Right Thing Done Rightly

Posted: July 21, 2017 by NewAlbanist in Uncategorized

If you’ve followed this blog the past 2 days, you may want a status update.

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I no longer have reason to believe that the work of the Institute for Social Research will be impeded in New Albany. And that’s a good thing. Thanks to all who made this happen.

Suffice it to say that the city has exercised its regulatory responsibilities in a courteous and professional manner. As an advocate in this matter, representing only myself but on behalf of a situation I saw as a misunderstanding, I was at all times treated with courtesy and respect.

 

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Jeff Gahan’s appointees could use a refresher course in due process. After all, it is a tenet of representative government and basic justice.

Due Process concept

Yesterday we reported on a decision by the city’s Board of Public Works and Safety (BoW), appointed by Gahan and chaired by former mayor Warren Nash (1971-75) that appears to thwart the work of one of the nation’s most-respected social research institutions.

I believe that decision was misguided and does not comport with the relevant city ordinance. A strong case can be made that the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan (ISR) needn’t have even appeared before the board and I will try to make that case tonight at New Albany’s city council meeting and, if necessary, at next week’s BoW meeting (10 a.m., city hall).

Further, due process requires that a board with such broad public responsibility state its reason for withholding its approval. In the absence of a defensible rationale, that approval should be forthcoming. After all, the relevant city ordinance says nothing about prohibiting the requested activities – if it’s applicable in the case at all, it’s only about regulating them.

Witnesses report that even before the meeting on Tuesday, Mr. Nash showed sheer annoyance that the ISR notification letter had been placed on the agenda. He griped that “Kathy (Cousins) knows we never approve these.” He went on to reject the notification, saying, “Since I’ve been on the board, we’ve never approved anything like this.”

That’s a pretty sad state of affairs, isn’t it? The body charged with evaluating and approving solicitations (again, this is hardly applicable) has erected barriers to even be heard.

The ordinance, again, does not ban solicitations at all. That is not its intent. There is a legitimate public purpose in regulating and, perhaps, limiting door-to-door solicitation. And it addresses people who are engaged in the business of selling or canvassing for business purposes.

At one point during the meeting proper, I’m told that Mr. Nash inquired of his colleagues about whether the “council has given us any guidance.” He was informed that the council had specifically addressed so-called “roadblocks” wherein teams flock to key intersections to collect money in buckets. But no guidance regarding the solicitation ordinance had been given.

I’ll state again that the mayor could remedy this injustice easily and by the end of the business day. He could provide direction.

In its absence, I hope to engage the council tonight in a discussion of the ordinance. Over the years, efforts at cleaning up the city ordinances have failed miserably. But if the council can send a clear signal tonight that the ordinance does not apply in this instance, it may go a long way toward fixing things.

ISR is not engaged in business. They are not randomly going door-to-door to conduct their rigorously designed survey. They are not comparable to the free-lance cable/satellite/internet salesmen who do go door-to-door-to-door soliciting for new business – without license from the BoW, without registration with the City Clerk, and without being cited and fined by the New Albany Police Department.

To reiterate:

  1. ISR has been conducting national surveys since 1946 under the umbrella of the University of Michigan. Its annual survey results are shared with public policy-makers from Congress on down to local governments and aid them in evaluating changes in conditions and attitudes toward public policy.
  2. ISR is funded by government and foundation grants.
  3. ISR, in order to conduct reliable surveys, chooses census tracts that are demographically representative of the nation. Many of these are “longitudinal” surveys in which the go back to the same households year after year.
  4. ISR’s protocol is to notify local law enforcement when they are working in a jurisdiction so as to appease any fears about “strangers” knocking on doors. I’ll wager that they meet municipal resistance rarely, and even then only when there is a gross misunderstanding of their work.
  5. ISR sends letters to likely households within the chosen census tracts informing residents that they will be visited by interviewers. That visit is solely to determine if that household meets the criteria for the survey. For example, the eligible resident may have died or moved, or some other aspect that was at first believed to be true is no longer so.
  6. If the residents agree to be part of the survey, an appointment is made to come back for the interview. Participants are paid stipends that are, to be discreet, surprisingly generous.

I hope the council will speak tonight and communicate to the mayor and the BoW that it is not the intent of the ordinance to inhibit projects like this that are not engaged in business. A strong case can be made that the language of the ordinance implicitly exempts ISR from the city’s approval or disapproval.

Suppression of social research, especially when conducted by legitimate and respected institutions, is never a good thing for government to do. It’s embarrassing to think that New Albany is an outlier among the thousands of communities in which ISR and similar organizations conduct their work.

If you’ve read this far, you deserve to hear about what else Mr. Nash said during the meeting. Facing the ISR representative, he said, “Don’t ask.”

Various interpretations can be divined, but one could well be that if organizations like ISR don’t ask, the BoW can’t say no. Alas, it was diligently reported by the local newspaper that the BoW rejected ISR’s letter and prohibited it from conducting its survey work. Without a correction to date, it’s kind of hard to unplow the ground now.

So, city council? Help the members of the BoW. They need, lo, they asked for your guidance. Can you give it tonight and remove the stain on our city?

Now, can we talk about those scofflaw ice cream trucks?

Karen Rice had no idea what she was walking into Tuesday because she represents a professional organization.

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Ms. Rice hand-delivered a “To Whom It May Concern” letter from her organization, the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. As written, it is a courtesy letter informing those concerned that some people in our geographical area will be surveyed and that ISR representatives may be in the area over the coming months conducting important survey research.

Then Ms. Rice met the Hon. Warren Nash, who currently serves as chairman of the New Albany Board of Public Works and Safety. He and his two colleagues said “no way.”

To be certain, U of M was not asking for permission as the type of work they do wouldn’t require the permission of a municipality. However, they do understand that in an age of scam artists, citizens might become concerned when they receive a letter and a subsequent visitor asking questions. Who would one call if they suspected something fishy? The police or the mayor’s office, of course.

To allay those concerns, the ISR politely informed a public meeting of city officials that their scientific work would be carried out here.

I’m grateful that our local newspaper managed to find the space to report on what should have been innocuous news. But Mr. Nash turned it into something else.

We all are entitled to an opinion. Mine is that Mr. Nash and the board embarrassed this city out of ignorance and that they could correct their mistake with a quick apology to Ms. Rice, or better yet, to Patty Maher, Director – Survey Research Operations, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan.

In fact, I’ve called Maher to apologize on behalf of this city and its citizens. You might want to as well, but I think it might be better to fix this here before inundating ISR with supportive phone calls. Educate yourself, then take to your social media by commenting on this and sharing it.

So let me tell you what I’ve learned. This gets a bit long, but it will explain why some of us are embarrassed for our city.

It is likely that the survey in question is the National Health & Retirement Study, created to serve a request from the U.S. Congress for reliable statistical data about those topics. That is what is called a longitudinal study wherein a group is studied over a period of years, with new members recruited randomly but scientifically when old members pass away. That is, it is conducted annually among the same population to see changes.

It is also likely that ISR was in our area last year, the year before, and the year before that. In fact, the study has been conducted since 1946. Perhaps your grandfather was one of the study participants.

Let me share with you the letter itself.

To Whom It May Concern

The University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research will be conducting a study in your are during the next few months. In anticipation of any inquiries you may receive about us from residents in your community, the following describes the general nature of our research.

Each year since 1946, the Institute for Social Research has carried out nationwide surveys designed to get an accurate picture of how people in the United States feel about important national issues and to gauge how they respond to changes in their lives and the economy. Our research is carried out under government and foundation sponsorship. We only undertake research that is scientifically valuable and socially worthwhile. All data that we collect are made available for public use but are primarily used by government and university researchers to better understand important public policy issues.

Your geographical area is one of over 100 areas in the country in which we conduct interviews. Addresses at which interviews are to be taken within each area are randomly selected by scientific sampling procedures to represent an accurate cross-section of the nation. Results of all the interviews are combined and published in reports which represent the country as a whole. No individual person is ever identified in these reports. All information that is collected is strictly protected. Indeed, our commitment to confidentiality has allowed us to successfully carry out important research for more than 50 years.

Please accept this letter as a notification of our intent to conduct research interviews in your area. A local representative will be in contact [Ms. Rice] to supply the names of the interviewers who will be working in your area. Each of our interviewers has been specially trained in interviewing and sampling procedures. They are required to sign a pledge of confidentiality and to carry picture identification as employees of the University of Michigan.

Should you wish additional information about our organization, please call our toll-free number: 1-866-611-6476 or send an email to isr-studies@umich.edu.

Sincerely

Patty Maher
Director, Survey Research Operations
Institute for Social Research
University of Michigan

 

So, what happens a letter is sent to addresses chosen randomly in a selected area that meets demographic requirements. An interviewer, in this case Ms. Rice, will visit to ascertain whether the household meets the survey criteria. Some don’t qualify, but of those who do, more than 2/3rds agree to participate. An interview is scheduled and participants are provided a healthy cash stipend in appreciation for that.

In every jurisdiction, the local representative lets the police know who they are and what they are doing. In this case, the representative was informed that only the BoW could grant permission.

Call your council members. Call the mayor. Let them know we are not happy with the way Ms. Rice was treated and that we as citizens have no objection to this survey being done in our community. The mayor could fix this in the next ten minutes if he wished.

Tomorrow, a report from an insider who was at the meeting and a review of city ordinances regarding what the BoW is calling “solicitation.” And maybe even a review of First Amendment.

For almost a full year, gentle reader, you’ve heard nothing from me here. Anything I had to say, Ann alone had to hear it. Poor woman.

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Let’s see. I tossed my hat into the ring for election to a vacant school board seat and lost – badly. I sought to return to my career in journalism and was all but ignored by what passes as our “local” paper. And then, glutton that I am, I offered myself for yet another school board seat that came open – and was roughly treated.

In business, I’ve been the living embodiment of the aphorism that pioneers get slaughtered while settlers prosper. I’ve been at it long enough and seen enough peers disappear that I qualify for the former category. But the scars I’ve earned entitle me to advise the latter.

I’m inspired today by my reading, which has been extensive over the last 12 months, and it turns out that it involves a light chuckle that makes me think of New Albany. It’s told by Tom Corcoran, a confidant of Jimmy Buffett and the creator of the Key West-based Alex Rutledge mysteries.

Key West back then had one more charm: It was empty. “The joke in ’73 and ’74 was the chamber of commerce had someone stationed on the Seven Mile Bridge to call ahead when a car was coming,” Corcoran told me. “Then everyone would race down Duval Street and open their stores.”

 

There’s a not-quite-fake-news piece circulating on Facebook that suggests that New Albany would be great place for a group of gal pals to go spend a few days. Really?

On those infrequent occasions when Ann and I consider a 3-day weekend, we consider shopping, history, education, arts, dining, and perhaps entertainment. Importantly, we don’t want to find ourselves in a ghost town on any of those days.

If we lived 50 or more miles from here, we wouldn’t choose New Albany for a getaway. Sorry. That’s just the truth.

Now, as a pioneer, I talked the talk and for many years also walked the walk when it came to doing my small part to help make New Albany a destination. Standing alone as the only independent business open 7 days a week was, frankly, an exercise in futility, if not masochism.

Make no mistake. As a pioneer, I know how tough it is to stay open on Sundays, too. But if the settlers here are ever to know their town as a true destination, they have to be open when destination visitors want to and can be here. That means Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

I hear you, restaurateurs. Yes, many of you are open on Sundays. How about “Ghost Town Mondays?”

Here’s a modest and interim proposal that, upon utterance, will certainly be declared anathema.

Suppose we had an entity, agency, or government who actually had an interest in promoting New Albany as a destination. What if that “?” offered each independent store in a selected zone a weekly stipend of $50 to be open on Sunday, too? Or offered each independent restaurant in a selected zone the same to be open on Monday, too?

Think that would result in some economic development? And wouldn’t that $50 stay here, too, instead of being exported to Indianapolis or Cincinnati or elsewhere?

That stipend is small, but remember we’re only asking the stores/restaurants to be open. They get to keep all sales and profits generated that day, but $50 toward labor and overhead might be just enough to pay someone to open the door and see who drops in.

A year of incentives might cost $100k to as much as twice that. Or about what the city spends on free concerts. Which of those two choices is more likely to make New Albany a destination? And which of those two choices would essentially keep 100% of the cash in New Albany?

Discuss amongst yourselves. I think I’m becoming verklempt.

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Note to self: Make sure you are logged in to the right account before starting a blog post.

We are the Killers

Posted: May 14, 2016 by NewAlbanist in guilt, Public issues, safe streets, safety, streets
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I have pretty much super-glued my mouth (typing fingers) for six months. One acquaintance likened it to a voluntary exile from discussion of public issues and I had to agree. But tonight, I’m contrite. I say mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

To be sure, this is not about me. It’s about us. But mostly, it’s about our neighbor. It’s about Cora’s mom. About Laura’s next-door neighbor. It’s about tragedy. Needless tragedy.

My father died about a month ago at the age of 81. His health was poor, but his life was rich – in many ways very rich. In a retirement home, he had found a new venue of service, a place for ministry, and a home for joy. That’s a rare experience for the elderly and I am desperately pleased that he found that.

We held the requisite ceremonies to honor his life and his death. And though he and we were prepared for the event of his death, he was not supposed to die, especially on the anniversary of his marriage to my late mother.

He had fallen and broken his leg – in three places – and it necessitated a week or so in the hospital and a couple of weeks in “rehab.” Nothing about that meant he should die. He died of neglect of care. His caregivers failed him. People we trusted allowed him to acquire a bedsore that poisoned him one day before he was to return home. His compromised system could not handle it.

My brothers and sister were prepared for him to die. But not that week, not that day. Ignorant or negligent people killed him.

It’s hard to summon the requisite rage. Had he died last fall, or the winter before, we would have dealt with it. We are dealing with it now, but he was not destined to die in April of 2016.

Cora’s mom was not destined to die in May of 2016, either.

Chloe was not supposed to die Friday afternoon. And it’s killing me that she did.

Chloe was looking forward to a family wedding next Saturday. She had taken her dress to the cleaners on Spring Street. Then, she walked over to the hair salon on Vincennes to confirm an appointment for a set on Saturday morning before the wedding ceremony. Then, to home on Shelby Place.

Chloe did not make it home.

Chloe will not be at the family’s celebration of the union of two hearts.

For Chloe hazarded to cross East Spring Street in New Albany, Indiana on a sunny  Friday afternoon in May. She tried to cross with the light. She never made it to the other side of the 48-foot-wide street.

I, as much as anyone, know what she hazarded. This week, I told my wife that if ever I were to be killed crossing the street that she should know it was not because I was careless. I walk through that intersection five to six times a week. I am ever vigilant. I, for one, am sure that 83-year-old Chloe was also vigilant.

Alas, vigilance is no defense against an extended-cab truck that pays no heed to fleshly obstacles to its destination.

Someone was killed. Already, chatter condemns the driver of the truck that struck Chloe and caused a hemorrhage that ended her life about a half-a-day later, the brain-bleed that no physician could prevent.

May I propose that the driver of that extended-cab pickup, who whether guilty or not is remorseful beyond belief, is only to be judged proportionately.

For we are the killers. We blithely tolerate a street grid with 48-foot-wide streets that pedestrians are expected to navigate without the sanction of government protection. Already some speculate that Chloe should not have taken the risk of crossing the street. The temptation is great to cast blame.

I’m writing here to accept blame. I know the hazards. And though I’ve spoken out about the need for rational (read: non-lethal) solutions, I have not spilled blood to save the lives of Chloe and the next victim. I have sacrificed little in money, reputation, or status to create safer streets. Oh, I’ve flapped my gums. But I failed to save Chloe.

It breaks my heart.

I began this post with reference to my own father. Dad would have died to save Chloe. He would have sacrificed. He was a legend back home. I have never sacrificed for my community the way he would have, and did.

Dad, I failed you. New Albany, I failed you. I, and we, failed Chloe.

Sunday, as the sun goes down, I will station myself at the intersection of East Spring Street and Vincennes Street to honor the memory of Chloe and to acknowledge my own guilt for her death. For I could have sacrificed more. I could have risked more to make that and every intersection safe enough for Chloe to go home and plan for a wedding next weekend.

I won’t be so arrogant as to expect anyone else to join me Sunday night in a vigil to Chloe’s memory. I will simply state that Chloe’s death will not be in vain.

We are the killers. Mea culpa.

Mr. Gahan’s “Blue” Problem

Posted: October 29, 2015 by NewAlbanist in Uncategorized

Floating just under the penetrative waves of the political radar over the past 4 years has been a deep and abiding morale problem among New Albany’s Finest, our men and women in blue. At the senior command level, all is well, as evidenced by the active campaigning and generous campaign contributions from the chief and deputy chief. But in the ranks, there’s a nasty smell.

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Personally, I believe an Indiana mayor has no business being in an adversarial relationship with the law enforcement officers he employs. However, the long-standing abdication of duty by multiple city councils has brought us to a state where our mayor is not advocating for our police officers but, rather, harshly working to diminish their job satisfaction. But that’s beside the current point.

In order to give broader coverage to their plaint, I’m republishing the text of a newspaper advertisement placed this week by the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 99. And yes, I’m doing so because I believe the safety and well-being of this city depend on Jeff Gahan being retired from public office. Indeed, I am continually amused that so many feign outrage that a blog, a Facebook post, or a Tweet might contain an actual wish that the writer’s preferred candidate be elected and that the incumbent be retired. City employees and appointees and the mayor’s family members seem to think that electoral politics requires silence about the issues and deference to their chosen one.

Enough. Here is the text of the relevant open letter to the voters:

As president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 99, I have been asked to express the Lodge’s absolute and unequivocal anger at the lack of respect shown to the Officers and Members of the F.O.P. by the current Mayor Gahan. Since he took office, the mayor has gone out of his way to ignore his lawful obligations to or with us.

Mayor Gahan began by refusing to sign a contract agreed to by Mayor England, resulting in a totally unnecessary arbitration and expensive litigation for the City. Inexplicably, more recently, he failed to present an Arbitration Award rendered in May of this year to the City Council. When I talked about the Award with the City Council at its regular meeting on September 2, 2015, the members were shocked that the financial information, so necessary to its budgeting process, had been knowingly withheld from the Council. (In retrospect, this was a harbinger of things to come. The County Council has had to sue the Mayor to get financial information it believes necessary to do its job.)

It appears that the latest refusal to abide by a lawful Arbitrator’s Award, as required by local ordinance, will again result in costing the City needless litigation expenses.

The position of Mayor Gahan in ignoring his obligations under local ordinance is the most arrogant display of disrespect possible: ignore your lawful obligations then compound it by needlessly spending City revenue to defend your unlawful actions, again, with out-of-town lawyers.

This disrespect is not reserved for the F.O.P. It is visited on individual members in a variety of ways. For instance, early in his Administration, an Officer reached his mandatory retirement age. He was a Navy veteran with 40 years of service to the City. Rather than telling him well in advance that he was going to be forced into retirement, the Officer was called in at the end of his shift and told he was retired. No advance notice, no time for him to prepare for his sudden unemployment, and a practice not theretofore implemented by any other Administrator.

In a similar incident, the Mayor vehemently opposed the return to work of an Officer, and a U.S. Marine veteran. who was cleared by three separate physicians to do so, two of which were the City’s physicians. Fortunately, the Merit Commission restored the Officer to his employment.

It appears that Gahan has not learned a life lesson that people may not remember what you said to them, but they will always remember how you made them feel. He has apparently made it his goal to make every Officer feel disrespected.

Each day, when a member of the New Albany Police Department put on his/her uniform and badge and walks out the door to work, they are saying to the citizens of New Albany “we’ve got your back.” The time has come for this Mayor to discontinue his campaign of disrespect. He can do that by simply abiding by all Arbitrator’s Awards for all public safety employees, as the law requires.

We appreciate the support we have had from the citizens of New Albany and wish we could get the same from Mayor Gahan.

JOHN HALL
President, Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 99

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Image  —  Posted: October 23, 2015 by NewAlbanist in Uncategorized