Friday, April 25, 2008

McGowan promises to redevelop the Heers

So, what's the rush on Park Central Square?

I received an email today that alledged Mr. Charles Birnbaum, Founder of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, left an online comment at the News-Leader that was not published. I checked the most current articles regarding Park Central Square, but I did not see it there. It was sent to me by an associate of Mr. Birnbaum's who is also a representative of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, the associate wrote, "he entered it on the blog site as a response," so, if it has been published somewhere at the News-Leader, my apologies for overlooking it :

I am entertained at the casual dismissals of Lawrence Halprin's work at Park Central [published on the News-Leader website]. I wonder if your bloggers have spent time in the Halprin collection at the University of Pennsylvania. I have... and I can tell you that the rich material includes revealing sketches in Halprin's hand, the contract that he signed, communications with city employees, the consulting sculptor, and other ephemera generated by his office. Do you think that every building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright was designed by him beyond the concept sketches? For example, architect Robert A.M. Stern today has over two hundred employees. Halprin's office, like many successful practices had talented designers -- Perhaps instead of looking for reasons to justify current ill-conceived proposals, conjectural bloggers may want to go visit the archives at Penn as a starting point. - Charles Birnbaum, The Cultural Landscape Foundation

Considering Mr. McGowan has promised to follow through on his redevelopment plans of the Heer's Tower, is there any reason the community can't just sit back, patiently, and wait to see whether the Park Central Square's new design plan needs to be adapted to preserve Halprin's work?

My understanding was that the real concern was that Kevin McGowan might exercise his put option and force the city to buy back the Heer's building if the city didn't break ground on Butler Rosenbury Partner's new design by August 1. Is there any reason to be upset that we let the redevelopment of the square go through the legal procedures required by the city's use of federal funds on the project now that we understand McGowan has no plans to exercise his put option?

In other words, what's the rush NOW!? Geesh.

From TCLF's website:

"The Cultural Landscape Foundation is the only not-for-profit foundation in America dedicated to increasing the public’s awareness of the importance and irreplaceable legacy of cultural landscapes. Through education, technical assistance, and outreach, the Cultural Landscape Foundation broadens the support and understanding for cultural landscapes nationwide in hopes of saving our priceless heritage for future generations"

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Unsolicited advice

As the City Council continues budget discussions, and practically on the eve of the final budget being submitted to them, I felt it might be a good time to post this letter from Benjamin Franklin to Madame Brillon. Hat tip to Momma Twoop (yes, I kept the whistle)

The Whistle
by Benjamin Franklin
To Madame Brillon

I received my dear friend’s two letters, one for Wednesday and one for Saturday. This is again Wednesday. I do not deserve one for today, because I have not answered the former. But, indolent as I am, and averse to writing, the fear of having no more of your pleasing epistles, if I do not contribute to the correspondence, obliges me to take up my pen; and as Mr.B. has kindly sent me word that he sets out tomorrow to see you, instead of spending this Wednesday evening, as I have done its namesakes, in your delightful company, I sit down to spend it in thinking of you, in writing to you, and in reading over and over again your letters.

I am charmed with your description of Paradise, and with your plan of living there; and I approve much of your conclusion, that, in the meantime, we should draw all the good we can from this world. In my opinion we might all draw more good from it than we do, and suffer less evil, if we would take care not to give too much for whistles. For to me it seems that most of the unhappy people we meet with are become so by neglect of that caution.

You ask what I mean? You love stories, and will excuse my telling one of myself.

When I was a child of seven years old, my friends, on a holiday, filled my pocket with coppers. I went directly to a shop where they sold toys for children; and being charmed with the sound of a whistle, that I met by the way in the hands of another boy, I voluntarily offered and gave all my money for one. I then came home, and went whistling all over the house, much pleased with my whistle, but disturbing all the family. My brothers, and sisters, and cousins, understanding the bargain I had made, told me I had given four times as much for it as it was worth; put me in mind what good things I might have bought with the rest of the money; and laughed at me so much for my folly, that I cried with vexation; and the reflection gave me more chagrin than the whistle gave me pleasure. This, however, was afterwards of use to me, the impression continuing on my mind; so that often, when I was tempted to buy some unnecessary thing, I said to myself, Don’t give too much for the whistle; and I saved my money.

As I grew up, came into the world, and observed the actions of men, I thought I met with many, very many, who gave too much for the whistle.

When I saw one too ambitious of court favor, sacrificing his time in attendance on levees, his repose, his liberty, his virtue, and perhaps his friends, to attain it, I have said to myself, This man gives too much for his whistle.

When I saw another fond of popularity, constantly employing himself in political bustles, neglecting his own affairs, and ruining them by that neglect, He pays, indeed, said I, too much for his whistle.

If I knew a miser, who gave up every kind of comfortable living, all the pleasure of doing good to others, all the esteem of his fellow-citizens, and the joys of benevolent friendship, for the sake of accumulating wealth, Poor man, said I, you pay too much for your whistle.

When I met with a man of pleasure, sacrificing every laudable improvement of the mind, or of his fortune, to mere corporeal sensations, and ruining his health in their pursuit, Mistaken man, said I, you are providing pain for yourself, instead of pleasure; you give too much for your whistle.

If I see one fond of appearance, or fine clothes, fine houses, fine furniture, fine equipages, all above his fortune, for which he contracts debts, and ends his career in a prison, Alas! say I, he has paid dear, very dear, for his whistle.

When I see a beautiful sweet-tempered girl married to an ill-natured brute of a husband, What a pity, say I, that she should pay so much for a whistle!

In short, I conceive that great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by the false estimates they have made of the value of things, and by their giving too much for their whistles.

Yet I ought to have charity for these unhappy people, when I consider that, with all this wisdom of which I am boasting, there are certain things in the world so tempting, for example, the apples of King John, which happily are not to be bought; for if they were put to sale by auction, I might very easily be led to ruin myself in the purchase, and find that I had once more given too much for the whistle.

Adieu, my dear friend, and believe me ever yours very sincerely and with unalterable affection.

The End

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earthquakes and the New Madrid Fault

Worth a listen

From this morning's Vincent David Jericho program on KSGF:

April 22_What should you know about Earthquakes in the Ozarks

Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - 6

Guest: Ryan Nicholls- Springfield/Greene County Emergency Management, Professor Alessandro Forte- University of Quebec in Montréal, and Larry Case-Missouri Association of Insurance Agents

Should there be earthquakes in the heartland of America? How could an earthquake impact Springfield and what has the Springfield/Greene County Emergency Management deducted from their studies? What is the probability of an earthquake hitting this area? What should the average family have on had to prepare for an earthquake or any natural disaster? Is there a shelf life for water? How hard is it to acquire earthquake insurance in Missouri? Could the structure of your house have an impact on what kind of insurance you can get and the price of it? What is a good resource where you can learn more about being prepared?

Length 41:51

For more information about the Emergency Management Center and their need of new facilities read CFP Midweek's March 26, 2008 issue.

Monday, April 21, 2008

C.U. rate hike foiled

Carlson made a motion that the C.U. natural gas rate hike be tabled and sent back to the utility for consideration, Wiley seconded the motion.


Only Burlison voted against the measure.

City Utility's "profits," "surpluses," "civic contributions," and "subsidies"

I toyed with whether I wanted to go here over the weekend. I decided it's worthwhile to comment on the Saturday News-Leader article. In particular, this excerpt from Wes Johnson's article:

"CU plans to spend $2.5 million on tree trimming this year.

Board member Lisa Officer asked whether spending an additional $1 million a year for several years would require a rate increase for electric customers.

CU general manager John Twitty said it wouldn't necessarily trigger a rate increase, but the cost eventually would be passed on to CU customers.

He noted that CU hasn't increased its base electric rate since 2003, to pay for new pollution controls.

A rate hike for tree trimming would be particularly sensitive now because CU already is asking the City Council to approve a 4.1 percent natural gas rate hike.

Electric customers have been subsidizing gas system losses in recent years.

If the gas rate hike goes through, CU board member Tom Finnie suggested using the electric system subsidy to help pay tree trimming costs."*

Now, I understand that when money is taken from the electric system's "profits" to pay for needs of the gas system at C.U. the electric system is "subsidizing" the gas system, but when the electric system's "surplus" is used for maintenance of the electric system, is the electric system "subsidizing" itself or is it paying it's own way?

Twitty has communicated that each of the utilities should be paying it's own way.

There was a base electric rate increase in 2003 (the last base electric increase according to Twitty) to pay for new pollution controls, yet the electric system is still making more than is necessary, enough to subsidize the gas system, subsidize public transportation and make civic group contributions.

A citizen questioned City Utilities at the last Council meeting that if the natural gas rate increase was approved by City Council would electric rates be reduced since the electric system's "subsidy" would no longer be needed to maintain a separate system, but it didn't appear that C.U. was considering lowering electric rates. Further, C.U.'s contributions to civic groups was called into question by State Auditor Susan Montee who later expressed satisfaction with the utility's explanation as to why their contributions benefit the utility but still leaving questions in our community, see "Spending practices examined" from April 4, 2008.

Suggestion: City Utility's John Twitty likes to refer to hedging natural gas as "insurance," giving us a prime example of his ability to describe one thing as something more palatable by identifying it to the media, the State Auditor and its customers as something not quite what it is. So, it seems to me, if the utility wants to benefit its community (customers who are paying electric rates to the tune of giving C.U. a "surplus" to "subsidize" other systems within the utility's purview) why don't they call the "subsidizing" of the gas system by the profits generated by the electric system a "civic contribution," rather than a "subsidy?" In my opinion, this would benefit their customers more than some of the other civic group contributions C.U. is making with money that goes beyond what is necessary to pay for the electric system, and please don't pretend that the electric rates paid above and beyond what is necessary to pay for electricity to its customers would be "subsidizing" tree trimming maintenance necessary to stabilize C.U.'s delivery of electric to its electric customers.

C.U. wants to raise the base gas rates to pay for maintenance of gas system delivery so that the gas system can "pay its own way," and then a board member wonders whether it will be necessary to raise our electric rates rather than use the electric system's "subsidy" currently spent, in part, on civic group contributions, for tree trimming, electricity delivery maintenance.

Can anyone else see the irony here, or is it just me? If they have enough money in the electric system to subsidize the gas system for 8 or 9 years, subsidize public transport and make civic group contributions, then they have enough in the electric system to pay for tree trimming maintenance without "eventually" passing the cost "on to CU customers." It seems to me C.U. customers have been "subsidizing" tree trimming maintenance for a long time, C.U. just hasn't chosen to utilize that "subsidy" for tree trimming maintenance.

Of course, there is also the option of using some of that "subsidy" money to upgrade their current system by developing a plan and phasing in underground electric delivery to their customers.

*emphasis mine

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Recommended Reading 12: School Choice

Once in a while I like to see what my friend, Suzi Brozman, is doing over at Atlanta JT Online. I found this very interesting:

NEWS: Georgia Tax Bill to Benefit Day Schools

"The Georgia General Assembly has sent Gov. Sonny Perdue legislation that would allow people and businesses to donate money they'd otherwise pay in state taxes to help families choose the best schools for their children. ....

...The teachers unions oppose the legislation, saying it would weaken public schools. But ultimately, Rabbi Kapenstein said, the goal is not to benefit schools, but to help children."*

Psssst, Tony....they're not vouchers.....

*emphasis mine

Friday, April 18, 2008

Will McGowan Carry the City's Heer's Deal Baton?

Darin Bridges of Springfield had a reader letter in the News-Leader today: Relay incident memorable, in which he recounts dropping the baton (he's writing as though to Coach Vaughan, who was recently honored at the dedication at Shumate Stadium):

"It was the All-City Meet. Our (Hillcrest) mile relay team was favored to take the gold or at least the silver. I was your lead-off guy, and during my fourth stride out of the blocks I dropped the baton. It tumbled all the way to the edge of the track. It was awful....

You called us all together in the middle of the field and we could tell you were fuming. You then yelled for the equipment manager, "Let me see that baton!" It scared the poor kid to death. For a moment I was afraid you might beat me with it. Instead you threw it on the ground and stomped on it. Right there in the middle of JFK. You then picked it up, looked at it, and scolded something like, "I never want to see another one of these NEW batons in the hands of one of my track members again! Do you hear me?" Then you yelled at the other coaches, "Look at how light these aluminum batons are! My boys have been practicing with nothing but steel and on the day of the race we put this #$&! in their hands?!"...

Yeah, the baton was new, lighter aluminum, but we all knew that had nothing to do (with) my dropping it. We knew exactly what you were up to, but no one ever brought the subject up again. We simply moved on to the next race. (Emphasis mine)

The strategy and timing of your demonstration was pure genius. You could have "called-me-out" for such a bone-headed move, but you knew that would hurt our team, and I think you knew what it would do to me...."

I have a purpose for bringing up Mr. Bridges' sports story. I want to apply it to the City of Springfield regarding Park Central Square. Wes Johnson's story in the News-Leader seems a bit like grasping at straws to me, I mean, I'm being honest here.

In Back to square one? Johnson puts forth the challenge of whether Lawrence Halprin can be considered the designer of the square when another architect working in Halprin's firm was responsible for the majority of the architectural drawings. Well, that would be akin to saying that an architect hired by Butler Rosenbury to do work for Butler Rosenbury under the Butler Rosenbury stamp and seal isn't really Butler Rosenbury. It's quite a stretch but I appreciate the sentiment.

I noticed Vincent David Jericho was asking if those who wanted to see Halprin's work preserved could be blamed for a Heer's deal bail out by McGowan's exercise of their put option if the square renovation wasn't on schedule (as specified in their contract on the Heer's with the city) due to the question of the historic value of the square. Well, I don't really think so, these matters should have been considered long ago, before the contract with Kevin McGowan included the stipulation that the square would be remodeled by a certain date, actually, it should have been considered more critically whether it was a good decision for the city to take possession of the Heer's Tower way back when, but we are where we are and sometimes the best thing to do is to take our frustrations out on the aluminum baton rather than the player(s) responsible for the fumble.

Sometimes the best thing to do is to build up the team. I don't disagree with that but I also think that honesty, honesty from the start to the finish, is the best policy. The coach facilitated a "face" save for a young high school team player. It'd be nice if Wes Johnson could facilitate a "face" save through his article, or, if Butler Rosenbury, by stretching to suggest that a signed and sealed Lawrence Halprin design wasn't really a Halprin design because someone else in his firm drew the plans, could pull the city out of this mess but let's not forget that the high school boys on the team, including and especially the young man that dropped the baton knew what the coach was really doing. Our collective intelligence demands it.

We all want to be good team players. We all want the best for Springfield, Missouri and we all understand that we cannot afford to own the Heer's Tower anymore but this bed has been made and it'll be played out and City staff and City Council aren't high school age students dropping a baton at a sporting event. Still...the best thing for Springfield is that Kevin McGowan not exercise his put option even if the play turns out to have been made poorly. We'll just have to see how it comes out and hope that it turns out well in the end. A lot of it depends on Mr. McGowan, will he be a team player? Will he stomp on the baton or will he take his ball and go home? I remember McGowan making comment before the City Council at the public hearing of the Heer's deal on August 27, 2007:

"We're committed to this project and we're committed because we've formed some relationships here in Springfield. We're very much looking forward to get going...."

He said he was committed to renovating the Heer's Tower. Now would be the time to hope he meant it.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Recommended Reading 11 - More on earnings taxes

From Show-Me Institute

Lest We Think 1 Percent Is Small

"Earnings taxes are not unique — about 25 percent of the nation’s largest cities collect them — but they have become increasingly rare in recent decades. One reason for their decline is that earnings taxes are particularly damaging to cities with significant suburban populations and small urban cores, such as Saint Louis and Kansas City, because they encourage businesses and residents to relocate out of town. Because suburban districts offer a similar range of cultural and employment opportunities as the city itself, households and businesses have little incentive to pay higher taxes solely for the benefit of a city street address...." (emphasis mine)

The article goes on to point out that if median income families saved the $350 a year by moving outside of a city that collects a 1% earnings tax, in 40 years they would have $80,000 more in household wealth than if they had lived in a 1% earnings tax city. Think of that, a potential $80,000 over the course of 40 years to go into your retirement if you simply chose to move to the suburbs rather than live in an earnings taxed city! Both St. Louis and Kansas City collect a 1% earnings tax. The median income of $35,000 per year would require $350 annually to pay the earnings tax.

This recommended article concludes:

"Taxes are a necessary part of urban living, but it’s important that cities adopt tax policies that encourage growth rather than driving it out of town. Earnings taxes can significantly impact a household’s lifetime earnings. In many cases, residents have chosen to “vote with their feet,” relocating to suburbs and lower tax rates. In fact, to help illustrate the incentives that varying tax rates provide, the Show-Me Institute recently released an estimator that helps Missourians compare their relative tax burdens across the state.

While Saint Louis’ and Kansas City’s metropolitan areas have continued to grow over the years, their urban cores have stagnated. Is the earnings tax really so insignificant?"

Recommended Reading 10 ~ On Earnings Tax

From Show-Me Institute

How an Earnings Tax Harms Cities Like Saint Louis and Kansas City

"The economics is quite straightforward. By adopting an earnings tax, a city gives businesses and residents an incentive to locate production outside the city. People go where they will obtain the highest after-tax return on their labor or investments."

From the Four Page Policy Briefing linked at the above article:

"An earnings tax is systematically associated with lower city percapita income relative to the surrounding suburbs."

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Dan Chiles: Conflict of Interest or Simple Budget Discussions?

Tomorrow, one thing that is on the slate at the City Council luncheon will be delivery of a draft prepared by Springfield City Attorney Dan Wichmer outlining what course of action could or should be made regarding an ethics question that was raised after comments made by City Councilman Dan Chiles regarding non-profit organizations and other issues during ongoing budget discussions.

Following is the transcript of his comments from that March 18 City Council luncheon that spawned the ethics questions, you be the judge whether these comments were a conflict or a part of ongoing budget discussions. Councilman Chiles is a board member of the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks:

"Mayor, I was alarmed by the size of the cuts to the non-profits at our meeting last night. I think that, if we have to put some perspective on this, instead of just treating it like second class citizens and saying you're just a non-profit, we're going to take 50 percent of your budget, we ought to view them the way they view themselves.

These organizations actually attract money, like the Watershed Committee attracts $7 for every dollar we give them. Melissa Haddow testified that the wonderful work she does for the Community Partnership of the Ozarks. She attracts $17 for every dollar that we give her and to whack their budgets by 50 percent will mean people will lose their jobs and the integrity of some of these organizations will fail..."

(Mayor Carlson interjects: "Just to be clear, we're not whacking their budgets, we're whacking our contributions to their budgets, that's quite a bit different.")

"...but, I note that what we did, and I asked the clerk to look this up, on December 17 we had proceeds from the telecom settlement, we took $300,000 after we had made other payments and we, it looked like we weren't exactly sure what we could do with the $300,000, so we made an unscheduled pay raise to city employees and I'm not saying they're not worth it because city employees work hard and maybe we should have given them a pay raise, but the fact that three months later we find ourselves in the depths of a terrible budget crises, where that $300,000 would have been extremely useful to preserve exactly these non-profits that we're talking about here today makes me wonder. Where is the vision that three months ago should have recognized $300,000 would have come in handy? And today, we're in a budget crises ready to cut these organizations by 50 percent.

To me it's just alarming and I would propose an alternative that whatever it is that we cut city departments by, in total, whether it's 5 percent solution or 7 percent solution or whatever it is, we cut the non-profits by the same percentage. I'm not saying they shouldn't suffer it's just, I say everybody should suffer, but given their value....

Like we were just at the Watershed meeting the other day and if there is any priority for this community, and I know that police and fire is one, but so is water. We were told about a great pharmaceutical experiment that Americans are imposing on themselves which is, let's take a witch's brew of pharmaceuticals and let's add them into the water supply and let's give them to our children. Well, this is happening all across America and we need a better vision, a better understanding about how to protect ourselves against these things and whacking this budget at this time means that we're not setting two priorities so, not everything in that list of non-profit's is the same priority, I'll admit, but certainly a water supply is something we can't live for three days without so that's why I think we need a more systematic and more policy driven discussion of which one of these should suffer and which one of these should, maybe, be added to and I don't think we saw that last night and I recognize that the first take on this was just an overview, a suggestion, but I think now it's time, within this time limit that was just adopted, which is very short, to take a look at these community priorities and to say, these people are doing great work and attracting money that is leveraging what we give them with the volunteer support of all these boards and volunteers that work in these organizations and they are worth the expense.

So, it means we're going to have to find cuts in other places that we did not see last night and I would support that and I just mentioned a few off the top of my mind which came from the auditor's report, which was the 400 cars. Now, maybe we're addressing that, okay, but it does make you wonder and I think the citizens of Springfield need to know that was such an egregious example of cars only driven for a thousand miles a year that apparently are not of great use and I'd like to know that those kind of cuts, in addition to memberships and trips to meetings and whatever it is that normal businesses in tight financial times find ways to cut, if we can cut some of those things, maybe we can preserve some of the non-profits and I would support that.

And finally, I would say, and perhaps this is a question to your question of the process, but inside of Springfield, Missouri are people who know how to trim budgets, the most famous is Jack Stack with SRC, these people live lives on tight budgets and if we had the time and if we have the means we could impanel a volunteer group of people who could put together an outside view of this budget and I guarantee we'd be counting toilet paper in Springfield, Missouri and maybe that's what we need to do. We'd be looking and every single nut and bolt and dollar in this town and maybe that's what we need to do before we agree on a budget and so, before we do any more discussions of taking the legs out from under these non-profits, I would support an outside view, a volunteer citizen panel if they would agree to do it, no expense to the city, and see if we can't find additional cuts. Thanks."

---end March 18 comments---

"I think it falls in that category of setting priorities and deciding what we're going to do and all this ethics, conflict of interest stuff has really been a distraction, I think." - Councilman Dan Chiles, March 31, 2008