on Diligence

Questions continue to arise regarding the issue on the city putting a hold on accepting the $396,500 in CDBG grants pending a due diligence legal review of the HUD contract. As the  City Council Finance Committee chair, I wish to clear up the following:

First, the grant money is NOT currently part of the Earlham city budget, and property taxes will NOT go up if after a legal review of the HUD terms the grant money is refused. Our water main project will merely return to its original budgeted phased timeline and there will be no city property taxes used to do the housing rehabilitation of five private residences. The $15,000 city match that was required for the housing grant will be returned to the city budget, either to be utilized for something else, or to help offset any potential budget increases next year.

Second, although the Iowa Economic Development Authority does distribute the CDBG funds, and can give opinions, they have no control over current HUD rulings or current or future interpretations of HUD rulings. When we accept these funds we are in essence signing a contract with an entity that is allowed to change the terms at any time. When I asked Nicole Warren of the IEDA if we can add language to the HUD contract to protect the city from any future rule changes being applied retroactively, she advised that “We cannot include such language regarding HUD rules. While we do not believe there would be a situation where HUD would apply a rule retroactively, we have to include this language- just in case we are given direction by HUD and have no choice but to do so”.When I asked Carey Whitehead of the office of the HUD General Council in DC if pending rule changes would ever be applied retroactively after a grant was awarded, she advised that in past experience it had only been done with those grant projects that had not closed yet (in other words, projects in process and not yet signed off as finished and complete to HUD would be required to abide by any new rules). She did stress however, that no one knows for sure if the pending rules will follow past experience until they are finalized. Considering no business would ever sign such a lopsided contract, I question why HUD expects the city to do so.

Third, we are only bound to abide by the HUD rules if we accept the money. What HUD is asking the city to do – the partial ceding of private property rights as well as what the city defines as the appropriate use of force to protect our residents during a civil rights protest– are not allowed either legally or constitutionally to the feds. They get around this limitation by offering federal funding on condition that we sign a one-sided contract: in other words, if we want lots of (other people’s) money, we must agree to their terms.

Fourth, if the city turns down the HUD money, the funds are returned to the Iowa Economic Development Board for redistribution. We cannot send it to another city.  As I have said before, all government grants area form of redistribution of wealth, where the government picks winners and losers, and binds the recipients to onerous, ever changing rules. While I am sure that the mayor of Winterset would love to be able to spend more taxpayer money, no matter from whom it comes, he still has to apply for it and bind his city to the same HUD terms. I wonder if perhaps his residents would much rather that he and his city council focus more on figuring out how to lower their local property taxes, instead of finding new ways to tap the public purse (Winterset city taxes are 25% higher than Earlham’s).

Fifth, accepting the grant money requires that we abide by the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires all contractors hired for the entire project (not just the portion funded by grant) to pay prevailing union wages, which could increase the cost of the overall project to taxpayers. Plus, there is a procurement policy that seemed to encourage preferential treatment for small and minority owned firms, rather than those who would best meet the city requirements for the project as well as for price.

Keep in mind, that of the $396,500 in grant money, $205,500 of it is for a project that under normal circumstances would never be approved, i.e. using local public tax money to rehabilitate five (5) private residences. Plus, while the rest of the grant is for our water main project, it is not enough to fund the entire project. It still requires a match of $193,850 from Earlham taxpayers. Money issues aside, given the one-sided HUD contract terms and potential impacts to property rights, we would be remiss if we did not try to understand its full impact. Ceding part of the elected city council’s authority (and by extension, yours) to the whim of the unelected bureaucrats at HUD in DC is a serious matter; it should be carefully considered regardless of the amount of money at stake. It is unfortunate that the HUD rules were not disclosed to the council by SICOG at the time of application so they could be more fully vetted. However, at this point, SICOG now has a conflict of interest issue (they stand to receive up to $40,500 from the grant for professional and technical services to the city), so a separate legal review is warranted to ensure that we have a full understanding of any potential risk to the city should the council choose to still move forward.

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on Community Development Block Grants

I have been recently questioned as to why the City Council decided to place a hold on receiving the federal CDBG grants from HUD for our town, and our decision to seek a legal review for potential impact to both the city and its residents. Below is a summary of the concerns I raised.

First, the HUD contract requires the adoption of polices and rules that are completely unrelated to the grant:

  • Requirement to adopt  policies and procedures on the prohibition of the use of excessive force during non-violent civil rights demonstrations
  • Requirement to adopt policies and procedures on the barring of entrances and exits to a facility that is subject to civil rights demonstrations
  • Requirement adopt a residential anti-displacement and relocation assistance plan, examples of which include the arrangement of temporary housing, deferred tax payment plans, establishment of counseling centers, relocation services etc.

While on its face this appears benign, there could be potential negative consequences:

  • In order to receive the funds, the city is being forced to adopt new ordinances/policies that are completely unrelated to the Block Grant & have no sunset requirement
  • There is no definition listed as to what HUD considers excessive force
  • There is no definition listed as to what HUD considers a civil rights demonstration or limits thereof
  • Will this override the rights of property owners over of control over their own property if they are subject to a civil rights protest (i.e. barring of entrances & exits to a facility)?
  • Will this override the rights of property owners over their own protection from harassment if subject to a civil rights protest (City Ordinance, Ch. 40.02, Code of Iowa Sec 708.7)?
  • Will this override the rights of property owners to be free from disorderly conduct, such as excessive noise, abusive language, obstruction of street, or disruption of a funeral service if subject to a civil rights protest (City Ordinance 40.03, Code of Iowa 723.4[2, 3, 7, 8])?
  • Will this override the city noise prohibitions if subject to a civil rights protest (City Ordinance 40.06.1 & 4)?
  • Will this override city ordinance on the prohibition of obstruction of official acts if part of a civil rights protest (City Ordinance 41.05, Code of Iowa Sec 719.1)?
  • Who is the final arbiter as to whether these new ordinances are being followed, our elected city council or unelected HUD bureaucrats in D.C.?

Second, I discovered that a new HUD rule, proposed over a year ago, was set to go into effect later this year, called “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” (AFFH), and would govern all CDBG grant recipients. Since the city of Ankeny recently put a pause on seeking their own CDBG grants because of this rule, I decided to read the entire Federal Register and find out about it myself (there are about 80 pages with supporting HUD documents – see http://www.huduser.org/portal/affht_pt.html). After doing so, I had some concerns, and requested that the Council put a pause on receiving the money until these could be addressed by both HUD and our legal counsel, since the folks who pursued the grant on our behalf (SICOG) didn’t know anything about it. Some of my concerns were the following:

  • It appears that the goal of AFFH is to meet a preferred HUD racial and income mix in a CDBG recipient community. Will we be required to do this as well, and if so, to what degree?
  • Do we know if after we accept this money that we will meet HUDs criteria, whatever that is?
  • Who will pay for the subsequent community surveys to prove that we are meeting HUD’s goals?
  • What will we be required to do, as well as the cost, if we fail to meet the government’s preferential racial & income mix?
  • Will we be required to prove ourselves every year, with no sunset?
  • If we are sued by the Feds, who pays for that, as the likelihood of us winning is slim?
  • Will our legal insurance cover such a lawsuit and if so, to what degree?
  • Does it apply to all CDBG grant recipients, regardless of their chosen use for the grant money?
  • Will these rules, as well as any new ones, apply to past, current and future CDBG recipients?
  • If not applicable now, is HUD able to change this rule, even if contrary to previous rules/interpretations, and mandate that past, current and future CDBG recipients comply without recourse or sunset?
  • If we ever refuse to abide by rule changes detrimental to our city what are the potential consequences?
  • Who is the final arbiter for compliance, our elected city council or unelected HUD bureaucrats in D.C.?

Keep in mind that although these funds come as a pass-through from the state, the state does not have full control of the rules. These are still federal monies from HUD, so HUD will ultimately have the final say on the correct interpretation of HUD rules. There seems to be a lot of unknowns here, and as a council member I want to ensure that the city, its residents, and private property rights are protected – we should know exactly what we are signing on to with this contract before we accept the money.  Right now, we really don’t.

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on Courage

“It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.” ~ Mark Twain

What is courage? I know that many of us often equate courage with risking one’s physical life for the sake of a cause or of another human being, but that is not always the case. While courage is often displayed by our soldiers, or our first responders, I am of the belief that a courageous heart begins long before the decision is made to sacrifice oneself to save another. True courage comes when one chooses to live their life standing for the right thing; I don’t think the choice to risk one’s life comes at the last minute. Courageous men and women have usually already been practicing courage in every area of their lives.

So how does one practice courage? Well, that is done through sacrifice. Rarely are we called upon to risk our physical lives for something, but all of us are usually called upon at one time or another to risk a part of our lives for something bigger. Sometimes it is time, sometimes it is popularity, sometimes it is friendships, sometimes it is a job promotion, sometimes it is even the job itself. The main requirement of courage is always sacrifice, and unfortunately, far too many Americans feel this can be done by proxy, i.e. expecting others to do it on their behalf.

In my political travels I have certainly encountered a lot of frustration from the populace regarding the state of affairs in our country. They complain about Democrats, they complain about Republicans, they expect our elected leaders to do better, be better, exhibit honor, bravery and be worthy of trust. And rightly they should. However, as I probed deeper, I discovered that few of these complainers voted in very election (city, school, county, state), even fewer had contacted their elected officials, and even less gave up personal time and energy to lobby for change. Some even indignantly said that they are so tired of voting for the lesser of two evils that they refused to participate altogether, and stopped voting entirely. I ask you this – is that what a courageous American looks like?

There is only one person who has ever walked on water, and sadly, He is not running for office. I hate to break it to you, but since our political choices will always be limited to human beings, we will always be choosing between the imperfect, the lesser of two evils. So get over it. And keep in mind this: the electoral choices which present themselves are a direct reflection of the level of courage the American populace has to get involved in the process. So, if you don’t like your choices my dearies, then perhaps you should get off your pretty butts and get involved. Stop being the frustrated excuse-makers and become the bold participators.

Ask yourself this: do I have the courage to give up some personal time for the sake of our country? Or give up some football? Or some money? Or even alienate some friends?  If more of us were willing to do this, we would become a force to be reckoned with – no entity, not even a corrupt government – has long stood before men and women of purpose who refuse to be distracted by the comfort of this world.  So kiss your spouse, close that tailgate, put down the remote, sharpen your pencil, stretch your typing fingers, raise your voice and join the rest of us trying to move this liberty-killing mountain of government back to its Constitutional boundaries. Our Republic needs you. You have a part to play because you are worthy, because you are an American and because Americans just don’t put up with this kind of crap.

Courage. It’s not always about dying. Sometimes it’s just about dying to self.

What really counts is not the immediate act of courage or of valor, but those who bear the struggle day in and day out — not the sunshine patriots but those who are willing to stand for a long period of time”. ~ U.S. President John F. Kennedy, Remarks at the White House to Members of the American Legion (70), March 1, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962

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on Traitors

“The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted.” ~ James Madison (1751-1836) 4th U.S. President

For the last few weeks I have discussed the existing law on the books regarding treason, sedition, and rebellion, and how it can be applied to members of our government. For some reason, our government has evolved over the last century into a mindset that the laws of the land do not apply to them, that their ways are the best ways, and that the future they desire for this country is the one that must be, regardless of whether or not the American people want the same. In other words, our elected leaders mean to be like kings, and in doing so they become like traitors.

If one were to read the Declaration of Independence, one would find an eerie similarity between the abuses of old King George and the current three branches of the U.S. federal government… or four branches, if you count the bloated federal bureaucracy. The Declaration planted the seed of Revolution, when men and women were willing to risk everything for the very idea that all men are created equal, that no one is above them but God, that the law is applicable to all, and that ultimately government is to be the servant of the people, not their master. Our Founders believed that since liberty came from God, it was worth the pledge of their lives, their property, and their sacred honor to defend.

While the Declaration may have been the birth of the soul of our country, the U.S. Constitution is the body that contains it. In their wisdom our Founders understood that even the most noble of men (or women) are susceptible to the lure of power over their fellow man, if not bound down with the chains of something bigger. The U.S. Constitution was designed to leave power in the hands of the people. Diluted power, as opposed to centralized power, is the best way to ensure the protection of individual liberty.

Power can easily make traitors of even those of exceptional character, and no man or woman is above the law, not even those we elect to write it, enforce it, and interpret it. For too long have we turned a blind eye to the shenanigans of our servants. For too long we have allowed the line to be moved on what we will tolerate. For too long we have been distracted in living our own lives and taken our attention away from holding those with this delegated power accountable.  And, the tiny, imperceptible compromises that once seemed so insignificant in their day, have together succeeded in finally breaking through the wall of protection that is our Constitution. To quote Mike Vanderboegh, anyone who tells us that “it would never happen here” or “they would never do that”, “is whistling past the graveyard of history. There is no ‘house rule’ that bars tyranny coming to America. History is replete with republics whose people grew complacent and descended into imperial butchery and chaos”.

We have come to the time when we can no longer trust by default the words and deeds of many of our elected (and unelected) officials in government, no matter the party affiliation. We need to stop assuming that the best consequences will happen with a passed law, an awarded grant, a new regulation or a new ruling, and live in reality: these folks are imperfect humans just like the rest of us. Perhaps if we start having the foresight to see the potential negative aftermath of decisions our leaders make, we can be more preemptive in halting them before they go too far. In fact, our Founders even warned us to keep a wary eye on the people in power, even those we trust.  This is our job as citizens, and if we love our country as much as we say we do, it’s time that we start doing it.  After all, according to the Constitution, all authority ultimately rests in our hands, the people’s hands.

So, get informed. Read the founding documents our leaders won’t. Read the bills they won’t. Follow the money. Then, get involved. You don’t have to run for office – just find something for which you are passionate about and let your voice be heard to provide accountability, support or even a spine to those we elect. Stand up for our liberty and the future of our republic. Only we can put a halt to the forward march of the traitors.

“It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of citizens and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The freemen of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much … to forget it” ~ James Madison (1751-1836) 4th U.S. President

 

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on Rebellion

“Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.” 18 U.S. Code § 2383

America is a nation of laws and the majority of Americans are law abiding. We believe in right and wrong. We also believe that the purpose of law and government is to further the former and punish the latter. Life and property cannot be protected if criminals are allowed to prosper. Liberty cannot be preserved thru chaos. The pursuit of happiness fails if no one is assigned to keep the peace.

The word “rebellion” does not always have a positive connotation, but I suppose that usually depends on which side you are on. For instance, the British called the American colonists rebels because we opposed being their subjects without basic human rights. And the American North called the American South rebels when they seceded from the Union in order to protect the business of slavery. And today, the barbaric Islamist extremists all over the Middle East are called rebels because they oppose the authority of any government that is not Sharia, as well as the right of anyone to exist who is not Muslim or “Muslim enough”. So, in some cases rebellion began in order to protect basic human rights, and in others it began to take them away. So, this begs the question: can the pursuit of rebellion ever be noble? Can rebellion ever take peaceful forms?

I believe that acts of rebellion can be noble, if it furthers the protection of human life, the protection of personal property, the protection of personal liberty, and the protection of one’s ability to seek their happiness. The American Revolution began with these seeds of truth: the dignity of the human condition and the value given to it by God made it worthy enough to fight for it. Unfortunately, fighting for this truth and the protection of natural rights has historically been more bloody than peaceful. There always seems to be a violent force fighting against that which God Himself deemed as “very good”, and therefore sadly, requires an equally violent response to stop it.  While there have been cases of more peaceful rebellions- a.k.a. civil disobedience- in which more violence was perpetrated by those seeking to quash the peaceful rebellion that those actually pursuing it (as in the Women’s Suffrage and Civil Rights movements), these have been more the rarity than the norm.

It is man who has always been engaged in rebellion against our God-given natural right of equality to each other. Man has always sought power and domination through the ages, and unfortunately, sometimes government easily lends itself to the perpetration of this if not watched carefully and held to account early. Under the Constitution, the American people assigned a group of men and women to keep the peace, to protect life and property, and to ensure that government gets out of the way of an individual’s pursuit of happiness. This is the ultimate purpose of our Constitutional government, and as a nation we are unique in that the majority of Americans still see our government as one that should be subservient to us. It is not there to tell us what to do. It is not there to protect us from ourselves. It is not there to further what a small band of citizens in Des Moines or DC deem to be the common good at the expense of others. It is there to further what the individual deems as his or her personal good. You see, our Constitution was written with the individual in mind, not the collective. If our government continues to try to distort the plain meaning of its words in order to overthrow this document’s legal authority, if it continues to use its power to punish those that try to hold them accountable to the same laws the rest of us must follow, and if it continues to give aid and comfort to those who enable the same, then one must ask: who now is truly engaging in rebellion?

 “There are two potential violators of man’s rights: the criminals and the government. The great achievement of the United States was to draw a distinction between these two — by forbidding to the second the legalized version of the activities of the first.” ~ Ayn Rand (1905-1982) from her 1963 essay, Man’s Rights

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