Thursday, August 27, 2009

Where does freedom and the right of free speech serve us best?

One thing that is so wonderful about our democracy and country is our ability to speak to all issues and not be put in jail, fined, or harassed by government. Freedoms and the right of free speech is not something that should ever be taken for granted.

We must realize that the power of free speech does not come without risk and costs. There are plenty of arguments made and blogs written that turn my stomach and provide a great deal of angst to a majority of citizens. While I am sure the writers and professors of these (Steve don't like) announcements believe they are true and just.

Now, when the Iranian government shuts down protests and the Chinese limit access and prevent demonstrations, many folks including myself object to these intolerance's and inability to speak, gather,or even write publications. We pretty much all agree that these governments should let them speak and express their opinions as we can do here in our great country.

What happens in our Country, State, or even within our local community when we disagree with the government. Are we imprisoned, shackled, burnt at the stake? No, we have a right to protest, go to meetings and express our opinions. I find it very fortunate that all members of the City Council are good listeners and care deeply about the expressions of our citizens.

During the last election we reached out to 100's and 1000's of folks and invited comments and discussions and talked about the budget, seniors, streets, schools, the lakefront, businesses, and open government. Many good interactions took place and suggestions were made for the betterment of our community.

These interactions should not stop immediately after elections are over. We should use our right of free speech openly and often to express our thoughts, gather information on others thoughts, and cultivate a constant and open dialog that is forever evolving. We should not be afraid of the evolution of dialog. The right of free speech is not only required in communist and fascist regimes, it should also be actively exercised in our home town debates and dialog every day of the week.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Council members don't appreciate our newsletters

Nancy Rotering and I took a pretty large amount of abuse tonight at the pre-session Council meeting when the discussion of commission and council ethics turned into a roast of the newsletter publishers!

While I have seen some wild times around the big table, this was a whopper of an awakening for Councilman Rotering....I'M Sure! I have seen books thrown, people shoved, and several screaming episodes over my 17 years of service, BUT the verbal onslaught by three of five Council members remaining was the worse I have ever seen in a continuous premeditated assault against Nancy and I.

I know that issues that I bring out concerning the budget, seniors, open government, and several others irritate the Mayor and Council to no end. I do not send this information out to hurt or irritate my colleagues. I believe I am informing our citizens, giving my perspective, and asking for feedback.

Civil order must be maintained at these meetings no matter how each individual feels about the direction of the city and their advocacy's. This group seems to really not like any diversity within its ranks. Left, Right Left, Right Left Right.

Come on Council folks, can't we just all get along.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sewer Program Update

We will be hearing from staff on the sewer program updates and how they wish proceed. This program involves citizens that have sewer connections that have leaks in thier pipes that come from their home to our street mains. The program requires these homeowners to partner with the city and spend 5k and up for sewer lining.

Having heard from the residents during the last election and seen costs to residents skyrocket over the past several years, asking citizens to come up with 5000.00 plus dollars each should not continue.

We had asked staff to answer the questions the residents brought before us at large public meetings that took place earlier this year. They had asked us to look at new methodologies of dealing with sewer surcharges, compare our program of private funding to other communities, and finding ways to provide direct remedies for the small amount of homeowners that have the sewage back up.

Remedies could include overhead sewers, disconnections to city systems in basements, etc. This is not my field of expertise, but if we could spend the same money as the city is spending with our cost share on private laterals to remediate individual problems we might be able to be more effective.

That being said, the biggest bang for our buck is our continued committment to our public infrastructure programs that will solve most of the issues. I do think however we should not put any more economic burden on individual private homeowners. We should only use public funds for solving the sewage problems unless we do find illegal connections.

Protocols, Rules, and MORE PROCESS

I was listening to the Bears game last night and hearing about the new line coach talking about what it takes be a great line man. One must keep the eye on the ball and get it done..... don't get side tracked. The reason they are playing for the team is that the coaches believe that they are good line man, can accomplish the team goals, and have great instincts to achieve success.

How I relate this to being a Councilman is that the citizens have elected me to be one of those to help direct policy for the City of Highland Park because they think I am good at what I do. As Councilman, we need direct contact with the issue at hand and be able to motivate, be creative, give suggestions, and in general be involved with the process of government to get complex issues moved forward. A maze of staff rules and protocols that restricts our public servants can cause disengagement and failure on promoting positive outcomes. All of our best minds and strongest spirits within community government can achieve cutting edge results for our community. As long as we all operate together and promote outcomes that are in compliance to the City Councils consensus, all is good.

Since 2004 our City Manager has been laying down many processes, protocols, rules, controls on the Council and Commissions, and a tight bandwidth of staff to get the results that he approves. This micro management has limited the effectiveness of the Mayor and City Council, our Commissions, and the over all creativity of the staff.

The opinion of staff in our Council Managerial government is that once the Council develops policy and give direction, get out of the process until staff is ready to ask us for our judgement on the final result. If we are lucky we might get an status update. Now to be fair, I know that Councilwoman Olian and myself have pushed ourselves into several situations where we have been allowed to be operatives on a Council policy and I am eternally grateful to our City Manager. But this should not be the exception to how things work at city hall.

I believe the City Manager has done an excellent job on segregating the "Policy Team of Council and Commissions" and the "Action Team of the staff". All I am saying is this needs to stop and be reversed! We must all be in the same locker room, same team, and get the job done together.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Laurel Ave Senior Center Discussed

At our budget meetings the City Manager asked and received a City Council majority to spend $30,000 on yet another study connected to clearing some legal hurdles in a possible sale of our Senior Center building at the end of Laurel on the lake.

I strongly support not selling this public access point and gem that overlooks our magnificent Lake Michigan lakefront. We also have public ownership of 100's of feet of beachfront that is open and accessible to the public along this public parcel.

There are only three properties to the north that separate this property from the Central Avenue Beach. I would furthermore like to see a long range plan that those private beaches be acquired or controlled to connect the public laurel ave property so that a contiguous public beach can be created. This would provide the much needed space for a great swimming, sailing, and recreational harbor area for our citizens.

I think staff and some Council people look at this property as easy and quick money to cover the overspending of our government. Currently this property provides a great place for our seniors to meet and participate together in events. I also think that as we look into the future of how we fine tune our senior program, we look at the long game of how we could improve our community by providing better access for the general public to the lakefront. Current deficits can be remedied by just reducing spending instead of coming up with the quick cash.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Public hearing on Plastic Bags and Styrofoam

The Environmental Commission and the BEDC held a joint public hearing at City Hall to take testimony on how and if we should regulate plastic shopping bags and Styrofoam.

We had a great turnout at the public hearing and heard from many local merchants, several people from the plastics industry, and fellow citizens.

The Environmental Commission is on a fact finding mission that will help them come up with findings to use for a recommendation to the City Council. The Environmental Commission will be taking testimony until August 31st. Written testimony can be sent to or delivered to 1707 St. Johns at City Hall. More information can be found at the city website at .