Monday, May 31, 2010

Of Safety and Stadiums

In Friday's Sentinel on the back page of the Out and About section, the City of Grand Junction used its semi-regular "We're Glad You Asked" feature to respond to what is apparently rampant speculation and questions regarding the request from the JUCO committee for City assistance in securing funds for a proposed remodel of Sam Suplizio Field.

Judging from the speed and comprehensive nature of the City's response, it feels to me as if they really got hammered last week. From the sound of their response, the City seems to be getting a lot of questions and/or comments about where their priorities are.

At nearly the same time, the Editor of a major public safety trade publication lamented about what he sees as misplaced priorities in building new stadiums, and how too much emphasis on these activities can perhaps hurt a city's vitality or viability by sapping resources from other critical areas, especially public safety. While he was referring to recent major stadium projects in Minneapolis, New York, and elsewhere, the lessons cannot be lost on those on both sides of the debate locally.

Fellow local blogger Gene Kinsey focused on another part of the City's advertisement, in essence a bullet point that stated:
The mission of the City of Grand Junction is to make Grand Junction the most livable community west of the Rockies by 2025.
Gene asked some basic questions, and made some assertions about his ideas on what constitutes "livability":
* If the City of Grand Junction is not the most livable now, which city is?
* What do they have that we don't?
* Does this include the whole United States?
* Why limit us to west of the Rockies, why not east of the Rockies, too?
How about a mission of providing basic services at a minimum cost?

The gooey "mission" pablum sounds so unspecifically nice. How would one achieve livability? For me it would include low taxes and minimum government. Obviously, the current city government likes high taxes, multiple bonds and huge public works.

The grandiosity implicit in the "mission" is exactly why I think city manager Kadrich and the current city administration needs to go.
The deeper question for me is how does a community define its "livability" - is it the edification of our fondness for athletic events and what people think of us when they come here for one week a year?

Or is it measured in how we take care of our own as well as our visitors, with:
  • Excellent and efficient public safety service delivery,
  • Road and traffic management systems, and public transportation, that facilitate the efficient movement of people to work, play, and commerce destinations,
  • Community planning that supports sensible development, encouraging both commercial growth and sustainable communities across all economic levels,
  • Adequate services for those who are in difficulty, including mental health and substance abuse?
Let's not forget monitoring and mitigating those activities where the risks to the community at large are considerable, even when the short-term private gains are lucrative. That's more important than ever here in "Energy Alley", especially given the current crisis in the Gulf of Mexico.

The City's mission statement and associated core values are available on this page at the City's website. The site also includes several bullet points that will probably serve to stir the pot even more with those who see only the price of everything.

The City's ad also shows to me the priority that the City places on managing the message. The ad is extremely wordy, to the point that a small percentage of readers will likely take the time to read the entire ad. For those that do make it to the last paragraph, the City's approach becomes more clear:
This is not about choosing one path over another - it is about being able to make smart decisions to be able to meet as many community needs as we can, and to do so in a manner that makes good fiscal sense.
In this context, the City would do better to utilize a mass communication tool like this in a way most likely to communicate effectively to the masses. I'm curious if the ad copy was generated internally by the City, or by someone with more marketing communications experience, such as local firm Cobb and Associates. The answer could go a long way toward explaining whether or not the City's listening tour expenses, as outlined in yesterday's Sentinel, constitute an effective use of taxpayer dollars.

The KISS acronym comes to mind when creating something to communicate the City's approach to a particular issue. Consider this comment from one of the Sentinel's readers of the listening tour story from yesterday, and you'll get a taste of what the City is up against:
What part of NO do these politicians not understand??? $40,000 worth I guess. NO new TAXES!! GET IT???
The City's responses need to be nearly as succinct and direct to have any chance of countering this kind of oversimplified, inflammatory rhetoric. Something like this:
Your Choice.
The JUCO committee was absolutely right to approach the City now with their ideas. They have a three-year ultimatum from the NJCAA. Construction cost estimates are much lower now than in recent years. There is much more than funding being leveraged here - intellectual capital in the form of the City's expertise in locating grant funding, for example - as well as the City's essential cooperation in any improvement process. As taxpayers, it is our ballpark.

From the looks of some other reporting, there's been a lot going on behind the scenes, well before Jamie Hamilton approached Council. Patti Arnold's detailed piece on the proposed improvements to the stadium complex seems to indicate that there's been an architect on retainer for quite a while now.

I still think that generating revenue through naming rights remains a hidden trump card in all this planning. Ralph D'Andrea ran with a tongue-in-cheek naming contest idea I had over at his blog, but for some reason I couldn't come up with more than one potential name idea.

Maybe I just don't think it's very funny to be putting an extraordinary amount of mental energy toward espousing or opposing the expansion of a baseball park, especially when so few people show up for the listening tour to improve what I believe is the most important service that local government provides. I can only hope that the City has had better luck with surveys and e-mail.

There's one more chance to personally involve yourself in this process, this coming Thursday afternoon at the Redlands Community Center. See you there.

Whether we're building and staffing stadiums or police and fire stations, you get what you pay for.

Enjoy your Memorial Day. Remember those who keep us free.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sign O' The Times 7

This is a bar along Main Street in Pittsburgh, at the boundary of the city's Bloomfield and Lawrenceville neighborhoods. I'm thinking that you won't find a lot of tea partiers here.

Then again, maybe you might. I didn't check for a back door to the place.

It seems that someone is a fan of the fictional characters in the Jack Aubrey - Stephen Maturin series of novels by Patrick O'Brian, the first of which is titled Master and Commander. These novels increased in popularity with the release of the excellent 2003 film starring Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany. I watched the film again this past weekend, and was just as impressed with it as the first time in the theater.

I'm wondering if the kind of men depicted in the novels or the film really exist in the world anymore. The argument is certainly there that a comparison is useless given the time difference and the fact that these are fictional characters, but we need that kind of leadership, knowledge, and most of all, diversity and balance if we as Americans are to continue to thrive on the world stage. The gradual, incremental signs of our reduction to just another nation are prevalent in every standardized test result, police report, or act of intolerance that passes muster for news these days. Some people choose to ignore the news - is that any path to a solution?

Speaking of ignoring the news, the marketing geniuses at the Airmall at the Pittsburgh Airport have come up with another gem of a display ad for devotees of the First Church of My Stuff.

To its credit, the Pittsburgh Airport has some really great display items. There is a lifelike sculpture of Franco Harris at the moment he caught the Immaculate Reception. There is a gorgeous Alexander Calder mobile, relocated from the old airport, hanging above what is known as the Airside Core. And among my personal favorites is a small kiosk devoted to Mister Rogers, with recordings of the Johnny Costa theme music, memorabilia, and the timeless message that this Pittsburgh treasure imparted to millions of American children - "You are special".

These are beautiful trees in an urban visual park, which is also beset with abandoned dog turds like the example above. As a comedian parodying Mister Rogers might joke, "Can you say 'desperate'? I knew you could".

On a more uplifting and local front, consider this example of display advertising for the Box Canyon Lodge in Ouray. The owners of this establishment, by their choice of vehicle (pretty nice for a utility van), and the tasteful manner of advertising their business on it, give off the message that they are very conscious of the image of their business. From the looks of it, they've succeeded in getting the attention of those who would otherwise not pay much attention.

Like me.

Here is a closeup of the photo of the lodge that adorns the side of the van. They did a nice job of bringing their business to the forefront, just by decorating their van in a classy and not overly pretentious way. Just because of this, I would consider looking into the Box Canyon Lodge for a weekend getaway.

Nice job.

Enjoy the rest of your week.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Pressure and Arrogance

Geology is the study of pressure and time.

As the week closes, some news items are reminding me about the nature of how we function as a society and interact with our fellow man, particularly in roles that imply a commitment to serve others.

As a flawed human being with the type of skill set and personality that attracts and endears me to complex and fast-paced working environments, I have had my share of run-ins with the concepts of civility, humility, understanding, and grace. I believe that this is true of the bulk of the men and women that serve our communities, whether in government, health care, the emergency services, or even high-volume retail establishments. I'm familiar with all of these, but given the pain in my legs I am currently most familiar with the latter.

Some of us are most excellent in keeping outward emotion and frustration at bay; to others we appear calm and controlled, even though our insides may resemble something akin to that volcano in Iceland. If we're not careful, we eventually conduct ourselves in a way that casts a dark pall over ourselves and those closest to us, and disrupts or prevents others from connecting with us, whether to help, to empathize, or try to direct to a clearer path.

If there's any truth to the recent allegations of misconduct against the Grand Junction Police regarding the destruction of property at a homeless camp, the alleged actions by the officers involved are lamentable, unacceptable, and
at the same time understandable. The opportunity to unleash whatever pent-up frustrations that were present may have gotten the best of them, and perhaps the fear of repercussions was lost in the midst of the power they were exercising.

Given the penchant for some in positions of authority or notoriety in our community to play the priest or the Levite when it comes to those less fortunate or who choose a different pursuit of happiness, it's understandable that some of our public servants, and those who lead them, feel it necessary to pay particularly special attention to the petty transgressions of this social sub-set.

Granted that the police have a job to do, and in the larger sense they do it rather well. However, many in our community are asserting that they are being unfairly targeted, and many others in the community feel that they have a point.

Others in stressful positions have a more socially acceptable manner of dealing with the daily stresses they encounter. They deal with things, then blow off steam in some fashion that the majority of us can usually find acceptable or be sympathetic to. These people are like Old Faithful; consistent, mostly balanced or controlled, and rarely an embarrassment to themselves or their employers.

Moderation is a tricky thing; it's like the young adults who hang out with my son at our house on occasion. How much raiding of my refrigerator is acceptable? How many pens can one accidentally take home from work before it becomes a budget problem? What is considered a civilized way of expressing oneself in a way that addresses the need to vent, but at the same time maintains the honor and commitment to service associated with the profession?

That last question might very well be addressed to Jim Alderden, the Sheriff of Larimer County, Colorado. Larimer is an expansive county north of Denver that includes the growing Fort Collins-Loveland metropolitan area. A story in Thursday's Fort Collins Coloradoan brought to the public forefront the nature of Sheriff Alderden's unique management of Internet resources, and how he allows his staff to report on the activities of his office.

Eloise Campanella, the Sheriff's Public Information Officer, publishes a weekly blog on the activities of the LCSO's various divisions. This blog, titled The Bull Sheet, offers many anecdotes about the nature of crime reporting, jail operations, and queries received from citizens. According to Sheriff Alderden in a recent post:
The Bull Sheet is our effort to communicate with the public what really goes on in a law enforcement agency. Most citizens have a very distorted view of law enforcement from television and the media. We share both the good and the bad and try to bring the readers behind the scenes. Part of our culture is that we do make light of some situations and highlight some bizarre behavior.
The candor, frankness, and humor present in this blog is something that you definitely don't see everyday in something official from a law enforcement agency. Here's one example:
How do we find these people? A 20-year-old got into a verbal altercation with his intimate 17-year-old girlfriend at 2025 North College. It turned physical. He pushed his girlfriend as he was upset that she was talking on the phone to another guy. Then to get her attention (you're gonna love this) he hit himself five times in the head with a hammer and attempted to stab himself. He was arrested and I hope she learned something. Oh, I do hope so.
These little vignettes keep the participants anonymous; well, at least the vast majority of them. When Larimer County residents Richard and Mayumi Heene (of the infamous balloon boy incident) showed up at the Sheriff's office to retrieve their balloon from evidence storage, Ms. Campanella was there as well to photograph the proceedings at the Sheriff's request. She commented on the proceedings in a humorous manner in the May 12 Bull Sheet, but this time identifying Mr. and Mrs. Heene by name:
Here comes the good part. Are you ready? It's a doozie. Sheriff's Office personnel had to help him lay out the balloon. He said he wanted to measure it to make sure it was HIS balloon…as opposed to all the other silver flying saucer-type devices we have in evidence.
According to the Coloradoan and reporter Nate Taylor, some are accusing the Sheriff and his staff of using the Bull Sheet to poke fun at the Heenes. Sheriff Alderden was decidedly unapologetic, accusing the Coloradoan of paying too much attention to the balloon boy fiasco.

Having been well steeped in the same crucible that many public safety personnel find themselves in every day, I can understand and even appreciate this kind of narrative as a way to more constructively and creatively express one's frustrations with some of the less attractive aspects of the job. I've engaged in lots of it. Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying, and also accept that some people out there will never understand.

However, the sustained and written nature of this running commentary in Larimer County smacks of a little too much pride and prejudice, especially when compared to Sheriff Alderden's own blog, which aside from a few exceptions is a well-written, measured platform for his views. Sheriff Alderden is no stranger to controversy, and has had his share of the media spotlight of late. His writing is persuasive and intelligent, whether you agree with him or not.

It's almost a shame that he's term limited, because his eventual departure from office will likely mean the end of both the Sheriff's blog and the Bull Sheet. I'll miss the former, but probably not the latter.

Speaking of term limits, some public servants don't have them. They are given oversight of tasks or are thrust into roles that afford them too much power or autonomy in their own area. What can follow is a lack of accountability, and perhaps a loss of direction and decorum that belies the lack of a moral compass. These pressures gradually build, and have no place to go. Eventually some cataclysmic occurrence brings a self-destructive upheaval that can end careers, marriages, and sometimes lives. Think along the lines of Mount St. Helens.

We saw a little glimpse of that this week with the arrest of Bob Edmiston, Director of Mesa County's Waste Management Division. Seems that Mr. Edmiston is accused of stalking, following, harassing, and threatening his former mistress and her husband, who is also a county employee. He allegedly did this with a county-owned GPS tracking device, computer, e-mail account, and cell phone.

Someone in Mr. Edmiston's position of responsibility should know better, but it seems like arrogance got the best of him. He appears incredulous beyond recognizing either the consequences of his actions or the ease with which his activities could be monitored. I've seen this sort of thing before, in both myself and others. I hope that Mr. Edmiston will come out of this ordeal a truly changed individual, but not one devoid of hope for the future. Heck, if that can work for the likes of Eliot Spitzer and Tiger Woods, who knows?

Aside from the references to geological phenomena, there is another common thread through all of these survival (or destruction) mechanisms; the fact that from an emotional, physical, or spiritual standpoint, we are not alone. We as a people have to remember how to reach out, and how to respond to being reached out to.

Whether driven by ego, intolerance, lust, or greed, humans tend to behave at their worst when they feel they have nowhere else to turn, and that only they alone can turn the tide for themselves. This breeds not only bad behavior, but the kind of bitterness, selfishness, and intellectual myopia that we've been seeing in our public discourse of late.

I believe that if left unchecked by common sense and understanding, this can lead our nation into an abyss not unlike that great big
meteor Arizona.

Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Alpine Bank Field at Suplizio Corner

During a recent visit to Omaha, one thing I noticed was a whole lot of construction going on in the downtown area. What's being built is a new stadium for the Creighton University baseball team. While that will be its primary use, what it will be most known for is replacing Rosenblatt Stadium as the annual location of the NCAA Division I College World Series.

With this in mind, I thought it very interesting when I read in today's Sentinel about the Chairman of the JUCO Committee approaching Grand Junction City Council about ways to secure funds to do an extensive remodel of city-owned Suplizio Field, long-time home of the NJCAA Division I College World Series.

While Council did a predictable thing when it comes to JUCO - put their moral support behind the remodel project, wonder aloud where the money will come from, and assign staff to research possible funding options - my recent travel, memory of some of the history involving the facility, and some rudimentary web surfing is steering me to some sort of logical conclusion as to where all of this simultaneous glad-handing and hand-wringing is leading to.

Did I mention that Omaha's new stadium has been named TD Ameritrade Park?

It's interesting that Jamie Hamilton, JUCO Committee Chair and CEO of Home Loan State Bank, approached council with a need for additional funding, and apparently did not mention the sale of naming rights as a possible funding source. Nor did the Sentinel, in their editorial supporting the project.

This concept isn't new to JUCO - the tournament itself has borne Alpine Bank's name for several years now - and in the past I've lamented about the manner in which advertising space and time is sold to place a brand-name label on just about every significant thing involved with the games and the operation of the tournament.

With this history, It just seems strange that Mr. Hamilton, and presumably many of the local leaders in business and government that also serve on the JUCO Committee, would treat the naming rights issue as something akin to an ace in the hole, or the 800-pound gorilla in the room.

Perhaps this is just the beginning of a political dance to arrive at that exact conclusion- a corporate sponsor is the only thing that will allow for an expeditious remodel. You can see the dancing happening already, in the form of the knee-jerk comments to the Sentinel's story. Thus begins the justification to seek private funding - incredulous taxpayers, willing but resource-scarce entities such as the City and District 51, and corporate sponsors, especially an image-poor financial services sector, with the money to put forth.

This is especially important in light of the reported Memorandum of Understanding between the JUCO Committee and the NJCAA, which will extend Grand Junction's role as host city for 25 years with a remodeled ballpark, but only 3 years without.
Even though this sounds like a nice way for the NJCAA to say "put up or shut up", I guess that's how it's done in these circles. Strangely enough, the NCAA also made a 25-year commitment to the folks in Omaha when plans for their new stadium were finalized.

Should the naming rights strategy make its way from the back pocket of the JUCO committee to the forefront of actual discussions, there may still be some obstacles to obtaining a willing sponsor acceptable to the community at large, and their respective elected officials. The Sentinel editorial touched on it:
That’s a great idea, not just for JUCO, but for the community as a whole. With a more professional-style ballfield, the long-held local dream of one day attracting a minor league baseball team to Grand Junction might move closer to reality.
This brings up one big issue not related to financial matters, that being the City's reluctance, if not outright objection, to the sale of beer at the field, and at adjacent Stocker Stadium. Remember the Colorado Silver Bullets? They were interested in establishing Suplizio Field as a permanent home base, but it's hard to have a team sponsored by Coors Light when you can't enjoy a Coors Light at the ballpark.

Other issues that could impede a naming rights agreement are exactly who will have their name plastered on a city-owned facility. In the Omaha example, TD Ameritrade is a financial services firm. While I'm sure the "Ameritrade" moniker kind of fits with America's national pastime, it's important to remember the "TD" part - Toronto Dominion, a Canadian bank. Ameritrade isn't really an American company.

Also, the ballpark is currently named for the late Sam Suplizio. This could be the big reason that naming rights aren't being discussed, and perhaps that's for the best. If, however, a compromise can be reached to continue to honor the memory of Mr. Suplizio, while accomplishing the necessary name change to further the presence of JUCO in Grand Junction for the foreseeable future - think Invesco Field at Mile High - I don't think that Sam would mind.

Finally, corporate names can change, and as a result so can the names of facilities that the corporation has naming rights to. TD Ameritrade Park is being built not far from Omaha's indoor sports and concert facility and major convention venue, the Qwest Center. This facility may soon change its name if Qwest's acquisition by CenturyLink goes through.

As this year's JUCO tournament approaches, I understand how much of Grand Junction's community pride goes into the preparation and conduct of this event. Our local economy benefits greatly from those who travel here to attend or participate, and aside from the traffic there really isn't a lot of negative collateral impact to the community, especially in comparison to events like Country Jam.

Upgrading Suplizio Field to a facility worthy of first-class athletic events is a good idea. Regardless of the strategies that the City and the JUCO committee bring forth to accomplish the remodel, an open, public discussion of all potential options should be conducted. Bringing the proposal to an afternoon Council workshop - and appearing coy about what may be the most expedient way of accomplishing the goal - isn't the way to start.

Best wishes to the JUCO committee for a successful tournament and a bright future.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Catching Up on Local Stuff

While I've been trying to catch up, I've noticed some interesting things going on in the Grand Valley over the last week, some of which I've written about before:

***The Lower Valley Fire District board election that I mentioned earlier this month resulted in one significant change in the board's composition, as newcomer Tom Sommerville ousted the outspoken John Justman. This has been celebrated by several friends of mine on Facebook that are involved with the department, and they've also reported that Mr. Justman and his supporters have shown up at recent board and volunteer meetings, basically playing the sore loser.

I'm still at a loss as to why most of the local media, save for KKCO and the Fruita Times, have largely ignored this election and the controversy that has preceded and followed it. This especially as the provision of public safety services is one of the most important functions of our government, and remains in the media spotlight due in large measure to the struggles in Grand Junction to build new facilities.

*** The City of GJ's efforts at collecting information from the public on new Police and Fire facilities is well underway. The results of one of the first of these meetings was documented in yesterday's Sentinel. City Communications Director Sam Rainguet sent me a thank you e-mail for talking up the Listening Tour. I'll continue to do so, as I believe that dialogue is critical to achieving understanding across the boundaries of opinion and ideology. The next session is scheduled for Thursday evening at the Lincoln Park Barn.

*** This past week marked National Police Week, which has been observed with dignified regularity here in Mesa County. Thanks to an excellent video and slideshow by William Woody of the Sentinel, the tribute to fallen officers this past Thursday was available to many who didn't get to go.

Despite GJPD Chief John Camper's assertion in the video that "it has been decades since we've seen a line of duty death here in Mesa County", Fruita Police Chief Mark Angelo was remembering Acting Chief Dan Dalley, who died in a vehicle accident in June 2001. While I'm not sure whether the death of GJPD K-9 Gero, killed by gunfire in May 2004, would be considered a line-of-duty death in this context, I'm sure that many who worked with and helped to train Gero remembered him as well.

I was personally impressed with the combined honor guard from the various law enforcement agencies across the valley. It's important to remember the sacrifices made by those sworn to protect us. It is truly one of the toughest jobs out there.

*** This past week also illustrated one of the reasons that being a cop is such a tough job. It takes equal measures of courage, compassion, tolerance, and strength to survive the physical and emotional rigors of the job. We've seen our share of allegations of police misconduct over the last year; last week's accusations of GJPD officers trashing a homeless camp were another unfortunate example of how the police officer's duty to uphold the law for everyone can be just as daunting an adversary as pursuing the criminal element.

The citizen complaint that initiated the investigation was leveled by activist Jacob Richards, whose varied activities have put him in the local media spotlight sufficient times that the media seem to try not to cover things he's involved with. In keeping with Mr. Richards' sometimes tenuous hold on the art of timing and subtlety, he also chose this week to unveil a new blog site dedicated to chronicling what he and others may consider questionable activity by local law enforcement.

GJPD Exposed is basically a collection of posts from several sources, mostly self-generated by Richards and his associates, who also comprise most of the advocacy group Housing First, No More Deaths, as well as Grand Junction Alternative Media and their flagship publication, The Red Pill. The latest issue, also released this past week, has a story on the GJPD and homeless issues on Page One.

While I disagree with some of their assertions, as well as the timing in putting this information out when others are trying to make remembrance of individual sacrifice, I must recognize that Mr. Richards and others have positioned themselves as voices in the community and society for those who do not have one. In that context, I hope that they continue to grow, collaborate, and recognize what it takes to be at the table when it comes time to make substantive changes.

*** Another police-related occurrence this week also illustrated how tough it is to administer not only the criminal justice system, but those who make up the ranks of our police officers. Former GJPD officer Courtney Crooks, found not guilty of the domestic violence-related charges that contributed to his departure from that agency, successfully petitioned a Mesa County judge to have the case information placed under seal. It seems that despite all he's been through, Mr. Crooks still wants to be a police officer, and the sealed case record will allow him to pass muster for the requisite background checks and questionnaires that screen for things like this.

As much as many in our country malign the presumption of innocence inherent in our criminal justice system, the benefits of it can and often do outweigh the liabilities. Kudos to the Sentinel's Paul Shockley for his diligence in following this case as closely as he did, and best wishes to Mr. Crooks in his job search.
Now if only the Sentinel would do something about that pesky Blotter.

*** Former County Commissioner and City Council Member Jim Spehar has the qualifications (and then some) to reflect upon and offer comment on the workings of our local government, and the conduct of our elected officials. His most recent column in the Free Press is an excellent example of both his experience and talent at work.

He called County Commissioners Craig Meis and Janet Rowland out for basically passing the buck as elected officials and overseers in one of the more sensitive and impactful areas of local government, specifically the interpretation and enforcement of those county regulations that affect land use and development. Mr. Spehar says it best:
But once you make a development decision, when infrastructure goes in and buildings go up, you've significantly altered your community. For better or worse and, either way, it's permanent. Land use decisions, I came to realize, were the most important calls we made.

Shouldn't that “common sense” dictate that selectively setting aside regulations approved by the Planning Commission and accepted by the Commissioners after lengthy and inclusive public meetings be something elected decision-makers ought to decide and be held accountable for? Isn't this important enough to be done in a public setting and subjected to comment by and discussion with all affected parties rather than as an administrative action?
I'm inclined to agree. The press release issued after this decision labeled it as a "common sense" part of the county's Open for Business initiative. I'm not so sure about that. If the Commissioners are willing to delegate insulate themselves out of a process that has such a permanent impact on the character of a community, what else are they willing to set aside in the name of expediency?

Sunday was a good day. I got a fair amount of things done. Hopefully the rest of the week will turn out the same, as there are some challenging times ahead. I'll have more about that as soon as I can wrap my head around it.

May your week ahead turn out to be a productive and happy one as well.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Lagging Behind - For a Reason

It's been a busy week.

I was in Pittsburgh from Wednesday of last week until this past Tuesday. I spent most of my visit with Leslie and the girls, mainly accompanying Leslie and Michaela to Children's Hospital for tests and physician visits. I also got see my mother, and take her to lunch to Mother's Day. Leslie and I were able to have dinner together that evening.

Tuesday morning I flew back to Denver through Atlanta on airTran, which offered a very decent fare and also introduced something heretofore unknown to me; wi-fi Internet access in flight. The service was free (and will remain so until May 24), and seemed to work quite well.

I don't think that I would pay for it, though. I'm becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of staying away from the computer, and of the pitfalls of staying wired to the world all the time. This is one reason why I enjoy my time with Leslie; she doesn't have cable, and 'encourages' me to stay away from the computer or the Internet on my phone when we're together. We have movie nights after the kids go to bed. We sit on a porch swing and watch the world go by.

I don't have an explanation for it, but my blood flows differently when I'm with her. She's up to her eyeballs in challenges, none of which seems will get easier anytime soon. Nevertheless, she always makes time to listen, something that I could use some work on. I still feel like I'm jet-lagged, trying to sync the rest of me into this time zone, these patterns, this life. I find that there are distinct advantages and pitfalls to life there and here; trying to focus on the positives of both is an interesting and difficult process.

This isn't to say that positive experiences with the ones you love always include good news. I'm trying to get my head around the latest news that has come from Pittsburgh since I left. I'll have more to say later.

After getting back to GJ late Tuesday, I returned next morning to working at the new Cabela's at Mesa Mall. Grand Opening is next week. I've been training and working there since mid-April, and it's been an interesting and vibrant look into the world of a major retailer. This isn't the first store that I've opened here; back in 2003 I worked part-time at the Borders in Grand Junction when they set up and opened that store.

I worked at Borders because I like the stuff they sell. This isn't the same at Cabela's. I'm decidedly not an outdoors kind of person. There are things there that I have a lot of experience with, primarily related to radio-based technology. However, I have really learned a lot this week about things like knife sharpeners, metal detectors, fish finders, cast iron cookware, and sandals. I'm learning stuff every day; isn't that one of the fundamental things about living a good life?

I'm actually looking forward to the crowds that will be coming through next weekend, but I'm a bit concerned about the traffic and parking situation that is likely to arise. This will be complicated by less than normal available parking spaces due to the mall's annual carnival visit. I may actually take the GVT, or even try to ride my bike if the weather's good.

My thoughts and prayers are elsewhere, which among other reasons is why it's taken so long to sit down and write something. There will be more to write about this part of the journey soon. Right now I'm trying to catch up, while remaining rooted in what really matters.

Enjoy your weekend.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Public Safety - Advice and Decisions

Happy May. The cool, slightly unsettled weather in the Grand Valley, combined with some of the unsettling news on the environmental and homeland security fronts, will hopefully abate and/or be effectively mitigated to allow for a more peaceful transition into mid-spring and early summer. 

This week and continuing through the month and into June, decisions made and information received will make a significant impact in how the local public safety system operates in several areas of the Grand Valley. The preparations for these activities have been occurring in earnest in both the physical and virtual environments, but this month will likely be significant on two fronts.

Lower Valley Fire District

The Lower Valley Fire Protection District provides Fire and EMS services to the bulk of western Mesa County's population. Their service boundaries extend into neighboring Garfield County, and along I-70 into Utah.

The district employs a Chief, as well as some paid staff for administration and initial response, but the bulk of the services are provided by volunteers, who according to media reports make up 80 percent of the responder staff.

These volunteers are reportedly unhappy with recent decisions made by the paid administration, the district's Board of Directors, or both. Because the Board is elected by the residents of the district, today's election for 4 seats on that Board has generated a fair amount of interest in and around Fruita, Loma, and Mack.

A total of 11 candidates are vying for those 4 seats, with at least four of the candidates identified by some as sympathetic to the desire of volunteers for a greater say in how the district makes decisions. These candidates are Tom Sommerville, Josh Warner, Steve Seal and Zeb Smith.

Media coverage of the election, and of the reasons for discontent among the volunteer ranks, has been sparse at best, limited to the League of Women Voters candidate forums held in April. One notable exception has been reporter Tim Ciesco of KKCO-TV. His story from last week was comprehensive, balanced, and has generated a lot of commentary. 

Aside from what I've read and heard from people who are involved, I really don't know much about the issues at hand. Having been a volunteer public safety responder first, and continuing as one after making public safety my career, I have a few observations:

  • The bulk of the media comment from the Lower Valley district board has come from board member John Justman. According to one commenter to the KKCO story, Mr. Justman also sits on the Fruita Planning Commission, Water Board, and the Co-Op Board. Mr. Justman seems to be the only public face of the Lower Valley Fire District board. 
  • A voice that seems to be conspicuously absent is Lower Valley Chief Frank Cavaliere. One would think that the Chief would either have something significant to say about the issues at hand, or would take a leadership role in trying to mitigate the bad blood between the volunteers he depends on to help with responding to calls, and the board that is saddled with the obligation to assure that the district operates in a legal and fiscally responsible way. Perhaps he is focused on handling the day-to-day operations. Perhaps he has also been effectively gagged by his board.
  • My first foray into public safety was as a volunteer, with a similar governmental entity that provides EMS to several municipalities in suburban Pittsburgh. The board members are appointed by the elected councils or commissions in charge of the municipal government. The EMS authority does not levy property or other taxes to generate revenue.                        
  • This board, while overseeing the paid staff who ran the service, did not step into direct involvement in day-to-day operations. They made sure they hired a good individual to run the place, and allowed him the latitude to manage it, along with the volunteer resources that made up the life blood of the agency through the 1980's.   
  • As Mr. Justman and the remainder of the current board may be micromanaging their Chief and his operational activities, they would likely do best by allowing the Chief to do his job, and barring gross irresponsibility or criminal activity, stay out of his way.                                Should the board be substantively changed as a result of today's election, once they have addressed some of the issues that have left many volunteers feeling disenfranchised, they would do well to heed the same advice.

Best of luck to all of the candidates, and to the future district board, staff and volunteers. May effective service to the community be the main goal and motivator of your organization for the future.

Grand Junction Public Safety Initiative

For several weeks now, the City of Grand Junction has been using an online survey tool, combined with in-person surveys conducted by Mesa State students, to assess citizen opinion on how the proposed new facilities for the City's public safety providers should be built.

The survey focused primarily on asking citizens how much should be built, when it should be built, and what financial resources should be committed to building it. As I've stated before, our public safety system is the most important component of the services that municipal government provides; it's imperative that they have adequate and secure facilities, and the sooner the better.

However, the challenges that face the construction of these new facilities extend well beyond just the fiscal arena. Equally important is assuring consistent service delivery before and during construction of any new physical plant; this extends into the realm of operational conditions that impact how those services are delivered across a growing city, not to mention the needs of those City employees that serve every citizen of Mesa County as their lifeline to emergency services; the staff of the Grand Junction Regional Communication Center.

In a post last year, I detailed several factors that I still believe need addressed on a comprehensive basis to assure a level of security, preparedness, and optimized service delivery that is fitting not just for the residents of Grand Junction, but the entire Grand Junction metropolitan area.

Three of these factors stand out as benchmarks for any discussion of how to achieve the above:

  • Regionalization / Consolidation - Begin discussions on how to adequately protect every citizen of the Grand Valley in an effective and consistent manner, while reducing duplication of resources and confusion often present across jurisdictional boundaries. These sentiments were echoed by former Grand Junction and Fruita planning director Bennett Boeschenstein, in a letter to the editor printed in last Friday's Free Press and today's Sentinel.  No citizen should receive substandard emergency services just because they live on the "wrong" side of an imaginary line.

  • Annexation Reform - Figure out a way to curtail the City's growth to match the ability of public safety to adequately respond to it. This ties into the above, along with the existence of additional satellite infrastructure to support consistent response time performance.
  • Regional, Secure Facilities - Reconsider the locations of certain mission-critical facilities, such as a new 9-1-1 center, moving them away from the urban core and the risk and security factors associated with it.

I do plan on being at some of the recently announced stops on City Council's "listening tour", and strongly encourage everyone interested to attend as well. Review the supporting material, and take the city's survey. Make sure your voice is heard.

Have a great week ahead.