Sunday, January 25, 2009

Karnak on Sports

I had to go to archives for this one, but Jan. 27, 2007 I wrote "Karnak at the Council". I include from that, the following quote:

"In other action, Council approved, as expected, the tennis courts deal. I seem to have gotten their attention by appealing, tongue in cheek, for funds to provide the San Angelo Billiards Association, of which I am a member, a central pool hall with say, 24 regulation size tables. Discussing this later with individual members, I was surprised that almost none seemed to have considered the possibility of creating a Facilities Corp. to deal with the now inevitable requests from every sports group in town. “If tennis gets money, why can't (curling, archery, paintball, pick your pet)”, will be the litany. Tennis got a rather substantial sum, by the way, $750,000 total. "With that precedent, I can promise you other sports enthusiasts will be appearing before Council, hat in hand, asking that said hat be filled with public money."

Well, whodathunkit, Council is now wrestling with funding for a Little League request, they want money. I think it's time we got serious about the Sports Facilities Corp. option. This is provided for, dare I say, encouraged by Local Gov't Code Chap. 303 of Texas Statutes.

If Council approves such a Corporation it would provide future sports related supplicants an opportunity and give Council a buffer between them and direct tax expenditures. The Facilities Corp. would be empowered to take a proposal, issue bonds, sell them and repay them, all without a link to the City budget. It would say to future applicants "bring us a good business plan, we can issue bonds and see if anybody bites".

Yes, we have a troubled economy, but part of that, people with money are looking for some place more productive than "under the bed" to put investments. Every time a sports proposal is brought forth we hear all sorts of optimistic numbers thrown about as to the "economic impact" of (pick your pet sport). Having applicants first come before a Sports Facilities Corp. board would put a little market discipline into this numerology.

There would always remain the option of after review, coming before Council, hat abjectly in hand, and making a case for one's pet project being worthy of taxpayer subsidy. Council would, one hopes, have better numbers to play with. Going back to tennis, I own one tennis ball. I use it to fluff up the goosedown in my coat when I tumble-dry it. Why is my tax money paying for lights on tennis courts I will never use? Otra vez, I love badmiton, an impossible game to play in West Texas wind. Where are my badmition courts?

This Council has made great strides toward future fiscal responsibility in capital improvements, including a Charter Amendment to make some of that improvement binding on future Councils. We should start subjecting sports related items to a similar budget discipline. The day of simply stating "it's for the kids and it will bring in a kazillion dollars in economic impact" needs to be put on the far back burner.

I'm not trying to be the Grinch here. I'd love to see more kids active in sports of all kinds. Try HEB on a weekend, we have too many kids whose girth equals or exceeds their height. When I was a kid, I did Little League, swimming, wrestling in school, martial arts on my own. Best I recall, once the facility was built, it was up to the league to support itself. Sell ads, wash cars, cajole sponsors, that was up to us.

There is not a lot of down-side to a responsibly managed Sports Facilities Corp. Best case, a good plan is presented, bonded, bond-holders get paid, we have a new sport ongoing, and might actually see some favorable "economic impact". Worst case, the business plan falls short and we have a vacant field of dreams. Key word is "responsible". While Chap. 303 protects the authorizing entity (City of San Angelo) from direct liability, IF we put a bunch of over-enthusiastic cowboys in charge and a few bonds go south, that could indirectly affect the city by tainting us with potential City bond investors. Upside of that scenario the "sponsoring entity" can rein in the corporation as needed. Should the corporation issue an ill-advised bond, well, we can't unscramble that egg, but we could fire the chef so to speak and keep him from scrambling any more.

As Karnak predicted in 2007, the tennis precedent has encouraged others to come before Council, empty hat in hand. We should take a good look at the Chap 303 option for future funding and screening of proposals.

Monday, January 19, 2009

School Single Member Districts

The school board has something interesting on the agenda for Tuesday's meeting. They want to change the boundaries for SMD 1 and 4. I can understand their concerns. That said, I really have to question their timing. They seem to think they can have all this done in time for the May election? Do they think they will have the DOJ approval back before February 7th?

You may be wondering: if the Election is on May 9th, and early voting starts on April 27th, where does Feb. 7th come in? That's the the first day you can file to run for office. Aren't the legal boundaries in effect on that date the ones you would have to use for that election?

This also seems premature when we have a census coming up next year with mandatory redistricting soon after the results are in. This whole exercise will have to be redone in about three years.

Add in all the work that will have to be done by the secretary of state's office and the local elections office to redo the voter registration records, get updated registration cards to the voters, and get the voters informed before April, and I see this as being a lot of extra work for very little real benefit to the voters and citizens of San Angelo.

The school board has valid concerns about the growth of the Bluffs and the Central vs Lake View mix in the districts. These are not new problems. They could have been addressed when the last redistricting was done. They will need to be readdressed during the next redistricting. Now, less than a month before the boundaries need to be in place for an election, is not the time to make these changes.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Positive Blues

Friday night Barkeep went to the Rich DelGrasso event, the season finale of the Cactus Music Series. While I was in North Carolina in the 70s I got to know a lot of mandolin players in the bluegrass field. Between that, and a real love of blues, I had to catch this act. Folks, it was time and money well spent, my thanks to everyone who made it happen.

DelGrasso is not only a master of his art, he was a communicator par excellance. Mixing music with history, playing a variety of mandolins and guitars, by show's end one felt a personal bond with the man. His years as a teacher showed, and a world class teacher he was. I hope we can make this man at least an annual visitor.

Along with the concert, a term that doesn't really do justice to the experience, DelGrasso spent time at Central with music students from Central and Lakeview High Schools earlier in the day. His website, describes this "Blues in the Schools" program in more detail, but it is a loose organization of musicians willing to share their passion and time with students.

In what turned into a two-way treat, he invited three high school students he had just met that day to sit in during the second set. No rehearsal, no music sheets, just jamming. We saw Greg Ponder on trumpet, Tom Blackwood on sax, and Brianna Velasquez on bass. Tentative for a couple bars, these kids settled in and played right back at DelGrasso. The applause was not just polite noise for the "home team", these guys were good! I was able to speak to them afterwards, and they were lit up, I doubt any of them will ever forget this event. My personal history was as a high school thespian, and I can tell you, when we got a standing O for "Zoo Story", well, that was a rush I can remember like it was yesterday even though it was back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

The students gave an enthusiastic thanks to their music teachers, Adam Chappell and Mike Berry. We are blessed to have these teachers.

DelGrosso, who recently moved to Texas from Los Angeles, made a point of telling us how much he appreciated an active arts program here. As part of California's budget crunch, there is no arts curriculum there anymore in public schools.

Just in case I have made the impression that I am all about budget in the school district, let me correct that. Yes, I want to see high school graduates who can read and make change without a calculator, and I want it done within a responsible budget, but arts are an important part of becoming a well-rounded adult. Fortunately, we have a good program here, as demonstrated Friday night. We want to make sure we keep it that way in the face of an economic downturn.

Texas is nowhere close to the budget debacle California is facing. The Legislature will have less income to play with this term, but within the limits of our "Rainy Day fund"...this time. I personally predict they will find away to extend the bond guarantee program that districts with new bonds were counting on, and continue EDA support for school bonds. As voters, we need to keep those cards and letters coming, so to speak, that we don't regard arts programs as frills subject to cutting in the education budget.

I stress, no one on SAISD Board is making any noise about eliminating or cutting arts, I don't expect it anytime soon. Going back a few years and a different Board, I would not have expected cuts in Vocational Ed, but we got them. One particular item to watch; the new Admin/Science Lab building at Central will necessarily displace the existing home of the arts depatment. This will need to be done in a way that allows for continued participation in arts programs by as many students as we can interest in them.

Extra-curricular does not translate to irrelevant. Aside from the well-rounded part, any program that grabs a student's interest will help keep that kid in school. I remember a guy in high school, very good auto mechanic, this kid was making a grown man's wage after school and weekends working on cars, had a better reputation than men twice his age. He was ready to drop out, work full time in his sophomore year. My Drama teacher, Mrs. Richards (who coincidentally spent two years in San Angelo while her military husband learned Russian at Goodfellow-small world) detected something more than class clown in him and talked him into a part in a comedy we put on. Turned out, he had a comedic presence that came across the footlights, got the most laughs of anyone in this little farce, and he was hooked. I really believe he hung in and graduated high school because he was having a ball in drama. That degree probably didn't enhance his earnings much, he went on to own his own garage, but I know he still treasures the time he spent on stage.

I have good expectations of the Legislature, but if need be, we should be prepared to support the arts in our schools locally, a public/private effort if needed. My Drama club in high school, we had an auditorium and the faculty advisor, but for costumes and scenery and travel to competitions, we washed cars, sold tickets, begged, borrowed and stole (a little bit). If SAISD can find $6 million for athletic showers, we can fund a lively arts program.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Economic impact

Economic development has been a hot topic since before I arrived here just short of 20 years ago. All local government organizations have been working hard to improve the overall economy of the area and have made special efforts to target areas such as downtown and the northern retail corridors. They have even created an area with a special tax status called a TIRZ. The property tax from this area gets special handling to promote and encourage commercial and retail investment and development. Combine this with the interest caused by the new Super Center, and there is a possibility of some real economic growth on the north side of town. That is, of course, if someone doesn't throw a monkey wrench into the works.

The new Super Center in the north part of town should be a center of retail and commercial activity. There has been new construction there recently, and new businesses have moved in. Some momentum is being developed. One of the prime locations for this momentum to expand is the old Walmart building. It is currently on the tax roles at $1.5 million and could easily double or triple that value when new businesses move in. There is a problem, though. It seems that the Commissioners court is looking at that property for expansion with offices, a maintenance facility, and outside storage. Somehow this seems very counterproductive. First off, it's taking a large piece of property off the tax roles. This is a property that should have very little trouble moving, even in these hard times. Second, maintenance facilities with outside storage seem like a poor fit for a potentially booming retail area. There are plenty of alternative buildings and sites available and most should be available at an attractive price. We can start with the old Circuit City building which has to be in one of the worst retail locations in the city. County offices and facilities might be a good use for that property. There are 5 potential buildings on the Chamber of Commerce site ranging from 52,000 sq ft to 99,000 sq ft. (the old Walmart build is 85,000). Many of these are already industrial/commercial sites. Many have been vacant for much longer than the old Walmart building.

I don't understand why they are even looking at the Walmart building right now. There is a lot of potential for the county to share maintenance facilities with either the city or the school district. There is plenty of space that will probably never be used at the industrial park. When the new library is finished and occupied, space will be freed up in the Edd B Keyes building. There will also be available office space in the new library. Maybe we should wait until the library is completed and see what extra space is really needed by the county for offices before we spend county taxpayers money to take this valuable property off the tax roles and hurt the economic growth of the north side of town.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Scam Alert

A friend of mine received a letter in the mail today from a UBI Payment Services. The envelope says it was mailed from Singapore. The "sponsor" is said to be Windsor-Morgan & Parker, in Australia. The letter implies you have won $5000.00 if you return the release form and fulfill contest requirements. BEWARE.

On the back of the letter, in very pale type that is "almost" uncopyable, the official rules say this contest will not be mailed into Texas. It also says you must send a copy of your passport or identification to the sponsor to confirm age and identity. This is an identity theft attempt. A quick google of either UBI Payment Services or Windsor-Morgan & Parker generates many pages of hits, all showing this to be a scam.

It seems this has been circulating for several months. It's not the only scam such as this out there. If you receive a letter from out of the country saying you have won a contest you didn't even enter, don't respond to it. You might want to do an google search just for fun, but this is an old scam that predates the internet. One variation on this will send you a check with a requirement that you send them back some amount of money for taxes or as a "processing fee." In a few weeks, it will turn out that the "certified check" was no good, and you could have a several thousand dollar hole in your account. Don't get fooled.

There are, unfortunately, evil people out there using the current economic situation to rip people off. Some of them really are crooks. Be careful out there.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Comedy Channel Lives!

Happy New Year! I usually limit my screeds to local issues, that is the purpose of this Blog. However...I hear that a spat over fees between cable providers might close out the Comedy Channel, so I look to other sources.

Locally we are in a sort of political doldrum, and the national scene is providing just entirely too much fun to ignore. I refer, of course to the new wrinkle out of Illinois, with embattled, but still serving, Governor Rod Blagojevich going back on his promise (whodathunkit) not to appoint a Senator to replace President-elect Obama. I promise, this is not a partisan screed, one of the former Illinois Governors now incarcerated is Republican. Corruption in Illinois is an equal opportunity sport.

One solid prediction; Blago's appointee, Roland Burris will be seated, Harry Reid didn't do his homework before he said otherwise. Shakier prediction; Blagojevich will likely be impeached and removed, but a criminal conviction is looking about even odds, maybe less.

For openers, Obama appears quite clean on this, if anything his office's over-reaction has kept that in the news. The Blagojevich tapes released so far have Blago complaining plainly and in unrepeatably salty language that Obama won't give anything of value.

Just to set the players, a bit of Illinois history. Blagojevich served three terms as Ill-5 Congressman. This is the district held since 2002 by Rahm Emanuel, Obama's new Chief of Staff. Blagojevich gave it up to run for Governor in '02. His main opponent was Paul Vallas, also white, but very tight with Jesse Jackson Sr. (not to be confused with Jesse Jackson Jr., 7 term Congressman, Ill-2, and confessed "candidate 5" in the tapes). Since District 5 contained the predominately black Washington wards, Vallas was favored. Then comes a late entry, Roland Burris, former Atty General and first black candidate elected to any state-wide office. The black vote splits, Blago wins by 26,000 votes, with Burris polling 363k of presumptive Vallas votes. Note: my 2002 Congressional Directory, Blago had the same ridiculous hair.

Until about three days ago, Burris (71) was a well-respected, retired senior statesman of Ill. politics, not a whiff of scandal. In a state where an FBI wiretap is almost a badge of honor, that speaks well of him.

Now Blago did sound guilty as sin on the tapes released to the public, but two points there: we have a Governor TALKING about selling a Senate appointment, but drunks and fools talk about all sorts of nonsense; and Blago is still the sitting Gov. solely empowered by Illinois law to appoint. Think on the cases one reads about where some fellow thinks to rid himself of an inconvenient wife by termination with extreme prejudice. The lawmen always provide a willing "hit-man" to take the money before actually busting this freedom-seeking murderous hubby. Thanks to an over-eagar Patrick Fitzgerald, all we have is a fool, definitely drunk on power, TALKING about selling a seat. Fitz might make a case on a vague conspiracy charge, but his office is now seeking an extension of the requisite 30 days between arrest and indictment. Seems we have a fool for a prosecutor to go with the fool of a Governor.

The controlling case law here is going to be Powell v McCormack, and here is where Harry Reid should have done his homework. Article 1, sec. 5 of the Constitution says, "Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns, and Qualifications of its own members..."

For those too young to remember, Adam Clayton Powell was a flamboyent Congressman from New York's Harlem district, never bothered to conceal his multitudinous criminal enterprises, but much beloved by his constituents who were proud to have him. He ran his last campaign from Bimini, he could only sneak back to Harlem on weekends as there were live warrants out for him. The Congress of the day, (McCormack being Speaker of the House) tried to refuse to seat Powell, Powell went to the Supreme Court. SCOTUS ruled that the election and return was beyond dispute and it limited "Qualifications" to those needed to run for the office. Now the second paragraph of sec 5 allows either house to expell a member by two-thirds vote, which the House of that day promptly did.

Unlike Powell, Burris has done nothing to deserve expulsion by whatever margin. Think what one will of Blago, he IS the person empowered to make the appointment. If Majority Leader Reid tries to block Burris, the man has already said he will go to court, and I am joined by several of the top law school deans in opining that Burris has a slam-dunk winner. Once in, does Reid think he can find enough Republican Senators who aren't too busy laughing their asses off to join an expulsion motion? Against a man who would then be the ONLY serving black Senator? You really want the Republican cavalry riding to the rescue of a black Democrat Senator? Comes showtime, some of Reid's Democrats will bail out on that vote. Surely you jest Harry.

This would be a poor time to open the question of "Qualifications" for the new administration. In 1972, VP-elect Joe (not the plumber) Biden became the fifth member of a small club started by Henry Clay in 1806: Senators elected prior to their Constitutionally required 30th birthday. Not necessarily a bad thing; Clay is recognised as one of the five most influential Senators in history. Among other things, he introduced the mint julep to DC and opposed Texas Statehood. Biden ducked it by not taking his Oath until he was of age, becoming the fifth and most recent member of the "under-age" Senatorial club

Speaking of appointments, the last time we elected a Senator as President, JFK had the Massachusetts Gov. appoint his college roommate for two years to hold the seat until brother Teddy was 30 and eligible. A Barkeep Political Junkie Gold Star to the first person to name that interim appointment. A Lone Star Political Junkie Gold Star for the name of LBJ's appointive replacement. Best I know, the only time both Prez and VP have been sitting Senators.

Special election has been thrown about as an Illinois solution, but that can't happen in time for this election cycle. As to the general idea of Governors appointing term fillers in such circumstance, only three states provide for special election. Alaska, Arizona, and interestingly, a recent entry from 2004, Massachusettes. Yes, the same Mass. that had its Gov. put JFK's roommate in the Senate. In 2004, the legislature overrode Gov. Romney's veto to change to special elections and prevent his being able to make the appointment in case John Kerry won. Additional trivia, completely below the media radar screen, Biden has prevailed upon his Governor to appoint a term-filler to hold his seat until Biden's son returns from Iraq in time to run in 2010. Ain't political dynasties fun?

Hope this digression from local affairs has been at least interesting. I suspect that if I can dig this up online overnight, the powers that be have their political ops whispering reality at them by now. Beg pardon, but this is the sort of high humor political junkies live for.