Friday, April 08, 2005

Waving the Flag

The official flag of the City of New Albany, Indiana Posted by Hello

If you have an interest in displaying this flag at your home or business, please let me know by e-mail or by posting a comment below. A number of us have talked about doing this and I think it's time to start waving the flag.

Wonk alert

I suppose it has been available all along, but New Albany's own Sen. Connie Sipes (D) has forwarded to me the following link that will allow us to monitor the floor action in both houses of the Indiana legislature during the session.

If you want to actually see and hear the outrageous Raid on Harrison County live in all its glory, log in about 10 a.m. each weekday (although probably not on Fridays) so you can verify what you read on the blogs.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Mark your calendars

April 16, 10 a.m.

That's the date and time for Southern Indiana's celebration of Earth Day. Where is the celebration, you ask?

At the Falls of the Ohio State Museum/Park/etc., and it's the type of event we've waited all winter for. Destinations Booksellers will be just one of the exhibitors there on Saturday. Fun, games, enlightenment for all ages are on tap, so join us.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Just pay attention

There's a clear dividing line between members of the City Council, and it's not necessarily ideological. Certain members make a concerted effort to pay attention to what goes on at the meetings.

At-large CM Jack Messer is one of those; observers can see that Messer continues to grow in his role and his competence at the job he was elected to do. He does this by paying attention, doing his homework, and speaking out only when he has something constructive to say.

In contrast, CM Steve Price believes that it is his job to demonstrate his ignorance at each and every council meeting. That's not necessarily a pejorative judgment. Ignorance is not stupidity. I'm ignorant in so many ways and in so many areas of how this city is supposed to be run (and how it's actually run) that I've taken it on myself to educate myself before speaking out. This Web log is as much a plea for schooling as it is a soapbox for expression.

But education is, to at least two CMs, considered to be a disqualification for the legislative branch of city government, as measured by the good ol' boy jests offered at almost every meeting by 1st District council member Dan Coffey, jests that are greeted with good-natured chuckling by more than one of his colleagues.

One good thing about Monday's meeting: CM Coffey refrained from attacking education, although I admit I missed the 6:30 work session. Perhaps his congenital disdain for improving the mind oozed out during that gathering. Perhaps someone could let me know.

One note on atmosphere before we get to the line-by-line detail and commentary.

Our erstwhile friend, Leonard Pinth-Garnell, would have been disappointed (?) to discover that "Bad One Woman Theater" had been pre-empted. Not only that, the "Bolovschak Experiment" in citizen journalism seems to have come to an end, if only temporarily. Apparently, unless Valla Ann wants to preserve her regular call-and-response with CM Coffey, the all-seeing eye of the video camera is no longer a critical element of good government. Valla Ann, I'm sure some worthy will step forward with a contribution that could be used to shoot more footage for your incipient campaign for mayor.

From here on, it gets a little wonky, folks. - Ed.

1. It was proposed to council on first reading to amend Ordinance G-04-27 Code 34.01. The amendment would adjust the reimbursement for employee-incurred mileage expenses to correspond to the newest federal allowable deduction amount: 40.5 cents/mile.

I'm not sure where I stand on this administrative change; all I know is I don't like the solution discussed Monday night.

The federal allowable deduction is a reasonable, independent assessment of the costs of operating a vehicle. I do believe the federal government reimburses its employees for business mileage at this rate, as established by the IRS. But no business or other government agency is obligated to pay this rate. Few do. Using the IRS calculation is just a fix-it-and-forget-it measure for some employers. No bargaining unit would quibble with a reimbursement at that level, and progressive employers adopt that rate.

As objective as that rate is (up 3 cents over last year), I'm not persuaded it's a necessary adjustment. But if it is, the solution under discussion is wrong-headed.

CM Coffey is proposing to allow 40.5 cents/mile reimbursement to the two city employees who use their personal vehicles as a daily part of their jobs: An unnamed building inspector (Bob Lenz?) and the city weights and measures inspector (didn't know we had one). But as for other city employees, including members of council, the city clerk, police officers and firefighters, and others, the Wizard wants to freeze the reimbursement rate. Is this another anti-education move? For continuing education and conferences with other municipalities is likely the only time other city employees seek mileage reimbursement for using their personal vehicles. Do we want to create additional disincentives for city workers who want to learn more?

The proposed bifurcation of reimbursement rates is a bad idea. Establish one rate for all city employees. Don't start setting up classes of employees. It smacks of favoritism. Set the new rate or freeze it, but don't create a bookkeeping nightmare and worker resentment. Whether you drive 100 miles a day or 100 miles a year for the city, the reimbursement rate should be the same. Anything else smacks of political patronage and favoritism, and it will come back to bite you on the keister.

By the way, CM Coffey claims he would never seek reimbursement for mileage when he travels on city business. We might ask: How about lodging and meals? What about airfare? Or does handling the constituents of the 1st and 3rd Districts prevent Mr. Coffey from ever taking advantage of the educational benefits of meeting with other cities?

2. The council established a committee to work with attorneys to propose a comprehensive revision of city ordinances. CM Messer volunteered to chair the committee, which is designed to cull those ordinances that have no application in 21st-century New Albany. I'm sure Mr. Messer would welcome your suggestions, so get right to work at:$fn=default.htm$3.0

3. The ordinance enforcement officer proposal was set for amendment on first reading Monday night. The amendment would define the salaries for the OEO and the part-time paralegal required to make the OEO effective. In brief, the p.t. paralegal would take about $15,000 a year from the budgeted $46,000, leaving something in the neighborhood of $25-30,000 for the OEO salary. Will that be enough to hire an effective officer? That's about what our City Clerk makes, too, which I find to be a shamefully low salary for such an important position in a city this size.

FYI: City Clerk Marcey Wisman has followed through on her promise and has launched a new City Clerk's Web site at

3A. A better use of council's time might have been a request to City Attorney Shane Gibson to create a system for reporting complaints to the OEO. Every complaint to the police is tagged with a number, and reporting citizens and others can monitor what actions, including patrol visits, have been taken, subject to investigative and other confidential concerns. Shouldn't a complainant be able to check on a) whether the complaint has been received, b) whether the complaint has been investigated, c) whether the officer determined a violation of the ordinance, d) whether the matter is being resolved through negotiation, citation, or litigation, and e) what the final resolution is for the complaint and what further action the city might be planning?

4. Under the pressure of the unknown, CM Steve Price cracked Monday night. During a public hearing that was wedged in between the council's opening ceremonies and the business portion of the meeting, the city parks director stepped up to ask the council to authorize the use of funds allocated from existing taxes in the cumulative parks fund, a capital expenditure fund that is intended to be used for acquisitions of parks, master planning for parks, and improving parks. These funds are completely separate from operating funds, which call for a measured response from the council in allocating the uses of general fund and grant monies.

In essence, Bill Koehler was asking for a pro forma approval of money that can ONLY be used to acquire and improve parks in the city.

CM Price, failing to understand the nature of these monies, began a "sky-is-falling" diatribe to stop this money from being spent. His take: Since the city is unsure of what its operating budget numbers will be, this capital/improvement money should be squirreled away for a rainy day. And, boy, does Price expect a deluge. He as much as threatened the parks operating budget, reasoning that since they have money to build playgrounds, they should be cut off from operating fund money to operate the same playgrounds. The way I read it, Price doesn't want Joe Kraft Park to get a new rest room and playground, he doesn't want to pay the bill for the Phase I archaelogical survey for the Cannon Acres complex, and he doesn't want any master planning or surveys done.

Now, I'm concerned that the city will be put on short rations, too, but at least I understand which fund that money comes from. This particular parks appropriation comes from a completely separate, fully sound, fully collected fund.

The selfless CM Coffey demanded that the rest rooms at the park nearest his home be unlocked during operating hours. The parks director noted that last summer, the facilities were, in fact, unlocked, but that didn't stop Coffey from grandstanding. He demanded that he be given a key to the wash rooms so he could personally lock and unlock them each day.

Terribly dissatisfied with what he called the promises of the parks department to address his complaints, Coffey chose Monday night to take his stand and voted to disallow the use of any parks money for planning, acquisition, and improvements. Price joined him in voting "no," and three other CMs elected to qualify their "aye" votes on first reading with the caveat that they were not prepared to approve this appropriation.

If this isn't demagoguery, nothing is. Stopping the expenditure of monies from the cum/cap parks fund because the general fund is at risk is like firing a firefighter because a police officer took a bribe. Nonetheless, CMs Coffey and Price decided last night was the night to stick it to the parks. If anyone knows what other reasons they might have, please enlighten me. While you're at it, explain the reluctance of three other CMs to wholeheartedly endorse the parks capital improvement plan.

5. CM Kochert discovered, with the help of CM Messer and city operations director Tony Toran, that the city has no ordinance preventing school corporation buses being parked on the narrowest streets of the city. Kochert related that complaints to the schools corp. had yielded nothing. Apparently, school bus drivers are allowed now to take buses home with them, and they are not required to park them in off-street spaces. On many of the inner-city's streets, that's more than an inconvenience - it's a hazard. Expect Kochert to present a new ordinance in short order, giving the Board of Public Works the authority to correct the problem.

6. Volunteer Hoosier applauds the appointment of Al W. Goodman as business representative for the council to the Urban Enterprise Association. What Al is doing at his shop, with the old Moser Tannery, and at the Loop Island Wetlands is one of the great unsung efforts percolating in this city. The Renaissance Begins, indeed. Al is just the man to add to this board, especially at a time when the UEA, UEZ, and Develop New Albany are in a state of transition.

7. Mayor Garner, in his brief remarks to council, continued his amazing comeback from the annus horribilis that was 2004, showing a mastery of the material and a brevity that, after last night's stuffy meeting, was as welcome as a spring breeze. He alerted the council that the state should be returning the 2003 audit soon (perhaps even as you read this) and that they should all be ready for a quick meeting to learn the details. As needed, the mayor cleared up much of the confusion engendered by Messrs. Coffey and Price, who still, apparently, don't believe in studying before the test.

8. VH takes note that council president Gahan continues to grow in his role as leader of the council and, except for his excessive deference to the long-windedness of his colleagues on the west end of town, runs a pretty good meeting. FREE ADVICE: Mr. Gahan, you don't really need to be so apologetic when announcing your preference for concise communications from the public. You weren't elected to conduct free-for-alls at council meetings.


Is their unwillingness to approve the cum/cap parks appropriation a sign of progressivism or regressivism?
Is their failure to perform this ministerial function an abdication of their responsibilities as council members?
Did the voters in the 3rd District elect Steve Price, or did they choose to have 1st District CM Dan Coffey do the heavy lifting for two districts?
Are some members of this council unclear on their roles in city government? It seems to me that the executive branch should be making payroll and other administrative decisions within a dollar budget appropriated by council. Council doesn't need to be specifying the pay rates for the OEO and the associated paralegal.
Is it time to remove the ordinance requiring council to approve all monthly expenditures over $500? Is there something magic about that number? It seems to me that increasing the limit to $1,000 or $2,000/month would still give council sufficient control and oversight of the administration.

Live from New Albany...

To paraphrase, politics is easy; comedy is hard. And live comedy is the hardest of all. In contemplating this week's report on the City Council meeting, I ran a mental filmstrip, flashing on Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, and Edgar Bergen and Mortimer Snerd.

I realized that, as I do tend to lack the light touch, you would be better served if I left the humor to a more skillful satirist and concentrated on the wonkiest aspects of the evening.

For now, just know that little of great moment transpired Monday evening in the third floor assembly room. Unless you are a student of interpersonal dynamics and the fine art of demagoguery, you were probably better off watching the NCAA final.

Slight movement on the flying monkeys front (O-E-O) and a heads-up on the state's 2003 audit were the high points. A halftime show paying tribute to our triumphant sewer monarch was a nice breather from the arcanities.

But it wasn't those that dominated the evening. It was the inanities. And now, we interrupt this Webcast for news from our back-on-the-job correspondent and favorite publican...