Friday, February 27, 2009

Vision 20/20 Inspired, Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) should be Revisited, Suspended by the City Council

or tossed in the "paper only" recycling bin until further notice

And, yes, I know the CIP sales tax was voter approved, as was the recent 1/8-cent Transportation Sales Tax, which was rolled into the CIP by the City Council at a recent, past Council meeting. I understand that, as a voter approved sales tax, it isn't as simple as the City Council suspending or tossing the CIP.

I also know a new group, Save Our Springfield (SOS), has recommended that the new Council, to be elected in early April, combined with current Council members Doug Burlison, Ralph Manley, Dan Chiles and Cindy Rushefsky, provide a ballot allowing for the expiration of the 1/4-cent CIP sales tax, rather than one calling for extension of the sales tax, and instead, provide for a 1/4-cent pension fund sales tax initiative to replace it. By allowing the CIP sales tax to sunset and be replaced by a pension sales tax proposal of the same amount on the ballot, voters could approve the 1/4-cent pension sales tax with no increase in taxes.

Later, after the pension plan shortfall has been addressed, through that 1/4-cent pension sales tax and other contributions from the City, (I don't think anyone is expecting the 1/4-cent sales tax to completely repair the pension shortfall), SOS has stated, the CIP could be brought back for renewal. In fact, such a move might even allow the City adequate time to revisit the Vision 20/20 Comprehensive and Strategic Plans before the CIP sales tax is placed on the ballot in the future.

My understanding of the CIP is that it is a necessary evil the City must prepare, and the Council must approve, in order for the City to request matching funds from other government entities, much like the Five Year Consolidated Plan, the current Council is expected to approve before the April election, is required in order for the City "to be eligible to receive funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program" (as I noted on page 4 of the December 17, 2008 issue of "Community Free Press," under the heading of "CITY COUNCIL UPDATE: Community Block Grants Could Fund Enforcement").

In fact, I was assured by the City's Special Project Manager Mike Brothers, that in regards to the 1/8-cent Transportation Sales Tax, recently rolled into the CIP, when a 1/8-cent Transportation Sales Tax project is proposed as a cost share, it does come before the City Council (see: "Update on 1/8-cent Transportation Sales Tax Issue"). At the time of that "update," back on July 30, 2008, I had questions about when and under what bill identification the 1/8-cent Transportation Sales Tax project(s) would come before the City Council.

In his June 29, 2008, email to me, Brothers wrote:

"...anything involving the 1/8 cent goes to Council. Any kind of cost share with MoDOT or private developers or anyone else would go to Council for approval. Smaller projects on down to sidewalks would still have to be bid out to developers and that would require Council approval, too. So there are no staff decisions (if that's what you meant by administrative) as to how to allocate the money."

Why does it matter in regards to the Vision 20/20 public input process? Because CIP projects are predicated by the public input process which resulted in the Vision 20/20 Comprehensive and Strategic Plans.

Brother's assurances that Council would oversee and have an opportunity to revisit any project the City had proposed was meant to satisfy me, and my readers, that the public would have another opportunity to weigh in and the final decision on any given Transportation Sales Tax project would be approved by Springfield's elected representatives and not administratively, just as the recent Wayfinding Sign project was placed as a one reading resolution for the approval of our elected representatives before the City could go ahead with an over $300,000 contract with a Michigan company to design and fabricate Wayfinding signs. Our representatives were split on that vote, but a lame duck Council of four plus, one Councilwoman Cindy Rushefsky, chose to approve the contract and continue the project.

The publics' voices were heard. Right?

At the Council luncheon, when it was decided, at the request of Councilman Denny Whayne, to reconsider whether now was the time to go forward with the Wayfinding Sign contract, I believe it was Mayor Carlson who said public input had already been received, leaving, at least, this lowly blogger with the impression that Council would be revisiting it, not the public.

Somehow, I'm not sure how it happened, but somehow, six members of the public who, mostly, happened to be representatives of organizations associated or loosely associated with Springfield City government, happened to be there to turn in cards to speak in support of the Wayfinding Sign project, before it was even added to the February 23, Council agenda. A couple of other citizens, who just happen to regularly attend meetings, managed to slip a card to the City Clerk in time to address the other side of the issue but, there was no real notice given to the public that they'd have another opportunity to speak to the issue prior to the meeting.

I note this occurence because it seemed inconsistant with another recent meeting, in which Councilwoman Rushefsky wanted to question Walmart representatives, who happened to be in attendance that night, about a bill but the Mayor, instead, said there would need to be notice that the issue would be reopened, so those members of the public who were not aware it would be reopened that night, could make plans to be in attendance for the next meeting:

"Rushefsky made a motion to continue the bill (to the next meeting) because she wanted to question Wal-Mart representatives on behalf of her constituents, and this could only be accomplished (according to Mayor Tom Carlson) by reopening the public hearing. Continuing it will allow the public to have notice the hearing has been reopened, (so the public would know they had another opportunity to speak to the issue) Rushefsky’s motion was passed by a majority of Council." (See CFP's December 3, 2008, issue and go to TV23 and click on the November 24, 2008, City Council meeting and then the bookmark for Bill number 2008-344 to hear Carlson's reasoning.)

There was no vote taken for a continuance, to make sure the public was aware the Wayfinding sign issue was reopened for public hearing at the meeting wherein Council revisited the Wayfinding sign contract, and subsequently, approved it. I found that interesting considering 6 people who supported the Wayfinding sign project took their chances they'd be allowed to speak. Do you find that interesting?

The reasoning behind the Wayfinding sign projects approval is, and was, that the public had voted to approve the 2007-2010 CIP (now available at a City Web site, linked below) which listed the project. But, as noted, the City Council, as the taxpayers' representatives, are expected to have the final say, and the City Councils' final say should take into account the voters' wishes at the moment the expenditure(s) are approved. The CIP represents a wish list of the City government based on a wish list of the public who happened to attend the Vision 20/20 meetings and offered their opinions about priorities. For an interesting read on that ongoing (?) process, check out: "busplunge: Sidewalks: Ferguson, New & Weaver OR Fort Street? Campbell Street?"

Excerpts from the busplunge entry:

"Almost four years ago, on Saturday, May 1, 2004, 35 people attended a Fassnight neighborhood assessment workshop held in the Portland Elementary School all purpose room....

...I shoulda gone, my neighbor thinks he should have gone. This is almost like the 350 people who made up Vision 20/20 deciding things for the city or that small group who went to the quarry meeting. We shoulda gone, yep, shoulda, coulda, woulda."

Who represents the City of Springfield or your neighborhood? 35 people? 350 people? Hundreds of people?

If the 35 or 350 people "the bus" referred to, represent the entire voting population's views on what are priority projects of the City, all I can say is "God, please help us."

I've sent an email to the City Clerk with a request that she forward it to the City staff employee in charge of overseeing the Vision 20/20 process. I asked some questions which haven't been answered yet but that, I feel, hold great relevance to the Vision 20/20 process and the priorities set in the CIP.

The Vision 20/20 Strategic Plan states:

"The 2004 VISION 20/20 Strategic Plan for Springfield and Greene County is an outgrowth of the planning process undertaken in the mid-1990s and the plan elements that were prepared and adopted as a result of that planning process. The process was citizen-driven and involved hundreds of volunteers...."

Questions I have asked in an email:

"I believe people who are interested in coming to an understanding of the Vision 20/20 Comprehensive and Strategic Plans want to know the identities and associations of the citizens who "drove" the process and the hundreds of volunteers who decided how capital expenditures should be spent on the Springfield/Greene-County taxpayers' behalf.

Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on one's perspective) people are suspicious of who this "public" was who decided what the City would spend their tax dollars on from the inception of the plan and forever after. Personally, and I think most people would agree, the citizens involved in a process which determined future expenditures for, what appears to have become eternity, should be identified, as they are being allowed to speak on behalf of every tax payer in the City of Springfield and every tax payer in Greene-County. People want to know who these people were who determined the future growth of our City and therefore, the use of their taxes and whether these people have associational ties within the City government, for instance, are they members of non-profit groups whose budgets have been or were being subsidized from the City of Springfield's general budget? I believe these unanswered questions are the primary cause of most of the underlying suspicion present among Springfield/Greene County tax payers today. Since it was a public process, that information should also be public information, correct?"

If I get the answer to that question, I'll let you know.

In the meantime, here is some information I alluded to providing in a previous comment under another posting:

Vision 20/20 Questions and Answers:

Question: In total, how many different "elements" are there to the Vision 20/20 Plan?

Answer: Eight.

Question: May I have a complete list of each of the different "elements" which have generated a separate Vision 20/20 document or report?

Answer: Center City, Community Facilities, Community Physical Image and Character, Growth Management and land use, Historic Preservation, Neighborhoods, Parks Open Space and Greenways, Transportation

Question: How many total pages are there in the Vision 20/20 Plan when one adds up all the different reports covering different "elements" of the plan?

Answer: Based on the copies online:

> Historic Preservation and Land Use – 118 pages
> Center City – 108 pages
> Community Facilities – 52 pages
> Community Physical Image and Character – 46 pages
> Growth Management – 30 pages
> Neighborhoods – 47 pages
> Parks, Open Space, and Greenways – 182 pages
> Transportation – 254 pages

> TOTAL PAGES – 837 pages

Question: Finally, a rhetorical question (since I got an answer, I am posting this): How can the average working citizen of this City be expected to be informed when such a document is so inaccessible (prior to my queries) and so much of the City's capital expenditures are linked to it?

Answer: By definition, a rhetorical question does not request an answer – however, this is a very good question. Over 350 citizens of Springfield and Greene County worked a total of roughly 16 months on the background for this comprehensive plan. The actual documents were written by a consultant. A decision was made to use a consultant to avoid hiring additional staff. There were numerous public events to present and get feedback on the elements of plan before adoption. This included the VisionFest which was a day-long Saturday event attended by roughly 1,000 citizens. The newspaper and television stations gave coverage to the plan. At the time of adoption, I think the citizens were more familiar with the plan than they are today.

All the elements are on the City’s website and have been for some time. The elements of the plan were adopted between 1998 and 2001.

(Source: Ann Razer. I do not know Ms. Razer's official title but according to the City Clerk she is, "presently over the Vision 20/20 process")

While all the elements to the plan are available at the City's Web site, they were not easily accessible to the public because they were not listed under the headings of Vision 20/20 and CIP, at the time I began my search the only CIP document which was currently available was the most recent report approved by the City Council. I had to seek assistance from the City Clerk and Ms. Razer in order to locate them as they were listed under a "Comprehensive Planning Office" page, apparently, the Comprehensive Planning Office is a branch of the Planning & Development Department of Planning Services. I will note that the City Clerk and Ms. Razer have made available documents which were not available online when I first began looking for them. Yesterday, the Vision 20/20 Strategic Plan was added and today past CIP reports have been added and are now available to the public online. It is for this reason I have confidence in the City of Springfield's City Clerk. She listens and she addresses issues as they are raised. We should all thank her for her responsiveness. I'll also note, I have not checked the City's Web site to see if they might have honored my recommendation that they list these items in the City Web site's "Site Map" under Vision 20/20 and CIP so that the general public can more easily access them but, it wouldn't surprise me if that wily Clerk hadn't taken action on that, as well. Thanks, Ms. Cirtin!

The links are listed as "Planning Documents and Reports for Download," here are the available links:

Comprehensive Plan (all are PDF)

> Center City
> Community Facilities
> Community Physical Image and Character
> Growth Management and Land Use
> Historic Preservation
> Neighborhoods
> Parks, Open Space, and Greenways
> Transportation
> Capital Improvements Program 2009-2014
> Capital Improvements Program 2008-2013
> Capital Improvements Program 2007-2012
> Capital Improvements Program 2006-2011
> Southeast Springfield Development Study
> Vision 20/20 Strategic Plan
> Year End Report, Year 3
> Year End Report, Year 2
> Year End Report, Year 1

Additional information. There were complaints from City Manager Greg Burris that voter turn out was low in the February 3 election, in which voters voted down a 1 percent sales tax to fund the police and firefighters pension plan. Because voter turnout has been reported to be consistently low in all February elections, I asked County Clerk Richard Struckhoff for some information going back to 1998 on voter turnout for February elections. Following is the information from that query as provided in documents made available by the Greene County Clerk*:

Percentage of voter turnout for February election in:

1998: 22.59
2001: 9.19
2002: 20.70
2003: 7.01
2004: 24.34
2005: 2.98
2007: 6.56
2008: 39.11
2009: 17.15**

*If a year is not listed, there was no February election held in February of that year

Update: **I averaged the February election voter turn out from 1998-2008 (or over a 10 year period) by totalling the turn out for those years and dividing that sum by the total of years represented (8), that average was 16.56 percent February election voter turn out, making the 17.15 percent voter turn out for the February 2009, election slightly above the 10 year average for February election voter turn out (0.59%).

If that total represented by the last ten years is divided by 10 years as opposed to the 8 years represented, the average would be 13.25 percent. Which would make the February, 2009 election above the average of February election voter turn out by almost 4 percent (3.9%).


Thursday, February 26, 2009

City of Springfield Invites Public Input on Police/Fire Pension Issue in a Variety of Ways

The City of Springfield is seeking input from the public on the Police and Firefighters Pension issue in three different ways.

They will be mailing out an election follow up survey to randomly selected voters. Those voters who receive a survey will be asked to mail it back to the City in an enclosed envelope or fill it out on the Internet. The deadline for returning the mailed surveys is 5:00 p.m. on Friday, March 6.

A short survey regarding the February 3, ballot proposal is available the City's homepage to those interested in filling it out or, if you'd prefer, you can go to the Busch Building at 840 Boonville Avenue and pick up a copy. That survey will be posted, online, through 5:00 p.m. on Friday, March 6.

Or, if you really want to get involved, you can apply to participate on the Police/Fire Pension Fund Citizens Task Force by submitting an online application, that form is also available at the City's homepage. The deadline to submit those applications is 5:00 p.m. on Monday, March 9. Of course, there aren't any promises you'll be one of the citizens chosen to serve on that task force but you'll never know unless you try.

Better git busy.

(Source City of Springfield News Release)

Oh, what the hooey:

"When you're Lovin' Me, I'm Lovin' you"

Paolo Nutini

........For my readers.......

Then again, I love ya even when you ain't lovin' me. ;)


"Hello New Shoes, Bye Bye Blues"

Paolo Nutini "New Shoes" Live


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Looking for Public Input to Begin the Process of a Wayfinding Sign System...

to Direct the Public through the Current Wayfinding Sign Maze

I was laying out all the details about how much trouble I have had in getting access to documents referenced in the City's February 20, white paper about the wayfinding system but, I really have these concerns about boring my readers to death with the details of my plight.

All I wanted to do was offer a community service by providing some details and background on the wayfinding project which could remain a permanent research tool on the Internet. Suffice to say, it hasn't been easy tracking down the few documents I have sought.

Springfield's City Clerk Brenda Cirtin, who did not prepare the white paper, has provided me with at least half of what I asked for, and prior to this posting, she informed me she's working to find another documents I have requested. I believe she is doing the best she can to provide me with the requested documentation, and, when possible, she has directed me on a path to find certain information for myself. I recognize she is busy, and she's always very professional and kind every time I have a request for information. I don't blame her for not having every document at the tip of her fingers, especially considering she had no part in preparing the white paper, and I appreciate all her patient assistance.

Still, the inaccessibility of the reference documents noted in the white paper are frustrating. That frustration is the reason I considered detailing my difficulty in getting access to them. If I have this much trouble finding or acquiring the listed references, after a couple of years of experience in asking for information from the City, how much trouble would a citizen have, who is not accustomed to asking for this sort of information? Would they be as tempted as I am to simply throw up their hands and quit?

How many citizens of this City are so troubled by the questions they have concerning this issue that they'd go to the trouble an investigative reporter goes to just to read the documents cited in that white paper?

How many people bothered to read a 134 page Capital Improvement Program report prior to voting for the quarter-cent sales tax that supports it? Further, who really does that besides the media and a handful of citizens, and, for that matter, who in the media really does that any more?

Journalists seem to rush from meeting to meeting to file their reports, doing the best they can to, hurriedly, offer the public the surface details, hoping they didn't miss anything, asking only the most obvious of questions and oftentimes, not ever taking the time to verify whether the documentation they have been offered is entirely representative of the process.

Did the Council, in the space of time they were allowed to examine the white paper, adequately study the report and ask questions about it? Or, did they simply accept the noted "History & Timeline of Wayfinding Public Involvement Process," included in the white paper, without studying or looking into any of the references given?

Do they know that, at the meeting which took place on April 20, 2004, a question was asked about possible cost sharing for the project?

From the City Council Luncheon Notes of the April 20, 2004, meeting provided by Springfield City Clerk Brenda Cirtin:

"Question: Could the costs for the proposed wayfinding system be divided up between the City and other entities, such as UDA (Urban Districts Alliance) and CVB (Convention & Visitors Bureau)?

Answer: Mr. Corbin (Corbin Design Group) briefly discussed that the costs could be broken up between several entities regarding the proposed wayfinding system if desired. He added that federal or state grants via transportation enhancement monies are other options relating to financing a portion of the proposed wayfinding system."

Yet, for some reason, we've received no indication that the City has requested any other entity share in the cost of these signs. By all indications, the entire $600,000 cost will be paid through the taxpayers' 1/4 cent sales tax to fund capital improvement projects and this, even as, in today's News-Leader, Public Works Director Marc Thornsberry touted the opportunities the CIP gives the City to receive matching dollars for projects. Thornsberry offered the remarks in an effort to downplay the feasibility of a local group's idea to allow the CIP 1/4 cent sales tax to expire next year, a decision which would allow citizens to approve a 1/4 cent sales tax to fund the police and firefighter pension plan without an increase in taxes.

Although, I believe, I have been present at all the recent public discussions about the wayfinding signs, I've heard no elected City Council representative of Springfield taxpayers inquire about the possibility of cost sharing on this project.

Another small point that should be noted is the repeated use of the terms "advertising" and "marketing" throughout the references I have been able to search. Yet, when Councilman Burlison inquired about the possibility the City could open itself to liability by businesses not selected to be listed on the signs he was told by City Attorney Dan Wichmer, in a denial that the signs are advertisements, "It's not, 'Go visit Bass Pro,' it's 'if you're going to Bass Pro, this is how you get there.'" And yet, again, in the April 2, 2003, News-Leader article referenced by the City's white paper, City Manager Tom Finnie issued a warning:

"...City Manager Tom Finney told the council that the Wayfinding program could be "very controversial" in deciding which sites are advertised and which are not."

Perhaps Mr. Burlison's question should have been taken a bit more seriously and perhaps he shouldn't have acquiesced so quickly to Mr. Wichmer's response?

Next, what was the "public input" that set the City on this wayfinding project path? There were lots of meetings which would have been posted as public meetings. The first reference on "Appendix A -- History & Timeline of Wayfinding Public Involvement Process" of the City's whitepaper was the "August 3, 1998 -- Community Physical Image Plan Element of the Vision 20/20 Comprehensive Plan." City Clerk Brenda Cirtin sent me a copy of that document. It does not list the members of the focus group who introduced the goal of that "element" of the Vision 20/20 Plan as guiding:

"...City ordinances, capital improvements and site plan reviews to gradually improve the overall physical appearance of the built environment."

The white paper notes:

"The Community Image Plan Element described the City-wide pathfinder sign system: A city-wide “pathfinder system" would help visitors and residents find their way around the City and improve the community’s image. The system would consist of consistent and colorful informational signs that identify and give directions to the community’s many facilities and attractions. The pathfinder signs, which could be either internally lit or metal, and either freestanding or mounted on existing structures (such as light poles), could includea symbol of each facility, the name and a directional arrow. They also could include a city symbol or logo element to reinforce the community theme.

Starting points for the pathfinder sign system should include arterial roadways near interchanges with the major perimeter highways such as I-44, U.S. 65 or the James River Freeway. Signs should be clustered along the arterial roads at periodic intervals, particularly before turning points. Placement should be more frequent in Greater Downtown and near SMSU, which may have a higher density of destinations and more visitors."

The white paper also tells us in Appendix B that The Team for Direction & Coordination included the Springfield Wayfinding Core Group and Springfield Wayfinding Stakeholder Participants, noting both the Core Group and the Stakeholder Participants were identified by position at the inception of the group. This tells me they may have been the "public input" involved or, at least, participants, in the creation of the Community Physical Image Plan Element of the Vision 20/20 Comprehensive Plan, since the white paper has indicated that plan was the beginning point of discussions about the Wayfinding signs. I cannot be sure but, since those are the only groups we can definitely identify at the moment, it's worth noting who made up "The Team for Direction & Coordination:"

Wayfinding Core Group: 5 Springfield (City) Planning and Development employees; 3 City Public Works Department employees; 1 Greene County Planning employee; 3 MoDOT representatives; 1 Ozarks Transportation Organization representative; 1 Convention and Visitors Bureau President; 1 Chamber of Commerce representative; and 1 Urban Districts Alliance representative.

Wayfinding Stakeholders: 3 Bass Pro representatives; 1 Wonders of Wildlife representative; 2 Springfield-Greene County Parks employees; 1 Drury University representative; 1 Urban Districts Alliance representative; 1 Downtown Community representative; 1 Downtown Community Improvement District representative; 2 MSU representatives; 1 Battlefield Mall representative; 1 Evangel University representative; 1 Cox Medical Center representative; 1 St. John's Regional Health Center representative; 1 Hammon's Field representative; and 1 Greater Springfield Sports Commision and Foundation representative.

Is this the "public input" that went into the Community Physical Image Plan Element of the Vision 20/20 Comprehensive Plan? The public input which made the decision a Wayfinding System should be included in the capital improvements project list? I'm just asking. I'd invite a representative of the public information office of the City to answer any question he or she feels inclined to answer in the comment section of this entry.

Further, for a person, such as myself, who would like to return to ground zero and look at the Vision 20/20 Comprehensive or Strategic Plan, it was an eye opener for me to find out there are many different "elements" to the plan, and, apparently, they are not all included in a single document, rather, if what I recently received is any indication, they are published in separate, elemental reports.

If this is representative of what City officials regularly tout as "public input" when insisting our elected City Council representatives follow through with projects which have received "public input," I'm simply not impressed.

(I have asked the City how many Vision 20/20 elemental plans or reports there are. I have not yet received an answer to that question, at least, not at the time of this posting.)

Do I have an "agenda?" Yes. To put it bluntly, I do have an agenda. My agenda is to look beyond the surface and not merely accept everything the City of Springfield tells me in their news release or white papers at face value. My agenda is to challenge information provided by the City.

You see, I'm not the only one who has an agenda. The City of Springfield has an agenda, too. The City of Springfield has a paid staff to push through their agenda, an asset the public does not have. The public's elected representatives are not even paid, for heaven's sake!

We have no paid staff looking out for our best interest!

So, when I see, as the only list of participants who can be identified as participants in the "public" process, a list of City, County and State government employees, staff and representatives of local organizations which the City has great interest in and utilizes for collaborative efforts to pass sales taxes, among other things, and businesses who stand to benefit by tourists being directed to their businesses via these signs, listed as the Wayfinding System's Core group and collaborators, you better bet I question the City's definition of "public input." What was "public" about it??? That the meetings were all posted as public meetings??? That a couple of newspaper articles were written about it years ago, before the Council resolved to enter into a contract for more than $300,000, with more expenditures to come??? And what was the past cost in consulting fees, design work and staff time prior to this "phase???"

Related: "A bad sign for common sense"


Summary of April 20, 2004 City Council Luncheon Meeting

The First City Council Presentation of the Wayfinding Sign System as Noted in the City's White Paper

Members present: Tom Carlson, Mary Collette, John Wylie, Denny Whayne, Gary Deaver, Sheila Wright, Conrad Griggs, and Bob Jones. Ralph Manley was absent.

Guests present: Jeff Corbin, Consultant, Corbin Design Group; Barb Baker, Urban Districts Alliance (UDA); Tracy Kimberlin, Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB); Dale Ricks, and Leo Kalona, Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDot); Christina Moses, Battlefield Mall; and Members of the Media.

Staff present: Tom Finnie, and Bob Cumley, City Manager's Office; Ralph Rognstad, Vern Morgan, Mary Lily Smith, and Brendan Griesmer, Planning and Development; Earl Newman, Public Works; Louise Whall, Public Information Office; Howard Wright, City Attorney; Brenda Cirtin, and Anita Baker, City Clerk's Office.

According to the notes, Tom Finnie made some remarks about wayfinding signs, then introduced Vern Morgan of Planning and Development. Mr. Morgan noted that Bass Pro and Wonders of Wildlife representatives had been invited to the meeting but, were not present.

Mr. Corbin gave a "Wayfinding and Cross Marketing Challenge" presentation. Corbin said approximately 70 percent of all visitors to Springfield explore one of three major destinations: Bass Pro/Wonders of Wildlife; Downtown/Jordan Valley Park; and the Battlefield Mall.

Corbin discussed cross marketing secondary attractions like the Dickerson Park Zoo by using informational kiosks or pedestrian maps at the three major destinations. He also talked about using existing billboards to advertise Jordan Valley Park within the Wayfinding System.

Other points Corbin discussed were: The need for periodic realignment of destinations listed in the Wayfinding System; The total cost of $600,000; The need to set aside $200,000 of the total cost for "gateways"; that 15 percent of the total spent on the signage should be designated each year for maintenance of the signs; and the signs should be replaced about every 7 years.

Corbin recommended the following steps to implement the program:

1. Clarify MoDot's position/role
2. Design the program
3. Test the design
4. Document the project
5. Bid the project
6. Fabricate and install the signs

In an insuing discussion about the wayfinding signs the following points were made by different people throughout the course of the discussion:

> The issue of electronic marketing, such as radio, was a recommendation for the cross marketing destinations within the City. (Corbin, Corbin Design Group)

> An area around Kansas City had been court ordered to implement "enhancements" (presumably like the wayfinding signs) but, not to the extent Springfield was discussing implementing them. (Ricks, MoDot)

> MoDot did not want distracting signage which could be linked or related to an accident. (Ricks, MoDot)

> The Wayfinding System would be similar to the "monument idea" proposed as a Highway 13 entrance to the City. (Finnie, City Manager's office)

> Costs could be divided between several entities, if so desired by the City. (Corbin, Corbin Design Group)

> Federal or state grants via transportation enhancement monies would be options related to financing a portion of the Wayfinding System. (Corbin, Corbin Design Group)

> 35 percent of tourists in Springfield also visited Branson. (Kimberlin, CVB)

> 17 percent of over-night travelers who stayed in Springfield also went to Branson. (Kimberlin, CVB)

> Finances were a major reason the City did not advertise or market the Zoo in 2004. (Finnie, City Manager's Office)

> The CVB and Chamber of Commerce had had meetings to "brand" the City of Springfield for marketing purposes but, had not come to a decision or conclusion. (Kimberlin, CVB)

> One of the themes for review by the Chamber of Commerce regarding "branding" the City of Springfield was, "a common name in an uncommon place." (Finnie, City Manager's Office)

> Existing wayfinding signage would be replaced for a consistent look throughout the system. (Corbin, Corbin Design Group)

> A better system was needed to guide visitors to the three major destinations; cross market to secondary locations such as the Zoo and Fantastic Caverns. (Finnie, City Manager's Office)

> Costs of "the three" Corbin Design Group recommended steps were not definite at that time. (Corbin, Corbin Design Group and Morgan, Planning and Development)

> Funds were available at the time from the quarter-cent monies for the signage. (Finnie, City Manager's Office)

(Source: City of Springfield; City Council Luncheon Notes, April 20, 2004)


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pension Fund Shortfall: It's a Booger of a Problem

This song is dedicated to City Manager Greg Burris, Councilwoman Rushefsky, Mayor Tom Carlson, Mayor Pro Tem Gary Deaver, Councilwoman Mary Collette and Councilman John Wylie.

Wait for it, wait for it.....

(good thang I'll never have to prove it)


Monday, February 23, 2009

It's all Trickle Down Economics; The liberal vs conservative ideologies of Obama and Reagan Economics

The difference is in the "trickle down" source, and economic policy does not create moral and ethical deficit

A partisan could find it extremely tempting to simply discredit this Huffington Post article based on the words below:

"Twenty years of Republican administrations have brought our economy to its current condition. We are now both broke, and deeply in debt. To hearken back to David Stockman, it was he who said, back in 1981, ""I'm just not going to spend a lot of political capital solving some other guy's problem in 2010." It's now 2009, and Republicans are refusing to spend any political capital "solving some other guy's problem in 2010". The "other guy" is, of course, Barack Obama, and it's about time Republicans got out of the way, and started trying to help all Americans solve our problems. It ill-becomes the people who created the problems to tell us how to fix them. (In that number I include every Republican Congressman or Senator who obstructs the new administration in its attempt to save the economical lives of all of us.)"

The remark followed Reese Schonfeld's charge of hypocrisy on the part of any Republican who points out a trillion dollars is a lot of money. Schonfeld also scolded the media for not pointing out the hypocrisy of any Republican who questions President Obama's stimulation package.

No doubt, Schonfeld is speaking about the terms of Ronald Reagan, the term of George H. W. Bush and the terms of George W. Bush when he tells the reader, "Twenty years of Republican administrations" have brought our economy to its current condition, and though Schonfeld, earlier, credited George H. W. Bush's tax increase to 39.6% on all income over $250,000 as the cause of the deficit reduction during Bill Clinton's two terms, the last 16 years have been equally presided over by 8 years of a Democrat administration followed by 8 years of a Republican administration. To gloss over Clinton's administration of nearly a decade while analyzing our economy's current condition is simply irresponsible, in my opinion.

But, I'm not going to try to discredit Schonfeld based on that one sentence, and though I don't agree with Schonfeld point by point, the editorial was worthwhile reading.

I found it because I was thinking along some of the same lines that Schonfeld was thinking, only I didn't stop where Schonfeld stopped, and I didn't start out thinking I would demonize one party or the other party as the cause of our nation's economical woes for purely partisan reasons. Being an Independent, I'm not particularly inclined to take sides in partisan discussions. It's one of the reasons I checked out of the Republican party a few years ago. I wanted to make my decisions on issues after viewing both sides of any given issue, choosing the solution or analysis which made the most common sense, and I do think there is some common sense coming from each party on most any given issue.

I was looking at Reagan's "trickle down" theory from a different angle. It seems to me that much of what Obama is offering is trickle down economics. I think he and Reagan have a lot in common in that they both appear to think, and have thought, that by making things easier at the top, it will benefit middle and low income Americans by creating jobs for them. While the ideology is different between a conservative and a liberal, both appear to be coming together on that point. And, while Obama gave lip service to a "trickle up" instead of a "trickle down" solution, before revenue trickles back up, Obama wants to trickle it down from the federal government.

While Ronald Reagan wanted to assist big business and corporate America by cutting taxes, Obama wants to raise taxes on upper income America but, only AFTER handing many of them bail out funds. How is that different from Ronald Reagan's theory? The only difference is how the upper income receives a break. A gift from the government from middle and low income Americans with the thought it will get back to them then, trickle back up? As opposed to lessening government restriction and decreasing taxes to stimulate more money to trickle down then, trickle back up?

Obama promises to increase taxes (government revenue) and decrease spending while, in many cases, bailing out the very upper income people on whom he will be raising taxes, one hand gives and the other hand takes away. Reagan promised to decrease taxes and decrease spending but, both envisioned money from the top trickling down to middle and lower income Americans, thus both could claim stimulation of the economy.

True hypocrisy comes when one party recognizes the hypocrisy of only the other party. What about recognizing the hypocrisy of Democrats who snidely belittled Reagan's trickle down theory and excess spending on the part of Republicans while today calling Republicans hypocrites for not supporting Obama when he is following the Reagan theory through a slightly tweaked method and more spending excess? Where are the cries that trickle down economics doesn't work? No snide belittling? It seems there is enough hypocrisy to go around and we've come full circle.

This simply reinforces my own theory that we all want many of the same things regardless of political party. Some people want to see the economy become healthy through bigger government and more government regulation, others want to see the economy become healthy through less government and less regulation or, through a healthy free market.

Greed isn't created by less government regulation and lower taxes. Greedy people will always be with us, just as the Bible tells us the poor will always be with us. I believe greed is more a societal, human problem. Schonfeld claims Republican (or conservative) ideas of less taxes, smaller government and less governmental regulation spawned greed in the free market and birthed the exorbitant salaries of CEOs. I disagree. People who are greedy will find a way to take advantage of the system, regardless of the system, and regardless of which party put that system in place.

The waters are being muddied by mixing up the legitimate conservative versus liberal ideological solutions to the problems plaguing our economy. We've had 8 years of a Democrat administration followed by 8 years of a Republican administration and there is blame enough and hypocrisy enough to go around but, mixing CEO salaries into the issue, as though that issue was directly caused by less government regulation and lower taxes, as Schonfeld and other partisans have tried to do, will not solve our economic problems. Greed is a societal/moral problem and societal and moral deficits won't be solved by a good economy or a bad economy. Societal and moral deficits do, however, trickle up and down and all around just like money trickles up and down and all around.

Perhaps, if people at all income levels took more individual responsibility and developed more personal, moral integrity it could impact our country at all levels, and not simply economically.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Baptist Press: Personhood Initiatives Mark National Movement?

A different approach

In November 2008, a Colorado initiative was defeated but, that defeat hasn't stopped seven states from considering bills or initiatives which set personhood at the moment of conception or fertilization, Baptist Press (BP) reported, in what is being considered a possible national movement.

"The bills and initiatives are unique in that none of them reference abortion, even though all of them take aim at the legal reasoning behind the infamous Roe v. Wade ruling." - BP

According to BP, the Colorado Definition of Person Initiative of 2008 was defeated by 73-27 percent. The bill stated:

"...the terms "person" or "persons" shall include any human being from the moment of fertilization."

The definition attacks the very foundation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun's Roe majority opinion.

From the BP report:

"When U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun authored the Roe majority opinion, he acknowledged that if the definition of "personhood is established" to include the unborn, then the case for abortion rights "collapses" because the unborn's "right to life would then be guaranteed" by the Constitution."

Read the full BP report...


Friday, February 20, 2009

City of Springfield Releases Wayfinding Sign Project White Paper

Memorandum from City Manager Greg Burris

After Councilman Denny Whayne asked that the Council reconsider the Wayfinding Project they approved at their last Council meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Gary Deaver requested a white paper be prepared outlining the history of the wayfinding signs project. City Manager Greg Burris prefaced the white paper with a note to the City Council, following is Mr. Burris' memorandum to the Council:

February 20, 2009

To: City Council

From: Greg Burris, City Manager

Re: Wayfinding Project

In response to Council’s request for a “white paper” on the Wayfinding Project, the attached document is provided. I believe staff has done a good job developing a document that provides background information on the project, discusses the purpose of wayfinding, and outlines the process used to get us to this point. I offer a few key points below.

• The Wayfinding Project dates back to 1998. The history of the project is outlined in the attached document.

• We have a limited window of opportunity to place the freeway signs (as noted in the Introduction of the attached document) because some of the existing signs are scheduled for replacement soon. Thus, while the project can be delayed, it should not be delayed too long.

• The Wayfinding Project is good for the entire city – we want to be known as a “visitor friendly” city. The objectives of a wayfinding and cross-marketing system are included in the attached report.

• Since the inception of the Capital Improvement Program (CIP), Springfield has never failed to deliver any project approved by voters. We believe our accountability and credibility on delivering promised projects is the foundation of its successful record of renewal. We certainly recognize and acknowledge that the timing of this particular step in the wayfinding program is unfortunate. But bad timing, in and of itself, does not mean the principles and goals of the program are flawed. I urge you to separate the vote on this contract from the program itself. Even if the project must be delayed, I believe the project remains worthy of implementation and encourage Council to keep it on the project list.

• As you know, delaying or canceling this project does not present an opportunity to fund the police/fire pension system. The ¼-cent funds must legally remain in their “silo” and must be applied toward the voter-approved elements of the Capital Improvement Program.

• While it would be difficult or impossible to accurately quantify the specific return on investment, the Wayfinding Project is designed to enhance economic development within Springfield, specifically targeting dollars originating outside our community. We must keep in mind that a considerable amount of Springfield’s economy is driven by convention visitors and tourism.

• While much focus has been given to the few primary destinations of theWayfinding Project, please keep in mind that more businesses along anywayfinding route will benefit. For example, if we are routing traffic from I- 44 south on Glenstone, motorists will be exposed to all businesses along the route.

• We must keep in mind our long-range goal for Springfield is to be a well-planned, visitor-friendly city. The attached white paper will discuss why wayfinding is an important component of that goal.

I also would like to address a few of the questions that arose regarding the project bidding.

• The fabrication of the proposed wayfinding signs was advertised locally, as well as nationally. No vendor was excluded from bidding.

• No local company elected to bid during the first round when the fabrication and installation were combined into a single bid package. These bids came in higher than anticipated, and the City modified the project scope and design to re-bid.

• The City elected to split the fabrication and installation of the signs into two separate bid packages to allow local vendors to bid on the installation without having to also be responsible for fabricating the signs.

• No local company elected to bid on the fabrication of the wayfinding signs during the second round of bidding.

I realize we are in extraordinary economic times – times that could not have been anticipated when the 2007 sales tax renewal was approved by 78%. I take full responsibility for bringing this step in the wayfinding project forward at this time. Our timing was poor and I apologize. I felt we were appropriately bringing forward a longstanding initiative with identified funding that represents an investment in economic development to promote our community during a time when we need every available advantage. If the timing is too poor, however, to proceed now, you have alternate options to consider at Monday’s Council meeting.

Please contact me if you require additional information on this topic. Thank you.


-------------------------End memo---------------------

According to Public Information Director Louise Whall, the White Paper will be posted at the City's Web site late this afternoon. I will post a link as soon as I can get back to it and it is available. I would have copied it here but, the total document, including the White Paper, is 18 pages long.

UPDATE: Here's the link: White paper about the Wayfinding Program

Have a good weekend, everyone!


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Rhodesian Ridgeback Dog Found in Southeast Springfield

Some friends of mine found a Rhodesian Ridgeback dog. They sent the following email to me and we agreed it might be good to post it to get the word out, so help us out, here. If anyone would like to contact my friends about the dog they have found you can email me, I will collect your contact information and my friends will get in touch with you. - Jackie

FOUND in Southeast Springfield area:

> Breed: Rhodesian Ridgeback
> Male or Female: Female
> Age: less than one year?
> Appearance: Beautiful dog, classic AKC features
> Coloring: Smooth tan coat, black muzzle, white on chest, brown eyes
> Weight: Aprox. 60 lbs.
> Health: Excellent, clean, well cared for
> Temperament: Intelligent, even-tempered, friendly, shy, trained, not a barker, likes to have belly rubbed
> Diet: eats table scraps (seems to avoid dry food)
> Wearing: Collar, but no tags

Needs to be re-united with owner or find a good new home


Wha!? Only One First Reading Bill on the Council's Agenda???

And government types wonder why certain media types create and/or sensationalize news stories... ;)

The only first reading bill presented on the February 23, City Council Agenda:

COUNCIL BILL 2009-034. (Manley) A special ordinance authorizing the City Manager, or his designee, on behalf of the City of Springfield to enter into an agreement with the City of Battlefield to amend the boundary established for annexation areas and for the City of Springfield to accept the amount of $50,000.00 from the developer as payment in lieu of some future tax revenue.

Seems pretty run of the mill. Only a handful of questions, immediately, came to my mind, who is the developer? Does it matter?

From the bill:

"...the developer has agreed to a lump sum payment of $50,000 to the City. This payment is being made to help reduce the amount of sales tax Springfield will forego over the short-term because it may be some time before the southeast corner develops. This payment will be made after the developer has secured his construction loan or at the end of three years, whichever comes first."


> Who is the developer?

> What is "the amount of sales tax Springfield will forego over the short-term before the southeast corner develops?"

Let's wait and see what we can find out Monday night. Patience, patience, patience.


The Springfield City Council Agenda

For February 23 is now posted at the City's Web site

By clicking on this link you can read the agenda and click on the hot links to the bills, enabling you to look at the details and background of each, individual bill.

Happy reading!

Hope to see at least 9 percent of you at the meeting on Monday night!


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Update on Springfield City Officials' Lobbying Trip

Just an update on my last entry, "City Manager Burris' Trip to Washington D.C.".

According to the Director of Public Information Louise Whall, the City Manager and Economic Development Director spent two days and one night in Washington D.C.

"The Mayor was on a different travel schedule and only flew one way, staying that same night," Whall wrote in an email response.

Regarding Mr. Marrs, he is a contract employee. Whall indicated his primary responsibility is in Jefferson City. She noted he works with a firm in D.C. to represent the City there.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

City Manager Burris' Trip to Washington D.C.

A' lobbying we will go

Many members of the public were curious when a recent news article mentioned that Springfield City Manager Greg Burris was unavailable to comment on Wayfinding signs because he was in Washington D.C.

Mayor Tom Carlson gave us the reason at the City Council luncheon on February 17.

Burris wasn't traveling alone. Carlson was absent from the last luncheon meeting because he, Economic Development Director Mary Smith and Scott Marrs accompanied Burris to Washington.

Carlson said, before the City started aggressively lobbying for money at the federal level, they were only receiving about $1 million a year. Since they began lobbying more aggressively the City has been the recipient of about $75 million.

Burris said the timing was good for the trip due to the ongoing deliberations about potential uses of the federal stimulus package funding. The stimulus bill did not pass the House and Senate until after the foursome returned from their trip.

"The timing was good. The staffers had been meeting all night and were exhausted but, they didn't know the specifics of anything just yet," Burris said.

The team of four had an opportunity to lobby Senator Claire McCaskill regarding projects for which the City would like to receive funding.

Mayor Carlson identified some of the projects as:

> A records management system for the police department
> A West wye
> Downtown water and sewer pipe infrastructure
> A County, City and MoDot collaborative to convert government vehicles to natural gas and a compressed natural gas station to accommodate them

"You look at what's out there and what we can qualify for as you go through," Carlson said. He said funding will be available, "for doing green things."

Public Information Director Louise Whall said the costs of the four City officials' trip to Washington would not be known for weeks but, Mayor Carlson felt the plane fare was well worth the trip considering the potential for the city to receive funding from the stimulus package, "So, probably worth the plane ticket," Carlson said, "You have to develop relationships."

The money will come either through the State or through existing federal agencies, "not like an earmarking deal," Carlson added.


Nuisance Property Discussion Continued Today (Part 2)

At the February 17, City Council luncheon meeting

Director of Building Development Services Nick Heatherly took up the discussion about nuisance abatement and code enforcement at today's Council luncheon.

Heatherly said there are 13 specific criteria which can garner a building the designation of a dangerous building under Chapter 26, Article III of the City's Municipal Code. It only takes a violation of one of the 13 criteria to make a building eligible for such a designation. Chapter 36 Article X can also be used as a code enforcement mechanism.

A building doesn't have to be physically dangerous in order to be posted as a dangerous building. Even a new building, on which construction has stopped, can be designated as such. The building, Heatherly said, doesn't have to be vacant either.

Under a dangerous building designation, Heatherly said they can't cut utility service, however, they can take other actions, including possession through eminent domain.

Before an official notice is delivered to a property owner, a notice (letter) of dangerous, blighted and nuisance building on an owner's property is delivered notifying the owner there has been a complaint filed, either by a member of the community or by a City Inspector and if the code violation(s) are not abated it could result in the building being designated as dangerous, and that a hearing "could result in the City taking action to correct the violations." The notice also advises the building owner to check with the City's permit counter, as permits will be required for much of the work.

City attorney Dan Wichmer said, oftentimes, when notice is delivered to a building owner, that is when the City Council will hear from them in a public meeting or through individual phone calls.

"They will lean on you guys and make you feel bad." Wichmer said.

Heatherly had, earlier, pointed out that if City officials and staff are not allowed to enforce the code or are instructed to make exceptions, they do not know whether to follow or take seriously the ordinances the Council has approved.

Over the years, Heatherly said his department has also noted some areas the ordinances could be "tweaked" to improve their ability to take action.

Following is the process followed under Chapter 26, as listed in a document Heatherly provided:

1. Receipt of complaint or observation by Inspector while performing other duties.
2. Letter of Condition (LOC): Not the official notice - a letter is sent to the apparent owner/occupant that gives them notice of something that appears to be in violation. A copy of the form letter is attached. Typical time frame allowed to abate is 10-days.
3. Posted as a Dangerous Building: Inspector places a placard on the structure/property; property is inspected again for compliance with the LOC, if not property is posted. 1-day.
4. Title Search is performed to identify the owner and all interested parties. This is the step in which the City has first incurred an outside expenditure. 5 to 10-days required depending on complexity of records and how much research is needed.
5. Notice to Abate: This is the official notice to abate to owner and all interested parties; 10 to 30-days from date of posting to prepare and send by way of certified mail; each case is allowed 45-days to abate the nuisance.
6. Notice of Hearing: Sent at same time as Notice to Abate - explains to parties that should they not abate the nuisance as prescribed in the Notice to Abate - then a hearing will be held which has to be at least 10-days after the expiration of the time line to abate the nuisance.
7. Hearing: The Administrative hearing officer (typically the Director of Building Development Services) will hear the evidence from both parties at the hearing - a decision is not made at this time - the hearing officer has up to 30 days to make a
final determination and issue the Findings of Fact; typically the F of F is completed and mailed within a week of holding the hearing.
8. Findings of Fact & Conclusion of Law: Final order to abate - gives the owner one more chance to correct the violation - must be at least 30-days in length in order to permit owner time to appeal; each case is evaluated for what would be considered
an appropriate amount of time to realistically abate the nuisance - could range from 30-days to 6-months.
9. Owner has right to appeal the final determination issued by the Administrative Hearing Officer to Circuit Court. If this occurs, the enforcement action is "stayed" until the Courts make their ruling. We have cases that have taken as much as 3 plus years to be resolved if the case is appealed.
10. Abatement: Either the owner has taken steps to abate or the City will now begin procedures to physically enter the property to abate the nuisance. This process can take 30 to 90 days or more depending on the specifics of the cases.
11. Remedies: The City has the authority to enter into contracts with persons engaged in the business of repairing, securing, demolishing buildings or use eminent domain to abate the nuisance.

Emergency procedures:

The code does provide us with the authority to take action more quickly should " immediate danger to the health, safety, or welfare of any person exists..". A hearing is still held after providing at least 24-hours of notice to the owners. In some cases we have taken action prior to the hearing in order to ensure that the safety of the community is protected."

Heatherly said, since July 2002, the City has had over 1,600 cases involving dangerous buildings.

The process under Chapter 36 Article X is as follows:

1. Notice of violation is given: Notice must state the applicable code section(s) being violated and provide a time frame in which compliance is to be achieved.
2. Inspector files a complaint: The "complaint" is to request that the Administrative Hearing Officer have a hearing to listen to evidence concerning an order or decision of an administrative official. The "complaint" has to state the relief being sought or proposed and the reasons for granting it.
3. Title Search is performed to identify the owner and all interested parties. This is the step in which the City has first incurred an outside expenditure. 5 to 10-days required depending on complexity of records and how much research is needed.
4. Notice of Contested Case: The Administrative official (inspector) mails the notice of the hearing to all interested parties. Must provide a minimum of 10-days, "..except in cases where the public morals, health, safety or interest may make a shorter time reasonable."
5. Depositions and Subpoenas: Both parties have the authority to cause witnesses or documents to be subpoenaed.
6. Hearing: The Administrative hearing officer will hear the evidence from both parties at the hearing.
7. Findings of Fact & Conclusion of Law: Final order to abate - gives the owner one more chance to correct the violation - must be at least 30-days in length in order to permit owner time to appeal; each case is evaluated for what would be considered an appropriate amount of time to realistically abate the nuisance - could range from 30-days to 6-months.
8. Owner has right to appeal the final determination issued by the Administrative Hearing Officer to Circuit Court. If this occurs, the Administrative Hearing Officer has the authority to "...stay the enforcement of the order or may temporarily grant or extend relief, or deny or withhold relief while the matter is being appealed."
9. Remedies: "The Hearing Officer shall have the authority to order that all permits issued by the City including business licenses, occupancy permits, and utilities may be withheld, suspended or revoked for all or part of any premise, structure or building in which the violation of the code is occurring..."


City Councilman Denny Whayne Read the News-Leader's Sign

Whayne responded today

While I was out doing some necessary shopping after today's Council luncheon, the "Springfield News-Leader's" Wes Johnson was busy breaking the news, the City Council will be reconsidering the wayfinding sign contract that raised quite a controversy as it followed on the heels of a failed 1 percent sales tax ballot initiative to fund the police and fire pension plan. Later, Johnson fleshed the story out a bit more.

The News-Leader exposed the total cost of the sign system in an earlier article, after the February 9, City Council meeting, when four members of the eight, present, Council members voted to accept the bid of a Michigan company for a contract in the amount of $334,488.45 for the design and fabrication of the signs. The News-Leader reported the total cost, including installation of the signs would be $600,000. In the same issue, the News-Leader published a scathing editorial, "Council not reading right signs." Apparently, Councilman Denny Whayne read the paper's sign and took the editorial to heart.

Following is the City's news release regarding the Wayfinding Signs Project:

Feb. 17, 2009

News Release

For Immediate Release

Zone 1 City Councilman Denny Whayne today asked City Council to reconsider the bill Council approved at its Feb. 9 meeting to accept the bid for a wayfinding system.

Councilman Whayne said he supports the concept of the wayfinding system, but believes it is necessary to reconsider the resolution that was approved because of the timing with current economic conditions.

The wayfinding system was one of the projects included in the ¼-cent sales tax for capital improvements approved by voters in 2007. Planning for the wayfinding system began in 2004 as a means to increase the number of people who visit Springfield by providing a high-profile signage system to direct people from the highway system to retail districts.

The process for reconsidering Resolution 9660 will be the following:

* The bill will be posted as a possible addition to the agenda for the Feb. 23, 2009 City Council meeting.

* Council will consider a motion to reconsider the bill. There is no public hearing on the motion. If the motion is approved, the bill will be added to the agenda for Monday's meeting.

* If the bill is added, Council could consider three options: The bill could be approved; the bill could be rejected; or the bill could be tabled and remanded to one of City Council's committees.

I had previously weighed in on the issue of Wayfinding signs, here.

The Council also continued their discussion about nuisance properties.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Traveling Light

J.J. Cale


Election Results as Certified by the City Council on February 9, 2009

According to City Clerk Brenda Cirtin, the agenda for the February 9, City Council meeting may not ever be published at the City Web site (the City has been fighting a computer virus).

Since Council Bill 2009-032, certifying the February 3, election is still not available in a bill search at the City's Web site, I thought I would go ahead and post those certified results as a community service. I did not verify whether any of the other bills which were passed at the February 9, meeting have been made available through a bill search at the site.

Following are the the election results as certified by the City Council at the February 9, City Council meeting:

For the office of Mayor:

Jim O'Neal 10,967
Sandra Queen Noble 1,507
Christopher M. Donegan 3,689
Tamara Finocchiaro 1,725

For General Council Seat A

Robert L. "Bob" Stephens 7,814
Lyle Q. Foster 3,819
Tom Martz 4,165

For General Council Seat B

John Rush 8,178
Jason P. Lillard 2,730
Fred B. Ellison 4,811

For Council Zone 1

Nicholas Ibarra 1,413
Denny Whayne 1,191
Cameron Eaton 602

Question 1:

"Shall the City of Springfield impose a sales tax at a rate of one percent solely for the purpose of providing revenues for the Springfield Police and Firefighters Pension System with said tax to sunset upon the earlier of A) Five (5) years from the date of the commencement of collection of this tax or B) the Pension System fund reaching a fully-funded (100%) status as determined by an independent actuarial study conducted for the Pension System Board of Trustees?"

Yes 9,160
No 10,041


The two candidates who received the majority of votes were certified as eligible for the General Municipal Election in April 2009.

Those candidates were: For Mayor, John O'Neal and Christopher M. Donegan; for General Council Seat A, "Bob" Stephens and Tom Martz; for General Council Seat B, John Rush and Fred B. Ellison; for Council Zone 1, Nicholas Ibarra and Denny Whayne.

It was also declared that Question 1 failed to pass.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Springfield City Council/City Officials Continue to Discuss Nuisance Property Issues (Part 1)

Springfield City Attorney Dan Wichmer and Springfield Prosecuting Attorney Johnnie Burgess began educating the City Council about the procedure undertaken when nuisance complaints are filed by local residents, at the Council's last luncheon.

Wichmer said the nuisance ordinance (ORD5465) adopted by the City Council in 2005, was based on a similar University City, Missouri ordinance, which allowed for a property being used for criminal activity to be closed for up to a year. The closure is accomplished by the City's legal ability to order utility service shut off to a property in violation of the nuisance ordinance but, no case in Springfield has ever risen to the point that such utility service shut off was ruled necessary.

According to Wichmer, Springfield's nuisance ordinance has been used two times on commercial businesses and 15 times in residential settings.

Once the police department notifies the law department of frequent complaints on a particular property, an active file is kept on the property and a determination is made as to whether a "nuisance letter" should be delivered. If a letter is delivered, Wichmer said he and the Police Chief, personally, deliver it so, there is no question it has been properly served and a legally compliant court case may be built.

"When we have had these meetings (with property owners or managers) it has been successful," Wichmer said.

He said there has been cooperation, and troublesome tenants have been kicked out by the property owner or manager when such cases have arisen in the past. While there may be ongoing incidents and several months may pass between the time of a letter delivery and remedy, "In the end, they (nuisance violations) are being corrected," Wichmer reported.

When asked by Councilwoman Rushefsky about repeating problems in a complex, even though the occupants of any given complex had changed, Wichmer responded, "To my knowledge we have not had that come up."

While this might, at first blush, appear to contradict past news stories that there have been repeated complaints filed against certain apartment complexes, Wichmer had earlier noted that the ordinance is only violated when there is commission of crime and conviction of same. It is the same reason given at a meeting, in early December, between residents and property owners of the West Central area and City officials, when a frustrated real estate investor and re-developer, Carol Nachbar, complained about non-enforcement of the ordinance:

"According to City Attorney Dan Wichmer, as long as a landlord is working with the police department and there are no convictions, there is little the city can do under the ordinance." (See CFP cover story, December 17, 2008 issue).

Returning to last Tuesday's luncheon (February 10), Councilwoman Cindy Rushefsky wondered how many of the property owners owned multiple rental properties. Springfield Prosecutor Burgess didn't have a statistic but, he said many own multiple properties, some between 50 and 100.

Councilman John Wylie raised a question about some sort of City mandated, tenant registration for utility services in rental properties. At issue was the possible benefit such tracking of services could be for landlord screening of tenants.

According to local rental property owner Sherry Byrne, anything the City could do to help track problematic tenants who shift from one rental to the next would be welcome, "I'd be all in favor of that," Byrne said, though she expressed concern about the creation of more "red tape" for landlords.

Byrne owns 26 rental properties in Springfield. Being a landlord is not without it's own set of frustrations, she said. Byrne wishes there was more good will toward landlords.

"I try to come in and do something corrective and I get called on," she said, as she described getting reported by neighbors last week because a car was pulled up on the curb in front of a rental property she is improving. Now, she complains, a homeowner on the same street has a similar vehicle parked on the curb but, it appears nothing is being done and no homeowner in the area has filed a similar complaint against the neighboring property.

"It's the homeowner that doesn't get enforced," Byrne continued, "Clutter and junk and fire hazards, I come in and start to clean (the neighborhood) up and I get called on. There are so many rules and regulations applied to landlords, if they were applied to home owners, the City would look a lot better."

Byrne was concerned there is not enough good will on the part of residents or City officials toward landlords who work very hard to improve properties in the older sections of town. She felt, oftentimes, law enforcement turns the other way when re-developers and landlords need support and are working conscientiously to try to benefit the neighborhoods where they own properties.

According to prosecuting attorney Burgess once a summons is issued on a property, a report is submitted to him; the report is reviewed within, approximately, 5 days and a charging decision is made. Then, there are two options, the case may be filed with the court or the case may be declined for lack of evidence. If filed with the court, the defendant appears for arraignment and enters a plea.

If the defendant pleads not guilty, he or she is given the option of a trial, which is scheduled within 4 to 6 weeks, or meeting with the prosecutor. Burgess said if a meeting with the prosecutor is chosen, such a meeting often happens the same day and, much of the time, will take place in the hallway on the way out of the building. They discuss how to abate the nuisance without the necessity of a trial and the defendant is given 1 to 2 weeks to correct the problem and then enter a plea agreement.

If the defendant pleads guilty, the prosecuting attorney makes a sentencing recommendation based on information that has been provided by an inspector. Often the penalty is suspended upon the condition the nuisance is abated by a date certain, usually 10 days from the date of arraignment.

According to the City's Nuisance Ordinance, a public nuisance is:

"Any place that is used for the commission of crimes, ordinance violations, or acts done, permitted, allowed or continued to the damage or injury of any of the inhabitants of the city after notice is given and the place continues to be used for the commission of crimes, ordinance violations, or acts done, permitted, allowed or continued to the damage or injury of any inhabitants of the city is a public nuisance." - Section 74-392. A, General Ordinance Number 5465.

At the next Council luncheon, scheduled for February 17, the tentative agenda includes a follow up discussion of nuisance issues. The tentative speakers who will address the Council on the topic will be Director of Building Development Services Nick Heatherly, City Attorney Dan Wichmer, Municipal Prosecuting Attorney Johnnie Burgess and Citizen Service Coordinator Claudia Crighton.

The luncheon meeting will be held at noon in the 4th floor conference room at the Busch Municipal building. The meeting is open to the public.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Transition '09 to Pass out "1000 Gardens Project" Signs at the Fairgrounds on Valentine's Day

I received a news release from "The Well-Fed Neighbor Alliance" this morning.

Tomorrow is the day you can go to the Fairgrounds and pick up you 1,000 gardens project sign, beginning at 2:00 p.m. Go to Gate 1 at the fairgrounds.

According to the news release:

"The "1000 Gardens Project" is a public awareness program designed to shed light on the importance of a thriving local agricultural industry to the Sustainability and Security of the Ozarks.

The "1000 Gardens Project" is a part of Transition '09, an initiative whose goals include local food security, economic re-localization, and a viable energy descent plan."

You can call Ruell Chappell for more information at 417-848-6543, or visit The Well-Fed Neighbor Alliance's Web site for more information on Transition '09, including the "1000 Gardens Project."


Thursday, February 12, 2009

An Exploration of Truth, Honesty, Wisdom and Scooter

I like words, I mean, I've been playing around with them for years.

Insomnia has kicked in (making me wonder if Scott is up tonight too) and so, I'm laying in bed, wishing for sleep but, instead, thinking about words, and the eyes I looked into tonight....That's another story and not for the readers of this blog.

Truth is a word I've held in high esteem my whole life so, laying in bed, wishing for sleep but unable to achieve it, I wondered about the definition of truth. It has gotten so relative, you know? It means different things to different people these days, in fact (or truth) many words mean different things to different people these days.

I have a set of books called the "Little Books of Virtue," while truth isn't among the titles, honesty is, and in my mind honesty and truth are very much alike, or are they?

The "Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary" tells us, in part, that truth is:

1. b: sincerity in action, character and utterance
2. a: the state of being the case: fact: the body of real things, events and reality: a transcendent, fundamental or spiritual reality; b: a judgment, proposition or idea that is true or accepted as true; c: the body of true statements and propositions, and:
3. c: fidelity to an original or to a standard.

Honesty, it says, in part, is:

2. a: fairness and straightforwardness of conduct; b: adherence to the facts: sincerity

Truth is not listed as a synonym of honesty and honesty doesn't appear to be a synonym of truth. You can certainly be fair, straightforward and sincere, in all honesty, without having your convictions based in truth, it would seem, yet, they remain somehow inextricably intertwined in my own mind.

The cover of my little book of virtue on honesty has the picture of a boyscout at salute. The definition of honesty on the cover reads:

hon es sty n: free from deception : UPRIGHT, JUST

Maybe they just simply aren't the same thing but, here's what I think: Honesty, when coupled with truth, create the subject of another among my little books of virtue. That topic is wisdom, and according to that same online dictionary, wisdom has a lot to do with common sense.

Okay, so now that we've gotten to common sense, I have a question:

Is it common sense (or wisdom) to sleep with a flatulent Boston Terrier?

I'm just askin'.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

News, Niches and the Nine Percent

Or, Springfield Citizen Survey Says

In a "Springfield News-Leader" article, "Sign project to cost $600,000," Wes Johnson answered questions regarding the Wayfinding Signs Project, which five members of the City Council approved through resolution at Monday night's meeting. A companion "Our Voice" column pretty well drove home any editorial comments I might have on the subject but, you know me, I'm not one to let that stop me from commenting. ;)

Johnson's article provided the sort of "meat" voters need to go with their "potatoes" when making decisions about how to vote on tax measures.

The current, 2008-2013 CIP plan, similar to the previous CIP plan which contained the Wayfinding Signs Project, has 134 pages. I don't know how many pages were in the CIP plan that contained that project but, one could wonder, considering only 17 percent of voters turned out on February 3, after intensive community discussion and promotion of the 1-cent police and fire pension sales tax, how many voters read and understood the previous CIP plan prior to voting in support of the 1/4-cent sales tax which included the Wayfinding Signs Program?

What other $600,000 "surprises" are in store for citizens of Springfield who have, or made, no time to read 100+ pages in the plan? And, I wrote "surprises," in quotation marks because it's doubtful many voters are educated about the projects within any given CIP they have voted to fund with a sales tax in the past. We could even wonder how many of our representative City Council members are educated about the projects within any given CIP, remember, Councilman Chiles didn't even know what "wayfinding" was, even though he had been presented, or had the documentation available to him, at least, by the Thursday preceding that City Council meeting.

The difficulty comes in, for citizen voters and their representatives, when these sort of lengthy plans are developed by City staff (based on public input, mind you) and presented to the City Council with a limited amount of time for discussion. The projects included within the plan are a package deal. The Council approves the whole package, and in the amount of time they are allotted to make a decision regarding such plans, it is doubtful they have adequate time to seriously consider each individual project within it. Is it appropriate to be bound by a plan which spans 6 years while the voters who supported it are cutting back due to economic hard times?

The city must project what they believe their sales tax revenue will be from year to year and clearly, they don't have a magic 8-ball which gives them an infallible forecast. Sales tax revenue was projected to be an increased 3 percent for 2008, it has fallen short, in fact, it has decreased rather than increased. So, how can we, as citizens of Springfield, support plans which cannot consider what economic times we may be living in from month to month, let alone year to year?

The Bible says, "You have not because you ask not," our City government seems to have that asking part down pat. Though giving the usual lip service to finding cost efficient or cost free ways to receive public input about why the pension sales tax failed on February 3, there is little doubt a new sales tax measure will be placed on the ballot in an upcoming election.

Councilman Burlison, for some unknown reason, felt he needed to share with the public how he planned to make a motion that a new pension sales tax initiative be placed on the ballot as soon as possible. I'm sort of scratching my head about why he felt the need to share that sentiment publicly. He didn't make the motion so, why tell people, "I was going to make a motion but, now I'm not?" Further, before the vote on February 3, the Council was saying it was up to the voters, the voters should decide. Well, the voters decided but, it would appear that, until the voters decide the right way or the way the City and Council would like them to decide, their decision simply does not count. Now, clearly, and to be fair to Mr. Burlison, that is not to say that some sort of solution to the pension problem must be reached and most people realize that some sort of sales tax will likely, be a part of the mix.

My thoughts are: If the City didn't ask for so many taxes, like the CIP sales tax, the Park's sales tax, and the Transportation sales tax, in most cases for non-core services or lesser priority projects, to later offer $600,000 "surprises," the public might have passed a legitimate and necessary tax like the pension sales tax.

But, all that said, isn't it public apathy that is the problem, in most cases?

I understand, and am even sympathetic, that it isn't just simply a case of apathy, it is often a case of time constraint. How many Joes and Josephines have time to take on the daunting task of reading a 100+ page document to become educated on whether they should or should not support a Capital Improvement Plan sales tax? Should they be required to have to take on such a daunting task in the first place? I recognize they voted on City Council representatives in the hopes that those representatives would take care of such issues for them. After all, isn't that why we have an elected City Council? To represent us in such matters? Aren't they the ones who get paid for that? Well, no, or hell no, depending on your perspective. Much can be said for the public sentiment that the Council volunteered and they knew what they were volunteering for and they shouldn't have volunteered if they weren't up to the task of representing us but, I still think "you get what you pay for."

Neither do I think the media should take the entire blame for not exhaustively educating the public about every detail involved in such a plan. Some people wouldn't read the "cliff notes" version if they were in solitary confinement with nothing but the CIP in the room. The burden of oversight just isn't important enough to them to "waste" the brain cells needed to embrace the information. But, let's say they do spend their time educating themselves about the plan, 1). They might have to quit their day job to make the time. 2). If there are projects which don't meet their approval, their work has just started, now, they have to 3). Take action on what they know by starting to make noise about it. What's the answer? A charter rule against 100+ page governmental documents? A charter rule against 6 year plans?

HOW DO YOU MAKE PEOPLE CARE? Now, there's an age old question. You have the documents available for your perusal. You have the media doing the best they can to give you information about the plan(s) or the tax(es), or the pending legislation, whatever the case may be. You have open Council meetings (According to the 2008 Citizen Survey, 9 percent of you attended them in 2008) and you have a Public Information Office at your disposal, if you care to call with questions. You have City Web sites, City blogs, City Council representatives.

I don't mean to sound cynical but here's the deal, you have an important City Council election coming up in April. For whom will you vote? Will you take the time to even find out about the candidates or, will you sit down in a voting booth (if you bother to even go to the polls) and mark the name you think you might recognize?

Maybe I'm too harsh, maybe I'm too cynical, I don't know but, we'd all like to blame someone else. Joe and Josephine blame the new City Manager, "He has no experience." Pete and Peg blame the City Council, the City Council hired and are charged with the oversight of the City Manager, the City Clerk and the Internal Auditor, that much is true but, NOT A SINGLE ONE OF THEM arrived in their City Council or Mayoral positions in a vacuum. They were voted there, oftentimes with low voter turnout and sometimes by people who said to themselves, "I think I might recognize that name," or "I got a glossy brochure from this candidate," and we all know glossy brochures make for a credible candidate or an astute Council representative, right?

Bob Mace, veteran columnist for the Community Free Press (CFP), put it this way in the new issue of CFP:

"It truly is past time to realize that it’s less a question of who serves on council than it is putting our collective will to addressing the issue of reorganization of Springfield government. Council has an impossible task when approaching funding priorities because the airport, parks and libraries have their own taxing authority and volunteer boards setting individual priorities.

We should be able to postpone park projects in order to deal with high priorities of the pension shortfalls and a hiring freeze for police and firefighters. Our approval of earmarked taxes and allowing municipal departments to have autonomy from the general fund budget leave council with hands tied."

I'd have to agree with Mace, voting away money to fund lesser priority services for a period of years during times of feast has it's downfall when the famine hits. In the end, however, the voter is the one who decides (and sometimes decides and decides and decides until the City likes and agrees with their decision) but, until a greater number of voters and potential voters in the City of Springfield take more of an interest in how the City is spending their hard earned dollars, it is doubtful it will change.

The Community Free Press has an new Managing Editor. He's trying to find his niche. I wish him luck. Council members would like to hear from the public too but, based on the fact that only 9 percent of respondents to the recent 2008 Citizen Survey had even attended a City Council meeting in that year, I'd say he may have a hard "row to hoe" in getting that elusive public input regarding what they'd like to read about. My natural inclination at the moment would be to suggest more frivolous topics which take little thought and bear little consequence to future generations, that way, you could appeal to 91 percent of the population rather than 9 percent. Then again, on the other hand, the media has a responsibility to report on City, State and Federal government issues whether the public bothers to read it or simply uses it to line their bird cages and mulch their gardens.

The times are hard but, I'm hopeful. Some people are waking up and asking, "How did we get here???" If you are one of those people, welcome to the 9 percent.