on Ads

“If once the people become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions.” (1743-1826) ~ Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and 3rd U.S. President

So, are you tired of them yet? You know, the political ads. I know that my husband is. One would think that politicians would know better than to aggravate a football fan in the middle of an important game. Especially when you think that most of these never really tell the whole truth anyway. It seems silly to waste millions of dollars telling a story the people will never believe; why not just lay out your belief systems, your ideas, and your plans and let the people decide on who would serve them best? It seems logical; it seems full of common sense…which is precisely why campaigns from both sides don’t do it. They know that the majority of citizens do not pay that much attention to government and therefore vote for the candidate that makes them feel the best, and opposed to the one that will serve them the best. And this is precisely why we are stuck with these annoying ads that pit candidates against one another; until the voters change their ways, even those candidates who are the best servants will need to play the game by the current rules in order to win.

So what do we voters do about it? After all, it’s not going to change until we demand that it stop. And the only way we can get it too stop is if we start to pay attention, and do it early. Get to know your candidates. Research their voting record. Look for inconsistencies in what they say and what they do. Are they the sort that speaks their mind and sticks with it or do they change based on the company they keep at the time or the latest poll results? Do you like their ideas on how to run a department, or how to solve a problem, or further a policy? Are they willing to honor the wishes of their constituents, even if they do not agree? Are they bold when it comes to standing on principle even if means they will not be the voters choice? And do they have the strength of character and integrity to sacrifice what is good for themselves for the sake of others, even if it is not fair?

I know this is a lot to ask of imperfect candidates, but I only bring this up because I too am tired of the bull. I am tired of those who have no problem campaigning for others using twisted half-truths to support their preferred candidate. I am tired of seeing good people have their character assaulted by both those who should know better and by those who know nothing. I am tired that ideas on how to do things better, on how to serve the people better, on how to be better, are taken as personal insults when in point of fact they are just reflective of the changing needs and efficiencies of the day. I am tired of those who believe that the agenda for themselves and their party is far more important than the future of my county, my state, and my nation. And frankly, I am tired that the poor behaviors of Des Moines and DC have already started to infect a portion of my county. It’s time for common sense folks to draw the line.

People wonder why there are not more good choices out there for political races. They wonder why more people of honor and integrity are not choosing to run the gauntlet that is politics. Let me tell you why folks: good people are not always willing to allow themselves, or their families, to be publically sacrificed as political martyrs and have their reputations ruined by innuendo and half-truths. The real fact of the matter is that we don’t just need more good people running for office- we need far more good people supporting and doing battle for those good people running for office. And it’s time that all honorable people – in both parties – call out those who poison the well of politics and government in order to “win”. Things will never change unless we stop tolerating the status quo of bullying politics and get involved. The people of my county are lucky – we have folks running for local offices in both parties that love it here and love the people here. We just have different ideas on how to best get things done and how to spend taxpayer money.  We have different ideas on efficiency, on growth, and on the proper role of government and liberty, both locally and nationally. How about we just present those and leave it up to the voters to choose which ideas they like best?

After all, good ideas should be able stand on their own, in truth and without fear; only bad ones require the support of brutes and liars.

 “Divide and rule, a sound motto. Unite and lead, a better one.”  ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) a German writer and statesman

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on Data Mining, part 3

Around this time last fall, I shared information on how the state of Iowa collects data on our children. One of the ways is via the personal information parents share with the districts, and the second is through assessments. A third way is via the use of surveys. One such survey, the Iowa Youth Survey, will be given in October to our 6th, 8th and 11th graders. It is conducted by the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Division of Behavioral Health in collaboration with the Iowa Department of Education, the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy, the Iowa Department of Human Rights’ Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning and Statistical Analysis Center, and the Iowa Department of Human Services. Results are analyzed by the Iowa Consortium for Substance Abuse Research and Evaluation. While it is not mandatory that districts participate, like many others, ours has chosen to participate.

According to the Iowa Youth Survey website (iowayouthsurvey.iowa.org), the survey is completely anonymous, has been around since 1975, and is used to “collect information about Iowa youth so we can better understand their beliefs, values, and decisions about what makes them feel secure, strong, and safe in their communities, schools, and families. In addition, information is collected about their ideas on alcohol, tobacco, drugs, bullying and harassment, and violence prevention. The information collected will help the state planning agencies, our schools, and local community task forces put together valuable future programming.” Unfortunately, the site does not list what specific past programs came about as a result of this data collection, or how it has directly benefited our individual children or districts.

Recently, it has come to my attention that parents have read the current questions on the 2014 survey this year, and have started to complain. Parents are finding them inappropriate, intrusive, an invasion of privacy, a form of data collection on their child, as well as a waste of precious class time (the survey can take 20-40 minutes). Complaints have even mounted to the point where the districts of Ankeny and ADM, once participants, decided to pull out at the last minute once they discovered that the surveys were not mandatory. Des Moines has also pulled out and Waukee was not even on the list of initial participants.

Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that parents have now discovered that the survey asks children as young as ten (10) some very juicy questions on topics to which not all children are exposed  (such as sex, gender identity, drug and alcohol use, suicide, violence and more). New curiosities are being put into our children’s heads as a result of this survey, which may have never been there before, and they will now be sent home to their parents with questions on some surprising topics, answers to which they may not yet be ready to completely understand. Or worse, children may just end up discussing/investigating these topics with their ill-informed and ill-equipped peers, including those whose parents opted them out of the survey. Unfortunately, there is no protocol in place to address those children who answer the at-risk questions (like bullying, drugs, violence or suicide) in the affirmative so that they can get the help they need. That is because the main purpose of the survey is for data collection on our children, and not to provide direct educational, emotional or financial benefit to the individual child. Not only that, as an IT professional I can assure you that no online survey is ever fully anonymous, regardless of the promises from the state, especially in districts as small as ours with district issued laptops. So, why are districts wasting precious classroom time to administer a survey with no proven benefit and a lot of risk? And why, by the way, is the state requiring that it be administered via “passive consent”, which forces the parents to opt out, instead of requiring a more informed signed opt-in, given the nature of the questions?

While I know that we cannot shelter our children from the world forever, not all parents believe that exposing our children to every nasty tidbit it has to offer is a good thing either. One parent said as much in an article she wrote for Iowa RestorEd (http://iowarestored.com/2014/09/iowa-youth-survey-coming-to-your-childs-school-in-october). If you wish to see the list of questions – I will not post due to content – you can find the 2014 survey here: http://www.iowayouthsurvey.iowa.gov/ . Please review so that you can make an informed choice as to whether or not you want your children to participate. If you also feel that no Iowa child should be asked these questions, that the data be sent to the state, or that our teachers be forced to sacrifice precious classroom time to do it, let your school district know that too. Remember, this survey is NOT mandatory, there is no educational benefit to your child by taking this survey and no new or existing district funding is contingent upon participation. I believe the risks to our children by exposing them to these topics via a survey far outweigh any state claim of nebulous “future programming”,  and it is my hope that more districts, including ours, will pull out of it as well in order to protect our kids.

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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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