Running A Fowl of the Law

February 26, 2009

This particular story comes from Atlantic Beach, FL.

But, it could be practically anywhere.

Tom and Julie Weber  love keeping chickens at their house.

They say they’re great pets, they provide eggs and their daughter, Wren,  loves playing with them.

But on Feb. 11, an animal control officer warned the Webers they were violating a city ordinance that forbids chickens at residences. The officer gave them 72 hours to part ways with the plucky poultry.

The Webers are pushing back.

This week,  Julie Weber took their fight to City Hall, armed with a 100-name petition supporting them.

“It’s a bit archaic that you can’t keep chickens,” she said Wednesday.  “Now, as we are moving toward understanding locally grown food, it’s an important piece of that.”

Next month my city will be considering an ordinance which would allow up to six chickens (no rooster). I honestly don’t know what to think about it.

Any thoughts anyone?

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Economic Disaster Coming?

February 25, 2009

On Monday President Obama held a “fiscal sustainability summit.”

Some critics dismissed the half-day gathering as a public relations stunt in the midst of galloping budget deficits. Last week saw the signing of the $787bn fiscal stimulus package, while this year’s budget deficit is expected to exceed $1,500bn

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Although Lawrence Summers, head of the National Economic Council, fell asleep on the podium, most attendees, including Republicans, appear to have appreciated the exercise. 

Yes, at the Fiscal Sustainability Summit the head of President Obama’s National Economic Council fell asleep.


Something doesn’t smell right

February 24, 2009

There is so much money coming out of Washington DC these days it is hard to keep up.

You know … you just know that much of it is being wasted.

The state of Washington sent out $1 checks to the 250,000 food stamp recipients in the state.

The director of the Community Services Division for the Department of Social and Health Services, Leo Ribas, says the checks mailed Feb. 17 trigger an additional $43 million in federal food benefits. They also connect recipients to an energy assistance program.

Ribas says the $1 check is a one-time move to leverage the federal money. He says next year the state will be able to trigger the federal assistance through a routine deposit in food stamp accounts.

Thank goodness this option was available to trigger the extra money this year.

Yes, I’m being cynical.


Kudos to Macomb County, MI

February 23, 2009

Some local governments talk about transparency. An honest attempt to open lines of communication with the public.

Then there is Macomb, County, MI who not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.

Even as Macomb County officials write a new constitution, consider a property tax increase and wrestle with a deficit that threatens jobs and services, only a few residents are attending public meetings.

Advocates of open government say the turnouts aren’t a sign of apathy but rather that residents are too busy.

Now, county commissioners are responding with technology that soon will allow residents to listen to every county meeting at home from their Internet-connected computers.

No other county in southeast Michigan offers such a service.

“We’re very excited about it,” county Clerk Carmella Sabaugh said. “Getting these meetings to the public makes governments more accountable.”

Earlier this month, the Clerk’s Office began streaming live Web audio from meetings of the Charter Commission, a group charged with revamping county government.

Can’t listen live? Every meeting has been recorded and archived so you can listen at the click of a mouse. The audio is available at www.macombcountymi.gov/clerksoffice.

County officials soon plan to offer audio of every board and committee meeting on the county’s Web site, www.macombcountymi.gov.

Costs are minimal, officials say, because the technology already is in place.

“We need to inform the public about how their tax dollars are being spent,” said Commissioner Jim Carabelli, R-Shelby Township.

My local public channel has just started to experiment with live streaming on the web. There can’t be too much of this kind of technology used for me.


Conflict of Interest

February 20, 2009

Different states have different laws. Naturally, I am more aware of Wisconsin law than any other state.

Indiana is considering changing a law that is quite different from Wisconsin.

Police, firefighters and other local government workers could no longer be elected to simultaneously serve on their own governing bodies under a bill that passed the Indiana Senate on Monday.

The commission had called for the end of government employees in essence being their own bosses, calling the practice an obvious conflict of interest.

A review by The Indianapolis Star in December found numerous examples across the state of such conflicts, including one Hammond streets superintendent who, as a Hammond City Council member, proposed and voted for a raise for the streets post.

Even if there wasn’t a legal conflict of interest the ethical conflict of interest should be avoided.

Let’s hope Indiana, and any other state that may still allow this practice, will change those laws.


Disaster in waiting?

February 19, 2009

I had never heard of a Municipal Management District.

 Wikipedia doesn’t even have anything about them. 

But, then I read about Dallas,TX …

Dallas City Hall took a little-publicized step Wednesday toward creating districts that would give private developers the power to tax and issue public debt. They want to turn three areas into Municipal Management Districts, similar to those already seen in Houston.

In the resolution passed Wednesday by City Hall, taxation can only be levied with the approval of a majority of voters within the district.

I’m still not sure exactly how these work. I assume they would be similar to Business Improvement Districts.

But, when I read that private developers would be able to tax and  issue public debt I shudder.

I like private developers. Private developers are my friends.

I love concrete and fresh blacktop.

But, developers tax and issue public debt?


Local Government Insanity

February 18, 2009

We have all heard Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity … ” doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

Local government insanity is protecting your our turf at all costs.

This comes from from Minnesota but it could be from almost anywhere.

About 30 years ago, twinkle-eyed state Rep. James Pehler drafted a bill that, had he introduced it, would have caused a stir in his district. It would have planted a compass point on a map of downtown St. Cloud, drawn a circle with a 30-mile radius and made it the boundary of a new jurisdiction, to be aptly named “Round County.” 

 Within Pehler’s “Round County,” 47 local governmental bodies coexist, not always in harmony.

Damn right, not always in harmony. Do your local governments coexist in harmony? Is there overlap in services? Waste? Petty bickering?

Political Insanity?

Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?

Protecting your own turf at all costs?

Over the past year I have corresponded with a colleague in Canada who insists that local government consolidation in Canada has not produced the savings that were expected. He advises against the idea.

I gotta believe there is a better way than having 47 jurisdictions within a 30 mile circle.

I think James Pehler was way ahead of his time.