Tag Archives: Government waste

I Get My Comments Published in the NYT, Expect Hate Mail

The problem with economics and other soft sciences is that a series of unsubstantiated pronouncements constitute an argument. We have no reason to trust any of these explanations, much less the standard liberal bromide that we need to tax money away from savers and give to spendthrifts. All of these theories are propounded by Keynesians who got the Japanese and Europeans into the pickle in the first place. My problem is that we in the USA have exactly the same trajectory and Keynesians in charge as did the Japanese and Europeans. The throwing money at the dartboard to pick a solution has failed and no one has any better ideas.
Economics, as a “science” does not have the power that would justify allowing the Fed and Congress, or any other central power to engineer the economy. Capitalistic societies have booms and busts, deflations and inflations, localized collapses and even disappearances of productive life. Visit any ghost town or recall the 1840, 1870-90, 1930 deflations, the panics, most short lived and self correcting in the history of the USA.
There may not be anything wrong with deflation. Little people who save can gain by putting money under their mattresses and won’t lose it to inflation. Investors will need to be much more careful to be sure that their projects make sense, our government will struggle and be hampered in its attempts to “help” people.
Finally, under socialism, planned economies, welfare states and the like there are no booms, only chronic busts.

More on Sidewalks; We’re Past Horsemanure.

Sidewalks were first elaborated when dirt roads and horses reigned transportation. Women hated the dust, mud and semidigested oats from streets and so insisted that these be paved and swept daily. In commercial areas the merchants provided walkways for pedestrians to keep the two modes of transportation separate. Walkers could keep their shoes clean.
Later as cars took over the streets, most families did not have a second car but did have an icebox and so women walked to the grocery and kids to the local small school. Sidewalks made sense.
A very few folks still walk; dog walkers, The few using public transit, an oddball like myself who walks to clear his head. I’m alone when I walk from our condo, cross 28th street, and hit my usual haunts, all the while thinking. Occasionally when there is light snow, I emerge from my fog enough to notice that I’m usually the first person to walk on many sidewalks. I should take pictures next winter just to document this failure of government.
After my last blog on grass growing on unused sidewalks, it occurred to me to do a documentary now. We on the commission spent (?) $700,000 in the last few years to line 28th street with sidewalks; “It would allow walkers to patronize those businesses!” I voted in favor because it was “free” money from the Feds or someone.

I biked over and photographed a few segments….
I have included one picture because it is all I can load, but another shows a grape vine all but crossing the sidewalk on a segment opposite Roaring Twenties strip mall. Long grass is growing in cracks and over the edges in one year old sidewalks in front of Fruitland and Lazy Boy. Everywhere some grass grows despite a hot, dry summer.

They say that grass won’t grow on a busy street, but in Kentwood, our ideologically justified sidewalks carry legions of imaginary customers to shop along 28th Street. Images don’t need to step on the cracks, y’know.

Next, our planners will grind up the road and have fantasy horses trotting up and down our street producing fertilizer to encourage very real weed growth and mud just to infuriate the cleaning crews in the grateful stores.

Watch for it.

Planner Counting the Chickens, Our Well Managed City Hall

A valued constituent of mine, Thomas Webb, has just called me about at least the second attempt by the city planner to enter his property to count chickens. Seems that Tom keeps a flock and sells the eggs produced. An number invented by the city planner limits Tom to 50 chickens. Chickens is a slippery term as we know from the battles over adolescence-when does a teenager become a human? And when does a chick become a chicken. The nature of things is that chickens have to be replaced so eggs incubated and hatched, chicks raised and at some point these adolescent birds have “chickenness” conferred on them. But when? Another problem has to do with sexes of the birds. Males get the ax, but male not obvious until they are adults.

In any case, our city planner appeared at Tom’s door a few weeks back stating that he’d heard that Tom’s flock was larger than his sanctioned 50 and that he needed to count the birds. Tom asked whence the information, how did a waxing and waning number of chickens bother anyone much less cause the cosmic order to unravel? He wanted to know what sort of disturbance, anxiety, or nuisance was being caused upon another resident as he would address it immediately. He quite appropriately denied our planner access to his property, and told him beyond any doubt that if he wanted to count chickens on his land, he’d need a warrant from the court. Thursday our planner contacted him again asking to count the chickens and seemed surprised when Thomas made it clear he meant it when he denied him entry because there was no warrant.

It turns out that Tom is leaving Kentwood, (an enormous loss of a vigorous, informed and concerned citizen) and moving to Columbia, SC. The flock will be liquidated within a few days. Even if a warrant is sworn (and what judge would go along with this farce?) and carried out in the usual “government time” there won’t be anything to count.

There are two considerations here. The first concerns the harassment of Mr. Webb by city hall. He had run for mayor 3 years ago and for at large city commissioner last year. Our mayor spent a fair number of taxpayer dollars sending out a letter to voters alleging that it was necessary to correct one of Tom’s campaign issues, all the while ignoring an outright lie told by Tom’s opponent. Is this chicken episode part of a scheme to use political and government resources to pester a governmental official’s opposition?

The other issue has to do with our city planning. Would I be out of line if I were to question whether the $400,000 plus budget (sixteen hundred dollars per workday charged to Kentwood taxpayers) is budgeted to judge the maturity of chickens?

City Hall Wants a Communications Officer; the Real Motives Unmasked. Castration by the Hatch Act.

The next commission meeting is this next Tuesday. On the agenda is a request to approve 78K to hire a “specialist” to communicate good news etc about Kentwood (and here I thought that I did a pretty good job.)

One of the provisions gave me a start. This employee is tasked with “Develop(ing) and execut(ing) campaigns and/or associated materials to support City millage initiatives.”

Wow.

First of all, what millage initiatives or tax increases does City Hall envision. What shortage of funds exists to justify this assault on our benighted taxpayer? And who exactly wants to raise taxes? Someone who promised not to when (s)he was elected?

I’m going to vote against this entire fraud on laws well established nationally and apparently also copied into the Michigan law. (I can’t link for some reason.)

https://www.michigan.gov/documents/wda/00-16_Hatch-Act_454709_7.pdf

Supporting this schema would be against the law and I’ll vote no.

Absentee Ballot Applications Errant

I just got my absentee ballot to vote in the August Primary as did my neighbor. It was addressed correctly enough for me but the application was to vote in Saline, Michigan and the return address would have sent it to that far eastern city.
I called Mr. Dan Kasunic, our city clerk. He is just now realizing that some one else’s applications must have been mixed in with ours, possibly at the printer.
Something similar happened last year when 57 applications lacked a return address. I was one of lucky recipients of that fiasco.
He will send a correct application to me and my neighbor.
Screw ups at City Hall seem to be predictable and not random.

The Silver Line, Form Based Building Codes, the Hard Pressed Taxpayer whom I Throw under the Bus.

 

I’ll start with a direct quote from Wikipedia;

“Form-Based Codes foster predictable built results and a high-quality public realm by using physical form (rather than separation of uses) as the organizing principle, with a lesser focus on land use, through municipal regulations.” (I will ignore the self serving “results in a high-quality” blather in this article.)

It seems that the latest fad in city planning is “The New Urbanism” aka “Smart Cities.” Our Grand Rapids area has bought into it. The idea is that we should live in crowded conditions along linear tracks where benevolent public-private entities arrange our jobs, leisure, shopping and public transportation, all of it ‘’walkable.”

Where to begin.

The public transit is easiest; the government built the Silver Line along our western border on South Division (32 million dollars) and we’re taxed directly millions for its operating budget. It is also planned to restrict the traffic flow along this road.

The rest of this scheme envisions private investors building apartments, stores, restaurants, offices and factories along this corridor so that a population of young, technically savvy  fictive entrepreneurs would move in, start businesses, leave a low carbon footprint and eschew urban sprawl.

In the matter of building the utopia, these urban planning romantics should be embarrassed that Kentwood and most of the Grand Rapids urban area has been built over many years under rules imposed by a constantly changing cadres of academically trained urban planners. The result looks like Fort Dix, NJ-you know, vast groupings of uniform buildings all constructed by the low bidder, painted the same color, bland and aligned, used for the same purpose standing like so many soldiers at attention. A few hundred yards away stands a grouping of a different generation of boring structures representing  the fashion of the day when it was produced by government fiat.

The planning and zoning commissions needed to distance themselves from evidence of their past sins, and sought salvation by trying to copy the few interesting portions of the urban area like the west side of GR and the Hill District that had been built before planning and zoning desecrations.

They think that abandoning the zoning that forced landowners to restrict the uses of their land to do what the government wants to now forcing builders to build structures in shapes and configurations that planners favored but allowing a wider range of uses (housing, retail trade, manufacturing)  all in the same neighborhood would rebuild deteriorated areas. Thus the hallowed “form based building codes.” All new building would be forced to have the same general architecture, in this case looking like what was built during the horse and buggy era,  but would be allowed to have different uses.

Cute.

The planning commission has been studying this for years as have Grand Rapids and Wyoming. Wyoming has actually re-written some of their codes to implement this advance of civilization. Now our planning commission wants 25K to hire a consulting firm to re-write our codes. I asked why we just couldn’t rip off the Wyoming codes? The answer was that our planning commission wanted to do it again, uniquely, or some such balderdash.

I voted with everyone else to authorize the expenditure and for this I apologize. In my defense, my “nay” would have only prolonged the farce. And remember the ancient saw, “Against stupidity the gods contend in vain.”

Thoughts on Improving the Security and Processes  in the City.

We will have our annual bout with the city’s auditor, with their emphasis on proper procedures for city governments, next week. They will recommend stuff and we will promise to correct the problems. I have no idea how well we follow up on their recommendations, see below on tickle files.

Maybe we should consider further measures beyond the usual bland stuff.

We in Kentwood have had at least two employees steal while handling money, one to the tune of at least $300,000, so it’s worth our while to consider ways of preventing fraud. I have no reason to doubt the honesty of any of our employees, but it is prudent to minimize their exposure to the occasions of sin, to quote the Baltimore Catechism no. 2. There are other general problems that emerge only as poorly articulated feelings, and so I sit here blogging.

I”ve talked it over with Commissioner DeMaagd, our auditor Peter Heffner and with candidate Thomas Webb. The following are a composite of their ideas;

  1. Apparently individuals can accumulate vacation days without limit and so take a lump sum of money when they retire in lieu of time off. One problem arises when an individual accumulates months of vacation and we have to pay a huge lump sum at termination or retirement. It is capable of wrecking budgets. No one seems to have a handle on how large a liability that we face, but it could be millions. The related problem is that an individual who never or seldom takes vacation might be using his/her monopolizing of a job to commit fraud. If someone else were to do that job in his absence, the fiddle might be unmasked. Somewhere, a long time ago, I was warned to suspect the overly zealous employee, the one who stays late to do the job especially well, when no one is looking. We need a policy of restricting the number of vacation days carried forward, and of forcing employees to take their vacations for more than one reason.
  2. A system of spot checks, of having someone with forensic skills from the outside, take a close look at employees who handle money, at their books, practices, finances, follow up on where and who get checks and the like, on an unannounced and random basis. Perhaps there are accounting firms out there that we could put on retainer for a few thousand. They could do random audits during their slack times, and we could pay them a daily rate. It would take a lot of daily rates to be more expensive than the $300,000 loss from 3 years ago. If no such firm exists, maybe we should start one.
  3. Move people around from one job to another. Extensively cross train them and have them do each other’s jobs on a rotating basis. It would, as an intended effect, break up fraudulent practices, but also prevent burnout and boredom,  and would give employees a better understanding of the how the enterprise works. Employees would have more skills on their resumes and improve their job prospects. The DPW already do this. I’m told that each of their employees has skills to fix trucks, cars, broken windows, have CDL3 so that they can drive snowplows and the like. Our police force has a similar provision in which each uniformed officer has to serves several years as a detective. Firemen inspect, counsel school kids and install fire detectors.
  4. I, and others, are vaguely troubled by statements, promises, projections that are made by management and officials, and that are subsequently lost and forgotten. What did happen to the internal cost accounting from 18 months ago, or the problem with Kentwood’s clay soil not absorbing storm water? We, on the commission, need a tickle file maintained by the city clerk or the mayor’s office so that items could be brought back to the commission on a regular basis.
  5. I have been told that we hire a snow plow service that does a sloppy job, yet this firm continues to win bids and gets taxpayer dollars. There should be a mechanism for reporting and correcting this low level fraud. Certainly complaints lodged by commissioners should be heeded and if not, heads should roll….As it is, commissioners, those who will actually speak are routinely ignored or placated. Perhaps a new commission will correct this paternalistic practice.