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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Drawing Business by Empowering Shareholders

This month North Dakota Governor John Hoeven signed a new law granting shareholders greater power over companies that incorporate in the state after July 1. Among other things, the measure gives shareholders an advisory vote on executive pay.

I note with mild dismay that the author of the new law is William Clark, a Philadelphia lawyer who represents activist investors interested in creating such laws [Martha Graybow, "Delaware Beware: North Dakota Wants Your Business," Reuters online, 2007.04.25]. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I prefer to see the citizens of a community (town, county, state) coming up with their own laws with a minimum of outside influence.

Nonetheless, North Dakota's legislature and executive have looked this proposal over and decided it makes good policy. The Economist agrees the move could boost North Dakota's economy, although many corporations may resist efforts by shareholders to win more power by reincorporating in America's favorite tundra, and if the plan starts to work, Delaware will surely fight to retain as much its corner on the legal incorporation market as it can ["Anywhere but Delaware," Economist.com, 2007.04.17].

Whether it will work or not, this effort by North Dakota to draw business and bucks is notable because it seeks to promote economic development by empowering not the businesses but the people -- at least some of the people -- the business serves. I'm not ready to characterize the law as a sign of popoluism run rampant among our neighbors to the north, but it does spread power, at least a little, from the board room to the stockholders and open an avenue for greater corporate accountability. If the corporate executives and the majority of stockholders are all greedy and contemptuous of the public (like the Enron bosses), then employees and customers are still up a creek. But long-term shareholders interested in seeing their company grow sustainably and honestly will have a better shot at keeping their CEOs from raiding the company coffers and violating the public trust inherent in every corporate charter.

Wherein Everyone Else Comments at Length on Abortion

For those of you who are interested, I am posting all outside comments on the discussion David and I are having about abortion here. If you are spectating, feel free to add your comments to this post. Just to keep things neat (so I can focus entirely on David's arguments -- and don't ask me why he rates such special attention), I will transfer any non-David comments from that post to this one.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Anonymous Comments -- a Policy Update

Readers may note with interest an update to the Madville Times comment moderation policy (linked permanently in the sidebar under "MT Editorial Links"). I have been thinking for some time about following the common practice of Jon Hunter and other newspaper publishers and disallowing anonymous comments. The policy update does not announce a change -- I will still accept anonymous comments -- but it does offer the official Madville Times viewpoint on anonymous comments and criteria for commenters to consider in moderating their own comments. Please file any comments under that post, not this one.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Wherein David and Cory Argue at Length About Abortion

Hear ye, hear ye, the court of the would-be philosopher kings is now in session....

My friend David has pressed me in comments to numerous posts to lay out my moral position on abortion. Often, though not always, he has done so on posts where I have wanted to look at just one portion of the debate about abortion and women's rights as it is playing out in South Dakota. I have avoided a general debate about abortion because, frankly, I maintain that there are other more immediate bread-and-butter concerns that our state politicians ought to be addressing.

However, in the interest of at the very least keeping David on topic on my other posts, I offer this post as the place where David and I will wage our personal debate over this issue of abortion in general. Loyal readers, you are welcome to read my exchange with David, but I will ask that you refrain from commenting here; your comments remain welcome on other posts, but I ask that you permit David and me to conduct our debate one-on-one here. This editor will redirect comments from other readers to this separate post.

Now, to the point, though surely not so satisfactorily to the point as my friend David would have it: I hesitate to lay out my complete position on abortion because I'm not sure I'm at my final position. My political position rests in large part on that hesitance to declare a final personal philosophical position and a recognition of a severe lack of consensus on the issue throughout society. I enter this discussion with David not so much to defend a finished philosophical position but to test where I think I am philosophically and politically and determine whether I want to remain there. As this discussion evolves, you may well find later posts completely contradicting earlier posts, either in appearance or in actuality. No prooftexting, please -- read everything in context, and permit both David and me the opportunity to explain ourselves. The issue is important enough to deserve to be treated carefully and at length. I do not feel obligated to finally resolve any aspect of this issue in one sitting (especially not when David and I still have to get up in the morning to pay the bills and do nice things for our beautiful wives).

All that said, I offer a brief opening position that I expect will lead to lengthy discussion:
  1. I agree with David that sex conducted wantonly, without mature emotional commitment or consideration of and willingness to be responsible for consequences, is unhealthy for individuals and society.
  2. I agree with David that abortion used as a method to facilitate such unhealthy sexual behavior is wrong.
  3. I agree with Justice Ginsberg in her dissent to Gonzales v. Carhart that moral positions do not always justify legal positions:
    Ultimately, the Court admits that "moral concerns" are at work, concerns that could yield prohibitions on any abortion. See ante, at 28 ("Congress could . . . conclude that the type of abortion proscribed by the Act requires specific regulation because it implicates additional ethical and moral concerns that justify a special prohibition."). Notably, the concerns expressed are untethered to any ground genuinely serving the Government's interest in preserving life. By allowing such concerns to carry the day and case, overriding fundamental rights, the Court dishonors our precedent. See, e.g., Casey, 505 U. S., at 850
    ("Some of us as individuals find abortion offensive to our most basic principles of morality, but that cannot control our decision. Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code."); Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U. S. 558, 571 (2003) (Though "[f]or many persons [objections to homosexual conduct] are not trivial concerns but profound and deep convictions accepted as ethical and moral principles," the power of the State may not be used "to enforce these views on the whole society through operation of the criminal law." (citing Casey, 505 U. S., at 850)).
  4. I will argue that the relationship between a woman and a fetus developing inside her is unlike any other human relationship and that moral and legal analogies to murder, child abuse and neglect, euthanasia, or other criminal actions are invalid.
  5. I will stake out the political position that, much as I wish I could make every one of my students and neighbors behave morally, there are some issues where trying to do so through legislation will achieve little to no social good while doing too much damage to fundamental constitutional and human rights.

Updating the 2005 SD Abortion Task Force Study

South Dakota's last two abortion ban attempts have based their findings statements on the December 2005 report of the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion. That document, branded by even some members of the task force as a biased presentation of sloppy science by a committee stacked with anti-abortion zealots, included the following statement on the connection between abortion and breast cancer:

The question concerning whether abortion causes an increased risk for breast cancer cannot be answered by this Task Force based on the record. However, the subject is of vital importance and the reasons to suspect such a connection sufficiently sound. We conclude that further study of this topic is justified and needed. Sorting out the science and truth of this matter is of the utmost importance so that relevant informed consent information can be provided towomen considering an abortion.

I agree. Interestingly, when Dr. Maria Bell, the only gynecologist who served on the task force, tried to include evidence in the report that would answer that question in the negative, the task force voted her down. [Nancy Hatch Woodward, freelance writer, "Abortion in South Dakota," Planned Parenthood, published 2005.12.22, updated 2006.02.27].

In the spirit of sorting out the truth, I direct the attention of South Dakota's legislators and voters to "U.S. Study Shows No Breast Cancer/Abortion Link" [Maggie Fox, health and science editor, Reuters, 2007.04.24]:

A study of more than 100,000 U.S. nurses found that those who had an abortion or miscarriage were no more likely to have breast cancer than any other woman in the study.

The findings fit with a 2003 report from an international expert panel put together by the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

As long as the anti-choice, anti-science, anti-woman crowd continue to follow the strategy put forward by pseudo-scientific sophist* David Reardon of repeating their scientifically disproven claims just to confuse the issue. As long as they keep shouting their rhetoric, those interested in protecting women's rights need to keep shouting the science.

*My use of the term sophist is a nod to my friend DB, whose chortles and accusations of hypocrisy I eagerly await.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Our Man Hunter Eyes Blogs with Suspicion

The estimable Mr. Jon Hunter, MDL publisher, continues his resurgent and very welcome opining. In his Tuesday editorial praising the high standards and "attention to detail" of journalist David Halberstam, Hunter takes a poke a blogs:

Unedited internet blogs often get posted with mistakes, mistruths and bias. In fact, it's almost a definition of today's blogs that they must be slanted and presumptuous. Regrettably, some readers believe everything they read, and the reputation of journalism as an industry suffers. [Jon M. Hunter, "Halberstam's Attention to Detail Could Be Used Today," MDL, 2007.04.24, p. 3]

This blogger agrees wholeheartedly with most of Hunter's comment. Internet blogs have a higher baloney content than my summertime lunches. Blogs are obviously and unashamedly slanted, this one included. Any reader who believes everything written in the Madville Times, just because the Madville Times says it, is thanked graciously but urged to check with other sources nonetheless.

But presumptuous? Let me take issue with just that word. This blog -- and I welcome readers' observations about other blogs -- does not presume to be anything other than what it is: one young curmudgeon-activist-teacher dad offering his commentary on life on the lake and the prairie. Nor does this blog presume to be the only voice worthy of consideration or publication. This blog certainly does not presume to decide whose opinions will be published and whose won't.

And ultimately, this blog does not presume to be a replacement for Mr. Hunter's great local paper. This blog, with an official staff of one and a half (I ask resident eco-theological powerhouse Mrs. Madville Times a question every now and then and translate her wisdom into blog fodder), picks a handful of seemingly important issues, offers some facts and comments, and opens the door for immediate public discussion. What this blogger may lack in knowledge and editorial skill is compensated at least somewhat by the diligent efforts of you loyal readers, who can quickly offer corrections, counter-evidence, and straight-up raspberries.

To emphasize, the Madville Times does not presume blogging to be journalism. Blogging here is something else, something fun and perhaps (oh, careful, maybe we are a bit presumptuous after all!) just as vital to our small community as a good daily newspaper.

Madison -- Even Prettier!

Tuesday's print MDL reports that the Madison City Commission is the proud recipient of 8.3 acres donated by John Maloney for the purpose of establishing the Gerry Maloney Nature Area. Maloney has donated the land on the north side of town and will kick in another $100,000 to fund improvements "including a bridge, pond, grass walking trails, parking lot, fences, gazebo and benches" (Chuck Clement, "Commission Reviews Electric Rate Hike," MDL, 2007.04.24, p. 1).

8.3 acres -- that's a lot of municipal park! It sounds like an excellent addition to Madison's recreational opportunities. (And if I may suggest, we probably don't need a big parking lot. Keep all the green we can, and let people get a few more steps of exercise.) I can't wait to take Baby Madville Times for a stroll through it.

One fiscal note: for $100,000 and nice stretch of land from one private donor, plus maybe an $80,000 grant from SD Game, Fish and Parks, we get a beautiful new outdoor public park every citizen can actively use and enjoy year-round (yes, some of us even hit the parks in winter). Compare that to the recently defeated $10-million gym, where a few dozen athletes would play in front of a lot of spectators. This park sounds like a much better investment for the greater good of the community. Besides, a lush green park will look a lot nicer on our promotional materials than another big windowless brick building.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Counting Chickens Before the Rates Increase

Monday night the Madison City Commission gave first reading to an ordinance to raise city electric rates 5%. Naturally, when I first read about this in MDL (print edition only, alas), I had to ask, what happened to the $100,000 surplus the city had in its electric fund that the city wanted to donate to the school district? Those seemed some logical dots to connect, but MDL didn't follow up.

Enter KJAM Radio, dot-connector of the day:
The 100-thousand dollars that was not transferred from the city to the school for electrical upgrades during the April 10th elections, will be used to help counteract the rate increase that is being passed down from Heartland in lieu of the cost of rebuilding from the storms that that downed portions of Heartland’s systems.
Tonight's moral -- take your pick!
  1. Hang onto your unexpected surpluses (surpli?) to cushion yourself for unexpected expenses. Or--
  2. Spend your extra money now, before some contingency gobbles it up!

Monday, April 23, 2007

TV Turn-off Week Strikes the Heartland

Props to KJAM Radio for promoting TV Turn-Off Week. The Madville Times does not suspect KJAM Radio of any sort of self-interest in this social activism. None at all. (Funny -- no mention of the event on KELO-TV.)

Mrs. Madville Times's pastor also mentioned that the Madison Middle School is also promoting the week. Let's hope the teachers are encouraging the kids to read blogs instead. Heck, let's hope the kids are writing blogs!

By the way, the TV in the Madville Times headquarters remains off tonight. Just the clickety-chickety of laptop keys shouting out into the cybernight....

Real Red-State Health Care

(or, How to Guarantee Governor Rounds Won't Appoint Me to the Zaniya Project Task Force)

Governor Mike Rounds signed HB 1169 into law on March 3 to create the Zaniya Project Task Force. This group -- four legislators plus at least 16 folks appointed by the governor -- is tasked with coming up with a plan "to provide health insurance to South Dakota residents who lack health insurance coverage." Additionally, the task force must "create efficiencies in the purchase of health insurance."

Not much has appeared in print about the task force, although the rumblings seem to be that South Dakota may follow Massachusetts in combining a mandate that most people buy health insurance with subsidies for folks who really can't afford it.

The task force faces a daunting task in determining how to measure the positive outcomes. How do we balance access with efficiency, personal health with fiscal health?

Perhaps the Zaniya Project Task Force will take a look at another red state -- Cuba! -- for ideas on how to achieve our health care goals. Despite having a per capita GDP of $3900 (that's less than a seventh of South Dakota's), Cuba manages a life expectancy of 77 years, just one year less than South Dakota's. Cuba's infant mortality rate is 6.04 deaths per 1000 live births; South Dakota's is 7.2 per 1000.

Why are Cubans arguably as healthy as South Dakotans? An AP article by Will Weissert making the rounds today suggests a number of possible contributing factors:
  1. "...most prescription drugs and visits to the doctor are free..."
  2. "...physicians encourage preventive care"
  3. Cuba's national health care program ensures "a family doctor on almost every block" (according to 90-year-old Havana resident Luis Tache)
  4. "A relaxed lifestyle, which prizes time spent with family over careers, helps keep Cubans healthy" [emphasis by this family-values editor]
I know, we still have to defend the American Way from the Red Menace. But if the Cubans can save more babies in worse living conditions than ours, maybe the Zaniya Project Task Force ought to take at least one junket to Havana to see what lessons Castro might have for us.

(By the way, while I'm cherry-picking health care numbers, consider this: Cuba has a lower incidence of HIV/AIDS than South Dakota. Cuba's success against HIV/AIDS takes place amidst easygoing attitudes about sex -- not exactly the terms I'd use to describe the typical South Dakota mindset. There -- discuss.)

Friday, April 20, 2007

Coaches Discuss Big Changes in SD Speech Activities

Coaches of the three major extracurricular speech activities in South Dakota -- one-act play, debate, and oral interpretation -- are embroiled in vigorous discussion of the prospect of big changes in the formats of the state championship contests for those events.

In one-act play, the South Dakota High School Activities Association is proposing radical changes to the schedule and siting of the State Festival, which takes place annually on the first weekend of February. Currently, 45 schools from all three classes (AA, A, and B) converge on one site to stage their shows over a three-day period. Due to a rule change promulgated last year expanding the performance time from 30 to 45 minutes, the festival has run longer. The 2007 festival started with Yankton's performance at 9:50 a.m. Thursday, staged opening shows Friday and Saturday at 8:00 a.m., ran past 10:00 p.m. Thursday and Friday evening, and wrapped up with awards Saturday night after 8 p.m., with schools not getting on the road until after 9 .m.

Concerned that contest runs too long, SDHSAA Assistant Executive Director for fine arts Ken Pickering is proposing splitting the festival by class to three different sites. Such a change would condense the contests to two-day affairs. It would also deprive students from each class the opportunity to see shows put on by schools from other classes.

In debate, the coaching community has expressed continuing frustration with the format of the State Debate and Individual Events Tournament. Held each year the first weekend of March, the contest follows a unique set of rules that require close study and extra time in pairing rounds and tabbing on site. The rules thus often lead to delays and excess downtime for students at the tournament. Some coaches have proposed running the state tournament by computer, but coaches experienced with such tournament-management software, such as Joy of Tournaments, a package frequently used at South Dakota invitational contests, say that the state tournament rules as written now would not fit te oprating parameters of such software. To computerize, either the software would have to be engineered to fit the tournament or the tournament would have to be revamped to fit the software.

Coaches are offering various proposals to reconfigure the State Debate Tournament for easier management. One proposal comes from Madison debate alumnus, assistant coach, and frequent judge Brett Kearin, who has put his DSU education to use creating a tournament-management software package that he could customize for the South Dakota State Debate Tournament. Whatever format the State Tournament may take, this editor hopes the SDHSAA will take advantage of this opportunity to buy local.

The State Oral Interp Festival may face signficant changes as well. Currently students in Class B qualify for State Interp through a sequence of District and Region contests. Class A students qualify through a Region contest. Class AA schools automatically send one entry in each of the seven events to the festival. Entrants speak once at the contest and receive Superior, Excellent, or Good ratings.

The SDHSAA has sent out a survey from this humble editor proposing expanding the number of participants in the state festival, the number of rounds at the festival, and the number and type of awards handed out. The complete proposal is online at the editor's school website.

In the run-up to the meeting of the Speech Advisory Committee, a group of coaches that will issue its formal recommendations for all three activities at its annual meeting in Pierre next week Friday and Saturday, Arpil 27-28, this coach and others have set up blogs for discussion of the various proposals. To read and join the discussion, see the following sites:

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Lake County Dems Honor Gerry Lange

Mrs. Madville Times and I, along with our thus far well-behaved progeny, just returned from an appreciation dinner for former Democratic state legislator Gerry Lange, who served our district for 16 years before his defeat at the hands of the Republican money machine last November. The tribute speeches, offered after a hearty meal at the Hillside Resort on Lake Madison, offered an interesting contrast to some of the statements reported in MDL from the Lake County GOP's Lincoln Day dinner held last Friday in Madison [apologies -- MDL didn't publish the Lincoln Day story online, so you'll have to go to the library to check my information].

While Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard came to town last Friday to lament the lack of a 2/3 Republcan majority in the state Senate, Gerry Lange tonight expressed the need for checks and balances in government.

While Daugaard lauded rookie legislator Russ Olson as being good for the Republican Party, Lange and the guests who came to honor him spoke of the duty of a legislator to serve his district, his state, and his country, and to show compassion for all members of society.

While Olson noted (with pride?) the $30,000 his campaign spent to wrest the state House seat from Lange, Lake County Democratic Party secretary Trudi Nelson lauded Lange for the time and shoe leather he spent through nine elections.

The dominant theme in many speeches at tonight's dinner, though, was Lange's commitment to principle. Nearly every speaker (this writer included) noted that Lange has always spoken what is right, not what is popular. He did not test the political winds: he showed genuine political leadership, offering bold, even revolutionary ideas and working to persuade people of the correctness of those ideas, without concern about how many votes those ideas might win or lose him in the next election.

Among the guests gathered to honor Lange were District 8's Democratic legislators Rep. Dave Gassman and Sen. Dan Sutton; state Representatives Paul Dennert, Clarence Kooistra, and Jim Peterson; and representatives from the offices of Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and Senator Tim Johnson.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Robert on the Tyranny of Unanimity

South Dakota's National Forensic League District Student Congress contest took me away from blogging last weekend. I spent Friday and Saturday coaching my kids, scoring speeches, and strolling the majestic and inspiring halls of the State Capitol building in Pierre. Nine of our state's finest student speakers qualified for Nationals, scheduled for Wichita in June.

A key component of Student Congress is parliamentary procedure, so when we hold our "StuCo" contests every March and April, I always find myself paging through Robert's Rules of Order, (Newly Revised), that venerable manual of parliamentary procedure first created by America's General Henry M. Robert in the 1870s. This year, between reviews of actual rules, I paged through the historical introduction (see the 10th Edition, Perseus: Cambridge, MA, 2000), which notes that Robert, who believed firmly in vigorous debate and majority rule, was well known for guiding the various boards he chaired toward unanimous votes and reports. "This was not the contradiction that it may at first seem," says the Introduction:

Robert was surely aware of the early evolutionary development of parliamentary procedure in the English House of Lords resulting in a movement from "consensus," in its original sense of unanimous agreement, toward a decision by majority vote as we know it today. This evolution came about from a recognition that a requirement of unanimity or near unanimity can become a form of tyranny in itself. In an assembly that tries to make such a requirement the norm, a variety of misguided feelings -- reluctance to be seen as opposing the leadership, a notion that causing controversy will be frowned upon, fear of seeming an obstacle to unity -- can easily lead to decisions being taken with a pseudoconsensus which in reality implies elements of default, which satisfies no one, and for which no one really assumes responsibility. Robert saw, on the other hand, that the evolution of majority vote in tandem with lucid and clarifying debate -- resulting in a decision representing the view of the deliberate majority -- far more clearly ferrets out and demonstrates the will of an assembly. It is through the application of genuine persuasion and parliamentary technique that General Robert was able to achieve decisions in meetings he led which were so free of divisiveness within the group.

Such is the lesson students learn every day in my classroom and every weekend at speech contests. I'm so used to engaging in debate and pushing students to do the same that I'm always surprised to find people afraid to speak up in disagreement with various public sentiments. I wonder -- is the tyranny of unanimity part of the fear of speaking up that I hear from a number of my fellow Madisonites?

I have an essay on local fear in the works. The central question I'm chewing on -- and which I pose with genuine eagerness and curiosity to my readers now -- is this: What are we afraid of? What scares Madisonites away from participating in open public debate? Robert wasn't afraid of open debate. He spent a lifetime composing rules that would facilitate productive debate, rules now that my own students study assiduously during the first month of spring. We voters should all be so dedicated to open, honest public discourse.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

New Gym Plan B

...courtesy of the Madville Times, Community Marketing Division

Following the defeat at the polls yesterday of their plan to saddle the public with nearly $10 million in debt over the next 25 years, the gym boosters vow today both on KJAM and in the Madison Daily Leader that "there is no Plan B" (Bud Postma, MDL, 2007.04.11, p. 1). Darin Namken, driving force behind the failed project's marketing campaign, said in an interview aired this morning on KJAM that he might not even want to participate in any effort to resurrect the gym plan.

If, as MDL notes, the gym feasibility committee met and studied the idea for "several years," how can they not have had a Plan B? How can they abandon all that hard work so quickly? How can they turn their back on a project for which they've already spent thousands for architectural plans and who knows how much for advertising? The athletic supporters have lost one two-month campaign. Big deal. 57% of voters said they couldn't afford a 25-year tax increase to pay for his project. 43% said they could afford that sort of contribution.

So, Messrs. Postma, Namken, Schaefer, et al, here's Plan B, if you're interested:
  1. Find the 43% who voted for the project and get them to donate the money they were willing to pay in increased taxes.
  2. Find the 57% who voted against the project and ask them how much they would be willing to donate. I'll bet you could find a farmer or three who would say, "Hey, I couldn't commit $1500 a year for 25 years, but I can donate $100 right now, and if corn prices stay high, I'll have another hundred for you in the fall."
  3. Keep the website. It's building online recognition, and it has all sorts of good links from Madison's most exciting current affairs blog. Keep promoting!
  4. Target your market: Have committee members shaking hands and passing the hat at every local track meet, golf meet, tennis match, baseball game, softball game, and so on for however long it takes to raise the money.
  5. Keep building urgency. Go to your potential donors and tell them, "See? We can't count on a free ride from the taxpayers. If we want this done right, we've got to do it ourselves, and do it now." Don't let the momentum you did build fade by making it sound like you don't have a plan or the motivation to keep moving forward.
  6. Knock off this defeatist talk. You may not have been able to convince the majority of the district voters who came to the polls, but that doesn't mean everybody thought you were wrong. For every cynical tightwad who can't recognize a great opportunity for the community (or, more accurately, for every working family whose budget is already tight), I'll bet some ambitious fundraisers could find another family or sports fan who has some wiggle room in his budget and would love to contribute to a big sports arena.
  7. Go after the corporate sponsors. I doubt I can convince the CEO of Heidelberger Painting (Madville Times's dad) to bid for naming rights, but you might well find some local businessmen who would love to bid for the chance to name the arena. (Think Swiftel Center... and check out some numbers on the Swiftel Center and other similar projects from a study done on building an events center in Mandan, ND). Bid out those scoreboard banners, lobby signs, memorial bricks, whatever it takes.
  8. Be patient. Call the Moores in Fairbury, Nebraska, and ask them how they've dealt with increasing construction costs. Good things come to those who wait. And in the end, after all the hard and humble work of fundraising, when you cut the ribbon and throw out the first pitch (um, you're the sports guys -- pick your own metaphor), you can enjoy one of the sweetest forms of satisfaction I know of: proving your opponents wrong by achieving something they didn't think was possible.
There's my contribution (and I voted against this project). Now turn those frowns upside down and go get 'em!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Dell Rapids -- Downs Is Up!

A little farther down the KJAM election results page, I find cause for Bulldog Pride of another sort: fellow Madison HS graduate Mark Downs has won seat as Ward 3 alderman in Dell Rapids. A profile in the April 4 Dell Rapids Tribune says Downs has a big interest in economic development (Ah, don't we all...). Mark's dad Myron will surely be proud: Myron served on the Madison city commission. And just to top it off, Mark and wife Amanda's fourth child is due today, Election Day. Congratulations, Mark and Amanda! And remember; kids first, then economic development.

No and No -- Voters Feeling Frugal

Straight from KJAM:

Transfer of $100,000 from city electric fund to school for electric upgrades

Ward 1 Yes 396 - 51.36% No 375 - 48.64%
Ward 2 Yes 191 - 43.12% No 252 - 56.88%
Ward 3 Yes 97 - 34.77% No 182 - 65.23%

684 - 45.81% Yes (Money will be transferred from city to school)
809 - 54.19% No (Money will NOT be transferred from city to school)

Madison High School Gym Resolution

Ward 1 Yes 386 - 50.06% No 385 - 49.94%
Ward 2 Yes 208 - 43.43% No 240 - 53.57%
Ward 3 Yes 109 - 39.07% No 170 - 60.93%
Rural Yes 210 - 33.82% No 411 - 66.18%

913 - 43.09% Yes (Gymnasium will be built)
1206 - 56.91 % No (Gymnasium will NOT be built)

Not seeing anything to the contrary, I'm assuming these are final results. Not bad turnout for a snowy day with no candidates on the ballot.

Note that the bond issue to build the new gym required a 60% majority. Even in the apparently least fiscally conservative Ward 1, the measure received only the smallest possible majority, 50% + 1. A friend of mine told me local politics isn't about philosophy. It apparently isn't about slick brochures and fancy websites, either. Is Madison really this impervious to a professional marketing campaign?

The rural vote appears not to have been deterred by the bad weather. (This correspondent went in the ditch on the way to work this morning, thanks to the unseasonable slush that's been falling all day.) Evidently a few slick miles of road won't stop our farmers from getting to town to save themselves from a $1500-a-year tax increase.

Matt G. commented earlier that the athletic supporters had a plan to "
aggressively pursue funds through donations, advertisements, naming rights, etc." and apply those funds toward paying down the debt. If that's the case, why didn't the gym promoters say so sooner? And given their loss tonight and the urgency of doing the project now to avoid rising construction costs, will the gym promoters follow through with those fundraising plans and see how far they can get with private dollars?

This correspondent will, alas, be in school all week and Pierre Friday and Saturday (State Student Congress!) and thus miss all the good coffee talk. The Madville Times thus welcomes any and all Wednesday-morning quarterbacking on the election. How'd you vote, and why? Why do you think the vote went the way it did? What's next for the gym promoters? Is Madison really a bunch of cynical tightwads, or are we just showing some conservative fiscal sense? Post your thoughts here!

Monday, April 9, 2007

Tonight's MDL: Contrast in Priorities

A brief perusal in tonight's Madison Daily Leader offers some interesting insight into how things work -- or don't -- in Madison:

Page 1, lead story: City electric consumers should expect a 3% increase in their electric rates this year. This increase comes after the city has made enough of a profit on selling electricity that it can donate $100,000 to the school district (an issue referred to a public vote, which takes place tomorrow and on which I have commented elsewhere in response to a question from a loyal reader).

Page 1, second story: Substitute teacher Beth Knuths has organized the donation of 24 framed posters of famous artworks to Madison Elementary. The school district provides no art instruction until sixth grade, so Knuths felt the need to address that educational gap. Knuths says the project will teach vital cultural literacy:

"Students who have exposure to famous paintings will understand the many references made to them in literature, movies, music and other art -- so our students will be clued in to a very large part of our American and world culture."

Knuths was going to pay for the project out of her own project, but she managed to get some help from the Madison Area Arts Council and other sponsors. No mention of public money applied to the project.

Page 1, bottom story: The statewide school funding lawsuit has its first hearing in circuit court this week. After years of frustration with the Legislature, seventy school districts have turned to the courts for fiscal relief, arguing that the state is failing in its constitutional duty (SD Const 0N-8-1) to provide free and adequate education.

The plaintiffs argue the state is not providing enough money to prepare students "to meet state academic standards and achievement requirements; function as voters, jury members and participants in a democratic society; find meaningful employment and compete effectively in the economy; and qualify for higher education" [props to MDL and AP for good semicolon usage!].

No mention of preparing students to watch others play basketball in comfy gyms (the other issue on tomorrow's ballot -- more to come!).

Page 1, side story: Robb Graham, president of local business Professional Training Services, is organizing a math club for middle school students. He plans to host weekly meetings (Thursdays, 5:30-6:30 p.m. -- bring your pencils, kids!) in the PTS offices in the basement of the Radio Shack building downtown. Kids will work on ratios, story problems, and interest-rate problems, as well as possible math contests. No mention of public money being used to promote this vital educational goal.

Page 3, Editorial: On the eve of the vote on the city's fund-transfer to the school district and the $5.83-million (more like $9.8 million, including interest) bond issue to build a bigger gym, our man Mr. Hunter remains silent on both issues. Instead, he discusses the future of 911 service in the county.

"More than $2 million has been spent so far on 911 emergency communications in Lake County since its beginning in 1994," Hunter begins. He proceeds to voice his concerns about rising operating and upgrade costs. How will we find the funds to maintain this vital service? The county, Hunter notes, "says its funds are limited by property tax caps." Hunter suggests that we address the increasing costs by looking into consolidation of services with other counties.

Apparently money is so tight in this county that we may not be able to afford to maintain our own 911 service...

Page 3, Letter to the Editor #1: ...but money isn't so tight that we can't cough up an extra $100 per year per household and $1500 or more per year per farm to build a 2200-seat gym for high school sports. In his last election-eve push, gym promoter Randy Schaefer writes in to express his profound embarrassment at spectators having to sit in uncomfortable seats or even choosing not to go to home basketball games because the gym might be crowded, thus missing "some of the best entertainment our area has to offer."

No mention of his embarrassment at the lack of elementary art instruction, the absence of upgrades to the 45-year-old high school theater, cutting of a music instructor's position this year, or Madison's contribution to South Dakota's tradition of lowest-in-the-nation teacher salaries. No mention of embarrassment at the failure of the businessmen pushing this project to come up with a business plan for an events center that might actually pay for itself (see Charlie Johnson's commentary). No mention of embarrassment at using the school district to fund an economic development project that will not enhance any of the basic educational functions of the school (again, read Johnson). No mention either seeking private donations first to reduce the $9.8-million public debt burden.

Page 3, Letter to the Editor #2: Gym promoter Dean Gehrels does address the issue of public funding, saying it might actually hurt the cause. Gehrels fears a private fundraising campaign wouldn't raise money fast enough to outpace inflation in construction costs. The new gym could bring in revenue (district and region contests, sponsorships, etc.) that will pay for the annual operating costs, but the nearly ten million we will spend to build this gym is to be borne by the taxpayers.

Never mind that no one has shown how this project meets the school district's mandated function to provide a free and fair education: the athletic supporters want their big gym, they want it now, and they want everyone, not just the spectators who might get less crowded bleachers, to foot the bill.

(Oh, wait: Gehrels says the athletic supporters have received some private donations. That money has been spent thus far on the gym boosters' ad campaign....)

Page 5, gym booster committee quarter-page ad, top half: Evidently the gym backers must be hearing a lot of flak over the Sioux Falls Lincoln project (the combination of my own comments, Matthew Paulson's letter in last week's paper, and street buzz must have gotten to them). The top half of the ad offers a chart comparing the Lincoln and Madison projects. The chart explains why the Lincoln project is so much cheaper -- just an expansion, not a new building, smaller courts, no additional locker space, etc.

Of course, the chart fails to answer one obvious question: if Lincoln can just expand their gym for half the price of a new gym, why can't we? Mr. Schaefer in his letter says, "There's not a smaller, cheaper option around the corner," but Lincoln has found one.

Page 5, gym booster committee quarter-page ad, bottom half: The gym committee offers a comparison of their proposed gym to that of smaller schools. They compare total district enrollment and gym seating space in Lennox, Tri-Valley, Tea, and Flandreau. With the proposed new gym, we'd have more seating than everyone but Tea, whose gym can hold 2500 spectators. Of course, this chart fails to answer the logical question the preceding chart would suggest: How big is Lincoln making its gym? Let's review some numbers:
  • Lincoln HS enrollment: ~1900
  • New Lincoln gym capacity: 2000
  • Madison HS enrollment: ~400
  • New Madison gym capacity: 2200
Is this gym project about meeting genuine needs or simply one-upping Lennox and our other athletic arch-rival communities?

Advertising insert: The gym boosters include a bright orange campaign sheet, complete with their continuing co-opting of the Madison Bulldog mascot for their political purposes, stirring jingoistic feelings of "Bulldog Pride!" while avoiding a real discussion of the educational necessity of a giant sports arena.

The insert focuses on the cost to taxpayers, breaking down the property tax increase folks in various neighborhoods can expect. The costs are broken down to per month and per day numbers. But let's not lose sight of the big picture: from even the owner of a modest ($50,100) house on North Liberty Avenue, the gym boosters want to take $1,109.75. From the owner of a swankier ($192,300) home on Twin Oaks Drive, the gym boosters would demand $4,259.50.

Not mentioned on this chart are any rural property owners -- ouch! I thought these guys were good at marketing, but they put out a chart that ignores and possibly alienates the large number of rural voters in the school district. Not mentioned in this chart is the huge hit farmers will take in their property taxes just to transfer some meager amount of wealth to the in-town business interests who think a big gym will translate into more burger sales and motel-room rentals.

Just to top it off, the chart bears this heading:

Actual Illustrations of Real Homes and there 2007 Assessed Values.

At risk of muddling the issue on election eve, I note the following problems with that text:
  1. Wrong their (an easy mistake, but an easy one to fix with proofreading... or so I tell my freshmen).
  2. For consistency, Their should be capitalized with the other words in that heading.
  3. Actual and real feel redundant.
So what's all this mean?
  1. Read your local paper. There's a lot of good material.
  2. Read your local blog. Commentary every bit as good as what you get at the Country Cafe, but you don't have to leave a tip (not that I'd mind ;-) ).
  3. Go vote tomorrow.

Pelicans Arrive on Lake Herman

Pelicans made their first Lake Herman appearance of the year today. Several dozen of the majestic birds can be seen (right now! out my window! gleaming white in the evening sun!) dotting the lake, where they are surely sampling Herman's selection of bullhead, crawdads, and other freshwater treats. After a seemingly brief stay of the migrating geese in March, and after several unseasonably chilly April days, I relish the spring sight of our graceful, big-billed friends circling high over the lake and gliding single file in their disciplined, unhurried bands from bay to bay.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Keep It Local -- Outside Consultants Hurt Local Politics

South Dakota War College notes (and I note with dismay) the intrusion of an out-of-state consultant in a Meade County School District bond issue. See my comment there on how local politics should stay local. I plan to vote against the gym-bond issue here in Madison Tuesday, but I wouldn't want some outsider with his own agenda intruding on what ought to be a local discussion. Local politics should provide a community a chance to have a conversation with itself, not let outsiders profit from sloganeering and disinformation that obscures what really matters to the locals.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Make More Energy... or Just Use Less?

I notice that Tony Dean shares some of my concerns about ethanol. Mr. Dean makes a connection between the push for more ethanol and the Bush Administration's plans not only to not add any more acres this year to the land protected under the Conservation Reserve Plan but also to "release former CRP holders from their commitments." CRP lands protect wildlife, groundwater, and the wily pheasant, the hunting of which adds $153 million to South Dakota's economy annually. Dean notes that switchgrass promises to be a much better source of alternative energy. But he also quotes fellow conservationist Ted Williams ("Under the Influence of Ethanol," Fly Rod & Reel, April 2007, p. 18) on a better route to fuel economy:

We do, however, possess the technology to build fuel-efficient automobiles. In the current charade designed by and for agribusiness we're allocating 18 percent of the corn we grow to ethanol, thereby cutting our petroleum consumption by one percent. But [UC-Berkeley chemical engineer Dr. Tad] Patzek has calculated that if we doubled automobile fuel efficiency, we'd cut petroleum consumption by 33 percent or, put another way, we'd increase our petroleum supply by a third. It's a revolutionary concept that America has never tried. Fish-and-wildlife advocates are calling it conservation.

Then again, maybe Connie Blanco at the Lakota Country Times has a better alternative (you'll appreciate this cartoon if you've seen Chris Eyre's Smoke Signals):

Given the surge in backyard inventors figuring out how to run their vehicles on used cooking oil, Blanco may not be joking!

Maybe the New Gym Needs A-C and a Seawall...

As I sit here at the lake on a gorgeous spring day, enjoying Arctic gales keeping the temperature below freezing, I continue to wonder if global warming would really be so bad. KJAM cites Tony Dean, South Dakota outdoor broadcaster, columnist, and admitted Republican, as urging us to act now to minimize the impacts. Dean worries that global warming will increase wildfire danger and dry up wetlands, decimating wildlife habitat and hurting hunting and fishing. Spoken like a truly conservative conservationist (those two labels should go together!).

Speaking of the IPCC, they issued a report in Brussells today outlining various threats to our species and the entire ecosphere from global warming. (See the draft policymakers' summary here.) They do note that global crop yields may actually increase 5 to 20 percent from longer growing seasons in the short term. That benefit only sticks, however, if the global temperature increase doesn't exceed 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees F). And warmer weather won't help if it's also drier weather, as our friends in West River can attest. I'd like a warmer Easter break, but I'd also like the garden to grow.