It is disconcerting when something done for the sake of convenience suddenly becomes inconvenient
Posts Tagged ‘Opinion’
This op-ed piece was written by Rich Lowry who is the editor of The National Review. It was published in the Record Journal on Sunday August 7, 2011
There’s no more poignant symbol of American childhood than the lemonade stand, evocative of long, lazy summer days and pie-in-the-sky entrepreneurial dreams.
It inevitably was a subject for a Norman Rockwell print, with a brassy kid confidently hawking cups for 5 cents each. If Rockwell were to update the image today, he might have to include an officer of the law nosing around the stand to ensure its compliance with all relevant ordinances.
In various localities around the country this summer, cops have raided and shut down lemonade stands. The incidents get — and deserve — national attention as telling collisions between classic Americana and the senseless pettifogging that is increasingly the American Way.
There should be an easy rule of thumb for when enforcement of a regulation has gone too far: When it makes kids cry.
Setting up a lemonade stand has always been the occasion for early lessons about the importance of hustle and perseverance, and some business basics — like location, location, location. It shouldn’t be the occasion for dealing with the unreasoning dictates of The Man.
Police in Coralville, Iowa, a few weeks ago conducted a sweep and shut down three lemonade stands, some within minutes of their opening. The offenders had started their renegade operations the weekend of an annual bike ride across the state. The town requires vendors to have a permit during the days of the event. None of the perps did, including one 4-year-old girl who shamelessly made $4 before police intervened.
One mother said she could only laugh when the police told her the cost of a permit was $400. Uncomprehending, her kids cried. They figured only the inadequacy of their handmade signs could have made the city’s law enforcement want to put them out of business.
A Coralville civic eminence subsequently explained that the ordinance was in place to protect the health of the bike riders, who are apparently robust enough to bike 472 miles but might be felled by 6 ounces of lemonade.
In McAllen, Texas, two kids were shut down and their grandmother threatened with a fine on similar grounds. Audaciously, the youngsters started selling lemonade for 50 cents a cup in a park without a health permit or licensed food handlers to prepare or serve their lemony libation. Hoping only to fund the upkeep of their two hermit crabs, these two children had stumbled into a murky world way over their heads.
In Midway, Ga., three girls were told they needed a business license, peddler’s permit and food permit to set up a lemonade stand on their front lawn. It might have taken all summer just to navigate the bureaucracy necessary to begin selling the lemonade. The chief of police explained why she had to act to protect the public from the unauthorized sale of the unknown substance purporting to be “lemonade”: “We were not aware of how the lemonade was made, who made the lemonade, of what the lemonade was made with.”
Chances are that it was made of the usual dangerous cocktail of lemon juice, sugar and water. If children — or their parents — aren’t to be trusted to prepare lemonade, presumably people lured by the prospect of a cool drink on a hot day can calculate the risks on their own and take their pocket change elsewhere if they feel safe only with professional-quality product. Invariably, the parents of illicit lemonade stand vendors protest to the authorities, “but they’re just kids.” That should be a clinching, self-evident argument. But not when an unbending legalism is ascendant, and there’s a law for everything. It’s in this spirit that we pat down children in the security lines of airports.
People in authority are afraid ever to be caught rendering common-sense judgments.
For now, the lemonade-stand crackdowns are a bridge too far. They usually bring cries of public outrage and embarrassed backpedaling from officials. So belly up to the lemonade stand — while you still can.
This editorial was written and published in the Record Journal on Tuesday August 24, 2010
Sean W. Moore, President of the Greater Meriden Chamber of Commerce, lauds Connecticut’s Bond Commission approval last week of $260 million for improvements on the New Haven-to-Springfield railroad line.
Moore called that decision, in his column which ran on our editorial page of Wednesday, August 18, one that would go down in economic development history. His point could be taken further: it will be held a significant day in the history of Connecticut.
For decades, rail transport was allowed to deteriorate as huge sums went to building a national Interstate Highway System. The effect of that system was of course to ease traffic flow (at least temporarily) and speed the transportation of goods from center to center.
Today, however, we find that traffic on our wonderful Interstates and other major highways, has become almost as congested as towns and cities became by 1950 or ’55. Building expansions of our highway system today would not only be impossibly expensive but would require condemnation of huge swathes of land which are now used for other purposes. Border to border highways is not really a desirable quality of life.
In what might be the pinnacle of poor policy, the second complete pair of railroad tracks was eliminated from the New Haven to Springfield line about 20 years ago, putting an effective cap on the number of trains which could be operated safely using the occasional sidings for passing trains.
During recent years, however, amid fluctuations of oil prices, a realization that oil supplies must eventually run dry and a growing economic drain of buying imported oil, anti-rail policies have given way to something of an enthusiasm for restoring the ways of rail.
This makes particular sense in Connecticut, a very small state where land is precious, where railroad lines already exist, where cities are close together, and where effective intercity travel is needed to allow our population to live in one town and work in another. Traffic jams are no fun, even if driving your own car is presently more convenient.
Sean Moore referred to benefits of high speed travel (New Haven to Springfield) as well as efficient and convenient commuter travel among 11 stops along that corridor, including Windsor Locks which will provide a crucial connection to Bradley Field.
Other benefits? As House Speaker Chris Donovan says in his commentary on today’s page, these include up to 4,000 jobs, a billion gallons of gasoline per year saved, 10,000 fewer tons of carbon emissions annually and 4,000 fewer cars a day clogging the highways.
Connecticut has been fortunate to have had a number of local legislators persevering in their support of rail. It is fortunate also to have had a governor willing to see helpful possibilities of revived rail service for Connecticut’s economy. Working together, they have provided not only a substantial share of funding needed to restore and reshape the New Haven to Springfield line (through North Haven, Wallingford, Meriden and Berlin) but also a demonstration of Connecticut’s willingness to provide a fair share to earn federal economic stimulus funds for High Speed and Inter-City Service.
This effort appears to be entirely on track.
As published in the Record Journal on Tuesday August 24, 2010
This op-ed piece was written by Christopher G. Donovan, Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives and a Democratic State Representative from Meriden.
After years of advocating, planning, studying, delays, and growing momentum, Connecticut will open an inland commuter rail service running the length of the state.
In a matter of years, we will have commuter and high-speed rail service between New Haven and Springfield. Riders can choose among 25 trains a day and stops every half-hour during the rush hours. The new trains will grow jobs, clean our environment and build our economy. According to Department of Transportation estimates, the project is expected to create up to 4,000 jobs, reduce gasoline usage by one billion gallons per year, lower carbon emissions by over 10,000 tons annually and remove 4,000 cars a day from our roads.
The rail line will span a total of 62 miles from New Haven to Springfield, with station service that will include Wallingford, Meriden, Hartford and Windsor Locks. The Windsor Locks stop will improve access and better connect travelers and businesses to Bradley International Airport, which is an important economic hub in our state.
Meriden’s station is particularly important due to its close proximity to major highways – I-91, Route 5 and 15, I-691 and I-84. Station improvements and development of the Hub area will surely revitalize Meriden’s downtown and the city’s economy.
As a new state representative back in 1995, I first began pushing legislation to establish commuter rail service from New Haven to Hartford that would include stops in Meriden, Berlin, Wallingford and North Haven. Why did Meriden residents have to pay Amtrak rates to travel north or south or to New York City? The only other option to the south is to drive to New Haven, pay parking fees and get a reduced rate on Metro North. The ride from New Haven to New York via Metro North is $18.50 peak. The same route on Amtrak is $83.00. Why couldn’t we use the tracks in our backyard, actually in the center of our city, and provide a much needed alternative to our highways. We could reduce cars on the road, use less fuel, energy and reduce carbon pollution.
We passed legislation to study the project and the Department of Transportation determined the rail service would enable economic growth, promote energy efficiency, reduce automobile, truck and air congestion and improve mobility and connectivity in the New England area.
This project reflects the goals of President Obama for a national network of high-speed and intercity rail. His administration has made mass transit a priority and is working with our congressional delegation, especially Senator Dodd and Representatives DeLauro, Larson and Murphy.
This April we met with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to discuss the costs and benefits of rail service. Thanks to this partnership that also includes the cooperation of Amtrak and support of the Obama administration through federal stimulus funds, we are now on the fast track.
Last week, the State Bond Commission allocated $260 million toward a New Haven-Hartford-Springfield high speed rail line. This puts Connecticut in a very strong position for matching federal funds of $220 million. We are working together – State Legislators, the Governor and Congress. We’re all on board.
In just a few years, we will be able to walk to the Meriden rail station or park in the station parking lot and take a commuter or high-speed train, at commuter prices to New Haven, the shoreline, New York, Hartford, Springfield or connect to the Bradley Airport.
During the Great Depression, our state and federal government built the Merritt Parkway as a means to rebuild the economy. Today, commuter high-speed rail service is an investment that will energize economic development along a transportation corridor that is critical to our state’s economy. It will help Meriden grow. It will help Connecticut grow. It will create jobs, conserve energy, and make for a cleaner environment. Our future is riding on it. All aboard!
As printed in the Record Journal Sunday August 8, 2010
This week’s FROM WALLINGFORD was written by my counterpart on the column – Stephen Knight
Municipal government in Wallingford CT is, on a day-to-day basis, a pretty routine and, well, unexciting enterprise. Politics can have its food-fight moments, but by and large there is a predictability about it all that we take for granted. But I would like to discuss a recent news event that graphically illustrates why we might come to really appreciate this normality.
I refer to Bell, California, a 2.64 square mile city of 38,000 near Los Angeles. Since July 15th, it has become the poster city for “government gone wild.” On this date, an investigative story was published by the Los Angeles Times bringing to light that: the annual salary paid to the City Manager was $787,000, to the Assistant City Manager was $376,000, and to the police chief was $457,000. As if that weren’t jaw-dropping enough, it was also revealed that four of the five City Councilors each hauled in $96,999 annually for their part-time positions. And as a final affront, it was noted that the City Manager and Police Chief would be receiving $600K and $450K pensions upon retirement.
As a student of government and former elected official, I am captivated by this story, much as others might watch a train wreck on YouTube. These guys didn’t embezzle the money or take bribes. They voted themselves this money. Now that this looting spree has come to light, the three administrative employees have resigned, the Council has voted to reduce their incomes by 90 percent, and the Attorney General of California has subpoenaed thousands of documents. The investigations are ongoing and the results will be very interesting.
So could this happen in our fair burg? I say confidently: absolutely not. Why? Reasons abound: the kind of people we attract to government service, the healthy two-party rivalry, strong freedom-of-information statutes and a local paper whose reporters actually attend all these public meetings. But above all, this public pillaging will not occur in Wallingford for two reasons: we have a carefully-written and scrupulously followed Town Charter and hundreds if not thousands of residents in this town take an interest in their local government.
Town Charter: The political and administrative structure outlined in this document is designed for and results in real government transparency. And its tenets are rigorously adhered to. There are strict timelines for the presentation of an annual budget, published copies of the Mayor’s proposed budget in mind-numbing detail, public hearings to solicit input from residents, and open meetings where every line item of the budget is scrutinized. Important boards and commissions are made up of members of the public whose meetings are held in open forum. The public does have the power of initiative and referendum. It has an entire chapter entitled Ethics and Conflict of Interest. It is fifty pages of codified, common sense, open government practices.
Public interest in government: While a carefully written foundational government document is a critical element in successful self-government, far and away the most important element is an electorate that informs itself, knows its local officials, and participates in the public conversation. It encourages in government an unspoken standard of professionalism, competence and, frankly, pride that makes all the difference. A culture of real public service results from the public actually demanding good service and participating in boards and commissions to make that happen. Where the public is uninvolved or indifferent, the result is a government that separates itself from the people they are supposed to serve and a culture of entitlement and self-dealing. Here in Wallingford, hundreds of us serve on boards, commissions and committees doing our part to preserve the special sense of community we have.
The real lesson of the Bell CA scandal is that, alas, it is true that we do ultimately get the government we ask for. Or, better stated, the government we get is in direct proportion to the effort we put into its creation and maintenance.
Seriously? With total nonfarm unemployment rate at 9.5 percent according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (and that is the number of people laid off and receiving benefits – the U3 number, he U6 number of all those unemployed is higher at 16.5 percent) why do we have ANY guest workers?
Honor the existing H-2B visas AND DO NOT GRANT ANYMORE. At the very least not until unemployment goes down to below 5%.
Here is the link to the United States Department of Labor Statistics alternative measures of labor underutilization that shows the U3 unemployment number (the one most cited in the news) and the U6 number of all the unemployed.
It is slightly improved but still pretty bad.
Here is the New York Times News Service story - Mexican guest workers, laid off, want BP’s help
NEW ORLEANS — Soon after the oil from the Deepwater Horizon began gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, business at the Ramada Plaza Beach Resort in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., dried up — and so did the jobs of five Mexican housekeepers who were guest workers at the hotel under contracts guaranteeing them work until Nov. 1.
“On June 30, they told us our jobs were over, and that we had to leave our housing and go back to Mexico,” Salvador Luna Espinoza, one of the housekeepers, said in a telephone interview conducted with a translator. “I’m staying with friends now, but I don’t know how long they’ll put up with me.”
While thousands have lost their jobs as a result of the oil spill, the layoffs present special hardships for guest workers, mostly hotel workers and those working in shellfish processing.
Under their H-2B visas, they are allowed to work only for the employer who arranged their visa, and they must leave the United States within 10 days of losing their job.
Most took on debt of $1,000 or more to pay for the trip to the United States, planning to pay it back with their earnings.
Mr. Luna Espinoza, who has a wife and five children at home in El Tizate, Mexico, said that without the $7.75-an-hour hotel job, he had no hope of repaying his debt — and unless he could do so, no one would back him in arranging another visa or another job.
So he is still in the United States, awaiting compensation.
“What they face is basically a guillotine the moment they’re laid off,” said Saket Soni, executive director of the Alliance of Guestworkers for Dignity, a grass-roots New Orleans organization that is helping the laid-off housekeepers, and other guest workers laid off from a Baton Rouge seafood processor, file claims with BP. “We would like to see them treated not as disposable workers, but as people who deserve relief in a disaster.”
In theory, guest workers have the same rights to compensation from BP as anyone else who lost income due to the oil spill. But as a practical matter, getting that compensation is far more difficult for workers from another county, who speak little English and may not understand the claims process or have the documentation from employers to file a claim.
With the help of Mr. Soni’s alliance, Mr. Luna Espinoza filed a BP claim for lost wages of $5,498.63, backed up by a letter from Ramada saying that his layoff was due to the oil spill. He has not yet received compensation, though. On July 9, the alliance filed a petition with the Labor Department, asking that it issue a formal policy directing those in the spill zone who employ guest workers to pay all the wages due under the contract, as well as the guest workers’ fare home.
“It shouldn’t be on the guest workers’ shoulders to bear the costs of the spill,” Mr. Soni said. “The employers are in a much better position to get BP to reimburse them.”
Indeed, guest workers are in a tenuous position, usually living in labor camps or other housing run by their employers, with little connection to the surrounding community, and little understanding of their legal rights. Many fear retaliation from employers or immigration authorities if they make complaints. And when their jobs end suddenly, many have no idea where to turn, and, like Mr. Luna Espinoza, drift off to stay with someone from their home country.
The alliance petition said many guest workers would no longer be in the United States when any compensation was issued. If BP does issue Mr. Luna Espinoza a check, it will be sent to the alliance, since he has no fixed address.
At the Labor Department, a spokeswoman for Nancy Leppink, deputy administrator of the Wage and Hour Division, would say only that the division would “respond appropriately” to the alliance’s petition.
At the Ramada, business is still depressed, said Joseph Guidry, the general manager. Mr. Guidry declined to comment on the petition or the issue of requiring employers to pay out the contract and then await reimbursement from BP.
Mr. Luna Espinoza said he had been a guest worker before, working on a tobacco farm in Virginia. So which did he prefer?
“It was much better in tobacco,” he said. “They had more hours of work for me.”
For the second year now, Wallingford runs the risk of not having its annual fireworks display.
I remember being at the council meeting during these discussions last year. Numerous residents spoke about their desire to keep the celebration intact, suggesting that the Council and/or the administration approach local businesses to sponsor part of the event or the entire event.
The Town Council voted to shift $30,715 in savings from a renegotiated insurance contract to cover the cost in order to keep the event as scheduled.
The problem was solved for that year and the show would go on.
Anyone with a strong pulse knows that the economy continued to slide up to and through this point so it should be no surprise that anything saved by stop gap measures or “found” monies from the year prior would certainly be at risk again. So did we do any planning ahead of pending issues like this?
Nope. “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
We had an entire year to think about who we might approach for some or all of the funding. We had an entire year to possibly talk about fund raising events to collect the monies for the event. Maybe a donation bucket at Celebrate Wallingford so that even the residents might chip in by donating some spare change or a ziti dinner or something to that effect.
No one in a position of responsibility did anything at all and here we are again. Worse this time is that there is probably no more money sitting around to be found; the budget is tighter this year than it ever was and there is less support for using it even if it could be found.
Where was the planning?
Oh, that’s right; we don’t do that here in town for the most part. There is no real strategic planning at all.
Some would say, “The fireworks celebration, while a nice thing, should not be at the top of priorities with everything else going on.”
This is just one small example of the many things we do not plan on at all. Whether it is the “small, nice to have” things like the fireworks display to the larger “how are we going to address all the issues at the schools that were NOT addressed in the recent $75 million renovation,” we do not have a proactive plan of action to address these things.
We only react to them when they are inevitably forced upon us. When we are forced to react without a plan there are few, limited ways to handle costs and keep them more in line. When there is planning you can better and aggressively manage cost.
The past couple of council meetings have been very short (one was less than 10 minutes); we certainly could have discussed smaller items such as this and start discussions of tactical and proactive plans for the future when agendas are light like these recent ones were.
If the people in the position to handle the small things do not do this very well how can we expect them to handle the larger issues at all?
As for the fireworks, I take no comfort in the fact that Southington and Cheshire do not sponsor fireworks for the 4th. Whether I think they should or shouldn’t has no bearing. I live here in Wallingford where we always had (over my entire life in this town) a display. I think we should continue to do so. If we need to take a cue from Meriden (and solicit larger businesses for sponsorship) or handle some smaller fundraising we should find a way to get it done.
That task I place on the administration and our elected officials.
I challenge Wallingford citizens with the task to dig into their pockets to help sponsor the event.
Are you up to the challenge?
As published in the Record Journal on Sunday March 14, 2010
Budget season is effectively upon us; don’t let the fact that the recent Town Council meeting ran a record short 10 minutes or so — there’s plenty to discuss in the upcoming weeks.
Traditionally, budget sessions are not recorded and televised. Historically, these meetings have been held on separate dates from the normal Town Council meetings and the Wallingford Government Television staff has not been tapped to work.
It is possible that the budget sessions will be recorded and televised; we do have the new camera setup that allows the sessions to be recorded with fewer personnel. This cuts down on one of the chief arguments for not televising them in the past which was the desire to not overwork / over leverage the GTV staff.
The most logical answer to this would be to incorporate the budget meetings on regular council nights as they did the past couple of years.
It doesn’t make sense to have comparatively short council meetings (the past two were less than two hours combined total time) and then have all nine councilors and the mayor show up on additional evenings to discuss the budget separately when this all could be accomplished on the regular evenings.
We will have to see what decisions are made.
In consideration of what’s at stake this year — the grand list shrinking, property revaluation, and the school board looking for an increase in their budget in the four percent range— it’s probably more important than ever for people to get tuned in and involved.
One way to do this is to get to the budget meetings. This is not always possible for many of us, myself included these days.
If you can’t make the meetings then you should try to find other ways to get the details.
I do not know if the budget details are going to be made available ahead of time on the town website but I’ll make it a point to get them and scan them and get them online myself if necessary.
The meetings themselves are televised on GTV on cable. I believe they are now on Uverse as well. If you are a satellite owner or if you miss the scheduled showings I do provide the meetings online for streaming at http://wallingford.blip.tv/ Dave Moran and the Record Journal report right from the council chambers.
You can also go to the Wallingford Town website and get the minutes of the meetings; they are generally available a week or so after the meetings.
You can get in touch with any of the councilors and ask them for any of the details you might have questions or concerns about. You should consider doing this now, ahead of the budget meetings themselves.
If I can instill in anyone just one thing I would hope that it would be that your voice does matter and it does make a difference. Make sure you’re heard.
It’s easy to not say anything and then later say “see — I’m glad I didn’t waste my time and energy, no one voted the way I thought anyway.” If you don’t offer your comments then the councilors have no way of knowing which way to go other than following their own thoughts on the matter.
They may still do that if they feel passionate about something or if your thoughts and opinions about items are in the minority of what towns people are communicating.
You change that by getting together people with similar opinions and becoming a driving force for change. This cannot be a one item topic like this particular budget or one particular line item in the budget. It has to be a sustained and organized continual effort.
Else, you and others like you become marginalized as another fly by night group of dissenters that are to be dismissed out of hand.
Get informed, get involved and stay engaged.
People like that cannot be ignored.
This week’s edition of FROM WALLINGFORD was written by my counterpart Stephen Knight
As published in the Record Journal – Sunday March 21, 2010
“We must hang together, gentlemen … else, we shall most assuredly hang separately.” — Benjamin Franklin
If the Connecticut Education Association (aka: teacher’s union) had that as its credo, the substantial layoffs in the Wallingford school system that are looming might be avoided, But, alas, layoffs are being touted as the only possible way to address the town’s budget shortfall for the coming year. The suggestion to reopen the contract between the CEA and the BOE, and thus avoid these devastating dislocations to so many lives, has been dismissed by union leadership. They will have none of it.
Why is that? Well, there are two reasons that they are unable to bring themselves to doing so: 1) they have never had to, and 2) there is too much else at stake. This is not, mind you, a condemnation of the CEA. Far from it. This is just a picture of the reality that has been constructed over a long period of time, a pathway that they walk that has been built stone by stone over many decades.
First of all, neither the union nor the government has ever faced quite so stark a situation. It has become obvious to most of us that the taxpayer base is plain tapped out. Up until now, for as long as any of us can remember, contract negotiations have gone like this: The two sides meet. The town says “We have no money.” The union says “You’ll find it.” They talk. They come to an agreement. The union goes to its members and says “we fought hard and got you this.” The town goes to the taxpayers and says “you’re lucky it wasn’t more.” Everybody stays put. Taxes go up. Everybody moves on. Today negotiations are like this: The two sides meet. The town says “We’re $4 million short. We can’t raise taxes. The state is cutting our funds. We need to talk.” The union responds “You always say that. We have a contract.” The town says “But really. Something has to give.” The union responds “We feel your pain, but we have a contract and we aren’t touching it.” The town says “But people will lose their jobs.” The union responds “If we reopen the contract once, we’ll be doing it forever. No can do.” In other words, they have no idea of how to surmount this obstacle, and even their legal advisers are telling them: better to throw forty teachers under the bus than to risk setting a precedent you will have to live with in the future. It seems counterintuitive to the stated goals of unionism, but that is the reality.
Which brings me to my second point: Unions are no different from any other organization. While the mission statement may say otherwise, the number one goal of the union is survival of the organization, the same as it is for The March of Dimes, the Red Cross, the US Army or Microsoft. In this case, the union has made a choice that its bargaining position for the future will be irreparably harmed if it concedes to renegotiate its contract with the town. As much as they regret it — and I truly believe that their leadership does regret it — they see these laid off members as casualties that have to be borne for the long term protection of the union’s position.
There will be more dislocation to follow. There is a paradigm shift taking place in our economy here in the 21st century, and our comfortable and familiar 20th century methods of coping with these shocks to our system are obviously inadequate. These forty are a testament to that fact.