Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Nanny Diaries (part deux)

Wherein we explore the "Nanny" side of ACC government not-related to the Commission.

Commissioner Elton Dodson was nice enough to stop by yesterday and set the record straight, and he "woodshedded" us regarding his stance on not wanting to see Happy Hour discounts torpedoed in Athens bars and nightclubs. (BTW, Elton, congrats too on fatherhood'll really be glad Happy Hour still exists very soon, trust me ;>)

But a reader doyouhaveanyidea brought up an interesting point in the comments: "Why are unelected financial staff, like Culpepper, issuing policy proposals before clearing them with the elected officials, who represent ACC citizens on these matters?"

That's the question of the day. As Elton said, he and other commissioners were shocked to hear staff was out making these proposals, yet last time I checked we didn't elect the heads of either the Financial Department or any other department to do such things. Sure, they can voice their ideas, just like any other citizen, but as Blackfin notes it's usually front page news because of who they are.

So what gives? Is this a case of "too many Chiefs and not enough Indians" within the ACC bureaucracy? Do department heads operate with impunity when it comes to policy matters? Should Heidi and the commission be cracking the whip, or is this much ado about nuthin'?


retired_cowboy said...

OK, the second answer you suggest is correct - much ado about nuthin.

Policy proposals - emphasis on PROPOSALS - have regularly come from staff for just about forever. Not just in ACC, either. This is probably the single most common way that policy PROPOSALS are initiated everywhere. Why? Because the folks with their boots on the ground are the best folks to recognize the problems and suggest solutions. The alternative to that is a strict "Boss Hawg", top-down management style which I'm pretty sure nobody would prefer. Actually, and I don't mean to be overly critical or some kind of KIA here, the only people who would find this surprising are those who don't know anything about how governments work. Especially in our form of government where the Mayor and Commissioners do not actively engage in the day-to-day operations of the government, elected officials have to depend upon the staff and the citizens to help them identify problems and suggest solutions.

This all becomes "hot topic" stuff (which I call "blogger bait") because it gets somewhat "over-reported". One of the banes of open government is that every time some issue or proposal comes up for discussion, and then gets reported on the front page of the newspaper, everybody starts assuming that it's a done deal. In many ways, a lot of good ideas worth considering get totally clobbered this way because citizens, staff, and elected officials have to be concerned with some public over-reaction if they even talk about it in the open.

I'm not faulting the news media here - well, maybe a little bit because they tend to overplay things a lot - it's really the citizenry who need to take the time to understand that just because some topic is discussed, it doesn't mean that there is some plan in place to implement it immediately.

In the private sector, this is known as "fire-hosing" - when every idea that comes up gets shot full of holes before anybody gets a chance to consider whether it has some merit.

Stay sessions are for putting out ideas to suggest ways that could be considered for solving some problem or improving something.
Agenda setting is where some proposals and alternatives are either accepted or rejected or postponed as being ready for public consideration and possible votes by the Mayor and Commission.
Voting meetings are the only ones in which things get adopted or rejected or sent back for further review.

So, it's great for the public to be informed about what's happening in the work sessions but the newsies should really try to help by pointing out that these are just some ideas and suggestions. It may be a good time for citizens to begin contacting their representatives but it's just an idea at that point.

So, your depiction of Elton as some kind of supreme nanny guy was, absolutely, without question, a case of a blogger jumping the shark! You should admit that and you sort of already did. How about a headline change here?
Todd Mitchell Takes Bait and Jumps Shark!


Adrian said...

Our locals news editors have shown before that they don't really understand how local government works. I think Blake tries to keep things straight, but the editors don't really help the public understand what is going on. It is much ado about nothing at this point, but it is important to keep a balance between a Boss Hogg and a rubber-stamping commission.

Todd Mitchell said...

retired cowboy writes: "So, your depiction of Elton as some kind of supreme nanny guy was, absolutely, without question, a case of a blogger jumping the shark!"

I dunno. Given the way he was depicted during the anti-smoking hullabaloo, plus the way the article in the ABH was written, I wasn't the only one who jumped his, uh, shark yesterday. But he set the record straight, so all is good.

"You should admit that and you sort of already did. How about a headline change here?
Todd Mitchell Takes Bait and Jumps Shark!"

I got a better one: "Keep Athens Government Nannies (Elected Or Not) Out Of Citizen's Lives!"

Anonymous said...

Elton is a blowfish, not a shark. Let's not exaggerate just because he's your 'boy'.

As I read retired cowboy's rant on the way government works and the way that the ABH, bloggers, and citizenry incompetently stand and mock, my thoughts of our nanny state are reinforced. Welcome to the Peoples Republic of Athens. But as we continue to vote for Alice Kinmans, David Lynns, Elton Dodsons, Kelly Girtz, what do we expect?

I applaud the efforts of the Mayor and her hubby in building their coalition. It's good strategy.

Todd Mitchell said...

anonymous 9:49: I agree generally with your comments. It's rather ironic in retired cowboy's screed that while he decries the "Boss Hawg" notion of autocratic leadership on behalf of elected officials, he goes on to call the process by which these staff proposals come to light in the media a "bane of open government".

Talk about a sentiment even ol' Boss Hog would've loved.

Ed said...

Talk about firehosing. Look at the results of PPA on Monday. No ideas that Heidi or Al disagree with will be brought out. Too many filters in the form of Judge Jones and Red Petrovs. Now, there are two guys that are doing their job of preserving the status quo.

FACT: We Athenians will put up a multi million dollar bond to finance a private high school in Athens (sorry, all you MonDon fans) but in our PPA, you will not find one mention of multimillion dollar financing schemes. Only lipservice, and a proposal for a non-profit foundation. We Athenians suck. We solve the crappy public schol problem by financing a high school that ensures those who can pay can go to a good high school.

Heidi. Queen Nanny. Chief Obfuscator.

Ed Vaughan

retired_cowboy said...

Jeezus, Ed! You still don't get it. The Clarke County School District does not want a bond to build a new school. If they asked for one, they would get one - or a dozen. The Mayor and Commission do not have the authority to force the CCSD to use bond financing. The CCSD has chosen to use SPLOST funding - it's their choice and they are a seperate elected body answerable only to the voters and they are NOT subject to the ACC Commission.

Whatever else you said, whatever! But I can't understand why you want to persist in making a fool of yourself over this school bond stuff.

Don't take my word for it - ask any member of the Clarke County School Board why they do not want to use bonds to build their schools.

retired_cowboy said...

FWIW: my ideas on PPA didn't make the cut. There are a couple that I'm not crazy about but I think we should give them a chance and let the process work. That's the way the mop flops. ;-)

Jmac said...

Ed, I truly have no idea what reality it is you live in, though it doesn't appear to be a charming place.

While I think your quibbling over a non-existent bond issue (which was effectively dismissed by Retired Cowboy) further reveals your lack of comprehension of how our local governmental agencies operate, it's also apparent you have no idea what's been going on with PPA. If you had, you'd realize there are a set of actual recommendations that cover everything from our public education system to wages to economic development to regional cooperations to adequate support for non-profits that work on the front lines in the fight against poverty.

There are recommendations that please some liberals and some that please some conservatives. Developing a comprehensive strategy that operates on many levles and attacks poverty along many fronts takes some time, and rather than pan the work done by PPA, it would be refreshing to see you actually take a look at what has been done.

retired_cowboy said...

Todd - maybe I didn't make myself clear about "the bane" - it's not the fact that they come to the light of day that is the bane or even that they get reported on in the media. I didn't do a good job of tying my points together, I suppose.

It's the public reactio, or more to the point, the over-reaction. I don't know how many times I've heard both elected officials and staff as well as middle-managers in the private sector talk about how a certain issue or idea should be discussed but, if you dare to bring it up, somebody will go nuts. Happens all the time.

Just why do people fear to discuss new ideas? It's not as though every new idea is going to become a reality or, in the case of government, a law. Sometimes they do; often they do not.

From the perspective of the media coverage, it's often the way they write the story, where they place it, and what headline they put over it. Front page, above the fold, with a giant headline warning that the sky is falling gets folks a lot more riled up than the back page with a small headline saying exactly the same thing.

That's what I meant. Hope that makes it a bit more clear.

BTW - I thought you could take a joke a little better but, now I know so, I won't try any more attempts at humor with you. No hard feelings.

Todd Mitchell said...

retired cowboy writes: "Just why do people fear to discuss new ideas? It's not as though every new idea is going to become a reality or, in the case of government, a law. Sometimes they do; often they do not."

I don't fear new ideas at all. My entire purpose in posting about the proposal to cancel Happy Hour is that, as a new idea, it's a very dumb one. That's all. Part of blogging about it here is to get people talking about it, which I hope is happening.

"BTW - I thought you could take a joke a little better but, now I know so, I won't try any more attempts at humor with you. No hard feelings."

I must've missed it, sorry, because those who know me know most of this is tongue-in-cheek (besides, one grows a thick hide in the blogosphere). No hard feelings at all. I count on the readers to tell me when I jump the shark ;>.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Jmac, do you cuddle with retired_cowboy, too? Or is it just physical?

Not saying that I disagree with your comments. Ed seems to be blowing smoke over an issue well outside of his comprehension. But you rush to r_c's aid so well. Knight in shining armour.

Jmac said...

I want to make sure I've got this straight ...

- You agree with my assessment, which then means you agree with Retired Cowboy's assessment;

- I state I agree with Retired Cowboy's assessment;

- Ed, who has also personally attacked me both here and at my blog, expresses something I think is worth of rebuttal;

- The crux of my argument was that PPA is worth defending;

- Therefore, the need arises to make absurdly unfunny jokes.

Ah yes, it all makes sense now!

retired_cowboy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Hey Al,

Sorry buddy, but everything can't fit on the back page, and if we made the headlines too small, then no one could read them.


retired_cowboy said...

hehehe...not complaining; just explaining

Well, not that I've never had a complaint but, I'm talking in generalities in this case. ;-)

james garland said...

Here we go with bond financing again:

1. The Monsignor Donovan bond issue does not involve government funds. The Development Authority of the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County approved the issue based on MonDon’s projected revenue stream and demonstrated fund-raising ability. The bonds are underwritten by an irrevocable letter credit from a commercial bank. No public funds are being used here; in fact, the Authority, which is the only public entity involved (save for the Commission, which had to approve the deal as well) made money through the fees it charged to the transaction. I know because I sit on the Authority that approved the bonds.

2. In recent years, the Clarke County Board of Education has issued $87.4 million in general obligation bonds ($30 million in 2002, $3.4 million in 2003, $4 million in 2005, and $50 million in 2007). Granted, these are not the typical long-term bonds that local governments usually issue. These are short-term bonds that will be paid off by SPLOST dollars (sales taxes being among the most regressive forms of taxation, you know) and/or a property tax increase if SPLOST isn't enough to cover the debt (admittedly, an unlikely situation - but how many of you knew that was in the SPLOST referendum last November?).

FWIW, as an observer of this government for many years, I can fully appreciate a swift reaction to proposals that appear to call for yet more "nanny statism" and micromanaging on the part of the Commission, from whatever quarter the proposals may come.

retired_cowboy said...

Wow! Now, I'm on the same side (sort of) as James Garland. Does that make us cuddlers?


Seriosly, thanks James for clarifying the issue and proving, once and for all time, that Ed is clueless.

james garland said...

My comments were not a swipe at Ed. In 2002, he ran on the Green ticket and I ran as a Republican. Even so, in 2006 we found several areas of agreement as we both ran in non-partisan races.

There continues to exist great confusion in the community as to the nature of the different development authorities, the different bond issue processes they engage in, and how the whole thing works. In the past, several of the commissioners have been kind of fuzzy on some of these questions as well.

madmonq said...

I know this is a little after the fact, but has anyone ever heard of happy hour, usually 4-7, causing significant problems downtown? I never have.