Wednesday, December 5, 2007

What a difference

At the outset, let me state that I share in the responsibility and blame for the mayoral transition in Snellville in 2000 that was less than the City deserved. Norcross, however, is setting the example for future transitions from long-serving administrations to newly elected and much of the credit goes to Mayor Lillian Webb.

Mayor Webb, a classy lady by any measure, has served her community and Gwinnett County for some 37 years. By all accounts the mayoral race in Norcross was respectful. When the votes were counted in the mayoral run-off, Mayor Webb lost to first time candidate Bucky Johnson. Mayor-elect Johnson is also deserving of praise for his campaign and gratious public comments about Miss Lillian.

Mayor Webb arrived at City Hall with the news of her defeat, congratulated Mayor-elect Johnson, and offered her continued support and assistance to her City in any capacity desired.

Mayor-elect Johnson will benefit from Mayor Webb's experience and love of her community. Believe me, elected office is tough and Mayor Webb, now 79 years young, has proven herself equal to the task and an outstanding public servant. If Mayor-elect Johnson's campaign night statements are an indication of his future leadership, the City Miss Lillian led so well for so long will continue to thrive and these two candidates have provided all a model for future service.
Photos by Jason Braverman, Gwinnett Daily Post

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Time for a change in transportation funding

Much debate and discussion is underway on how we are to pay for transportation improvements in the coming years. The state per gallon gas tax hasn't been increased since the 1970's and with increased mileage from today's autos combined with inflation, the current tax isn't keeping pace with the need. That said, there's little chance that State Legislators will increase the tax.

Perhaps they shouldn't. Perhaps we should be looking at other alternatives to fund roads, bridges, transit, sidewalks, and the many other transportation related investments.

Have you seen the latest General Motors commercials? Their tag line is GM: Gas-friendly to gas-free. GM is touting not only high fuel efficiency, but also ethanol, hybrids, electric, and fuel cell vehicles.

So, how high would we have to raise the gas tax to pay for needed transportation improvements if in a few years we're driving gas-free vehicles? I can't count that high.

So, if not a per gallon gas tax, generating revenue based on usage which seems like a reasonable mechanism for paying for the needed investment, what?

What other user fee options exist? Obviously, tolling and I believe tolling must play a role in future new construction. I personally find great merit in the voluntary, variable priced managed lane proposals (HOT Lanes, Express Toll Lanes, Congestion Pricing).

Tolling alone won't be enough. Another user based variable is distance. Rather than a cents per gallon of gas tax, perhaps it is time to investigate a cents per mile driven tax. A distance tax doesn't discriminate between gas, hybrid, electric or fuel cell. A distance tax remains a somewhat voluntary user based revenue source. Distance tax systems are being tried in several European cities and may provide data worth considering here in the States.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Principal for a Day

I enjoyed an outstanding day at my Alma Mater, South Gwinnett High School. The Principal, Berry Simmons, Administrative and Instructional staff are doing a tremendous job.

I visited with Special Education students operating computers via voice and optical devices because of severe physical challenges. I visited with Advance Placement students studying Advanced Economics discussing monetary policy and its’ impact on the economy, business, and our community. I toured a well-maintained school with state-of-the-art technology, modern music and choral rooms, tremendous athletic facilities, and a 500-seat performing arts theatre.

The atmosphere was pleasant, inviting, and conducive to learning as well as social growth for all students. Early intervention addressing classroom problems with a clear, firm, and positive outcome is the rule and all Administrators communicate frequently throughout the day in support of both teacher and student.

Much has changed at South Gwinnett since I graduated in 1979 and in most cases those changes have been for the better.

After all these years – still proud to be a Comet!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Cost of City Life

On the eve of an election in my city, I decided to review how changes over the past ten years have impacted me personally.

City property taxes on my residence = $629.28
Appraised value = $262,200
Number of City Police Officers = 33
Annual cost of trash collection = $159.00
Active transportation projects = $30,000
[city street resurfacing through LARP funding]

City property taxes on my residence = $462.24 [down 27%]
Appraised value = $344,100 [up 31%]
Number of City Police Officers = 50 [up 50%]
Annual cost of trash collection = $0.00 [down 100%]
Active transportation projects = $70+ million [up 2,333%]
[U.S. 78 safety project, 78/124 intersection, SPLOST, Signature Community $, LARP, ATMS signalization, sidewalks, McGee intersection, turn lanes, and more]

Additional City benefits now available:
New City Hall
New Senior Center [12,000 visitors a year]
New Recycling Center
New Oak Road Park
New Police Services
[Citizen's Academy, K-9 Unit, Commercial Vehicle Unit, Bike Patrols]

Awards recognizing our City's progress over the past ten years:
Park Department of the Year
Tree City USA [several years running]
Signature Community [statewide recognition]
Numerous Awards for our Police Department [Governor's Office of Highway Safety and others]

I know I'm being selfish, but I like spending 42% less to live in the City while enjoying a huge increase in services. I sincerely appreciate the work our Mayor, Jerry Oberholtzer, and the City staff have done to generate these results and I very much would like to see this trend continue.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Orlando Republican Presidential Debate

McCain had the line of the night commenting on a proposed Woodstock museum. He said (paraphrased), "I'm sure it was the cultural and pharmaceutical event of a generation, I didn't attend as I was tied up at the time . . .(laughter, applause, standing ovation).

Nice job John. McCain is unquestionably a national hero and this debate was an excellent event for him and perhaps a great opportunity to begin transitioning out of the Presidential race.

Huckabee hit on a solution I've proposed (jokingly) for several years to address the nations ever increasing entitlement programs, traffic congestion, rising health care costs, and high unemployment. He reminded the nation that when Social Security originated, benefits were paid at age 65 and typically stopped about age 67. Our increasing life expectancy has consequences impacting many areas of our economy and it's time to focus on addressing the impact of longevity. Huckabee may be an good choice as V.P. in November.

Romney was average - again. He certainly looks Presidential, but he's so stiff and scripted rather speaking from conviction and passion. The Presidency is much more than a business negotiation. Back to the Board Room Mitt.

Thompson disappoints for second time in a row. I expected a seasoned actor and attorney to excel in televised debates. Thompson has fumbled his answers, frequently looks down when responding rather than at the questioner, and demonstrates no depth of knowledge or command of the issues discussed.

Giuliani remains a solid debater and plays well on TV. He surprised many with solid answers on foreign policy - an area his opponents expect is his weakness. His answers are clear and easily understandable - no nukes in Iran for example.

Asked how to measure success of military efforts Giuliani alluded to the standard of Reagan, "we win, they lose". He also demonstrated a keen understanding of foreign policy and the relationships between nations when he suggested that China and Russia, to preserve their economic interest in Iran, may support the United States efforts to prohibit Iran's nuclear capabilities.

Final ranking of top tier candidates for this debate: McCain, Giuliani, Huckabee, Romney, Thompson.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ministry misstatements

It happens across all faiths - none are exempt. Members of a particular faith-based organization stray into politics for political purposes in support of their own ministry. It is happening now in my hometown on two issues with two groups.

The first is on the issue of Sunday sales of alcohol and a prominent, conservative protestant church is opposed. No surprise there. I'd very much expect this active, valuable, and important member of our community to voice their opposition - as they did with a letter.

What I didn't expect and what is less than consistent with their professed teaching is that this church included in the letter a statement critical of other members of the community that happen to also be members of the church.

We have, within our community, an organization charged with downtown development and business building activities. This is a quasi-governmental authority composed of business people with an interest in the downtown area. Two members of this authority are also members of the aforementioned church. The authority issued a letter, consistent with their mission, in support of alcohol sales.

When the church responded, they went beyond their opposition to alcohol to call out, though not by name, these two members of their own congregation to say they did not speak for the church. Of course they didn't, they wrote under a different banner. There was simply no need for the church to go beyond their opposition to the issue and bring negative attention among the congregation focused on two members.

The second involves a faith-based food ministry. In years past, this food ministry was supported by local churches. By coincidence, the church mentioned in the first example also provided operating space for the food co-op for some time. For various reasons, the church was unable to continue providing that space and the food ministry was forced to relocate.

The food co-op approached another local church for support. This church was in the midst of a real estate transaction with the city and had space available, but for a limited time. The church discussed with the city the relocation of the co-op ministry and the new space was provided for the food ministry to continue their operations.

Some time later, the church and the city concluded the real estate transaction and the food ministry became a tenant of the city until such time as the agreement reached with the church expired. Upon expiration, as had been contemplated from the outset with full knowledge of all parties, the city took possession of the building and the food ministry was forced to relocate yet again.

The food ministry is another wonderful, positive, and valuable organization within our community and everything appeared straight forward and understandable until the co-op decided to use public pressure and the media in an attempt to gain ongoing financial support from the city. The food ministry has been critical of the city - suggesting they're being forced out of the community [a day they knew would come years ago]. The food ministry approached our Mayor and Council recently at a public meeting requesting city funding to replenish reserves depleted because of the cost of relocating as if that cost was a responsibility of the city's.

The city has supported and made accommodations to benefit the food ministry through various means for many years - some perhaps that the co-op is even unaware of. It is disappointing that another positive, faith-based organization would resort to less than positive means to meet their needs.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Off to Dallas, Texas

I'll be spending the next three days just north of Dallas in Collin County, Texas. The trip is one organized by the Gwinnett Chamber titled a "Strategic Leadership Visit". I attended a similar trip some time ago to Fairfax, Virginia.

The purpose is to take a group from Gwinnett County involved in business, government, education, the arts, medicine, and other disciplines to an area with similar challenges to investigate what they may be doing differently than Gwinnett. The Fairfax trip was eye opening. We get many things right here in Gwinnett, we have room to improve in areas as well.

The Texas trip looks to be of similar value. Collin County is rapidly growing, faces demographic and transportation issues similar to Gwinnett.

One of the most important aspects of trips such as this, however, is the strengthening of local bonds and the ability to share details of various local initiatives with others active in the community. The result is improved partnerships, expanded support for local projects, and an improved understanding of the challenges we face in Gwinnett. It appears about 54 are going on the trip - ought to be interesting.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Catholic Comedy
A few fun photos from within the Church

Gotta love mixin' Theology and the Tap!


Holy Smoke!

The Flyin Nun's got nothin' on me!

Peek a boo! We can still see you.
or Joseph! Turn around and sit straight.

And you thought I had a funny hat. Check out this dude behind me.

Ratzy the Rock Star

Saturday, September 22, 2007

I've discovered the cause of runaway government spending

Our pocketbooks and wallets are under attack daily by excessive government spending at all levels. Our President, Congress, Governor, Legislature, County Commission, and City Council all suffer, from time to time too often, with spending largess.

I've experienced first hand a system that leads to waste with unnecessary cost embedded in bureaucracy. As an example, I'll be surprised if the $10 million allocated for U.S. 78 through the federal SAFETEA-LU bill results in $6 million in benefit to the local community.

We read daily of new and expanded government programs. We hear of services provided to those not eligible.

Too often our elected representatives spend like "drunken sailors". But, it may not be their fault. I may have stumbled on an alarming reason why they spend as they do. Could it be their education (indoctrination)?

I recently re-read an old article written about a former elected official, who is running for office again by the way, that scared me to "dickens" and shed light on perhaps the root of the problem.

This candidate, who desires control over our wallets, is a civics and government educator. He is quoted lecturing to his class in the third person, "Now you know Mr. Pickpocket (not his real name) doesn't like paying taxes and believes government is bloated," he said. "Mr. Purse Snatcher (also not his real name, but close), like most people, wants a high quality of life, but he doesn't want to always have to pay for it."

Well, who the "heck" is supposed to pay for his high quality of life?

You guessed it, you and me - Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer, Business Owner, Regular Joe, and Good Ole' American Guys and Gals.

So, you see, perhaps we are too harsh on our elected officials spending habits. If they've been indoctrinated from a young age to believe that when you grow up, you should run for public office, and then you too can enjoy a high quality of life paid for by the labors of others. Just like Mr. Gravy Train (no, not his real name either, but you get the picture). They're just doing as they were taught.

Perhaps we should require more stringent teaching credentials.

Monday, September 17, 2007

We're underway on U.S. 78

The culmination of several years effort has finally resulted in the U.S. 78 median project getting underway. The importance of this project is evident by the nearly one hundred who attended the ceremonial 'cutting of the cord' to remove the reversible lane and light system on Friday, September 14th.

Those attending included representatives from both U.S. Senator Chambliss and Isakson as well as the offices of Congressman Linder and Lt. Governor Cagle. Numerous State, County, and City elected officials included State Rep. Melvin Everson, who serves on the House Transportation Committee; Commissioner Mike Beaudreau; and Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer, who serves as Chair of the Georgia Municipal Associations Transportation Committee. We were also fortunate to have current DOT Board Member Rudy Bowen and two past DOT Commissioners - Wayne Shackelford and Tom Moreland attend.

Most importantly, numerous representatives from Georgia DOT, Gwinnett DOT, consulting and contracting firms, and our local business and residential community joined in the ceremony.

At completion, this project will literally change our community and provide a catalyst for positive community growth for many years to come.

Thanks to all who attended and to all who have supported this project for many years. If interested, you may monitor the progress by visiting the Evermore CID website.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

What a day! Favorite people, favorite topics . . .

This has been a busy week leading up to our ceremonial groundbreaking for the U.S. 78 safety project on Friday. It's a $31.5 million road construction project I've been championing over the past few years in my role at the Evermore CID.

I began the day at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce in Atlanta in a meeting discussing the future of transportation and transportation funding with the Get Georgia Moving Coalition. The coalition is comprised of representatives of a diverse group - Chambers, Transportation Agencies, Private Interests, and Conservancy Groups. We all agree there is a need to create a new, coherent, and consistent transportation funding policy in Georgia. I really enjoy discussing important policy with bright people - a great way to start the day.

Lunch was even better at the OK Cafe where I enjoyed conversation with one of Gwinnett's greatest proponents and met the man I hope is the next President of the United States Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Prior to the Mayor's arrival, I spoke with a reporter from the London's Sunday Times who asked if a New Yorker would earn support in the deep South. That question was answered with a resounding YES as the Mayor worked the restaurant for nearly an hour. He was at ease shaking hands, kissing babies, and soliciting numerous shouts of support from the patrons.

Next stop on the way back to Gwinnett was a quick visit to my parents place of business. Mom operates a card shop and Dad a pharmacy - both under the same roof. When they told me they were going to merge their businesses under the same roof several years ago I asked, "Why would you want to ruin a 40 year marriage?" I was wrong, business is booming and they are happy as ever.

Back at the office, preparations for tomorrow's groundbreaking are going well. Events like this always seem to proceed better without my involvement. I'm not much of a party planner. I was able to respond to a request by the Georgia DOT and speak with representatives in Senator Chambliss, Senator Isakson, and Congressman Linder's offices confirming all will be represented at the U.S. 78 event.

Prior to heading home to my family, I spent a few minutes at an event for another of my favorite people - State Representative Melvin Everson. Melvin and I served on Snellville City Council a few years ago and he has gone on to represent a broader constituency equally well at the State House. Melvin is one of those individuals that give you confidence that our representatives and government can still get it right when we elect good people.

Also in attendance at Melvin's event was Snellville Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer. I enjoyed catching up with Jerry and learning of the many positive initiatives underway and planned for Snellville. Jerry's done an outstanding job as Mayor. In the area of Public Safety in particular, Jerry has truly expanded services. The Snellville Police have increased the number of officers to 50 and now have a bike patrol, motorcycles, commercial vehicles enforcement, expanded citizen police academy, youth explorer post, and more. Jerry's made public safety his priority and Snellville is the beneficiary.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ingenuity of business

In recent years, many communities have adopted new standards to address architecture, aesthetics, and signage. The primary role is to create an inviting place to live and do business.

These standards often require enhanced landscaping, decorative street lights, sidewalks, and monument-style signage of limited height and size. The new standards typically limit outdoor signage, banners, wall signs, balloons, and many other forms of attention getting advertising not consistent with the community's desired image.

Faced with reduced opportunities to display their message as large and often as they would like, business adapts and implements other types of outdoor advertising. Enter a proliferation of over sized trucks painted with advertising, mobile billboards, and the sidewalk sign carriers.

The community in which I live is being flooded with such advertising. Large panel trucks backed up to the curb of the highway advertising a hair salon or smoothie store - both businesses clearly visible from the highway and neither likely to use the large vehicles as a routine part of their daily business. Trucks with rotating, mobile billboards moving from intersection to intersection frequently backed into a parking space with the driver taking a "cat nap" in the cab while ad after ad scrolls across the back of the vehicle. Sidewalk hawkers at busy intersections waiving poster-sized signs as drivers pass.

I've gotta give business points for creativity. The marketplace has, at least to this point, effectively circumvented the intent of many communities when adopting such standards to control aesthetics and signage.

Too often there is much less creativity at work on addressing these attempts to bypass the community's desire. Advertisers, often third party companies selling space to local business unaware of the regulations, quickly claim constitutional protections in defense of their activities. The claim seems to paralyze enforcement efforts, but it shouldn't.

New York appeared over run with "squeegee men" who attacked cars at busy intersections wiping down windshields with dirty rags and demanding payment for the "service". New York Planning and Legal Departments were initially paralyzed on how to eliminate the nuisance. These men have constitutional rights to free assembly, free movement, free speech, etc.

Then Mayor Rudy Giuliani asked, "Do these men leave the cross walk when performing this "service"? The answer was - yes. Giuliani then instructed the NYPD to issue tickets for jaywalking every time a "squeegee man" stepped off the curb into the street outside the cross walk. Problem solved, no constitutional litigation.

I expect with a little ingenuity here, perhaps through parking regulations and enforcement within our public rights-of-way, the creative circumvention of community standards may be reduced or eliminated as well.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Rudy may accomplish pro-life agenda

I support Rudy Giuliani for President for many reasons. One of which may prove my thinking a bit different. I am pro-life and I believe Rudy Giuliani may have the greatest impact on that issue - though I don't vote for a candidate based on any one issue alone.

The saying, "The Lord works in mysterious ways" may be very true applied to Giuliani. As an example, we have today, arguably, the most pro-life President in our nations' history. Yet, abortion has remained legal and will remain legal every single day of his 8-year Presidency. Ultimately, the decision is not the President's it is the court's.

Giuliani, who is personally opposed would preserve the decision for each woman. He would also appoint, demonstrated by past history, constructionists to the bench. It is believed, again by demonstrated past history, that constructionist judges would more likely end or greatly reduce abortion. My confidence in Giuliani is strengthened by vocal supporters such as Theodore Olsen, former United States Solicitor General, Miguel Estrada, former Assistant Solicitor General, and Co-founder of the Federalist Society Steven Calabresi all who serve on Giuliani's Justice Advisory Committee. Giuliani understands the term "constructionist" and he is less likely to make appointments that turn out later to be disappointments.

Further, the individual decision on abortion may be impacted by a number of factors including education, employment, and availability of services for foster care or adoption. Giuliani's strategy has demonstrated results - reducing abortions by 16% and increasing adoptions by 66% during his term in New York. That's not only real progress, those are lives saved.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Taking the plunge

I know I'm late to the blogosphere. I was once considered an early adopter of technology and web-based communication. Alais, I fear I'm aging and obviously slowing down.

I don't quite know yet what use this blog will serve, if any. Most likely, I'll just post random items of personal interest. If you happen to share any of my interests, I'd welcome discussion.

OK, on to my inaugural post.

My daily cigar is an exceptional, mild Dominican - Don Diego. Generally a Longsdale or Privada No. 1 is my size of choice. Today however, I'm enjoying an equally satisfying Santa Damiana No. 700. It too is a mild Dominican. Though I've enjoyed cigar smoking for over 20 years, I prefer milder, generally not too expensive smokes to the super premium or stronger brands.

For me a cigar is an opportunity to relax. It has a calming quality for me. I typically smoke when alone in my car or my office. I try to be mindful of others, but it is an activity I will not give up. I believe it was Twain who said, "If there are no cigars in heaven, I shall not go."

Given the choice, I wouldn't go as far as Twain, but I chose to believe the best cigars are reserved for heaven's humidor.