's plan is likely better, but go read up and decide for yourself.

My feeling is that both plans would be helpful for a little while, but would soon turn into inspectors running a speed trap if we aren't careful.

I had one of my building's inspected recently and they came back once to see if I completed the work on items they didn't like (battery backed up lights for a staircase mainly). So I would have been out $100 on Brad's plan and $5 per year on Sheila's, I think. I was fine with what they found and how they handled it. Completely professional and understandable, so a good experience. Funny isn't it, I'm happy to have my own place inspected and fix the problems, but I'm against more inspectors. Need to think about that one.

The part that really amused me was Sheila's quote in the article,
"I'm glad that Mayor Cole liked my idea," Simon said.
Your idea Sheila? I asked the Arbor District folks who thought of this idea. Turns out the Arbor District's PAC thought of the idea and has been driving it for years. For example, the email they sent out today, talks about how they were asking for more code inspectors since the 2003 election.

Nothing better then usurping a hardworking group's ideas, right before the election and then lying when you call it your own. Where was she on this issue for the last 4 years? Why bother doing any work for the city, except in an election cycle? I guess being the daughter of politicians does teach you some tricks.

Sheila has never been behind this inspector idea before this election cycle. This is just pandering to voters, by working on issues you were willing to support just days before the election. Sad, just sad.

Of course, your comments are welcome.

Found this about multitasking - it will make your head explode you know?

Found when looking for something else on Yahoo. It is based on this NY Times article. Hopefully, you know this to be true already, but it is one of the things that SIU students clearly don't get.

You talk to a SIU student and they just don't get their math homework. Ask them what they were doing while trying to study sometime. Watching TV, listening to music, IM with GF, surfing the web, reading a magazine and trying to study. This isn't studying.

Your comments are welcome.

Back story on yesterday's DE piece on Brad's weblink

I was going to write about this anyway, but I thought the story about Brad having a link to his campaign homepage from the Carbondale page was a good way to kick off a different entry. I think we can all agree, it was OK to have the link before he started his reelection bid and so the question became was it an oversight or did he purposely try to game the system?

Heard a story yesterday about how the DE's reporter created this story herself. Word is she asked the Mayor about this in person, he immediately called the city webmaster to have it removed, while the reporter was still in his office. I guess I will send email to Andrea and ask what happened.

I'll let you know what she says.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

John Grisham novel defense teams, Bush administration era FOIA, Microsoft user agreements and city meeting documents?

It is amazing what a change to the world the modern word processor and fast laser printers have brought us. Now one administrative assistant can produce more paper then a person could read in a day, in one hour.

If you haven't read the John Grisham lawyer novels, you should, because they describe how a legal battles are really waged. One of the tricks is to put information that the other side is legally required to receive, into 50 or 100 boxes full of documents. If they can't find the killing document, they can't win the case.

The Bush administration doesn't read FOIA requests and so doesn't have to print the reams of papers that most people might like to read.

Has anyone actually read the Microsoft EULA (End User License Agreement)? I guess a few geeks have, but it is too long and too complex for most of us.

Of late, I have been wondering how many hours it takes to read the stack of documents that the city staff prepares before each city council meeting. Does anyone think a majority of the city council members read them before the meeting? Does anyone think someone, beside Brad, has time to do the research to figure out what other communities are doing? Look into the details closely? Come up with a new ideas?

The productivity of the word processor is both a help and a curse. The complexity of our society is going up and they forgot to invent more hours to get all we need to do, done. File this under the laws of unintended consequences.

Got to stop writing and get back to work cleaning out my latest round of emails.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Child care linked to future behavioral issues

I can't imagine that this is much of a surprise, check out this piece. You can certainly see this in the classrooms.

If you didn't feel sorry for single mothers before, you might start now. I guess we should feel sorry for the children of the over worked dual income couples too?

If you are keep up the Jones and working really hard, this article says you are screwing over your kid's futures? That isn't a good feeling.

A great quote

"Denial is not a good investment philosophy." - Michael Farr, chief investment officer at money manager Farr Miller & Washington, on the danger of viewing the Dow's 157-point gain on Mar. 6 optimistically, as reported in USA Today. (I took this from Business Week).

I realize that not many of you care much about the Dow, but the quote does apply to many things and is worth thinking about.

Holy cow, candidates are saying that District 95 is doing a good job

I have written about District 95 test scores recently. You will have to register for the Chicago Trib to see the story, but it just takes a second and there doesn't seem to be junk email involved (look for that opt out box).

I realized it is what voters want to hear, but does anyone really think that District 95's real results are up? Oh sure, the state can dumb down the tests, give more time, grade less answers. A better question is, do we really think that learning is up in District 95?

The number one reason you should be worried, the new Superintendent showed up and quit after 6 months. We heard it was because his father or cat was sick, but now he is going to start a new job next year someplace else. When the best Super you could hire quits in the middle of the school year with anything beyond incurable cancer, we should be worried.

If learning is up, why are the parents fleeing out of district? Is it because they are just racists and are afraid of their little darlings being around black children? Is it because the parents are being convinced one by one that in fact, their children will get a better education elsewhere? Consumer trends are real and telling, as are test scores for whole schools. Why are there so many private schools, home schoolers, and moves out of district, if things are going so well?

I was reading an article about a baseball player that was traded recently to a new team. The article suggested that the player's stats are down, because he had been playing for a few years on a team without a chance of winning. The general belief is that his numbers will go right back up, once he is on a winning team. Think about how hard it must be to teach in a school district with so many problem children and bad management. I wonder how many teachers have given up? You haven't done the research yet? The back channel is that many, many teachers have given up and are just waiting for the day they can retire.

Does District 95 have nice buildings? Yes. Are the teachers as good or better then most other schools? I'm sure on paper. Are many children getting a perfectly good education there? Yes. Are the exceptional kids (say top 10% or 25%) being challenged? Humm? Are the bottom 25% really learning? Humm? The new Illinois test scores make us have no visibility. You have read the Trib article right?

I have written about this extensively over the last few months, so I will not bore you much more.

If District 95 is doing so well, why are their test scores so much lower then Unity Point and Giant City? Why do the kids who are poor, have test scores about equal to the worst school districts in the state? The real world have voted on this issue, District 95 isn't as good as it once was and it is hurting the city.

It is amazing to be that the school board members and the candidates haven't boned up on this yet. Can you imagine being involved in this issue and no understanding that Illinois is messing with the test scores? The common idea the school board members have is that the scores are up and it must be our new buildings that are doing it!!!! Yippeee! No, it is because they dumbed down the tests.

SIU is doing the same thing. It is just market conditions that have made the students go from 25,000 to 19,000 on campus. It can't be something we are doing. It is just random bad luck and if we keep doing the same stupid things, someday it will magically get better.

I'm sorry, it is such a difficult problem. It has been many years in the making, with many reasons outside of the school district's control. But, telling the voters that everything is OK isn't right. Feel free not to believe it, not to think. I guess that Nero played fiddle while Rome burned.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Dave has a thread with Brad's attackers on display - is there really nothing to it?

Lately Dave has been debunking claims over on his blog, check out Dave's comment (it is about 10th).

We keep hearing from anonymous commenter's on this blog and others, complaints about Brad Cole's misdeeds as mayor. The misdeeds are always unnamed and without shape or detail. The few that have details are quickly debunked as ridiculous or misunderstandings of the actual facts. We have heard about The Tap issues of course. I heard about the person who wants government assistance to fix up houses that are doing fine and other movements that can only be considered Carbondale specialty scams (you know, the government should pay for everything). All this anti-Brad hubbub, but no details. Where there are details, the whole thing falls apart like a house of cards.

I like a good story better then most people, but we aren't getting any stories. Just comments from anonymous people claiming something is going on, but having no details, not even a title. This is Carbondale, if there are details they aren't very hard to bring them to light.

Is it safe to assume that there is no real dirt out there and this is all a campaign of deception to keep people from looking at the accomplishments of the candidates?

Friday, March 23, 2007

I got a kick out of this comment - it is so wrong

A special thanks to the commenter who wrote this up. Taken from the student fatigue thread -
Anonymous said…

Peter wrote:
I wonder if SIU isn't going to be in the business of teaching untrained students how to take notes, study, research and other fact of life study skills?

Prof X:
We are doing this and have been for ages. (Side note: research is a college level skill.)

Peter wrote:
I don't think the kids are dumb, they just don't have the basic skills for high academic achievement.

Prof X:
Sorry, often – but not always - the reason people don’t pick up the basics in high school is because they just aren’t that bright. Some people are lazy because they are bright enough to think about the long term payoff that hard work yields.

Look at the sport teams at SIU, do they do better academically because they are smarter or is it the academic structure that all that extra money buys?

Prof X:
Football and men’s basket ball players tend not to fair well academically. Other athletes do have higher graduation rates than the norm for non-athletes. This likely because they do not have to have jobs; they know they will loss their scholarships if their grades go down; and they get free tutoring as you noted. Also they are “engaged” people, they at least know the value of hard work in one domain.

Since these are the type of students SIU is going to be hosting for the next 20 years, it might be time to take proactive steps to make the problem better.

Prof X:
We are, we will, it will make little difference. Of course there are border line students that can succeed with some extra help and a more structured setting. But, we really cannot raise people’s IQs at this stage in life. Little kids, toddlers, yes. But IQ is pretty much fixed by adulthood. (Except in old age when it may well decline.)

Eventually we will give out fake diplomas like so many high schools do. Ah, but we are already there. Just go to the mall, any mall, and ask the nice sales clerks what they majored in.

I know people who don't know how to bake, but my Mom taught me and gave me the recipes I needed to get going. I'm not sure that is much difference between baking and being a SIU student.

Prof X:
You think you can takeover for the chef at Tom’s? If you open a restaurant Peter, remind me not go there. If you open a school I'll just shoot myself.

A couple of thoughts -

I'm busy reaming about anything in my sight, but I'm optimistic about people and their potential. This professor?

Can you imagine accepting the fate of SIU if you were a tenure track professor or any other employee? SIU has been on this track for 20 years or more, when will people accept this for what it is? If you waste 5 years doing something or not doing it, you are still going to be 5 years older. Is anyone at SIU really trying to fix the basic problems that clearly exist? Why not try to do something?

Like a point guard on a basketball team, leadership is about making the people around you better. Forget "More Cowbell," what is needed is "More Leadership."

Your comments are welcome.

Sheila is on record being for raising the bar entrace age?

Proving that Andrea Zimmermann did the research on this, her DE story today points out an interesting detail. The evil facebook site, that claimed that Sheila supports raising the drinking age was exactly right. Sheila is on record from the 2003 city council race for being in favor of raising the bar entry age. She now claims to have a change of heart on this issue, but I'm not sure she had told anyone.

Seems like the facebook site was exactly right on that issue. It sure doesn't seem like negative campaigning when you are telling the truth does it?

Your comments are welcome.

Nice DE story today about blogging in the local mayor's race

I enjoyed it at least, check out the DE's story on blogging. I enjoyed talking to Andrea Zimmermann, she was a good sport when I teased her about the Pepper Holder endorsement. After talking to Andrea, I kind of assumed I was going to get fried in this story. I thought it turned out something like the truth, which is the bar I try to jump.

Anyone want a $45 gift cert to Black's Martial Arts Academy?

It is only for new students, so we can't use it. If you have a new student in the family and want it try it out for cheap, drop me an email and I'll send it to you.

The Legend of Carol Fry - the last "King of Carbondale"

If you are going to have a city manager form of government, the city manager is supposed to be your leader, your driver, your CEO. But in Carbondale, clearly we have gotten away from this idea with our longstanding city manager. He isn't a CEO, he is more a COO (Chief Operations Officer) and there isn't wasn't a CEO for the city before Brad became mayor.

The city used to have a strong city manager and his name was Carol Fry. I was too young to interact with him, but let's discuss the legend anyway. Fry was the King of Carbondale. He did whatever he pleased, handed out favors, and told citizens with concerns, "that he didn't care." He was completely non-responsive to anyone who wasn't a "friend." He had a part-time city council and he pushed through just about anything he wanted to. His public feud with Mayor Butler of Marion and many others, are still discussed and are the basis for much of the poor cooperation that exists between the small cities of the area. On top of all that, he really didn't do that good a job.

Once Fry left, it seems clear now that the city council didn't want to have that kind of CEO city manager, so they hired a different type of person to replace him. After that person left after a year, they hired our current city manager (I'm sure someone will tell me if I'm wrong about this sequence, but it really doesn't matter). The city manager we have, is exactly the kind of city manager that they intended to hire, back when he started.

In the end, a city manager led form of government can be just a corrupt and favor giving as a mayor system. The difference is that the city manager can have very little fear of the voters, because only a strong city council will fire him. In Carbondale's recent history, we have seen this and we should be more afraid of the problems of a strong city manager system, then the potential problems of a strong mayor system.

I'm expecting a comment or two about this, or maybe everyone just agrees?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Jim Muir, Obama and Hilary on the same page? The world might end tomorrow

I don't know if you caught Jim Muir's column in the Southern today, he is now against the Iraq War. I have a new respect for Jim after reading this column, he is paying attention and seems right on point.

There was another story about the tussle for position between Hilary and Obama positioning for the Presidential race in '08 that was kind of interesting (no link on the SI homepage, sorry). Hilary voted for the War in '02, and Obama came out against it then. Since Obama was elected, he has been voting to fund the troops, so Hilary is trying to frame the discussion to make them look more equal to the anti-war crowd. Obama says, hey, the troops are over there and I don't agree with that, but you have to support them.

Interesting stats from that article - 61% of Americans are against the Iraq War and 91% of Democrats are against the war. 91% is a big, big number. Now if 43% of Americans are Dems and 90% are against the war, that makes 39% of the total. So, of everyone else 22 of 57 or a little less then 40% is against the war.

So, if you are dealing with Republicans and Independents, Muir is in the minority. We might even call him a front runner? Hilary is playing to a 90% of Dems, that isn't very hard to adjust your position under that pressure.

Math can be fun.

Wouldn't that new power plant be convenient for Saluki Way?

I was reading the DE's piece on Poshard's power plant idea (great graphic on that story, by Nick Brimeyer. But no staff link for the shout out.) and realized that it would really solve a lot of problems in Saluki Way too. They don't have enough room to put the Saluki Way project in without destroying the SIU Student Intramural Sports program, but this really makes sense. If you remove the Physical Plant's power facility, you could build right there on those parking lots. All the employees are moving over to the Morris Annex after the Morris books are put back anyway.

Then you could build a coal powered power plant right on Mclaugherty Road and basically make the SW side of Carbondale a toxic waste area. Then you could build all the planned dorms on Oakland. NIMBY comes to mind. Is this part of SIU's master plan to make the whole city limits of Carbondale house only students?

It will never happen, but it has many cool aspects if it was to be built. If the state has a choice between building this kind of plant in Chicago, St. Louis Suburbs or Carbondale, where will they build it? Somewhere else where there are more voters would be the safe choice.

Your comments are always welcome.

Student fatigue syndrome or are they just not studying?

I was talking to a professor recently who told me an interesting theory, that SIU students get all worn out as the semester wears on and stop doing good work. The professor called it "Student Fatigue." "They just don't have the stamina to work hard for 16 weeks, so the quality of work drops as the semester goes on," the professors said. "The quality of the papers I'm grading now is pretty high, but I expect it to fall off the rest of the semester," was another quote.

This seemed like a very reasonable idea and so I have spent a few days thinking about it. At first it sounded pretty good. The students lose focus, just don't have a long term approach, go on a big bender at Spring Break, get behind of money, and so they stop working hard in classes. It is almost like a disease, the little darlings are prisoners of nature.

Another reasonable explanation is the students being discussed just don't study. At the beginning of the semester, there is less course specific knowledge required, so they do better. As the semester goes on, the students needed to work in the material that was taught in the earlier part of the semester, but they didn't do the work and learn it. They had been playing video games and watching TV, but doing the minimum to turn in the papers. At some point every professor starts to see if their teaching has taken root and then the results turn suddenly for the worse.

I think we can all assume that if the normal SIU student is motivated, they are going to get more or less straight A's, because of SIU's current management practices on grades? But, why do so many fail classes they should pass easily? Fatigue or laziness?

Your comments are welcome.

How do we know that the City Manager did a bad job on Biz-Dev?

I ran out of time yesterday, but let's dig into the part of Sam's comment about the City Manager style of government.

If you look at the city council's actions under Neil Dillard's leadership, they knew the city manager was doing a bad job on business development. The created the Carbondale Business Development Corp (CBDC), funded it for $250k per year and took away the city manager's responsibility to do biz-dev. Then no one monitored that relationship and business development stopped in Carbondale for many years.

The CBDC had offices outside of city hall and so there was no communication. Prospective business would come to city hall and the city hall employees would cheerfully crap all over them and give them a brouchure (with a smile) about CDBC. The quote I got 5 some years ago was, "we can't help you start a business in town, that is CDBC's job." A classic, please go where you are wanted, which isn't Carbondale, message.

I agree about the way a City Manager led city might work, but the implications that Carbondale is getting acceptable results, I can't agree with. In Carbondale we have had both a city manager that didn't do the job on business development and after that responsibility was removed from the city manager's hands, the mayor and city council didn't care enough or have enough energy to track results.

It was a failure on all fronts. The buck stops here blame is with the mayor and city council, they just didn't have enough time and energy to manage the city's processes and results, taking action when things were going wrong. For this we have to blame, the nice man, Neil Dillard and the rest of that era's city council members (Steven Haynes).

But if you don't want to blame Dillard, you can blame the system of City Manager led government we have in Carbondale. Running a city government is too complicated to leave to people working 10 hours a week.

Your comments are welcome.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Woman's Center's addition

One of the best causes in Southern Illinois kicked off their new expansion yesterday. Check out the SI's piece on the press conference.

I'm sending in a check to help the cause and hope you do too.

Your comments are always welcome.

We are all agreed that the city hasn't performed for the last 30 years?

I have been throwing the city manager under the bus for a few days and we haven't heard much defense of his performance. So, let's take the next logical step. Does anyone want to say that the city government has done a good job over the last 20, 30 or 40 years? I think the city has been going in the right direction for the last 4 years, but the last 20? Nope.

In the last 40 years, the USA has gone from 200M people to 300M. Carbondale is about the same size. There are more service businesses in Carbondale then we could have thought possible 40 years ago, so that is good. There is less manufacturing and any other business that makes anything, then there was 10 to 40 years ago.

What is better about the city then it was in the past? Why do you think the city is better then 20 years ago. Could the city government have done better or is this just the best we can expect. If we had it to do over, could we have done better?

Anyone want to stick up for the Neil Dillard years? The performance of our City Manager led government over the last 20? Crickets?

Your comments are welcome.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Clarence Page on Black immigrants

I saw this editorial in the Sunday Southern and thought it was worth your time to read it. Here is a quote that has held my attention -
But I also think we need to revisit the meaning of "diversity." Unlike our current system of feel-good game-playing, we need to focus on the deeper question of how education can be improved and opportunities opened up to those who were left behind by the civil rights revolution.
What do you think, are African immigrants the smartest Americans? If we use Salah Mohammad as our guide, the answer is self evident.

If Clarence Page taught in the SIU history department, would the "Gang of 8" be after him for being so politically incorrect?

Your comments are welcome.

Made one of the big blogs

I guess the Capital Fax Blog is a well read blog about Illinois politics, he/they quoted out one of my bits yesterday. Interesting reading, if I do say so myself.

How can we throw the city manager under the bus?

I wrote the other day about the city council form of government and how Carbondale's government has had poor results over the last 20 or 30 or 50 years. I followed the logic that was, Carbondale's results as a city are bad, you like city manager form of government, city manager must suck. I was really surprised that no one jumped into this with a key observation... The City Manger is really a good man.

When you are talking about a guy who had been running the city successfully for 20+ years on a day to day basis. We have top notch fire and police protection. World class water and sewer treatment. The streets are in good repair. The storm drains work well. There is everything is town that any town needs. Based on his job description, you are talking about a guy who performs at the highest level. He works hard, he is responsive, he really cares about the city.

The city manager is supposed to run the city, and is doing a good job on a personal level. But, the city's performance sucks as a whole. Taxes are high, crime is up, our non-service businesses are way down over 20 years. The city manager never announces programs to improve the city, he only implements the programs that the mayor and city council invent and make into laws and rules.

So who is supposed to come up with the ideas to improve the city? Is it the city council and mayor? Is it the city manager?

Carbondale finds itself in a situation that often happens at SIU and other big bureaucracies, the results stink, but no one owns the results. We have Bob Pauls and Sheila saying the City Manager will own the new ideas and results, but the city manager's job description is that he doesn't own the ideas or results (if he did, he would be fired), the city council and mayor do.

At SIU, we have Glenn Poshard stepping up and saying that he owns the results. He is overstepping his bounds, cutting through the red tape, trying to fix SIU. Finally, it isn't the system's fault, Glenn owns it.

For the last four years in Carbondale, we have had Brad Cole saying that he owns the results. He is overstepping his bounds, cutting through the red tape, trying to fix Carbondale. Finally, it isn't the system's fault, Brad owns it.

I find it amazing that anyone would want to go back to what we had before. Bad results and no one who owned them. I don't know if this breaks the first rule of management, but it is surely in the top 10.

What do you think? Does the city manager own the results in Carbondale for better or worse? Does the mayor? Does anyone own the results?

Your comments are welcome.

Monday, March 19, 2007

First lunch with Sheila - how to not gain a backer

After Sheila announced she was running for mayor, I read the quotes in the SI and was concerned about what they wrote. So, I sent Sheila email and told her that I didn't like what the SI had written, didn't think the words quoted to her was what Carbondale needed. She suggested we go to lunch and after a few weeks, we really did get together. It has been six months, but it left quite an impression on me.

After Sheila and Tom Redmond sat down and we had ordered, I asked Sheila the obvious question, "Why do you want to be mayor?" She responded, "I think the strongest person should take the heavy box off the top shelf." I said, "what?" She repeated herself, exactly. I said, "what does that mean?" She went on, "you know, I think I'm a strong performer and have a lot to offer." I said, "that is the reason you want to be mayor?" "Yes." "OK." I was surprised that she didn't have a reason for being mayor that didn't suck, but decided to move along.

I next asked, "what are your economic development plans?" She said, "I don't have any." I replied, "how can you not have any?" "That is why I declared for mayor so early, so I can figure out a plan." "So, you have no idea of what you want the city to become?" I asked. "Not yet," Sheila responded. I found this to be pretty shocking, how can you live in a city for years, be on city council for 3 plus years and not have a vision for what you want to do if you become mayor?

I went on to ask her if she had read up on rural economic development, "no." Did she like how city hall performed, no real opinions.

We have a funny exchange about the Northeast part of town. I told her a story about how I started to drive though the Northeast several times a day, over the course of several weeks the previous summer. When I was driving through, my greatest impression was of the young black men walking back to their houses with brown paper bags full of booze. It seemed like a shame to me then and a shame to me now. Sheila told me, "I have never seen that." I told her, "you have to go look, when was the last time you were over there?" Ever wonder where the business for ABC and Ron's Short Stop come from? I can't say that I would be eager to ride my bike though that neighborhood if I was a woman on a hot day, but I still don't understand how you can not know what is happening in the Northeast of a city were you are running for mayor.

We talked about the responsiveness of City Hall and in particular Tom Redmond's old department and how that hurt economic development. The refused to engage in any discussion about what they saw City Hall doing if Sheila won.

I guess her campaign pitch must have become more polished since then, but her campaign plans certainly reflect this conversation. Sheila is an empty container who had little to no plans, and panders to voters by pushing committees to decide what should be done.

If she is promising something, it is to leave Carbondale in its current "Town and Gown" state of 24,000 people and nothing else. She also promises to ruffle no feathers, while accomplishing little. But, maybe that is what her supporters want?

Your comments are always welcome.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Solar power by heating oil?

A friend sent me this link about a solar instillation in Nevada, I thought the article was interesting and the comments are worth a read too.

City manager form of government and a little history

I liked Bob Pauls take on power issues, though I don't agree with his conclusions on Brad's power grid take over. I found his writings on the form of Carbondale City government to ignore history and be far off base. I thought I might comment a little.

A little history on forms of government. For centuries, there were few forms of governments that survived. The ones that worked, generally having to do with superstitions, swords and/or gold. With the creation of the printing press, it became possible to invent new forms of organizations and publicize them. Things like religious offshoots (Lutherans for example) sprang up and became popular. Around the time of the American Civil War, there was a rush of new forms of government invented, in a golden age of government invention, that continued into the 20th century and then died down.

The modern elementary school was one form of government, as was the strong city manager form. Others of note, included communism, socialism, world government, the UN and the League of Nations. Don't forget the public university and normal universities, they were invented then too. Oh wait, the League of Nations is a superhero thing right? I always get confused. :)

Each of the forms of government was invented to solve a perceived or real problem and what we know now is that each of them has failed in one way or another. Now we are going to have to reinvent them or change them into a different form. You can see this happening right before our eyes in all of these new types of governments, as we get more wealth and/or more or less time, the world changes.

Let's do a truth table and see what that takes us -

First question, do you think that Carbondale has done as well has it should have done over the last 20 or 30 years? Or since 1946? Please separate the success of SIU from Carbondale if you can.

Second question, do you think that the city manager form of government works?

Third question, if you think the city manager form of government works, aren't you obligated to fire the current city manger for incompetence?

I think that Carbondale hasn't done nearly as well as it should have over the last 20 or 30 years, until 4 years ago, when we had our lucky Vista Volunteer work as Mayor full time and then things magically got better.

I don't think the city manager form of government works for Carbondale, but if you do, that means you think our current city manager sucks and needs to be fired. I think the form of government is broken (at least for us, it is OK if other people want to have ineffective city government) and we need to switch.

Anyone want to argue that Carbondale has been doing well over the last 30 years? Anyone want to fire the city manger for incompetence and get a new one? Maybe Carol Fry can come back and stink the place up again?

I wrote Bob a great comment about his ridiculous complaint that Brad is working too hard for the city. I asked him what level of work should we limit our mayor and city council? Is the right number 10 hours a week or 15 or 20 or 40 or 60? I asked him if there was a law limiting the amount of work an elected official could do? Brad's real power is working harder then everyone else. It isn't direct power, it is figuring things out though hard work and driving the agenda. He did it before he was mayor too. By the end of the Neil Dillard era, Brad already had control of the important parts city council agenda. That is the advantage of work.

There are lots of examples in modern society of beliefs that are supposed to solve one problem, but don't work. Heart stints, Untracked Classrooms, and Communism are good examples. In Carbondale, the city manager form of government has not been working. It may or may not solve some corruption problems, but Carbondale has lots of good old boy favors happening anyway. It would be better to enforce the current anti-corruption laws and have a form of government that works for the citizens of the city, then have the city fail because of its form of government.

It is time to examine this 100 year old experiment of government and decide if it works for this city. If it hasn't worked for this city and we should start a new experiment, with a better form of government.

Your comments are welcome.

Brad's utility takeover looks like a non-starter

Bob Paul's wrote up a couple of good articles about it on his blog (1st and 2nd). Even though I have written that it might be a good idea, once you really start thinking about it as a business run by the city it gets pretty scary.

Your first example of what might happen is the Park District's golf course. The model at the golf course is you get a bunch of bonds to buy/build it, then you have no real expertise to run it. Oops, a multiple year cluster of silly management decisions occurs. Then your free market competitors start to show up and take some of the cream from the market. Then the market you are in peeks, and total dollars in the space goes down. Finally, you are stuck with a white elephant. Still need to find the fools who voted for that golf course and do something in the blog.

Let's talk about the risks involved with a city takeover -
The biggest risk is that total power needed in the city might go down. As the price of generation goes up, it only make sense that power consumption will go down. People might turn down the heat, sit under a blanket, wear a sweater, install more efficient HVAC, use more efficient light bulbs or even insulate their houses. If power goes up enough, solar electric or wind systems might start to pencil out and we all know that it will be a lot less fun to be in the power business when that happens.

The city will run it poorly. See Hickory Ridge. The first question we should ask as investors is who would be the CEO of the Carbondale Electric Delivery Grid? Unless there was someone involved that we were really sure wouldn't waste the money, why would we invest?

What happens if a tornado hits? One nice thing about being part of a system is that when a big problem hits, qualified repair people pour into the area and make things work again. They have lots of backup parts, here and there, that come too. I would be concerned with my power out after a big wind storm, I could be out for a long time, while the city looks for parts and people to get it working again. The insurance aspect of dealing with a large power company shouldn't be overlooked.

We should have a reasonable fear that the power companies will mess around with the rates of power they deliver to Carbondale. For example, what happens if they decide to charge Carbondale 20% more for power? Could they do this? I think they can, play the lower quantity buyer or distance from plant game. If it is legal, you know they will try. Then you get to buy off more people in Springfield then they do to get the law fixed.

Right now our power company is getting less return on their investment, then Carbondale would pay on bonds. If there was lots of profit in this space, it would make more sense for the city to get into it. Our power company has Billions and Billions of dollars in wire and equipment, they really don't make much on that investment on a percentage basis. Yes, even at the new higher prices. If there was lots of money to be made, someone would be showing up to compete without the city being involved.

I don't think this idea is a good one, too much risk, too little expertise in the city to make this a reasonable bet. The moment that you said you had hired the second in command from Springfield's system and you had a business plan that showed it could work, I would be right back on board though. I don't see how this risk to the city coffers could possibly be worth what the city might get back.

Your comments are welcome.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Dysfunctional Bureaucracy. Caleb Hale gets it right

We aren't talking about the basketball team, they clearly know how to execute. It is the SIU administration who can't seem to get the job done. Check out Caleb's nice piece from yesterday.

I found his stuff about liberals amusing, because he has lumped together people who are impractical, tenured and/or lazy, together with a political or religious belief. I love the student who wants to reinvent science by using religion. Kind of reminds me of every other religion vs. science arguments - Earth is flat, Sun revolves around the Earth, you choose to be gay (just a few more years until the scientist prove that wrong), the Earth was created 5000 years ago (but glue was invented 6000 years ago, go figure?). Good thing there is great creativity in interpreting holy documents or the scientist wouldn't have new myths to disprove.

Brad Cole has been pushing on Carbondale's city hall trying to get them to perform at an acceptable level for the last four years. People have been pushed aside, changes have been made to a culture based on doing less and being less responsive. When you look at Carbondale, it has been a pretty standard dysfunctional bureaucracy. The employees were layered up and at each layer the status quo has been to say "NO!" (or even "Heck NO!") to everyone who they don't know personally (or at least fear). The only way to get things done in the pre-Brad years was to know who the decision makers were before you entered the building and avoid everyone else. Only a few decision makers could say yes, everyone else just said no.

SIU's administration is a mess in a different way. Level, upon levels of people who have a job to filter phone calls, requests and problems to a few decision makers. Can you imagine, dozens (or hundreds) of people waiting for a handful of busy decision makers to decide every little item. If I had to guess how many real decision makers there were at SIU, I would have to guess 12 to 15 total, everyone else is viewed as a cog. The people at SIU aren't important enough to even say "NO!" without getting permission. This is very different then Carbondale, you get no decision, no feedback from SIU, until it filters all the way up to someone "important" and the decision is finally reached and sent back down. Caleb's wrote about the symptom of the problem of not having enough decision makers.

Both are dysfunctional, but I don't know that one is worse then the other. What we do know is that changing these cultures into one that works efficiently is going to be tough.

As Brad has started to change Carbondale, he has stepped on some toes, pushed aside longtime employees, and gotten some nice results. But he has had a smaller and simpler nut to crack. The conversion of Carbondale City Hall from a place where everyone says "NO!" to one where customer and partners are listened to and respected is possible. Carbondale employees can be fired, the mayor has some accountability to the tax payers, even if the city manager doesn't. There is money in the city budget for raises and since the money is generated locally, the politics aren't so dirty. You have to wonder how many employees of the city hope that Sheila wins the mayor's election, so they can get back to their semi-retired state of "NO!"

But that is nothing compared to the the pain that will have to happen at SIU to get the administration to work right. I don't think there is any doubt that they have circled the wagons and reduced the number of decision makers to a handful. How will SIU make more people have decision making power? If they don't make more decision makers, how can they make correct decisions fast enough to be successful? How can you hold anyone accountable, if no one can be fired for being incompetent or rewarded for doing well? If the person in charge today can't be trusted, and you can't replace them until they retire, what can you do? Can you image how many pissed off people there are going to be if the change comes? The SIU culture that believes that nothing will ever change, but they must or they will fail in a more significant way then they have already.

Should be interesting to watch and see what happens. Good luck to Glenn Poshard, he will really need it. As I remember, Glenn volunteered for this job? Hopefully, he didn't bite off more then he can chew.

Your comments are welcome.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Illinois Power is Enron like? Do tell

Illinois is an amazing state, they are just figuring out that the problems California had with Enron might be happening here too? Since Illinois did exactly what California did and now is entering the same kind of unregulated mess that California went through. Prices for power have spiked through the roof, far higher then costs.

When it happened in California, my power engineer brother-in-law called it years ahead of time. I could say "Enron" and it wasn't hard to see the risk here.

Now that people have gone without food and medicine to pay their bills, maybe it isn't too late to turn back the clock. Oh yeah, Emil Jones has decided to have lots of campaign contributions instead of doing the right thing. Maybe our form of government is broken?

Illinois, land of corruption, strikes again.

How can you live on $9,000 a year? The great "mystery" of Brad's finances guessed and estimated

I have been getting comments from the Sheila camp, doing a little more disingenuous campaigning, about how Brad can survive on $9000 per year (which is his salary for being mayor). I realize that most Carbondale people are proud of not knowing anything about finances, but let's assume that Brad has read or understands the "Millionaire Next Door" concepts. This isn't hard stuff.

My estimated after tax, take home estimates are from 22 to 35, or 14 work years (numbers in the thousands) -
$30 $30 $40 $40 $40 $40 $50 $60 $70 $70 $70 $10 $10 $10 - Looks like just over $550k. You will notice that he made lots more then this many of those years, but it doesn't really matter. Give him $7 X 4 and $7 X 4 and $9 X 4 for his time on the Park District Board (guessing), City Council and Mayor. Looks like $92k or a total of $640k or so. Let's add in his cash settlement from the state at $150k, so that is $800k or so gross that we can easily account for.

When I was in my 20's, I had a few big stock market scores in Apple, Intel, VLSI Technology and Microsoft stocks. It is amazing how much $10k can turn into. I bought a house in Silicon Valley on my Apple winnings alone and sold it for a profit soon after. Everyone playing the US Stock market in a reasonable way is up, it likely that Brad is doing well in the stock market like the rest of us.

I need a number, let's say that Brad has been earning 10% on his loose money per year. Based on my model of income, he would be worth over $1M now. Compound interest is great isn't it?

We can see Brad has a car, but hasn't changed it for years. We know he has a little house in town somewhere. He doesn't drink or smoke, so no sin taxes. So, $30k for the car and $100k for the house? I bet it was more like $25k and $80k though.

Assuming that Brad has paid cash for everything, he could still have over $1M in the bank given a 10% annual return on investment. If he only made 5% (which means he is a fool) over the last 15 years, he would have over $500k in the bank. If he spends money wildly, which isn't his MO, he might only have $350k in the bank.

Those of you with your ear to the ground know that Brad's father passed on last year, so it seems possible that he received something from his father too.

Brad has made his tax returns public for many years, so it isn't like any of this is secret. If you want the exact numbers, it would take you maybe an hour to get them. I think Brad has enough money to be mayor as long as he wants to be mayor.

The real question isn't if Brad has the money anyway, it is if we should vote out a successful incumbent for someone who has no plan (OK, very little plan) and a track record that includes very little that has helped the city.

Of course, your comments are welcome and expected.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Sheila is on record wanting to increase taxes

I wrote about this yesterday and a commenter went and did the research. Here is what the commenter found -
This is from The Southern's archieve: "Carbondale's proposed budget 'lean'"
(ID: 15903944.qcd; Published: April 5, 2006; Section: News)

"...Reviewing the proposed budget during Tuesday night's meeting, City Councilwoman Sheila Simon was prompted to ask if it may be time to re-evaluate city's abatement of its property tax levy, which was enacted in 2002.

'It's not as if I am in a rush to reinstitute the property tax, but I do want to make sure we are being responsible,' Simon said."

"...Mayor Brad Cole said the city bucked a statewide trend when it zeroed out its property tax levy four years ago. He said residents initially experienced an approximate 6 percent relief in their overall taxes, but other governmental bodies have now stepped up their financial demands."
I would say that it looks like we are going to have our property tax back, based on Sheila's words, if she is elected mayor.

My take on this is that Carbondale has enough employees to do the job and I'm happy they are doing more with less down at city hall.

Clearly, this is a key difference between the candidates. Brad promises no property tax and Sheila has already tried to put the tax back on. A new tax is what Sheila calls, "being responsible." I agree, it will make the property owners and then the renters have the responsibility and Sheila will be having a party on our nickel.

Your comments are welcome.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Does Sheila favor the Property Tax?

We know that Brad figured out Carbondale could afford to drop its property taxes while he was a city councilman. He drove it through the council and now has promised to not put it back on. Sheila is on the record saying that bring back the tax would require, "public meetings." I think that means that Sheila is in favor of the tax, if she can get away with it.

Why doesn't Sheila just take the position that the property tax is bad and she plans to live in the current budget? A promise is sure better then public meetings.

Your comments are welcome.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

An interesting comment about Student Evalutations.

At last, someone wrote an interesting comment with some real details. The strange thing was the email blogger sends me about it was caught up in a bunch of orders, so I didn't see it until later. Here is the text -

Anonymous said…

In my college, the typical role allocation is 40% teaching, 40% research, and 20% service.

On average, student evaluations make up approximately 20% to 30% of the faculty member's overall annual evaluation.

In my view this weighting is a little high, but current students should have some say.

Having said that, I would prefer a different evaluation metric to dominate in my teaching evaluations.

Perhaps the following weighting scheme could be used to evaluate the teaching part of my job: (1/4) current student evaluation; (1/4) peer evaluation [faculty member]; (1/4) outside evaluation [perhaps a local alum who wants to give back to SIU]; (1/4) former student evaluation [poll recent graduates who are 3 or more years out].

Admittedly, this suggestion would be expensive relative to the current system. However, once in place, and if used widely, could be feasible. Former students and alumni would be involved, and therefore, remain attached and interested in how the university is performing.

I believe the benefits would outweigh the costs.

I'm not claiming that this idea is the best idea possible, but it is far better then what SIU is doing today. I have written, back in my "first, fire all the chairmen" orbit, that the chairmen should go into the classroom and watch a class unannounced (like they do at every other level of school). I also suggested that in classes that have common finals, you could easily check final scores against grades to see which teachers are giving a free letter grade or two away (yes, they exist and are considered top teachers based on student evals).

What an idea, do a little more work and try to get better results. Great comment Anonymous, you are the first professor who has written an idea of how to improve the situation.

It is hard to disagree with the comment's last line, "I believe the benefits would outweigh the costs."

Your comments are always welcome.

Is Brad Carbondale's Vista Volunteer?

I think we can all agree that we like Vista Volunteers, after all they are taking a few years at low pay to help society. Shouldn't we just accept Brad is our Vista Volunteer? Shouldn't we be thanking him for working hard for a very small amount of money?

In no way do I think that Brad or Vista Volunteers are doing the work for nothing, the reward just isn't financial. Look at the experience he is getting, the things he is seeing, the contacts he is making. If you want to be in politics and your party is out of power temporarily, being Mayor of Carbondale is a reasonable place to sit.

I have a wild guess about Brad's net worth almost completed, there are a couple of details in there I bet few know. I'm on the move, so I will publish it when I get back in town and can update the comments fast enough (it is a lot more fun when the comments come up in real time).

In the meantime, try to figure out when it because underhanded to do more work then required, to get ahead in this world. Can you imagine how different the world be if everyone worked harder than the minimum?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Student Evaluations at SIU - more data

I received this from from a friend.

I sent the document over to Todd and he was nice enough to put in on my server for me. I wrote him an email that said something like, can you believe they are handing this out? He responded,
I guess it isn't a shocker, because I've had it read to me before.
I realize that I'm not an "expert," like some of the professors who have been commenting on my earlier entries about this grade inflation, student evaluations, management pressure, and higher GPA threads. But this seems fairly clear and a quick survey of students in arms reach, seem to indicate this is SIU's reality today. I'm not claiming this about 100% of the classes, maybe it is only 20%, 40%, 60% or 80%?

Only by getting out of your little silo of knowledge will you know for sure.

Your comments are welcome.

Did you ever wonder what Carbondale want to be when it grows up?

I have been thinking about this a lot for the last 6 months or so. What is Carbondale and what does it want to be in 10, 20 or 50 years?

When I talk to a 60 year old professor, they don't think about the city at all. They want water, sewer, police and trash pickup from the city and nothing else. Ask about economic development, don't really care. Their children already moved away because there is no work here, so they haven't thought about the schools forever. There is a belief that SIU will always be there in about this form and their pension is going to be paid, so they just drift along, happily ignoring the details.

Talk to a business person and they are excited about Carbondale's progress in the last few years. Buildings are filling up, taxes are down, and city hall isn't impossible to deal with. SIU is losing students and really hurting the service industries built around them, but still the USA is the richest country in the history of the world and times are pretty good.

Talk to a business development person and they are frustrated. There are very, very few companies starting. There are very few people to work with, because there are no jobs for college educated people here. Our future entrepreneurs can't find jobs, so most move away and never return. We also have a culture that based on a sole practitioner model of doing business, so the management teams are aways thin.

I think all these views are valid, but maybe a more interesting question is what does Carbondale want to be in 20 years.

Does Carbondale want to be the best 25,000 person city, built around SIU and the SIU service businesses it can? The best example of that this I know was Carbondale in 1970. At that time there was a feeling of goodwill and success here. The schools were among the best in the state. There were lots of locally owned businesses. There were lots of low paying, but secure jobs.

Does Carbondale want to be a bigger city that has a more balanced economy? A good example of this is Corvallis, OR. Corvallis has almost exactly the same history as Carbondale (as far as post WW2 university and city expansion). It is rural and off the beaten track, but has a better school in OSU. They also have the biggest Hewlett-Packard plant in the world, that does all the Ink Jet development. Now they are running about 25 to 50 technology companies in town, but they are in the West, so that is easier. There is an intact downtown shopping area, but they are lucky because they don't have a state highway running down the middle. There is no Mall, it has been kept out because of strong zoning (but they are building one that opens soon). State income taxes in Oregon are 9% and there is no sales tax, so there is lots of money for state services (pool, Boys and Girl's club, etc.). The town has grown to 50,000 or so.

If you could live in either one of these communities, Carbondale in 1970 or Corvallis today, it would be a tough choice. The problem is that Carbondale isn't the town it was in 1970. The urban flight because of the schools and housing sizes (zoning too) are killing the city's school systems. If you don't work at SIU, everyone is underpaid. SIU is sliding down and needs a major overhaul. Illinois is hurting Carbondale, because of corruption, workman's comp overhead and future costs in the retirement system. I guess the taxes are lower for now, but I can see the day that the total tax burden in Illinois will be far higher then it is now.

If we assume that Carbondale isn't the town it was in 1970, where do we want to take the city? Saying you are safe at SIU and don't care isn't a great answer ("I'm a liberal and I can't even tell you what is happening in the city," is a fairly standard quote). Do we want the best Town and Gown situation we can have or do we want to grow and attract or develop a second business to grow the city?

It could be the citizen's vision for where they want Carbondale to go, is the most important question of all? Is the goal to be Carbondale in 1970 again or to be like Corvallis or maybe something else?

Your comments are always welcome.

Getting the Kohl's store in Carbondale or why you need a pro-business mayor

I have known the story about economic development in City Hall and our new Kohl's store for a while, but thought it might be interesting to share.

It turns out that Kohl's is expanding into smaller markets and Southern Illinois was slated for one of them and not two. Kohl's sent their development team to town and started looking for a place to sit their new store. Since all the big boxes are in one place, they wanted to go out by the Mall, but there isn't a spot left big enough to build their size of box on Hwy 13.

They found the land that might work (I heard they dumped 1000 dump trucks of dirt out there to fill the back of the lot up), but their corporate play book is to build a sign on the highway, pointing to your site, in thes situations. So, they went and signed a deal to put their sign in the parking lot of the Saturn Dealer. They were ready to build.

Then Kohl's began dealing with the planning and zoning folks at City Hall and were told the building was fine, but they weren't getting their sign on 13. Having been into city hall and talked to the planning and zoning people a few times, they have always been courteous, but they were also bureaucrats who often think their main job is to say "no" to business.

The planning people at city hall and Kohl's went back and forth a few times and they still told Kohl's no to the sign. This is where most businesses coming to Carbondale leave and take their business elsewhere historically, but Kohl's went the extra mile and called the Mayor.

The story as I heard it was that Kohl's called Brad Cole and told him that if they didn't have clearance for their sign by 10 am tomorrow, they were going to Marion. Turns out that zoning hadn't told anyone there was a show stopper issue and were just planning to lose the Kohl's deal over it. The story continues that when Brad went down to planning and asked what the holdup was. Tom Redmond, who had headed planning and zoning for a long time, told Brad they wanted to put a sign on 13, which was against a zoning rule. Turns out they had a spot rented at the Saturn Car dealership, but the zoning rules didn't allow this. Tom has told several people that his position was that if Carbondale allowed Kohl's to have a sign, everyone would want one. But Kohl's has had their sign for several years and no one else has one, so driving Kohl's away because of this issue would have been a mistake.

Soon after Kohl's got clearance for their sign and built their multi-million dollar building. They are now a successful retailer and pumping lots of sales tax dollars into Carbondale. Their sign on 13 is between the bigger Saturn dealer and the wing's place, and doesn't seem to be hurting anyone.

Tom Redmond had retired or been pushed out, depending on who you ask. He is now Sheila campaign manager.

The really good news is that Kohl's building on Giant City Road has helped all the businesses out there. There is a new strip mall was built, that contains Moe's and spots for a couple of other businesses. Kohl's advertising budget helps all their neighbors by bring in more custers to the area.

I'm going to make an assumption that everyone likes having the Carbondale Mall area and big box stores contained in one area. Maybe some people don't like the stores, the mall, the big boxes, but if you are going to have them, it is nice they are all on one place as a car centric destination. I also assume that we are happy to have Kohl's here and producing sale tax, instead of in Marion. That Kohl's sign on 13 has to be the lowest impact sign going, it is in the middle of lots of signs just like it.

For many years, Carbondale has been losing companies like Kohl's because city hall was so incredibly difficult to deal with. For just a few short years we have had a pro-business mayor and look at the results. We are getting our fair share. Our retail spaces are filling up all over the city. A city with the main drags filled, instead of boarded up, is a really good thing.

Your comments are welcome.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Should Lance Jack be reelected?

I was walking down Illinois Ave. on Thursday and ran into Lance Jack. He looked in fighting trim and we chatted about the election a little. I told him that I thought it was ironic that he had been on the city council for maybe the best 4 years in Carbondale's history and might not be reelected. I also told him that his separation from Harbaugh's hurt his story IMHO. We talked about what his campaign plans were and about the anti-smoking issues a little.

Maybe Lance's record of being on the city council for 4 great years is enough to warrant reelection? If we are interested in the economy of the town, he might be our best choice. I'm note sure what accomplishment or idea we can point to as his. But he has been part of an effective council.

What do you think? Ha Lance earned 4 more years of service or maybe someone else instead? Anyone have a comment about what Lance has done for better or worse as a council person?

Nationwide Auto Dealer Consolidation? Carbondale City Council vote

I caught the Brad's idea of trying to give Auto dealers a tax break if they add a new brand/line in Carbondale. At the time, I didn't know what to make of it. Looked like it was going to pass and then got voted down 1 to 6. OK, I filed it away for future reflection.

Yesterday, I read the big feature article in the Business section of the Post Dispatch (I would give you a link, but the webpage isn't working for me right now and I have to move on soon) about how car dealers are consolidating in to mega dealerships. I had heard this before and if my brain was working I would have understood what Brad was up to right away.

If the dealerships are going to merge into fewer in number, and more brands under one roof, do we want those dealerships to be located in Carbondale? As you know, car dealers contribute heavily to the sales tax base of Carbondale (or any city for that matter).

Where I didn't understand this at the time, I think what the Post article has just told us, is that Brad's idea is a sound one. If one of our auto dealers merges and moves to Marion, we are going to lose quite a bit out of the city coffers. If the same merger happens and the dealer moves to Carbondale instead, we will have a big gain in sales tax.

I'm a few weeks behind on my business magazine readings, but I'm trying to catching up. I wonder how Brad figured this out? Wish I had understood this a week earlier.

Maybe it isn't to late to act? Oh yeah, we have an election. Any good idea needs to be voted down until after it is over. :)

Once again, Brad's idea is ahead of the curve on how to improve Carbondale.

Your comments are welcome.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Should this blog be less entertaining?

I have had some complains of late because I don't publish every comment anymore. The most common reason I take a pass on a comment is because it provides nothing new to the discussion. An example is someone commented here recently wondering how Brad could afford to be mayor, I wrote back that I thought that Brad might have $1M in the bank. The same person wrote back the exact same question, exactly the same way again within an hour. There was no new content or ideas. I declined to publish. The same person sent in another comment, why didn't you publish my last comment. The answer is, because it was boring.

Nothing personal, just write better content. Write something new or something interesting. Write something that looks at a problem a new way. Provide content that is interesting. It isn't very hard.

Clearly I write this blog to educate both the readers and myself, but if it isn't fun and there isn't real content, the blog is worthless. I have cheerfully switched sides of an issue a couple of times, because it was fun. I likely will again.

This is entertainment, it isn't real life.

My sister was a Vista volunteer

When my sister graduated with her MS in Math, she had a career choice to make. Either become a computer programmer at a local company or be a Vista volunteer. She went and got an offer to work at both (she is energetic). This was a while back and I think the programming job was for almost $40k and full benefits, the Vista volunteer was minimum wage or nothing (can't remember anymore). Her husband was finishing his PhD and she had a year or two to wait. She decided to become a Vista Volunteer.

She went to work at a homeless shelter, getting the clients back into school and helping them get scholarships. I asked her once, why did you decide to take so much less money and volunteer. She told me she loved the town and wanted to do something good for the people. My thought that being a computer programmer is the most noble profession, didn't fly. :)

I ask you, did my sister do the wrong thing becoming a vista volunteer? Is it OK to take less money to help things you love along?

I have chosen to make much less money while I live in Carbondale, is that wrong? There are many professors who are talking less money to work at SIU is that wrong?

Of late, I have been getting the feeling that people in Carbondale feel that anyone who volunteers or takes less money to help the community is somehow doing something underhanded. Isn't it OK to give back to your community for reasons that don't include money?

What do you think? Have you done any unpaid volunteer work lately? Are the people who do volunteer work wasting their time, if they aren't paid enough?

Your comments are always welcome.

More on the Pre-Test at SIU thread - funny observation from a friend

There have been two Pre-Test entries so far here and there.

What we can know after reading the back and forth about this post is that SIU professors, in large numbers, are giving pre-tests. Many of them feel great about this, after all the students might not pass without them. Others feel it is cheating to tell the students the test questions a couple of days before the test. I don't have to think hard on the ethics of this one.

Some professors say that having management give raises based on student evaluations doesn't effect them or management isn't doing it. Others say this is silly. Now if you go and talk to the people who study the methods of teaching at SIU, they will tell you that SIU does give raises based on student evaluations and everyone knows it. They say, that anyone who doesn't think the management initiatives like this work are just fooling themselves.

I say that pushing for higher student evaluations and backing it with money is like beating a child. Everyone knows that beating a child is going to warp the child right? The child often doesn't realize their behavior is tied to being abused, they block that part out. This is why child molesters are often raped and killed in prison, some studies indicate that a majority of prisoners in the US were abused as children. Think about that for a while.

Now for the funny part. In the first thread there are a series of comments between Don Mills a former SIU professor and some random PoliSci professor. The first thing that struck me was how much better Don writes, but we have seen Don's writings here before and knew he was good. They go back and forth about student evaluations with claims and counter claims, finally I thought there was some clarity about how the pandering was happening at the entry level classes, the upper level classes are better because the losers have been weeded out.

What was interesting was how clearly different Don and the other guy reacted to their 100 level classes. I suspect that both are really good teachers and good people. But, the other day someone said to me, "you know that Polisci class the professor is so proud of?" "Yes," I replied. "It is multiple choice"

We are comparing a real math class with a class where you fill in the answers in bubbles? I looked in Google for a definition that would fit this and didn't find one. Let me do a new quote, never been heard before, "if you are doing multiple choice, it shouldn't be a college class."

My friend who pointed this out, he said to ask the PolySci guy, "if he would be so proud if the students were writing essays like they do a real universities."

I don't know the answer myself. Is the class multiple choice? If it is, all arguments that you are getting better teaching evaluations are BS. If you did Math 150 multiple choice, the math professors would get great evaluations too. Multiple choice is another version of pre-testing.

Your comments are welcome.

Will the Democrats be in power in Illinois in 4 years?

I am a Democrat, but I'm not an Illinois Democrat. Illinois Democrats are clearly crazy.

Let's take as an example this Southern article Blagojevich doesn't make strong statement on electric rate issue. It is very fair to argue that the Illinois Republicans passed the California/Enron style power laws and so it isn't the Democrats fault. But since the only reason that some relief isn't put in place is because Emil Jones can single handily take campaign contributions from the power companies. I think the Dem's own this problem now.

We all know that Illinois has major budget problems. You have a tax and spend governor who has promised not to raise taxes. What does hot Rod do? He proposes raising taxes on any business with over $1M in revenue. Does anyone know how easy it is to move your business out of state? I can have mine move inside a month, without great difficulties.

It sure looks like Rod has Illinois Governor disease and will be indited before too long over his hiring people based on campaign contributions. We all know, in his heart that he has done it, right?

A reasonable analysis seems to indicate that Rod's goal is to turn the city of Chicago into the state capital and pour the pork and state welfare into the city. The rest of the state can eat cake (third one down).

Since the Demo's only won Cook and Jackson county in the last Presidential race (granted Kerry was a weak candidate), can they hold the state in the next election? Since the Republicans ran an insider, who was associated with corruption in the last race, will they run someone who doesn't look dirty next time? Will it be better or worse for Southern Illinois if "the Pubs" do win the Governor's office next time?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

How to fire a NYC Teacher.

From a friend - a funny read. Maybe it is sad?

First lunch with Dave More - a historical perspective of the last 4 years

Back before I knew what a Blog was, I was in town and trying to do economic development. I was introduced to a local downtown business activist, our blogging buddy - Dave More. Our meeting was about 6 months before the last mayor's race between Brad and Maggie and took place at Quatro's Pizza.

I don't know how many of you have met Dave in person, but he is fit, stringy even and somewhere between my mid-40's and 55 in age. He arrived wearing a nice hat and jacket set, kind of sophisticated look for Carbondale. At the time he was sporting a Shakespeare like goatee, but he likely plagiarized the look. :)

He wanted to talk about redevelopment of downtown Carbondale. He had seen my Angel Investor attempts, including the first Southern Angel's Business Plan contest and thought I might be willing to plow some money into downtown. The problem with developing the Carbondale Main Street area, is that someone owns all the buildings already and they want to keep them. There was nothing to buy, but plenty of open buildings.

I'm going to run down the situation in downtown, before the last mayor's race, from memory. Fell free to let me know where I messed up -
The little building south of Harbaugh's was empty (the people who are there now, were in the second half of Harbaugh's), the building where Bookworld and that Discount Tee-shirt shop are, only had Bookworld. The building that had Kaia now (the old McDonald's) was empty. The old pool hall that has the marginal furniture store was empty, one (or was it two?) of the little houses, that John K owns, was empty. The building on the corner of Illinois and Mill was empty (now Attitude Designs). The old Checkers drive though was for sale at a stupid price and empty. The spot where Gumby's sits now in the 710 building was a post office store, that was out of business right then (but we know what space will rent, they have parking). The Bubble Tea spot was empty. There is a Tee-shirt shop that is owned by the place in Murphy right there, but I think it was in business too. The big spot on Illinois of the Campus Shopping Center was empty, now a sun tanning place. There was an opening or two in that weird strip mall where New Kahalla Garden has a double wide storefront. The Corner Dinner had just opened. The Doctor's office on the corner of College and Illinois was semi-active then. The old Papa C's building (now a law office) just West of Illinois on College was empty. The American Tap was standing and the drug users were pan handling in front of it 24/7. The Varsity Theater was still open, but hasn't been maintained in years (the springs on the chairs were pretty uncomfortable). Everything up the strip going North was pretty much the same, except the old Merlin's Building was for sale and empty, it is now that doggie day care place. The old Tokyo Restaurant building was for sale and empty, now Nights over Egypt.

If you turned right on 13 and headed East on Walnut from 51. The first corner had the old Dairy plant that had the somewhat dysfunctional Motorcycle shop, a detail shop and Southern Recycling. The other corners had the old cleaning plant without a roof and trees growing inside, a set of orange buildings by IV's and an abandon bank drive through building. Continuing down the street, there were a collection of scummy houses, mostly falling down and unloved. A motel that had a claim to fame of hosting an early sex website in the rooms. Where the two auto part stores sit now, there were empty buildings and/or little falling down houses. The paint store was there and Taco Bell, Wendy's, Walgreen's and the Loan shark across the street was there.

As you came back from the Mall on Main, most things are the same. Because these locations were built much later, they work better for the auto based world American as become. Of course the old school was empty then, but owned by the Short MickyD's people.

As you turned West on 13 from 51, things were pretty much as they are today. The Westside is a better place to locate a lawyer or accountant's professional office. Of course, the Hardies was still in business, so that is a loss for the town. Murdale had several open store fronts, but nothing major (they have parking too). Some of the marginal locations were empty or full and are now full or empty, kind of the cycle of life in old gas station kind of locations.


I told Dave at the time, there was nothing much to be down by the two of us in downtown. We discussed the American Tap (Dave is a cheap guy and thought the price was too high for his blood). I had the pleasure of informing Dave which buildings Henry Fisher owned and how there was no chance he was going to be a good owner.

Isn't it interesting what a difference four years makes? A small TIF district and the worst of the blight of the main street area was eliminated. Got rid of the crack house in downtown and every single store front has a business in it, granted that a few have failed and now sit empty.

Dave did something, he started a bike to work day and worked on the farmer's market for downtown. He has been involved with lots of other ideas too, some good and some not as successful. I think he has had a good 4 years. I started a website company that employs 4 or 5 full-time and 4 part-time people, we are even doing well now.

The business districts of the city outside of the Mall area are doing very well, it isn't perfect, but better then you might have hoped back then. The Carbondale Main Street people should be really proud, they really did it.

People who care, capitalism and government setting the table have turned Carbondale's downtown around in just 4 years. Hard work, correct decisions and smarts, teaming with our American capitalist system have resulted in a great improvement in Carbondale.

Is this luck? Lucky, like Chris Lowery, Ed Benyas and Salah Mohammad. Isn't it interesting how superstars create their own luck?

To me results matter and Carbondale's results are fantastic in this area.

Your comments are welcome.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Green Party sits out the mayor's race?

Word on the street is that the Green Party choose, to choose no one, in the Mayor's race. You have to wonder if Sheila did something wrong, if they want to sit out because one of their members isn't running, or if Brad's success and logical moves to make Carbondale greener made them happy.

I voted Green in the last Governor's race (choose honest over dishonest) and Jackson County had the largest concentration of Green voters in the state (on a percentage basis) last election. Their endorsement might have been important.

Wonder what drove that decision.

Has anyone else noticed that the pro-Sheila crowd runs in the face of facts?

I wrote about the Brad's shutdown of the CDBC twice now, there have been no pro-Sheila comments. Oh yeah, that is because once you start talking about accomplishments, Sheila has none beyond pushing for new bike paths in 4 years on the council.

The most important business development step in the last 20 years in Carbondale. It is so important, that it is Sheila's number 1 economic development goal in her platform.

What say you Sheila lovers? You complain about everything I write, until we actually get into actual accomplishments, then you run for the hills. You got anything to contribute here?

Brad Cole is so lucky.

I have been doing research on the Sheila Simon campaign's pitch and it turns out what their message is "Brad economic success is all luck." No matter who was mayor, they would have done as well. Sometimes you have to wonder if they know they are lying or if they are just misguided.

I have grouped a few of the people that I feel are the true superstars in Southern Illinois. Coach Lowery, Ed Benyas, Salah Mohammad, and Brad Cole are among the best performers I know of. I would have included Glenn Poshard too, but I ran out of time because Dave figured it out early.

There is almost no luck to what any of these top performers have done, it is all about hard work and being smart. The same way that Coach Lowery might be recruited to be coach elsewhere, almost every city could use Brad Cole's collection of hard work, knowledge and accomplishments.

It seems disingenuous for Sheila to be claiming that Brad is lucky to deceive the public. I'm going to write up the steps Brad has taken and continues to take to improve Carbondale in this space. Don't believe in luck, believe in hard work.

Of course, your comments are welcome.

Salah Mohammad is lucky.

Salah is the SIU's Distinguished Scholar for 2006 - 2007. Like Chris Lowery and Ed Benyas, a wonderful person who is a pleasure to know. But, I'm sorry he is just lucky (not just because he sat next to my father in math all these years and is a family friend either).

You could claim there aren't many superstar professors who come from a small town in Africa and rise to be an internationally known mathematician, but without great luck this guy wouldn't be anywhere. Without scoring the one of the highest scores in his country, he wouldn't have gone to college (so lucky there), without doing well in college he wouldn't have gone to England for a PhD. All those papers and acclaim are just luck.

Really, anyone in the math department would be as lucky if they just chose the right field of study. Stochastic Analysis is wide open, anyone could do well there. It is like high tech IPO's in the 1990's.

It is almost like SIU is playing spin the bottle when awarding their Distinguished Scholar Awards. Anyone can do what Salah as done, he is just lucky.