Sunday, December 16, 2012

LOOKING FOR THE NEXT DR. SEUSS AND SOME TOLERANT SNEECHES

Sneeches from Dr. Seuss divided by a star or lack of.

People deal with tragedies in different ways and before the little innocent children were even taken out of the school in Connecticut I was watching people on social media advance their anti-gun OR pro-gun agendas.

My way or the highway was the norm, along with pleas to keep an open mind, IF you will just open your mind, to their way of thinking that is.

This is sad to me that there always has to be this amount of control over the mind and opinions of others.

Points of view are "shaped" by countless life factors, experiences and much more.

Some are praying for more guns, while others are praying for less guns.

An on and on it goes, this way, and that way.

Since nothing will stop this ever and ongoing debate, I'm praying for tolerance and the respect of other points of views, to be something both taught and learned.

Nothing will bring these innocents back, and few things will lessen the pain of the family left behind, no matter which "side" you choose to be on.  For every brilliant point made, an equal and brilliant counter-point will follow.

As far as the familes are concerned, I'm thinking that second guessing what could have been, should have been, after the fact, gives little comfort.

I'm praying the families are simply loved by many, as I have no idea what will cure their horrible pain.

For myself, my family and my friends:


  • I'm praying that we all learn to spread a little more love and tolerance of one another and our varying opinions. 
  • I'm praying that through an outpouring of love to our fellow man we will lesson the desire for anyone to kill innocents whether it be by gun, knife, pipe bomb strapped to a body vest, or cruel words that drive one to suicide.
  • I'm praying for more people like Dr. Suess that teach us about respect for others and for ALL the "sneeches" whether they have a star on their belly or have no star on their belly.


Keep the Faith - Respect Others - Choose Life!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Blame is YOURS, the Credit is MINE, Thank You!

As we approach a brand new council meeting Monday, it is my duty to remind you of the things that the majority of the Leeds Council would hope you forgot from the last meeting.

Let's start off with Mayor Eric Patterson criticizing Bass Pro Shops for failing to attract new businesses to Leeds. We would like to remind him there are well over sixty new businesses sitting just north of Bass Pro, in a place called "The Shops of Grand River". The Mayor went on to say that the Bass Pro deal has been nothing but a detriment to this city.

Bass Pro Shops and The Shops of Grand River have been a long awaited positive gleam to the City of Leeds, very much unlike the ILCO stigma that loomed over Leeds when I moved my family here in 1990. Do you remember all the jokes about drinking water in Leeds that made their way around the metro area?

The Mayor is also fond of accusing Councilor Kenneth Washington and the prior administrations of putting the city 91 million dollars in debt. (Why he never levies this charge against Councilor Bartee who sat through part of the previous administration and still resides on the current one, we cannot be sure) He then goes on taking credit for reducing that debt with the recent Bass Pro restructuring, which came about not by any great task of the current administration but through the down-grading of Regions Bank, and the bond owners calling in the bonds as a result.

He loves to talk of the "gun that Bass Pro held to our head" if they were to bankrupt. He fails to mention that even if the Leeds Bass Pro Shops were to fail, this would not put the parent company in default. Only if the entire company, which has an annual revenue of over three and a half billion dollars, were to bankrupt would Leeds be impacted. He does not mention that Bass Pro, in an unprecedented move, guaranteed the bonds. He also fails to mention that in the unlikely event Bass Pro Shops went out of business, the land alone would still be worth millions.

We're not knocking removing the city as a guarantor in the restructuring of the bonds, but what the Mayor does not tell you is that the prior players in the Cooperative District had planned just that, long before the matter ever crossed his plate.  The mayor forgets that the City of Leeds had no credit when Bass Pro was structured and John Robinson of Raymond James Company (Investment Experts that assisted in bonds for the city) told the entire current and previous councils just that, on more than one occasion. The mayor throws around ninety one million in debt as if we have nothing to show for it and as though it has something to do with our credit, or should we say lack of credit.  We also would like to see him reduce that amount he throws out if the city is no longer responsible for the Bass Pro amount of the ninety one million.

The Mayor also loves to talk about how his administration "saved" the city by changing the Shops of Grand River deal from a revenue bond to a loan guaranteed by the Retirement Systems of Alabama. Once again he fails to tell the whole story, namely that the developer salvaged the project by enticing RSA to fund the deal, after a lawsuit was filed to block the project, including the 950 homes that were planned. The Mayor later appointed several of the people who filed that lawsuit to various city boards. The Mayor also doesn't talk much about how his rezoning prevented those additional homes and high end apartments from being built.

This piece of land that the Shops of Grand River sits on has become "Patterson's Last Stand", though no one in Leeds lived near the property, least of all those who cried against it the loudest. He and his three votes on the Council have been critical of Bass Pro, Daniel Corporation and a prior administration from day one, while spending a small fortune to re-write the Cooperative District Agreement and in the process alienating us from those that had helped us acquire the infrastructure to build those projects and new schools.

The Herald was critical of the prior administration also, for not practicing open government, but they made some prudent decisions.  For example, when they broke from Jefferson County and created new schools, they set aside several million dollars through tax increases as a reserve to draw on, if they ever fell short. We have no idea where the money the prior administration left this new one has gone. There are several possibilities we can think of, however: tearing down a National Guard armory, a school road that cost a small fortune, and paying a group of lawyers to learn municipal government on our dime. A firm which has charged the City of Leeds more than any attorney firm in a single administration, ever.

This administration has chosen to take almost One Million dollars in the last council meeting and renovate City Hall.  Let's hope we make those first school bond payments as our mayor thinks we need to spend this money right now instead of making sure a reserve is in place to pay for the schools we now enjoy.

While the Mayor and three Councilors see no problem with bragging about our new schools, parks, or other improvements, they have no problem with harshly criticizing the businesses that make those things possible.

So what has this new administration brought to the City of Leeds in the way of new development? I remember a repo boat yard directly across from a multimillion dollar tourist attraction and soon we will have a grocery store that we can not as of yet get a name for. Priceless!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Does it always have to be just enough to get by?

I had a conversation with a legal member of the Alabama League of Municipalities on how they were advising cities in regard to the Alabama Open Meeting Act 2005-40 in which I was told that if people wanted to know the details of a meeting agenda they could be good citizens and attend the meeting.

WHOAAA

I told the member I was appalled she had made that statement, as it absolutely flies in the face of the spirit and intent of the Alabama Open Meeting law.  Why?  Because the spirit and intent is defined in a word contained in the name of the law and that word is "OPEN".

Government is hardly being open when an agenda leaves us wondering whether or not an item involves us, or even what the item is talking about in the first place. A citizen does not have to attend a meeting that is not well described to be a "good" citizen, and I hope you are insulted by the very thought of such.

Consider directly asking of your local government that their released agenda items go beyond having just enough to get by and actually let you know what an item on an agenda is really about. Don't buy for one second that by wanting to know what the items mean beforehand, that you are not a good citizen and remember that the entire "spirit" of the open meeting law was to be open, NOT just enough to get by.

Let's look at one of the items in the upcoming Leeds City Council Agenda:


New Business:
a) Resolution 2011-01-01 Relating to Solicitation of Bids for Site Preparation.

WHERE IS THE SITE?  What is going to be prepared and why? Is it near my property?  Is it near my children's school? How do I know if I need to attend or get in touch with a councilor beforehand based on this very limited information?  Do I need to go through the drawn out process of calling city hall to find out? Is there even enough time to find out about this since it was released, given when the meeting will occur? If I attend the meeting will it do any good if I find out I am opposed to this, or will it be too late because the council does not listen to citizens until AFTER they conduct business?

The answer to any of the above questions could be something very positive and utterly harmless, but why couldn't a better description be given in the first place to avoid all this speculation?  It could, and in fact many of the current members of the city council promised much better than this when they answered 10 questions and answers that we posed before the election that indeed helped them to get elected. Ask them nicely to fulfill their promises and don't let the discussion at hand turn to something else, they committed to being very open while they were running for office, nothing should change that commitment, including a news publisher they may or may not care for.

Is the council "bad" for leaving us wondering?  No, they are not bad people for leaving us hanging, but they are not informative people operating in a spirit of open government or living up to their campaign statements either.
David Hogan

When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.  - Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, October 17, 2010

So Be IT!

Have a look at the first item of new business for the Leeds City Council meeting coming up Monday, October 18, 2010:

Ordinance 2010-10-01 Relating to amending section 11-14 of City of Leeds Code of Ordinances

Before we get into this, let first establish that this was delivered via email to us late Friday afternoon.  This usually leaves no time at all to contact city hall to ask for a clarification or additional information about an agenda item so people can digest whether or not they need to attend or speak to a council person about the item

So, back to our agenda item above.  We can figure out that section 11-14 of the Code of Ordinances is what this item RELATES to.  We just have no idea what that ordinance is or what is going to be discussed RELATING to it.

But don't you worry, this council knows what is best, and if you don't like what they do in regard to the item at the meeting, you can speak when it is all over in the public comments section.  Of course it's too late for it to make any difference, but this council will endure having to listen to those their actions impact, we've actually seen it.  They may roll their eyes, and not look or listen to you, but you might get lucky and get a thank you when you are all done speaking.

This goes hand in hand with this council ignoring our correspondence to them as a news agency and a citizen too, having draft budgets with CONFIDENTIAL marked across them, and giving out budgets to the media and others that do not match what was given out to council members in their packets on the night they approved the budget.

But alas the Herald are just muckrackers and nobody cares anyway.  How do we know that?  Mainly from the amount of Letters to the Editor we receive, which are few and far between.

The Leeds Herald has spent three years bringing issues front and center and we have never asked anyone to ever agree with us, not once.  We have time and time again asked the community to be involved, through their voice or participation in their government.

It's time for a change on our part.

We will cover government meetings as always only we will no longer include written coverage. You can of course listen to it in the audio or through video we provide or go a step better and attend meetings.  It is a shame that your government will not give you enough information in an agenda for you to know if you should attend or not.

If citizens want us involved in controversy or specific items of local government concern, then by all means they can write a Letter to the Editor and we'll consider investing the time and investigative reporting to it.

This publication will no longer spend the countless hours we have in the past on bringing issues of local government administration forward, with the lack of support and interest given to us concerning it.

News services are a voice of their communities.  We get lots of interaction with sports, organizations, and other topics and that is where we will devote our time and energies.

Now the hate fans we have can run to their local grapevine, gossip table, or favorite electronic tattle-tale method of anonymous negative daily servings, and have a ball. They will no doubt move from saying we are bashing their beloved officials, to a tone that we are turning our back on our responsibilities. We have not said we will not cover local government, only that we will not make it a priority until the community shows they care for us to do so.

We actually have potential advertisers that have told us they simply can not advertise for fear of retribution, because we question local government.  Let me be very clear that we have funded this publication without making a profit for three years now and we will continue to do so until either it sustains itself, or we come to the end of our business plan final year which is fast approaching.  We will not however, fight all the battles that should be fought through a war of one. If the community is happy with government as usual, so be it, we'll move on to other things.

David Hogan
Publisher

Thursday, September 2, 2010

TANSTAAFL

Folks I'm really not fond of the GUILT method of support, but I can't believe the apathy and lack thereof to many things of value in our town.

Athletic programs are funded at the high school level by businesses, efforts of the team, and the community. Many businesses can't afford to support the programs because the programs ask for high dollar amounts of support. But the programs often have little choice but to ask for large amounts when people will not fund even small dollar items of support.


We asked for $5.46 cents yesterday to get on the Spirit Line and we are very much appreciative of those that responded - which you can count on both hands, and that includes individual members of my family.

So go ahead and start telling me how horrible it is that I said this, and take the attitude that someone else will take care of it, that someone else SHOULD take care of it, that parents should fund all of this.

We will not support the great expense of high school athletics through just the parents, it's simply too expensive, and on a much larger scale than youth sports.

We will not get new band equipment without community support.

We will not get a new library without community support.
We will not get an even better Arts Council, without community support.

We will not get an increase in education programs and advanced curriculum in our schools without community support.

We will not get a Leeds Herald Daily News each and every day without support through advertising. We realize that everyone expects to get their news for free, but it is not free, just like sports, organizations, and other things that actually give a community its character, it costs money, time and dedication.

My HANDLE on chess.net where I take just a few minutes to relax each week is TANSTAAFL - There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch!

The Spirit Line is still active just like yesterday, and we certainly hope to see the list get larger. Thanks for any consideration you can give to it.
David Hogan

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Agendas, Not Public Servants

It's no surprise that with politicians you get their agenda along with everything else. We tried to grill our current Leeds administration at the 2008 elections to find out what the new agendas were for each new candidate.

It was no secret to us that many of the new faces on the council including Mayor Patterson had bad feelings against past developers. However, several things to come after the elections did take us by surprise, especially events of late.

When Mayor Patterson had Charcey Glenn removed from the August 02, 2010 council meeting I was reminded of Patterson stating during the 2008 elections that he wanted to allow people to speak before they voted on items, because he knew speaking after the council meetings allowed nothing more than a way to vent frustrations.

Patterson, Carswell, Earnest, and Bartee, had their agenda and they pushed it through regarding the zoning ordinance.  Earnest made mention of people having time to look over the ordinance and yet she made no attempt to address the items that were brought up at the previous council public hearing.  She also made no statement at our Town Hall meeting, which she along with all councilors, were invited. A meeting that the city council should have had after they tabled the original motion, if they were truly interested in what the public had to say.  They were not interested in what the public had to say, they were interested in their agenda and getting it passed without having to re-notice any changes.

So am I mad at the council?  Not at all, I expect this from those that are pushing an agenda without regard to the public. So more power to them, they got their way, they got their ordinance, and they'll get a lot more before it is all over with too.  This is the nature of politics.

Patterson told me in the presence of several people at a local restaurant that they were going to pass that zoning ordinance and there were not going to be any changes either.  Guess what?  He was right.

Patterson actually had some very good points about why to go forward with the ordinance when I spoke with him the week before and I encouraged him to make his views known. It is my understanding he did so though another news agency with a letter to the editor, even though we received no further response and he did not attend our town hall meeting, so I am encouraged he did make his views known, even leaving us out of his process.

No, I'm not mad at the council, they acted right in line with their agenda's, but I am highly disappointed in the apathy and involvement of many that were involved in this process, including the council for the disregard to public hearings including calling for a vote immediately after the hearing without time for reflection of public comments.  I will include in my disappointment, those that insist on labeling our publication for trying to show what the ordinance contained and being the only place on the web that had the correct draft available for review.

I encourage all to get involved in your city and not just at the political level either.  Volunteer, help out, know what is going on and then when election time comes around you can see the many agendas laid out before you.  If a past politician lied to you at the previous election with what they were going to do, you now know, but just remember that you may trade off the devil you got, for one far worse if you do not do your homework.

David Hogan

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Multi-Family Dwellings Part V

We find it strange that at a time in America when communities are embracing SmartGrowth development and trying to leave as little impact on the environment while still growing for the future, that Leeds is taking an approach of low density development.

Of course if you want no development at all this approach works. The question is can we afford no development at all?

We possibly could have before we invested in the new schools, but that ship has sailed to the tune of over $40 million in bonds.

Show me a way to pay for schools without new development or saying to simply tighten our belts and I'll shut up right now and delete everything I have written.

The first payment on the schools is $2.8 million dollars and that is about one fourth (1/4) of our budget. If you can shave that out of our budget then we must be the most wasteful city in America. Not to mention our services need increasing, not decreased.

Cities raise revenue through property owners and business. All the rest is chump change when you are talking millions of dollars. We can become the "speed trap" of America and it won't put a dent into the payment of our schools.

As we've said time and time again - we are already in debt. We will not get out of it without development.

We've heard that this zoning is about stopping developers from making money off the citizens. If that is true our goose is cooked, because developers indeed expect to make money. That is the reason they develop in the first place, along with a desire to truly help communities grow and prosper. Those that don't are the ones not willing to make reasonable changes and alter plans where needed.

We have much bigger problems in Leeds than the number of apartments in an acre when it comes to development.

Are you concerned about any of the following in Leeds:
  • Empty houses?
  • Empty shopping centers?
  • Empty downtown stores?
  • Empty strip malls?
  • Empty overgrown lots in the middle of neighborhoods?
There are numerous solutions from infill development to SmartGrowth development and they do not try to control density to a point that it keeps development away.

SmartGrowth development is the new trend across America, so what is it?

From the Environmental Protection Agency and the Northeast Midwest Planing Institute:

Good codes are the foundation upon which great communities are built. They are the framework that regulates where and what type of development may occur. Codes guide everything from permissible land uses, to building densities, locations, and setbacks, to street widths and parking requirements. When done well, codes make it easier for a community to implement its vision. However, when they are out of date or don't line up with the community's vision, codes can actually keep communities from getting the development they want. For example, the standard zoning practice of the past few decades has separated residential, retail, and office uses. Today, however, this zoning stands in the way of communities that want to create vibrant, walkable neighborhoods that mix these uses and give residents the option to walk to the store, walk to work, or own a home business.

Communities are finally discovering an alternative to conventional development patterns that cause suburban sprawl, destroy open lands, siphon vitality from existing communities, and create gridlocked lifestyles.

A major solution to these problems is infill development—the creative recycling of vacant or underutilized lands within cities and suburbs. Every city, town, and suburb has these types of properties. They range from the single vacant lot to surface parking lots to empty shopping malls.

Once considered eyesores, such sites are becoming prized as catalysts that improve solid communities and revitalize those facing problems. Successful infill, for example, addresses traffic issues by creating communities where people live closer to work and school, and where biking, walking, and transit can substitute for auto travel.


Successful infill development can offer these rewards for communities:


• provide housing (both affordable and market rate) near job centers and transit;
• increase the property-tax base;
• preserve open space at the edge of regions;
• provide new residents to support shopping districts and services;
• capitalize on community assets such as parks, infrastructure, and transit; and
• create new community assets such as child-care centers, arts districts, and shopping areas.


Successful infill expresses not what a community will settle for but what it really wants. To be considered successful, it must be financially viable while demonstrating excellent design.

Excellent design refers not to the architectural design of a single building but to the quality of place created by a fabric of well-designed buildings and public spaces. Each element of public and private spaces, from awnings and windows, to benches and sidewalks, to roads and transit stations, needs to be carefully crafted. Excellent design creates places that are safe and attractive, that give people a variety of transportation options, and that encourage private investment and development.

For communities to define and plan for successful infill development, recommended strategies include:

• Build a common vision and create a plan.
• Take action to implement the plan.
• Encourage mixed-use infill development that includes housing.
• Demand quality design.
• Address transportation issues at the community level.



MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA - An example of SmartGrowth development.

Below is taken from the SmartGrowth plan code of Montgomery, Alabama.

1.2 PURPOSE

The purpose of this Code is to enable, encourage, and qualify the implementation of the following policies.

1.2.1 The Region
a. That the region should retain its natural infrastructure and visual character derived from topography, woodlands, farmlands, riparian corridors, and coastlines.
b. That growth strategies should encourage infill and redevelopment in parity with new communities.
c. That development contiguous to urban areas should be structured in the neighborhood pattern and be integrated with the existing urban pattern.
d. That development non-contiguous to urban areas should be organized in the pattern of clusters, traditional neighborhoods or villages, and regional centers.
e. That Affordable Housing should be distributed throughout the region to match job opportunities and to avoid concentrations of poverty.
f. That transportation corridors should be planned and reserved in coordination with land use.
g. That green corridors should be used to define and connect the urbanized areas.
h. That the region should include a framework of transit, pedestrian, and bicycle systems that provide alternatives to the automobile.

1.2.2 The Community
a. That neighborhoods and regional centers should be compact, pedestrian-oriented, and mixed--use.
b. That neighborhoods and regional centers should be the preferred pattern of development and that districts specializing in single-use should be the exception.
c. That ordinary activities of daily living should occur within walking distance of most dwellings, allowing independence to those who do not drive.
d. That interconnected networks of Thoroughfares should be designed to disperse and reduce the length of automobile trips.
e. That within neighborhoods, a range of housing types and price levels should be provided to accommodate diverse ages and incomes.
f. That appropriate building densities and land uses should be provided within walking distance of transit stops.
g. That civic, institutional, and commercial activity should be embedded in downtowns, not isolated in remote single-use complexes.
h. That schools should be sized and located to enable children to walk or bicycle to them.
i. That a range of open space including parks, squares, and playgrounds should be distributed within neighborhoods and urban zones.

1.2.3 The Block and the Building
a. That buildings and landscaping should contribute to the physical definition of Thoroughfares as civic places.
b. That development should adequately accommodate automobiles while respecting the pedestrian and the spatial form of public space.
c. That the design of streets and buildings should reinforce safe environments, but not at the expense of accessibility.
d. That architecture and landscape design should grow from local climate, topography, history, and building practice.
e. That buildings should provide their inhabitants with a clear sense of geography and climate through energy efficient methods.
f. That Civic Buildings and public gathering places should be provided locations that reinforce community identity and support self-government.
g. That Civic Buildings should be distinctive and appropriate to a role more important than the other buildings that constitute the fabric of the city.
h. That the preservation and renewal of historic buildings should be facilitated to affirm the continuity and evolution of society.
i. That the harmonious and orderly evolution of urban areas should be secured through graphic codes that serve as guides for change.


How about we break out that Master Plan and work on that and consider development that has proven to take care of the same problems we have in Leeds instead of just passing an ordinance that addresses apartment density?

Leeds can be all it can be, with a vision that is created by all of us with some proper planning and discussion.

We'll continue the series Monday morning.