Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Campaign Postcard Asking for Voters' Opinions

As I've been walking and campaigning in different parts of the city I'm handing out these postcards. I'm asking people to answer the questions on the card and mail them to me. Quite a few have done so.

The card below is a photograph, but if you'd like to answer the questions, or some of them, you can e-mail me at the address shown, or answer in a comment.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

For the Record

A few weeks ago, all the Democratic candidates for the upcoming election were given the task of preparing a campaign biography. We were asked to follow a general format so all the bios, at least among Council candidates, would in some way look the same.
Here is mine:

John Gonder is a graduate of New Albany High School and Indiana University, Bloomington, where he majored in Political Science and Journalism. He is seeking reelection to the City Council as a Councilman at Large.

John works at QRS Recycling as a buyer of recyclable materials, and accounts manager. In addition he and his wife, Ruthanne, own and manage residential and commercial property in New Albany and Louisville.

John was a founding member of Trash Force, which served as the City's recycling organization prior to the introduction of curbside recycling. He is a graduate of Leadership Southern Indiana. Prior to election to the Council, he served on the New Albany Plan Commission for six years. John's community engagement encompasses membership in the Elks Club, the Floyd County Men's and Women's Democratic Clubs, board membership of the Horseshoe Foundation of Floyd County, the New Albany Redevelopment Commission, and the Tree Board.

John's overarching concern is protection of the environment. Preservation of existing buildings and neighborhoods, advancing local businesses, and creating a vibrant, walkable city from New Albany's existing housing stock are issues of particular concern for John.  He believes that including a primary concern for sustainability when building new, and getting more out of what we've already built, are things local government can do to promote environmental responsibility while making New Albany a more desirable place to live. John supports meaningful inclusion of the City Council in decision-making for major projects, from planning to implementation. He hopes to continue serving on the Council as a progressive voice for sustainable prosperity.


The following was not included on the campaign bio above, but I believe is relevant when voting for a Council candidate. These are some of the votes I consider significant over the time I've been in office:

Passed responsible funding of New Albany's sewer utility, leading to stellar improvement of the City's bond rating and near-elimination of the violations cited by the Environmental Protection Agency in a protracted legal battle between the City and that agency. That strong medicine set the stage for the current administration to continue progress through diligent lien filings, and the re-establishment of a City-managed sewer system, which keeps the improvements on track.

Passed funding for restoration of the historic Town Clock Church. The church is now well on its way to full restoration as a significant historic element of our city, as well as a living monument to the struggles of southern slaves as they were shepherded to freedom in Union territory during the Civil War.

Passed legislation to establish the New Albany Port Authority. A port authority can help New Albany maintain the Green Way, can someday lead to building of a marina below the Falls of the Ohio, and can be instrumental in establishing a short-line railroad so this environmentally responsible mode of transport can survive in our city.

Voted to rescind the joint City/County Parks Department. This vote ended an unfair system which was not serving the citizens of New Albany in relation to the funding they were providing.

Have been advocating for the building of sidewalks on heavily-traveled, dangerous roads in the city. Traffic levels make it imperative that those who choose to walk, or by circumstance, must walk, be safe when doing so. It is irresponsible and unconscionable to allow those dangerous roads to continue to exist without sidewalks. Failure to accept this responsibility flies in the face of building a "walkable city". 

Supported annexation.

Supported reestablishment of the Human Rights Commission.

Supported the no smoking ordinance.

Passed resolution against bridge tolls.

Passed ordinance to assign responsibility to contractors who dig up city streets, so they "own the hole" they dig, beyond a simple, inadequate, and immediate patch. This helps to lengthen the life of the City's investment in infrastructure.

Passed resolutions ensuring inclusion and equal protection for all, regardless of race, sexual orientation/identity, religion, or any other mechanism of discrimination.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Fish Story--One That Got Away

A widely accepted proposition in pursuit of environmental responsibility is, "the greenest building is one that's already built." This says, use the earth's resources which have already been expended in a good, solid, or even well-worn structure, before chasing after the tweaks and technological advances of new construction in pursuit of greater efficiencies. After all, even a high-efficiency structure displacing a usable older building, carries with it the sunk environmental costs of the resources, time, money, and effort of the original building. Even if those costs are not reflected monetarily, they are still carried as debits on the earth's ledger.

An economic development corollary to that proposition might be, "the business most worthy of economic assistance is one that's already operating." Assuming the existing business is a positive commercial citizen of the community, one that adds value by delivering necessary and helpful products, services or labor, or one that by its very presence helps to stabilize a neighborhood or lay the groundwork for further improvement in a particular part of town, it may be wiser to focus scarce economic development funds on that business, rather than a different startup asking for assistance. It may be better to water a withering vine than to plant a new one.

I happened upon such a withering vine yesterday in New Albany's Uptown area. It is the Benjamin Moore paint store at the corner of Vincennes and Market streets. I buy a lot of paint, and yet in the two years the store has been in New Albany, yesterday was the first time I'd been in it. So, I, and others like me, are at least part of the reason the store is closing.  The gentleman working at the store and I discussed the sad news reported by the big yellow notes on the front door, and the cash register, posted to inform customers that the store will close on September 11, 2015.

He said the tide of people depending on the big-box stores as their first place to buy paint has weakened the once-dominant hold paint stores had as THE place to buy paint. And, he said, the traffic needed to bring people to his store never materialized in sufficient volume to make the store profitable, or even viable. The general vibe of that part of town is not inviting to people who may need and want to buy paint and related products.

It's not likely that local economic development efforts can do anything to redirect American shoppers out of the big boxers. Easy access to massive stores with a wide variety of low-priced merchandise is nearly a birthright of American citizenship. (A recent trip through part of Canada revealed that even the good-natured folk to our north are focused on low prices and great deals. The Costco we visited was full of Canadian bargain hunters. The store was approximately the size of Manitoba, I think) Granted, big, macro forces are aligned against small-scale neighborhood stores. The future of this mode of commerce does not appear bright.

But, if city government sees these kinds of local entrepreneurial efforts as integral pieces in what is needed to build stronger, safer more livable communities, there are some steps it could take which might improve the situation.

The City must use a lot of paint, at the parks, at the various buildings it owns and maintains, the curbs the street department paints. Each and every gallon of paint, and all related supplies for these civic uses should come from locally owned and operated paint stores and hardware stores--the big boxers will get more than a good slice of the pie from the average shopper. The requirement to buy from the local vendors should not be limited to government workers only, but should be a requirement of companies under contract to the City.

The neighborhood around the Benjamin Moore store has problems. Some of those problems can be addressed through stronger code enforcement and greater police presence. The elimination of those problems might not have staved off the fate the store is facing, but the effort might have helped, and it certainly would have had benefits beyond the possible help to the paint store.       

Market Street is one way. Since the gentleman I spoke with mentioned traffic (and I'll grant that traffic need not refer simply to cars) it is quite possible, if not predictable, that two way traffic would have brought more automobile traffic, but more importantly, it might have done what Jeff Speck and John Gilderbloom say it will do, and that is, make the street a more vibrant, livable, inviting, place to be, to shop, and to rebuild a neighborhood around. 

The fellow working the paint store said, as he talked about the disappointment he faces in closing the store, "when you lose the Mom and Pops you lose a lot more than just a store." Maybe the loss of the Uptown's Benjamin Moore store is simply the cost of doing business in Big Box, warp-speed commercial America, nothing more. But, I think the gentleman is correct, when the Mom and Pops close you do lose a lot. And the thing we're losing here is a chance, a chance to do economic development right here, where the rubber meets the road, not dreaming of pie in the sky dished out in some distant corporate war room.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Cruising With Hans

A chance encounter at a grocery store a couple weeks ago allowed me to run into John Gilderbloom. Dr. Gilderbloom is a professor at U of L, and is a noted and quoted authority on urban revitalization with a heavy reliance on the effect two-way streets have in bringing about such revival.

He and I had met several years ago for a discussion of our building in Louisville.

Dr. Gilderbloom mentioned that he is off to Europe soon to preach his gospel of things urban. He said it would be a help to him if he could have a shakedown cruise of his material before he crosses the ocean. I asked if he'd like to run through his presentation in New Albany since we are always looking for good ideas on how to improve our city.

He accepted the invitation, and will speak at the STRASSWEG AUDITORIUM in the basement of the New Albany Library, TUESDAY, AUGUST 4, 2015  at 6:00 PM.

Dr. Gilderbloom is a bit of a shy, reticent, fellow; a typical academic type. But his grasp of his subject material is wide and strong. An informative and engaging presentation awaits those who attend. So, please come help Dr. Gilderbloom get ready for his European visit.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

New Rules

Cluck cluck, plop? Plop, cluck cluck? Which came first, the chicken, or the egg? Which comes first, the private, or the public?

At the July 16th City Council meeting I found myself in a strange situation. I was voting against something at Council which I had previously voted for on the Redevelopment Commission. What brought about this change in thought?

First of all, my previous votes for the project were somewhat reluctant because it is such a big deal. And I have a persistent feeling that a project of this scale, in such a strategic position in our downtown -- that is, spatially, conceptually, and philosophically--deserves a higher level of study, input from citizens, and more in-depth consideration than a run of the mill ten-house development at the city's fringe.

We are told that this is a public/private partnership. We are given to believe that such deals are a wave of the future. As government is dismantled by the Tea Party set, it is these public/private partnerships which will get the job done, which will build our cities, toll our roads, define our path forward. As Pink Floyd assured us, "it's alright, we told you what to dream."

And as we arrived at crunch time, it hit me. This is the riddle we must solve. How do we, how does a government of the people, by the people, and for the people adjust to a pecking order where now it is often government of the corporation, by the corporation and for the corporation? Some will say, government and business should simply hold hands and let business guide us on the path to prosperity, civic rejuvenation, and a functional country, state, or city.

The presentation at the Council meeting the other night was informative and, frankly, resolved at least one of my concerns about the project relating to bankruptcies of the developer. I am not opposed to spending municipal funds on a definitional project of any scope which promises to make our city stronger, more sustainable, or more attractive as a place to live and work. I believe that is a valid function of government, but, I believe the use of public money entitles the public to a greater say in what those funds will buy. It would have been better, however, if such presentations had been held earlier in the process, and had been structured to include as many citizens' views as possible.

While the Chicken v. Egg case may never be fully adjudicated, it is the precedent used in explaining to me why we can have no final plans for the project. It goes something like this, "The developers don't want to spend their money to get final plans ready only to have them pushed back across the table for revision, or even dismissal. They don't want to make those expenditures until they're certain the project is a GO."
Unspoken is the fear that getting the public involved might drag the process out inordinately, and cause the developer to spend money needlessly, or have the whole concept thrown out because of the adage that "too many cooks spoil the broth".

I'll admit either of those outcomes is possible. At the dawn of the Public-Private Partnership Era things might get a bit clunky, tedious, and frustrating if we continue to adhere to the old rules and old models. The Coyle project is not some two-bit subdivision. It is the future of this city. It requires a lot of public investment. New Albany is not a large city with an abundance of land to allow for a few misses, flubs and mistakes. This is one of the few large scale shots at something transformational in the downtown area. (This is not meant to minimize the exceptional work being done by several local entrepreneurs around town.) We need to hold the developer to the highest standard of design. We need a design with a long shelf life. We need to set the bar at the level we want; not let the developer tell us what they are going to do.

New Albany is committing as much as five million dollars to this project. Maybe it's a good project, maybe it could be better, but what's the final product going to look like? We don't know, because the developer hasn't told us if we will get a chicken or an egg.
We need new rules, special rules, to guide the use of public/private partnerships.

If we, as a community, or if the mayor and his team feel so strongly about the possibilities of a public/private partnership, let us as a community finance the design we want the private developer to complete. This should allay reluctance on the part of the developer to present finished plans subject to revision at all stages of the project. 

We are waiting now for historic review of the plans; we are waiting for the Plan Commission to weigh in. But decisions which might upend the project are made increasingly difficult to voice as we reach its expected - foregone - conclusion.
There's a nagging voice in my head that keeps saying something about "privatizing gain while socializing loss." A hopeful voice adds a third way, "democratizing vision".

If public/private partnerships are the new way, we need new rules and new expectations of how the private side of the partnership delivers the public good, and how the public's investment translates into the community's vision.  I would much rather arrive at the disappointing conclusion we have spent some money on a proposal that won't happen, than to go "all in", at much greater cost, on a project that won't stand the test of time. Let public money pay for plans, and revisions that meet public goals. Let the developer handle the shovels and share his expertise. That looks like a better partnership to me.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

It's Alright. Right?

While some on principles baptized
To strict party platform ties
Social clubs in drag disguise
Outsiders they can freely criticize
Tell nothing except who to idolize
And then say God bless him

While one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he’s in

But I mean no harm nor put fault
On anyone that lives in a vault
But it’s alright, Ma, if I can’t please him

--Bob Dylan, It's alright Ma

Although it seems a long time ago it was just last Monday, June 1, that the City Council chamber erupted in a surreal display of short-circuitry. Epithets were pitched, and caught by the electronic glove of WAVE TV's news cameras. Seemingly settled expressions of tolerance were recanted, then tossed onto the chamber's floor to be beaten into unrecognizability, as though an errant snake had slithered under the door. 

Since then, a trip to the hardware store yielded this observation, "the City Council in Jeffersonville is pathetic too". (emphasis added)

At a public event for a Historic Society, "if a Republican had uttered the same kind of intolerant, homophobic remarks, (as were heard at the City Council last Monday) the Democrats would have crucified him, and the entire party. Looks kind of like a double standard."

A chance encounter with a fellow Councilman opens with, "how's it going, you lyin' piece of shit?"  Je suis L.P.O.S.?

As a result of the purposefully obtuse characterization of my attempt to reach a bit of compromise on the issue of spoken prayer at a Council meeting, I've been called a racist, anti-prayer, in cahoots with un-named forces outside the Council, and beholden to a society-destroying agenda promoting human rights. I've also been reminded that thousands of voters will remember that I was out to strip prayer from the City 
Council.  I realize this controversy is not about me. But, as one maligned in such a ridiculous campaign to hoist the flag so the Christian Soldiers could March to War (by way of vote centers), I'll simply say, I'm sick of it.

I would add that many other bodies meet to conduct public business, without a ceremonial prayer or invocation at the start of the proceedings. (Board of Works, Redevelopment Commission, Sewer Board, County Council, County Commissioners, and other bodies no doubt, which I haven't named)

While the entire sordid evening was rife with the kind of bilious empty-headed rhetoric that has kept Jon Stewart on the air for many years now, I am simply addressing here the anti-prayer elements of the sideshow.  What follows in italics is authored by me. I report. You decide.

WHEREAS: It is recognized that New Albany's Common Council meetings have opened with a Christian prayer,
WHEREAS: It is also recognized that some members do not believe sanctioned prayer is an appropriate form of expression in civic or government meetings,
NOW THEREFORE: The following outline of a compromise between these two diametrically opposed views is offered as a way of honoring both views through the individual preference of  each Council member:
1. The Council will allow each member to open a meeting on a rotational basis.
2. The rotation shall be established by District number, just as the Council desks are arranged, until each member has been given the opportunity for opening remarks, whereupon the rotation will begin again.
3. The Council member who is responsible for the opening remarks following the rotation described, will be allotted one minute. The member can use none, any, or all of the time allotted.
4.The opening remarks shall be respectful and limited by the normal decorum expected in a public meeting, subject to the gavel of the chair.
5. The Council member's opening remarks may be a prayer, a reading, an historical note, or any other expression as limited by number 4 above.
6.The opening remarks are to be limited to expressions of an inspirational, centering, or focusing nature. The remarks shall not be used for campaigning or promotion of members' proposal or activities.
7. The Common Council shall address deviations from the prescribed format outlined here, and it shall revise with additional stipulations as need.

That was the basic idea which was then distilled into an amendment, as follows:

A Council member at every Common Council meeting, in rotation, may open the meeting with his or her choice of a prayer, a reading of an inspirational, commemorative or historical nature, or a moment of silent reflection.

What follows here is part of a note to Council members relating to the amendment above:

It is clear the U.S. Supreme Court rulings allow prayer at public meetings. It is equally clear that some citizens are so fully opposed to prayer in a governmental setting that they would resort to theatrical tactics to prove their point.

I believe a good way we can protect the dignity of the City Council  (yes, I actually wrote those words)  while respecting religious expression, and non-religious expression, as the Constitution and Court demands, is to take personal responsibility for the opening remarks at the Council meetings into our own hands. The proposal I've drawn up does that, I think. It allows prayers in the Council chamber, but makes any such prayers the responsibility of the members who choose to offer them. It likewise allows members who don't believe in the mixing of  government and religion to express a sentiment in keeping with their beliefs. I believe it respects both sides of the issue while keeping the responsibility for the Council within the Council where, I believe, it belongs.

Objectively, can anyone playing with a full, non-demagogic, deck read that as an anti-prayer proposal?

I don't know if there's anything else to be done about this aberrant behavior. That's up to others to decide. I'm just one Councilman who probably has been/is being targeted for defeat because of these antics. But it is worth remembering that the State of Indiana has now coughed up two million dollars to help Gov. Mike Pence get his foot out of his mouth over the tainting of Indiana's image caused by the intolerance of the RFRA law he supported, which is the genesis of this local conflict. Beyond that cost, about a million and a half dollars were wasted in a vain attempt by the state's Attorney General to hold back the tide of history regarding same-sex marriage. So, to date, the fight which sparked the local tempest has cost the state about three and a half million dollars, and little evidence exists to show success burnishing the state's image.

The flow of history moves endlessly. It will leave some of us behind, but it won't be stopped.  

Monday, April 27, 2015

Infrastructure of Sustainability

This article from earlier in the month appeared in the Courier-Journal. The article on the drought in California is relevant to us, here in New Albany, for a number of reasons: 1. evidence of climate change 2. noteworthy during the week of earth Day 3. validates the logic and exigencies of localism, independent businesses and sustainable communities.

Governor Jerry Brown has imposed sanctions to curtail the use of water in California. The arid state has long been on a knife's edge balanced between verdancy and drought. The great movie, Chinatown, showed through believable fiction, how desperately business interests coveted abundant water. In our part of the country, we worry through bothersome dry spells, but the rains usually come in sufficient volume to bail out farmers and we seldom need to resort to heavy conservation measures to help us through those spells.

For me this particular passage from the article is the money shot:

Retail price spikes are unlikely because of the drought, however. Only a small portion of what shoppers pay is based on what farmers get for their crops -- shipping, handling, packaging and marketing expenses are collectively bigger. Plus, food prices are often set on a global scale of supply and demand, so in a vast world marketplace, California's drought may not be a big factor, Sumner says.

People in California are scrambling to adjust to what seems like the new reality. They are taking steps to dial back water usage through more use of native plants rather than trying to have emerald green lawns. Farm workers are being bounced out by the reduced crop yields. People are beginning to envision a future where a less hospitable climate will erase discrete ecosystems, and place stress on wildlife in general.

Around here, locally, in our own backyards, in our daily routines in our small Midwest city, we can begin, and many have begun, to envision a future where, ' Only a small portion of what shoppers pay is based on what farmers get for their crops' may become a relic of a wasteful, unsustainable past. A friend of mine owns and operates a market that sells a wide range of locally grown produce. His store is open year round, but is naturally more well-stocked during spring, summer and early fall. All the items he sells comes from within a radius of 150 miles. The very nature of his business helps local growers become stronger. Those growers help stand against the collapse of local economies undermined by lost manufacturing jobs, and the devastation that trend has wrought on our economy. The concentration of food production in meteorologically vulnerable parts of the nation makes no sense when we see the ravages of drought in California. Where next will the comfortable past be 180ed into a new reality?

My friend's store doesn't appear to be a ticket to Easy Street. On the contrary, it is a tough, uphill battle trying to push people out of a rut of buying long-distance, insecticide-laden, produce from mega-farms. His produce isn't cheap, but as the article points out, under what passes for conventional agriculture today, only a small portion of the cost of produce goes to the farmer who produced it. Under the model my friend's producers follow, they earn more for their work, and so can more likely be a sustainable player in building a sustainable system, less vulnerable to capricious weather patterns, which  obviously, is better for all of us. In a real sense, these producers are fighting for our futures as much as their own.  They are helping to build a new infrastructure of sustainability.

Locally grown, or locally produced agricultural products are perhaps more easily perceived as part of a strong, healthy locality. But, in countless other commercial transactions we have the chance to, step by step, build a more vibrant, sustainable locality. These strong, varied, vibrant, prosperous localities are the infrastructure of sustainability. We can take steps here and now to make our own region more responsible, sustainable, and prosperous, by looking at how our daily commercial activities relate to, and affect our planet, which is truly our locality; New Albany's just a Zip Code.