Monday, December 27, 2010

Trolls

If you look at my page, you will see that I follow Tim Skubick's blog.  This does not mean that I always agree with him, I just happen to read his column and find his insight, interesting.

I do wish he would screen his comment area.  You can do this by not allowing comments to post automatically and instead you must approve their posting.  Or not.  That is what 'trash' is for.

It would appear that Mr. Skubick has attracted some 'trolls' to his site.  These are people who try to start 'flame wars' by posting incendiary comments on a blog. 

The Urban Dictionary defines a "blog troll" as, "A depraved individual who sits in front of a computer all day and posts flames of an idiotic or pseudo-intellectual nature on public forums and private websites..."

This latest blog shows that these 'nuts' are ever present.  It is not the first time this has happened.  If these trolls do not agree with Mr. Skubick's opinion or anyone else's for that matter, let them create their own incendiary blog.  But at the very least, Tim, block their access to yours.  I get enough of a rush in the morning from caffeine.

Dealing with the Weather

Snow, snow, snow.  Or lack thereof.  Now the entire Eastern Seaboard is covered in snow with travelers stranded in airports, including Metro.

A few years ago, my oldest son, who lives in Texas, planned to come home for Christmas.  He got as far as O'Hare and after two days he flew back home to Texas.  So much for Happy Holidays in the north.  I know from personal experience about the treacherous Chicago winter snows and summer rains and airport shutdowns.

Anyway, we decided that Thanksgiving and summer were better times to visit up here.  That being said, I was in San Antonio one December when our plans to meet got changed when the entire State was hit by an ice storm.  They literally close the freeways down there.  My son was one of the few people in his apartment complex with an ice scraper in his car, since he had recently moved to the Austin area.  Others were using their credit cards.

So, this year, we talked about holidays and my son informed me that he was spending them 'down under'.  Since he was working in Malaysia in early December, it made sense to take a Christmas time vacation and head to Australia and New Zealand.

While I was sitting here watching the snow come down on a recent Sunday, I received an email from Melbourne inquiring about what I thought were the 'must see' places.  Of course, the Great Ocean Road was on the top of my list.  So, a few days before Christmas, I received the following picture of a wonderful December day in the 'deep south'.  What a beautiful way to spend a holiday.  And what a view!

Getting to the Bottom Line

A lot has been said and continues to be said about the adoption of a State Budget by July 1.  This is a good idea.  It means that when the State's new fiscal year begins on October 1, departments and legislators know exactly what the numbers are.  It virtually eliminates the chance for a government shut down.  Would that the same scenario could be said in Townships.

For fifteen of the twenty-one budgets I was involved with at West Bloomfield Township, the budget was required to be done sixty days prior to the start of the fiscal year.  In 2003, the law was changed to require a budget be prepared and adopted by December 31.

For West Bloomfield, which starts its fiscal year on January 1, this cuts the adoption really close.  For the majority of townships in Michigan, the fiscal year begins on April 1 (such is the case with Bloomfield Township).  Adopting a budget by December 1 means that they have to adopt a budget earlier than before. 

I have tried to make sense of how and why this passed, but have never been able to do so.  Some of the sponsoring legislators had townships with January 1 dates and others with April 1.  It meant that all would have a longer time to prepare their budgets, but that those communities with January 1 years would be cutting it pretty close.  And since tax rates are set in October, communities already have pretty solid tax revenue numbers to work with.  The State budget has been set so that revenue sharing numbers, while estimated, are still pretty solid. 

The law requires that Township Department Heads submit their budget requests 150 days prior to the start of the fiscal year and that the Supervisor submit a budget to the Township Board no later than 120 days prior to the fiscal year.  That gave Township Boards prior to the law change at least two months to approve budgets and adopt them. 

No matter the change in the law, there is nothing stopping Townships from adopting their budgets in a timely manner, well in advance of the start of the fiscal year.  Let's hope that our Legislators in Lansing do the same.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Beating up on the RCOC

OK.  We have been reading about the poor performance of the Road Commission of Oakland County for over a week. I am not going to get into that.  Rather, I think this photo puts them at least one step above the performance of the Arizona Department of Transportation:



'Nuf said.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I'll agree with That

Ever since I retired my morning ritual has included reading the newspaper.  This morning was no exception. 

I always read the editorial page, which gets my brain working and my blood flowing, sometimes boiling.  This morning's editorial in the Oakland Press hit the nail on the head when it comes to 'hyping' the weather.  I've already stated that I hate winter, but this is Michigan and I have learned to expect cold and snow.  I don't have to like it.  But what I dislike even more is the constant threat of impending doom when a snow cloud appears in the Midwest. 

I listen to a news radio station in the morning when I am getting ready for the day.  There is a female 'commentator' who is particularly annoying.  She hypes the fall of the first snowflake as though it alone will produce two feet of snow. 

Earlier this week we were told that we would get snow on Monday night and into Tuesday morning.  Didn't happen.  The forecasters also said that snow will arrive on Christmas Eve and into Christmas day.  One person I talked to was upset that their holiday driving would be hampered.  Another told me on Monday that they may have to spend Christmas Eve at their guest's home instead of making a treacherous drive back to their own home.

The forecast wouldn't be so bad if the people telling the story weren't doing such a horrible job of delivering the message, which often turns out to be wrong anyway.  Watch television during the evening and you get commercials about staying tuned for the forecast so you  know whether or not to send your child to school in the morning, even when no snow is forecast.

The worst part of this, IMHO, is that I have become desensitized to the forecasts and reports and never know what to believe.  I look out my window and decide to head out, or stay home, based on my driveway conditions.  If I listened to that crazed woman on the radio, I'd be stuck here until Easter.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Our Library

For those of you have do not know (how could that be?), West Bloomfield has a terrific library.

First Lady Michelle Obama presented the 2010 National Medal for Museum and Library Service to the Library at a White House ceremony December 17. The National Medal is the nation's highest award for museums and libraries.

 I want to share the latest pictures of their National Honor with you in case you have not seen them on their website.

Just click here

A big CONGRATULATIONS to all of them.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Before and After

Pictures to go along with my bathroom repair:


BEFORE

AFTER

BEFORE


AFTER

As I said in an earlier posting, you have to leave this room to change your mind.  Mighty small, indeed.

Of Troy and Building Permits and West Bloomfield

I woke up this morning thinking I will now write about my experience with my bathroom 'repair'.  I wrote about this previously, but then removed the blogs.  Now, I finally have my 'Certificate of Occupancy' in hand, and decided I would tell the tale. 

But first, I go to my mailbox and get my morning Oakland Press to read while I have my coffee (and at the same time shoo three deer out of the yard). 

Headline: Builders sue Troy; allege fee gouging

Oh, really?  Does anyone think they are the only ones? 

During the various building boom eras in the suburbs, building permit revenue was a huge source of cash for communities.  Why do you think the State Construction Code was changed to require that the money received only be used for the costs of running the department issuing the permits and doing the inspections?

Anyway, that is not what I am interested in discussing.  Rather, it is the cost associated with the process and the fact that tax-paying residents trying to maintain their homes are 'ripped-off' by outrageous fees.

Several years ago I needed to replace my hot water heater.  I shopped around and everytime I told the salesman I lived in West Bloomfield, they said that was too bad because West Bloomfield had the highest permit fees. 

This summer, when I hired a handyman to fix up my 38-year old, 34 square foot bathroom (not a misprint, only 34 sf of usable space), he never ever mentioned the need for any permits.  According to the State Construction Code, cabinet replacement, tiling, light fixture replacement and toilet replacement (which we didn't do), do not require permits. 

Imagine my surprise when a township employee called to say that he was told I was 'remodeling' my bathroom and needed to send an inspector over.  I asked why I would need inspections and permits and he said that I would need permits for everything I mentioned above and even threw in the replacement of a shower door.  I told him I would have my handyman speak with him.

Imagine my complete surprise when I was told I would have to pay $590 for permits and inspections.  Apparently, there is a clause that if the repairs exceed $600, you still have to get permits.  Folks, I saw a medicine cabinet that was $1200.  If this is the case, then the communities should just install kiosks in the local Home Depots and collect the money when you walk out the door. 

As it was, my handyman had no idea what I was spending, since I purchased all the materials myself.  He only knew what his fee was, which increased considerably as a result of the township holding things up.  We lost the whole day of the call, while I was paying him to stand around.  And his costs far exceeded material costs.  I had all sorts of free time to shop around for deals on supplies.

My handyman had to submit a drawing of the plan of the room.  Let's see, EVERYTHING is going back where it was!!!  While waiting for approval, my handyman went off to another job and then I had to wait to get him back.

Let me put this in the context of what I pay in taxes to the township general fund this year:  $265.77.  The voted public safety millage I pay is $252.27.  Together, that is less than permits for a 34 square foot bathroom, in a home I have owned and paid taxes on for 38 years.  And the $590 doesn't include the money I had to pay to a separate mechanical contractor.

And what did I get for my money?  A blessing by West Bloomfield that my handyman properly performed the work.  The plumbing permit covered making sure the water wasn't too hot.  The electrical permit - well I am still not sure why we even needed that except to be told that we 'should probably upgrade all the electrical in the house'.  Will do as soon as the township gives me the money to do it.  Oh, they also checked for smoke detectors.  And the mechanical?  Well, I had the handyman vent my bathroom exhaust fan to the outside.  Yes, the township in 1972 allowed the builder to vent fans into the attic.  Luckily, I had no attic damage, probably thanks to the roof vents I had to add myself several years ago (none provided by the builder) and the attic fans that were installed.  It makes me wonder what was being inspected back in 1972.

The State Construction Code is supposed to protect the homeowner from unscrupulous contractors.  It is supposed to insure that work is done properly and 'up to code'.  But who protects the property owner from the local communities who enforce the code and charge ridiculous fees?  It is not hard to see how departments can be padded with employees to justify the higher fee required to pay their salaries and benefits. 

I was on a committee at the State when the Construction Code was changed requiring the use of fees for related expenses only.  I remember another member asking if he only had one building permit would he have to charge the full cost of the department to that permit.  I wondered why you would have a full-time department if you had no building being done. 

With the current economy, many communities should look at privatizing this area.  But, if they are not doing the work, I see no reason to get any money from the process, other than a nominal fee for updating records.  When it is a percentage, that starts to sound more like a 'kick-back' than a fee.  And yes, I feel that this is an unjustified tax.  I felt that way even before I saw the article.  Any fee paid to a community is supposed to fairly represent the value of the service.  $590?  I think not. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Was it Really THAT Important?

I survived the first snow storm of the winter.  Well, late fall actually, since it is not officially winter yet.  I did not leave my home Sunday, or Monday, or Tuesday. 

My Monday appointment was cancelled.  Even if they hadn't beat me to the phone, I would have called and cancelled the meeting myself.  I had no need to leave my home.  Sunday was my son's birthday, but we postponed his coming over for dinner until last night.  No sense taking chances.

What amazes me is that there are other folks out there who are retired, as I am, and somehow seem compelled to go out in the bad weather.  What could possibly be so important?

Church on Sunday?  What is the worst that can happen if you don't show up?  On Monday?  They are retired so it's not like their boss insists they come to work.  And if you need a cup of sugar, or coffee, I'll bet there is at least one neighbor willing to accommodate you.

No, these people go out on the roadway as though they were baptized with the US Postal Service creed. You know, 'Neither rain, nor snow...'.  I don't get it. 

It has to be a life-threatening emergency to get me out in bad weather.  While I did blow the snow off my driveway, I did it in three separate trips to make the going easier.  When I see these snows cover the drive, I always remember the words of my godfather when he was asked if he was going to clean the snow off the driveway.  "God put it there, let God take it away". 

If it didn't hamper my getting to the mailbox, I'd take his advice and wait till Spring.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A controversy in search of an issue

A while back I stopped watching Township Board meetings.  I do not read the minutes.  I assume not much is happening since no one has sent an email or called to tell me I need to pay attention.  My life is bliss - up until I read the newspaper.

So, last week when I read the story of a 'controversy' about closed session minutes, I figured I must have skimmed it too fast and missed what the issue was and why there was a problem.  I supposed that something had happened at a Board meeting.

I went on with my business for the week remembering my own twenty-year experience on the Board.  Simply put, you vote to go into closed session, you discuss and leave.  You can take no votes and make no motions in the session.  What is discussed is protected information, either because it involves negotiations or a lawsuit.  There would be nothing to approve in the way of minutes, other than who was in the room and what the issue was.  And that information already appears in the general session minutes.

After reading today's newspaper, including the letter to the editor, I had an 'AHA' moment.  I figure that someone (or some two) has an issue with the clerk and likely called the paper to stir things up.  The very call would be evidence of her incompetence.  (Rumor has it that they have already lined up a new candidate for clerk in 2012.)

A recent serviceman to my home, not realizing who I was in my previous life, informed me that 'this new Board is worse than the last bunch.'  Amen to that. 

So, pray tell, just what is the problem here?

Doing the Math

A story problem:

There are 12 Republicans and 12 Democrats on a committee.

The Democrats make amendments to a contract before a vote. 

Twenty-one people vote on the contract.

The vote is 19-2, not to pass the contract.

Why is it the Republicans fault that it didn't pass?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Holiday Food

I am sure we all get many forwarded emails, usually humorous stories or cartoons, all year long.  This year is no exception.  I received seven yesterday alone.  Here is one that I had not seen before.  I will be cooking and eating this holiday season and thought I would pass this along, with thanks to whomever authored it.

GOOD HOLIDAY EATING HABITS

1. Avoid carrot sticks. Anyone who puts carrots on a holiday buffet table knows nothing of the Christmas spirit. In fact, if you see carrots, leave immediately. Go next door, where they're serving rum balls.

2. Drink as much eggnog as you can. And quickly. it's rare. You can't find it any other time of year but now. So drink up! Who cares that it has 10,000 calories in every sip? It's not as if you're going to turn into an eggnog-alcoholic or something. It's a treat. Enjoy it. Have one for me. Have two. It's later than you think. It's Christmas!

3. If something comes with gravy, use it. That's the whole point of gravy. Gravy does not stand alone. Pour it on. Make a volcano out of your mashed potatoes. Fill it with gravy. Eat the volcano. Repeat.

4. As for mashed potatoes, always ask if they're made with skim milk or whole milk. If it's skim, pass. Why bother? It's like buying a sports car with an automatic transmission.

5. Do not have a snack before going to a party in an effort to control your eating. The whole point of going to a Christmas party is to eat other people's food for free. Lots of it. Hello?

6. Under no circumstances should you exercise between now and New Year's. You can do that in January when you have nothing else to do. This is the time for long naps, which you'll need after circling the buffet table while carrying a 10-pound plate of food and that vat of eggnog.

7. If you come across something really good at a buffet table, like frosted Christmas cookies in the shape and size of Santa, position yourself near them and don't budge. Have as many as you can before becoming the center of attention. They're like a beautiful pair of shoes. If you leave them behind, you're never going to see them again.

8. Same for pies...Apple, Pumpkin, Mincemeat. Have a slice of each. Or if you don't like mincemeat, have two apples and one pumpkin. Always have three. When else do you get to have more than one dessert? Labor Day?

9. Did someone mention fruitcake? Granted, it's loaded with the mandatory celebratory calories, but avoid it at all cost. I mean, have some standards.

10. One final tip: If you don't feel terrible when you leave the party or get up from the table, you haven't been paying attention. Re-read tips; start over, but hurry, January is just around the corner.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Biting the Bullet

Since June of this year, I have been chairing a Michigan Government Finance Officers Fiscal Stress Committee. Working with the Senate Fiscal Agency (SFA) we have been looking at debt obligations in communities around the state.  Since the SFA has yet to issue the report, I'll leave out any specifics, but talk in generalities of what I have seen and discovered in the process of data gathering.

We looked at delinquent taxes around the State.  The data was relatively easy to get from Counties we questioned and revealed some interesting facts about increasing delinquency around the state.  The Oakland Press has been printing the Oakland County foreclosures with its paper.  That section will probably be even larger next year.

We also wanted to examine the taxing capacity of local units.  Was the local community levying its full allowable millage?  Unfortunately, they is no electronic data base available to get the information. 

Was the community levying the Property Tax Administration Fee?  That fee is allowed by the State to cover the cost of assessing property and collecting taxes.  Again, that information is not readily available.  Both of these issues are part of the political will of the officials.  Are they willing to make the tough choice of instituting or increasing a levy?

Pick up the Oakland Press over the last few weeks and there are stories of communities having a hard time balancing their budgets.  Having being a previous Township Official, I have had some experience on the issue.

Back in the early 1990's, West Bloomfield's Board decided to lower the millage they were levying.  I and the Supervisor at the time opposed the reduction.  We argued that there were legacy costs (retiree health care) and outstanding bonds for which the Township could use the cash.  Well, we were in the minority.  After all, 1992 was an election year and members wanted to brag that they lowered taxes.

I got a lot of very nasty phone calls.  The fact that the average homeowner savings was less than the cost of a 'happy meal' made no difference.  One angry woman called to tell me I was forcing her out of her home.

As the years went by and the Township considered the annual levy, the lower rate stayed in place.  After 911, with the stock market imploding and values of pension accounts dropping, the Board still took no action.  And then the economy really tanked with housing values and investment earnings plummeting.

And so as we move into 2011, communities struggle to make ends meet.  Have they cut all they could?  Have they 'bitten the bullet' and levied what is necessary to be fiscally responsible?  The extra half-mil levy on my property would cost me $4.00.  I do not know what the current Township tax-base is, so I do not know what the increase would generate, but I am guessing it would be over $150,000.  And the tax administration fee would easily generate over $500,000.

Elected officials, in every community, need to be the ones making the hard decisions.  That is what they are elected to do.  To pass it off on the voters, who may reject the idea of an increase as we have already seen in some communities, is irresponsible on their part.  Besides, by the time the voters decide to reject the idea, the community may be headed for a State takeover.  And that is of no benefit to the homeowner.

The goal of any public official should not be to get re-elected, but to leave their community, State, or Country, in better shape than when they arrived.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Winter

I hate winter.  I really hate winter.  The days are too short, even though they start to get longer on December 21.  The days are too cold and the nights are even colder.  Getting the newspapers and mail from the box at the street require bundling up like I'm going to the North Pole.  Not to mention the ice that will form on the driveway.

Winter has two colors.  Brown and dirty white.  And did I mention that the white stuff that turns dirty white is cold?

Years ago when I worked at the hospital a bunch of friends were planning a ski weekend.  I noticed that one of the regulars in the ski group was not participating in the plans.  I asked her why she wasn't going and she explained that after 20 years she had finally realized that she hated cold weather and why in tarnation had she ever gone skiing in the first place?  Aha!  I had figured that out before ever learning to ski.

I remember an ice skating Saturday when I was in High School.  Our phys ed teacher lived on the Detroit River.  She invited a bunch of us to her house to ice skate.  I went along, but  still remember the cold wind blowing and how much I did not enjoy the day. 

Not that I always hated everything to do with winter.  A cousin of mine lived in East Detroit north of Nine Mile Road.  The I-94 expressway was being constructed and the area had been dug down to lower the grade of the road.  We grabbed our sleds and went sledding down the embankment.  That was fun.

But now I find that if I didn't like winter before, every year I like it less and less.  Cold dreary days, snow, ice, snow.  Did I mention cold?  And snow?  Yuck!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Remember When...

I had a very long day in East Lansing on Friday.  While driving home in the late Friday afternoon traffic, my mind somehow wandered to my old phone number.  Back when I was growing up in the 50's.  Go figure.  It got me thinking about how my life growing up was so different from what it is like today.  So, here is a simple 'remember when' from my youth:

Remember when...

Everyone's phone number began with a name - Prescott, Slocum, Lakeview, Venice, Toledo, etc.  Even when I moved to West Bloomfield in 1972 I had a 'Mayfair' exchange.

Everyone you knew who had a phone had a party line.  Only folks who were wealthy could afford a private phone line.

Answering machines were non-existent.  No messages were left and you had no idea who called while you were gone.

No one had to remember a 'zip code'.  And mail came twice a day during the holidays. 

The local dry cleaner picked up and delivered your clothes to your home.  

The Twin Pines milkman delivered milk in glass bottles, which we rinsed and gave back to him.  Hey, we were recycling before it was fashionable.

And the coal company and ice truck also made home delivery if it was needed.

There was a fruit and vegetable man who came down the street with his cart, not just the 'Good Humor' man.

We were not allowed to play outside and run in the sprinkler hose in the hot summer, lest we catch polio.

Speaking of summer, we left the house in the morning and played with our friends all day making sure we were home when the street lights came on.  We ate at whichever house we were at.

During the holidays, we went downtown to the JL Hudson Company to see the decorated store windows and visit the 12th floor with myriad decorations.  We rode up on an elevator manned, or womaned, by elevator operators.

The best pizza was found at the local bowling alleys and small Italian bakeries.  I still remember when Little Caesars became popular in the 60's.  Who knew.

All of these thoughts ran through my head as I made my way home.  I am sure if you start thinking about it, you too can come up with many 'somewhat trivial' things that have changed.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Extending the Rule

Anyone who has rad this blog from the beginning may remember me talking bout my '50 page rule'.  That is the one where if I am not into a book by page 50, I stop reading it.

Well, I am returning my latest endeavor to the library. "Fall of Giants".  Having made it to page 386 out of more than 1,000, I am done.  Why so long?  Well, it is not that it isn't interesting, it is just that it is not compelling enough to continue. 

World War I has started.  Finally.  I already know how that turns out.  As for the characters, I have only found one that catches my interest and she has little of a role in the story at this point. 

If I wanted to know all about the political and war strategies, I would read a good non-fiction book on the subject.  If I want to read about the Russians, I'll read Tolstoy. 

The next book in the series is supposed to deal with World War II.  With the same characters, I can probably pick it up and not miss a thing.

While the novel has received fairly good reviews, I will set it aside and move on.  It's already way past my rule.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Looking at the World with Blinders On

Hamtramck, Royal Oak Township, Pontiac.  I could go on and on.  What will it take for our state to realize that they can no longer function with so many separate communities trying to provide their own services?

Yesterday's Detroit Free Press had an editorial called 'It's Crunch Time'.  No, they were not talking about your morning cereal.  They were talking about how we operate as a state with reduced incomes.

I do not believe we should be waiting for a community to be run by an Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) before making changes.  It's too late by then and takes too long to fix the problem.  We need to start changing before the EFM is called in and the community is placed on 'life support'.  If one of these communities actually is allowed to file for bankruptcy, the entire state will be affected.

I hope that someone in the new administration dusts off the report to Jennifer Granholm on Fiscal Services.  It is dated 2006.  Among the suggestions was to move assessing functions to the county level.  Makes a lot of sense to me. 

And while we are at it, let's move tax collection and elections there as well.  We are no longer living in the nineteenth century, but we still operate as though we do.  (Hello, Michigan Townships Association (MTA).  Get with the new century!) 

Why should the local tax collector collect the tax, then pay the county and each individual school district, and then the county pays the state, and then the local settles with the county, who then collects delinquent taxes?  In other states, all taxes are collected and distributed at the county level. And despite what the MTA says, it is not really so cool to drop your taxes off at the local tax collector's home and then sit and have a cup of coffee, as may be done in the small rural townships. They have the US mail service there too.
If we can't get rid of these 1,242 township governments, the let's change the laws regarding who does what.  I have long said and even testified in Lansing that we need to get rid of townships, so this is nothing new for me. 

Michigan can start rethinking about how it does the business of the state, or it can continue its decline.  Those rose-colored glasses are turning into blinders and we need to make some changes.  And soon.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

One Man's and/or Woman's Opinion

Last week I had lunch with a friend who follows my blog.  We were discussing the Oakland Press paper and she asked me what I knew about the editorial page selections.  Specifically, she wondered about the letters to the editor and guest opinions.

Well, I am the wrong person to ask.  I am not the editor, but I have asked the same question of editors in the past.  I remember calling an editor and asking him how they decided which letters to print.  I was told that they printed almost everything they got, within reason, since some folks would write all the time.  I was also told that the fact that they printed a letter did not mean they agreed with it.

I found my friend's inquiry rather pertinent when I saw an editorial last week about culling deer.  Anyone who reads my blogs knows how tired I am of the destruction they have caused in my yard. But the majority of letters to the editor seem to be from nature lovers who would likely abandon Michigan to allow all the wildlife to take over.  The editorial pointed out the errors of their thinking and supported the control of deer.

There are certain syndicated writers on the op/ed page  that I always read and others I only read when I want a good laugh at their inanity.  Likewise with folks who write 'guest opinions'.  I am sure that the paper cannot agree with everyone who writes in, but they provide the opportunity to folks to have their say.

One just has to hope that at some point the editors form an opinion and write an editorial so we see where they stand on the issues.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Black Friday

For all intents and purposes, I am likely done with holiday shopping.  That is because I buy things all year long as I see them and put them away.  (Regarding the previous post, I have also forgotten about gifts I have purchased and find them many months, or years, later.)  I have all of this year's 'stuff' right now in a spare bedroom.

So, I will not be hitting the stores on Friday.  To tell the truth, I have never shopped on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  Last Tuesday I went to Macy's to pick up something and they were having an early bird sale.  I am sure the 'early bird' was trampled to death by all the shoppers.  I ended up leaving because the lines were too long at the registers.

What I would like to know is who in the world is going shopping at Kohl's at 3:00 in the morning?  I guess if you work midnights this is great.  For those of us who normally sleep during the night, I'll be dreaming about shopping.  Maybe.  Probably not.

Update:  This came in an email today from Chico's.  My kind of day.

Finally, a Menu

After several weeks of debating with myself and searching through recipes, I have finally published my Thanksgiving menu.  Yes, published.  I print out a menu for everyone to see.  While this may sound strange, I have a very good reason for doing so.

During the thirty-eight years I have lived in my home, I have cooked a LOT of holiday meals.  I have served a LOT of food at parties, too.  I have also NOT served food.  This is because I would forget it in the fridge or even on the stove. 

So, the printed menu serves as reminder to at least look for the food on the list.  I am sure my forgetfulness will only get worse.  Looking for a vase for the potpourri I purchased today, I found instead my candle vases from last Thanksgiving.  I had forgotten about them.  The vase I was looking for?  Who knows.  And I can't find the table runner I wanted to use.  This all comes from having too much 'stuff'.  Both in my house and in my brain.  System overload.

So, for those who are interested, here is the menu:

Brie en croute, Fig jam, Sliced apples

Sparkling Pomegranate Juice


Chestnut Soup


Salt-Roasted Turkey w Giblet Gravy

Mashed Golden Potatoes

Roasted Butternut Squash

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts w Shallots & Bacon

Spinach Salad w Pears, Walnuts, Goat Cheese - Raspberry Vinaigrette

Brandied Cranberry Chutney

Cranberry Walnut Cornmeal Bread


Chocolate Raspberry Chambord Torte

Coffee and Assorted Teas

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Seems We've been Here Before

Back on June 21 I blogged about my experience at the airport.  I only mentioned that I had the 'full body' search.  I did not go into details. 

Well, have we all now read about the complaints?  I, for one, whole-heartedly agree with the complainers.  If a complete stranger did this to you in any place other than the airport, you would be yelling for the police.  Lot of good that will do you here.

So, let me say that the experience was disgusting.  Did the TSA agent think there was something other than breast tissue in my bra?  What was she expecting to find in my crotch area?   All because zippers on my cargo pants set off the alarm. 

As I said then and say now, do I look that dangerous?  If this is the best our TSA can do, I'll take the train next time.

Update:  Check this out:  http://www.smartertravel.com/blogs/today-in-travel/ways-to-fix-the-pat-down-problem.html?id=6271146&source=dealalert&value=2010-11-25+00%3A00%3A00&u=36C228E284

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Talk about some heavy reading

When I use the term 'heavy reading', I usually am referring to non-fiction books about theories on some financial or economic matter.  But in this instance I am talking about the latest book I am reading, 'Fall of Giants'.  The book is over 1,000 pages and weighs over three pounds.  It is the first book in the century trilogy by Ken Follett.  Now, I certainly hope that it does not take the author another 20 years to finish this trilogy. 

Mr. Follett, who is one of my favorite authors, wrote 'Pillars of the Earth' in 1989.  The sequel, 'World Without End' was published in 2007.  My friends and I were asking each other what we remembered.  Heck, at our ages, it's remarkable that we even remembered the title.

So, I am a little over 10% of the way through this first book.  Heaven help me if I drop it on my foot.

Food, food, food

The last ten days have been like a food fiesta.  Three classes at Schoolcraft, two work days at the hospital pastry kitchen and one demonstration and chocolate tasting.  Add to that my prepping for Thanksgiving and, as I said, it's been 'food, food, food.'

I think my menu for next Thursday is finally set.  I have had a last minute change in dessert.  So 'last minute' that it occurred this afternoon.  That resulted from my 'French torte' class that I had today.  We made an absolutely exquisite Chocolate Raspberry Chambord Torte.  We made and then assembled chocolate chiffon cake, lady fingers, chocolate raspberry mousse, and chambord syrup into a 10-inch confection. 

Now, while I am pretty sure I could have come home from class and made decent headway into eating the entire thing (and then passing out), I decided to freeze it for the holiday.  So, no pumpkin cheesecake bars and no apple cranberry cake.  And no slaving over a hot oven on Wednesday.

I also did not have to cook dinner tonight.  I had plenty of leftover food from last night's class.  So, tonight for dinner I had a stuffed cabbage, slice of lamb, potato boulangere, and some sausage and sauerkraut.  We made the sauerkraut in class several weeks ago.  Tomorrow I can eat the rest of my leftovers, consisting of hunter's style chicken stew and shrimp and sausage jambalaya.

Last weekend I had leftover chicken curry and basmati rice with naan bread that we made in class.  While I have never been a fan of curried foods, this was delicious, and not just because it happened to be the dish I prepared in class.  It is definitely something I will make again.

So now I am on to reviewing the upcoming class schedule for next semester.  So many foods, so little time.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Sobering Experience

This past Saturday was the Gleaners Food Bank 'Scouting for Food' event.  When my sons were active in the Boy Scouts, I drove around dropping off bags at homes one Saturday and picking them up filled with food on the following.  At least once a year, postal workers also drop off bags to be filled with food.

On Saturday morning I placed my bag of food on the front porch and then forgot about it.  It always gets picked up.  So, I was rather surprised to see it still sitting there on Sunday morning.

The bag said that if pick-up was not made, to call Gleaners.  I did exactly that this morning.  I got a recorded message that directed me to their website:  http://www.gcfb.org/.  Once there I went to http://www.pantrynet.org/ to find a local food pantry where I could drop off the donation.

I discovered a place called Hospitality House  in Walled Lake.  I called and discovered that they were open today, so I put the bag in my car and drove over.

I have donated to Lighthouse, Salvation Army, Open Door, veterans groups, but I have never actually gone inside a food pantry.  My heart dropped when I opened the door and saw the room full of people.  Young and old.  It was literally 'standing room only'.  Suddenly, my donation had a face.  Many faces.

Making online donations and giving away our used goods or canned food is very impersonal.  Seeing all of these people waiting to get food, was a very sobering experience.  My understanding is that the response to Saturday's food drive was overwhelming.  But it is not too late to donate whatever you can.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Go Figure

I have started to plan my Thanksgiving dinner.  After 30 some years of cooking, I stopped making the old stand-bys and have tried new material.  The only stumbling block I had this year was on deciding what green vegetable to make.

I sent out an email to family members asking them to rank five choices in order of preference.  I was very surprised by the results.  Placing 'dead last' was broccoli.  And I mean DEAD last.  The voting was so lopsided I will likely never serve this to my family again.  One voter said he could move it to first place only if it was in a bowl swimming in melted cheese.

Next on the 'do not eat' list was green beans.  And I must have a gazillion different recipes for making them.  They're so easy to fix too.  Oh well.

In third place, smack dab in the middle, is Brussel sprouts.  That will be on the table since there is a tie for first.  I'll get to that solution in a minute.

For the Brussel sprouts I am going to carmelize them in the oven along with shallots and pancetta.  The oven will be on anyway for Mr. Turkey so they can share space.

In first place, in a tie, are Spinach and green salad.  So, to accommodate that situation I will do a spinach salad.  I'm still debating on the composition of same, but I've got time.

Maybe the results of the vote are just a reflection that green vegetables don't top anyone's list of favorite Thanksgiving foods.  And I sure hope no one wants stuffing or pumpkin pie, cause they are not on the list this year.  More on the menu later.

Friday, November 5, 2010

An Oxymoron?

Title of an email I received today from one the the baking companies I follow: 

 Secrets to successful fruitcake

I am sure some folks think that no matter what you do it will not be successful.

Live Long and Prosper

I am doing a NYT crossword yesterday and the first clue is 'Sci-fi role started in 1966'.  Well, I hate TV and pop music trivia because I don't store much of that knowledge upstairs.  But, the down clue for the first letter was year in which Michelangelo began work on 'David'.  Aha.  Must be 'MD something'. (MDI)

So.  A character strating with 'M'.  Wheels start spinning.  I was in college in '66, so not watching much TV.  But 'Mr. Spock' jumped into my head.  I have seen all the 'Star Trek' movies and have seen enough of the series over the years to make an imprint in the old noggin. 

And then I thought, WOW.  Not only did Leonard Nimoy start playing Spock in 1966, he played Spock Prime in the latest movie in 2009.  (In that same period of time, actually 1963-2008, we've had six different actors protray James Bond.)

Is there any other TV and movie role that has gone on for so long with the same actor?  I couldn't think of any, but if you know of one, let me know.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What a Ride

It has been a hectic nine days since I last wrote this blog.  I've had trips to Ann Arbor and Lansing for meetings, fulfilled two of my volunteer jobs, worked a poll for the election of a successful candidate, made a trip to the emergency room with chest pains, and survived another power outage.  Along with just running my normal errands and keeping my house and yard in shape for winter.  No wonder I had no time to write.

During this past week, two gentlemen who I've known and had dealings with on government committees told me they were retiring at the end of the year.  I have great respect for both men and their wealth of knowledge when it comes to government.  Taking their knowledge with them to retirement will leave a void both at the company for one and in State government for the other.  (I also know two other long-term State employees leaving at the end of the year.  Can you spell BRAIN DRAIN?)

In conversations with them over the past few years, both have mentioned at one time or another that they do not know what they will do in retirement.  Do?  I could give them some of my list of items.  I have a longer to-do list now than I had when I was working full-time.

Maybe it is because I am home that I see more things to take care of, but I doubt it.  There is also the 'fun factor' of things to accomplish while I am still able.  Places to travel to on my 'must-see' list.  And there are the culinary classes at Schoolcraft in the continuing ed program.  This semester it is a Friday night series on various food preparation techniques and in a few weeks a class on making French tortes.  A classmate suggested last week that I enroll in the full-time program.  Right.  Who has the time?

Besides, I have finally reached the point in life where I can sit down and read a book or watch a movie without feeling the overwhelming need to get up an do something productive.  And when you reach that point, retirement becomes a real treasure to enjoy.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Assessing Fiscal Stress

Since May of this year, I have been busy working on the elements of fiscal stress in the State of Michigan.  Back then I met with Eric Scorsone of the Senate Fiscal Agency along with Tim Soave, Fiscal Services Director for Oakland County and the Executive Director of the Michigan Government Finance Officers Association (MGFOA), Colleen Coogan.  As a result of that meeting, we approached the Board of Directors of the MGFOA and asked them to appoint a committee to look at the issue of fiscal stress in Michigan communities.  They did so and I was appointed as the Chairperson.

This afternoon our committee will meet to review all of our work.  Actually, most of the data gathering and assembling in presentation form was done by Colleen, with help from Nicole Bateson.  And I couldn't thank either of them enough.  Tomorrow is the presentation to the Senate Fiscal Agency.  We have received some publicity on our work and I am sure more will follow when the report is made public.

What has proved very interesting to me during this is the number of local officials who seem a little clueless about simple questions.  Do I really need to explain what I mean about someone being a 'degreed accountant'?  The answer is 'yes'. 

Looking at today's newspapers, one cannot help but notice the number of people running for election.  What a thought if each and everyone one of them are eminently qualified for the jobs they are running for.  Not always the case.  And because of that, we sometimes elect folks not quite up to the task of keeping our communities financially strong.  Here's to making better choices on election day.

Out for a stroll

Last Wednesday I left my home to head over to the library to pick up a book.  As I started down the road, what do I see but a coyote out for a brisk walk at two in the afternoon. 

I should mention that one of my big gripes when I was on the board of trustees was the levy of the safety path millage.  The ballot issue only passed by two voters and I felt then, and still do now, that it should not have been levied without a very good majority.  Furthermore, there is very little traffic on any of these paths considering the number of residents we have.  And they are darned expensive to construct.

So, back to the coyote who obviously was using the path for its intended purpose.  Hey, no risk of a motorist hitting him.

I have seen them before in the Township.  One was standing and howling on my deck one night, apparently letting others know that this was his territory.  No argument from me as he has killed several small annoying rodents and the like.

So, Mr. Coyote is hiking down the road.  I thought I would grab a pic with my cell phone so I turned around and went back to where he was walking.  I pulled into a subdivision and he and I made eye contact through the window.   He just stood there glaring at me rather curiously.  He was unbelievably mangy and looked like he had not eaten in awhile.

Unfortunately, I had run out of the house and left the phone on the counter, so no pic.  But I found this on the web and it is very similar to what I saw, though this guy looks much healthier. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wearing a bag over your head

Many, many moons ago, a fellow board member said to me that they felt like bringing a paper bag to board meetings so that they could just put it over their head when the craziness started.  And they did not mean so they could hyper-ventilate.  Think embarrassment.

I thought about the comment this week after a resident said to me that pretty soon West Bloomfield will have to change its name.  They said there is so much bad publicity that no one will want to move here.  I asked if they felt we were in the position of the former East Detroit, now Eastpointe, and they said 'yes'.

The subdivision to my south had so much bad publicity over shoddy construction in the late 70's, that they indeed changed their name.

As I thought back about this I remembered that several years ago West Bloomfield was assigned three different zip codes: 48322, 48323, and 48324.  When the date was entered into the tax base files, we had people using Orchard Lake and Union Lake designations with the new zip codes.  I had my staff go into the database and change everyone to 'West Bloomfield'.

When the next round of tax bills were sent, OMG.    Let the phones ring off the hook.  I never heard from so many angry people informing me that they did not live in West Bloomfield.  And no amount of explaining could convince them otherwise.  I told them that they could use whatever address they wanted as long as their mail was delivered, but for our purposes, we were using 'West Bloomfield'.

I also remember my former secretary coming back from the front counter and telling me of a conversation she had with a home buyer.  They wanted to be sure that the house they were purchasing was really in Orchard Lake with West Bloomfield Schools and not IN West Bloomfield.  It was.

This latest round of controversy hits home every time I am out in public.  Just this past week while having lunch, someone walked over to my table and said 'Hey, who is being sued now?'  He said everyone is suing everyone else and that West Bloomfield is a joke.  Other diners over-hearing the question nodded in agreement. 

Unfortunately, for those of us who have homes to sell and those who continue to live here, it is no laughing matter.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Times Change

It stands to reason that having spent a good chuck of my life in public service, I have many friends who are also retired from the profession.  This past week brought to mind just how much we have to subdue our personal opinions when we are in the service of the public.  There, we are required to follow legislation, even when we do not agree with it.

Two cases arose.  The first generated by the letter writer in a previous post that prompted the comment that there is too much government regulation of everything.  Can you spell TEA PARTY? 

The second from someone who was upset that a neighbor who was making improvements in their landscaping was stopped by the local community for failure to obtain a wetland permit.  Seems they were too close to a wetland area to be allowed to just plant a tree.  They asked why government thought that regulation of everything was so important.  Was it really necessary?

Governments will tell you that they do everything to protect the public health, safety, and welfare.  That was the excuse West Bloomfield used to force everyone to use one trash hauler.  I was not aware there was a problem.  If there was, they should have dealt with the individuals involved, not forced their choice on everyone else.

The public is told that government is only looking out for their best interests.  Well, when government is seemingly trampling over our individual freedoms, who protects us from them?  Do we call the ACLU everytime these things happen?

I've had more than one retired public servant echo these thoughts to me.  As I said, can you spell TEA PARTY?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cross Words

I've mentioned before that I enjoy the New York Times Crossword puzzles.  The Sunday puzzles usually have some clever cluing and answering.  Today was no exception.  Actually, I was doing the syndicated puzzle from October 10.  I enjoyed it and was curious to see what Rex Parker had said about it.

OMG.  I could not believe his reaction.  And those of others. 

The theme was 'Driver's Translations'.  I have seen these drivers around town.  Their interpretation of a STOP sign is 'coast right through'.  I have long said that in West Bloomfield, STOP is just a suggestion.  And don't even bet that someone will YIELD.

The theme seemed all the more appropriate after the article in the Oakland Press about how wonderful the roundabouts are.  Right.  I guess if you enjoy driving and having someone pull out right in front of you without looking, thereby enabling you to test your braking ability, then they are wonderful. 

Anyway, the other theme 'CLUES' and 'answers' geared toward the driver without a clue are:

NO THRU TRAFFIC:  Good shortcut
STAY IN LANE:  Ignore this sign
NO STOPPING OR STANDING:  Leave if you see a cop
SPEED LIMIT 65 MPH:  Keep it under eighty

And if you have never encountered the driver who interprets signs this way, count yourself blessed.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Do You XM?

I do not drive my car a lot.  When I do, I usually listen to classical music on XM radio.  But that will likely come to an end next winter when my paid subscription runs out.  Dealing with XM has been a nightmare from day one.

The latest incident was with a bill I received yesterday.  In September I renewed for five months and received a bill due on October 10.  I paid the bill and the check was cashed on October 4.  The bill I received yesterday showed a past due amount and another invoice fee of $2.00.  What?  I already paid.

I spent over 45 minutes on the phone with them this morning talking to three different people, one of whom only spoke Spanish.  I obviously got transferred off to someone who would have no clue what I was talking about.

The explanation was this.  Because they had to rebill me (for the payment I already made BEFORE the due date), the invoice fee was due.  BUT, they would kindly 'waive' it this time. 

So, let me get this straight.  I paid the bill by the due date.  The company cashed the check.  They rebilled me before the original due date and, therefore, generated another fee.  Hey, why not just send a bill every day?

The sad part is that the people you talk to have no clue what you are trying to explain to them.  They also seem to have no superiors available to speak to.  It is no wonder so many people I know just let the free subscription they get with their new cars expire, even when they enjoyed the music.  It saves a lot of grief.

Well, next road trip I'll just pack the CDs.

Click here to read about others' experiences with XM

World Wide Blogging

After a letter to the editor appeared in yesterday's Oakland Press from a disgruntled resident in West Bloomfield, someone asked my why don't people just deal with the township directly.  I replied that that the person was already upset from dealing with them and now wanted to let others in Oakland County and elsewhere know of their experience.  The newspaper is effective.  The internet blogs are even more effective.

In the last 24 hours, folks in the Phillipines, Germany, Denmark, Hong Kong and Slovenia have read my blog.  (I am guessing it was someone in Hong Kong who suggested I buy white flower embrocation oil for my arthritis.  Actually, I've tried products with menthol, but can't tolerate the smell.) 

I have a good following in the Netherlands, second only to the USA.  Go figure.  And Canada and Brazil.

The response I got from the initial inquiry regarding the letter was that now everyone in the world will know about West Bloomfield, good and bad.  Well, word gets around.  This morning the Detroit News ran an article about the homeless moving to Ann Arbor and setting up tent camps.  Word of the accommodations and social services there travels by 'word of mouth'.  Imagine if these homeless had the internet and a blog.

Like it or not, our world is not what it was when we were growing up in the 50's.  It is all interconnected with other countries on some level.  But that is the future subject of another post.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Just Call Me Doctor?

So, I leave my volunteer job today and check my messages on the phone.  The first message starts with, 'Hello, Dr. Hammond'.  Wow, volunteer at Henry Ford Hospital and receive immediate doctoral status.

So, rather than hit the number 7 to delete, I listen to the entire message.

Seems that I have been chosen as a 'Champion of Medicine' by none other than Newt Gingrich.  Really?  I knew I was spending way to much time at the doctor's offices.  (See previous post) 

Anyway, if I just call Ashley, I can join Newt in Washington, D.C. on election night at a reception honoring me. 

So, as soon as I got in the door I booted up the computer and hopped on the internet to do a google search.  I found an article that tells me the honor will only cost me $5,000.  Gee, such a deal.  Who thinks up this stuff?  And how did they find me?

Not for Sissies

I have a friend who always says that 'getting old is not for sissies'.  Well, she sure is right about that.

I have been dealing with a shoulder injury for the last 17 months.  I have been through physical therapy, neuro-muscular therapy, steroid treatment for inflammation and two cortisone injections in different areas of the joint.  I have gone through bags of peas that I use to ice the shoulder, sometimes four and even six times a day. 

There are times when I don't feel any pain at all.  Usually when I am sleeeping or doing nothing with the arm.  But start using it and the pain returns.  What I have discovered, is that while I am right-handed, I do a lot of things with my left hand and arm.  I actually have more strength in my left arm than my right.  And pulling open doors with the left arm can be excrutiating at times.

All of which brings me to the issue of arthritis as we age.  I envy folks I meet who have no problems with this.  Mine first showed up in my cervical vertebrae over 15 years ago.  Physical therapy for this was refreshing as I received weekly neck massages.  OOOOOOHHHHHH.  Very nice.

Then there was the lower back, which made gardening difficult.  Then the right foot, which impacted my daily walks.  I've been told that arthritis will likely develop in the left foot and ankle, exacerbated by the tri-maleolar fracture I suffered in 2007.

So it is with the shoulder.  I irritated it while cutting down some overgrown  bushes in my yard.  Arthritis has set in.  Being unable to take NSAIDS, which irritate my stomach and make me physically ill, I have had to suffer through the discomfort, relying on acetaminophen and those bags of peas. 

No, this is not for sissies.  But as someone else has said, 'it beats waking up on the wrong side of the grass'.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Doing the Job You are Paid to Do

One of the things that angers me most is seeing public employees earn a good salary and then not doing the job they are expected to do.  Or the ones who do a job other than what they are trained for and expected to do, while receiving all the benefits.

I'll start with elected officials who have full-time salaries.  Let's all agree that one needs no training or expertise to run for most elected positions.  So, faced with two unqualified candidates, the electorate is likely to lose either way.  Faced with one qualified and one non-qualified candidate, they are free to choose whomever and live with the result.  Either way, the pay is the same.  Some officials figure once they are elected, how much and how often they work is their decision, and despite being adequately compensated for a full-time job, they make it a part-time hobby. 

The electorate often never knows how much of the daily work an official actually does.  Perhaps they do their appointed duties, but often it is parcelled out to subordinates.  Not much we can do about that except 'vote the bums out of office' in the next election.

But, there is another area where employees do a job they are not professionally trained to do, but do it and collect salary and benefits of the more dangerous job.

First, let me say that I believe Public Safety is crucial to any successful community.  But, we should have our public safety employees performing that job.

When I worked for the Township, I never agreed with having a trained law enforcement officer or fireman doing the budget.  IMO, budgets should be executed by trained financial professionals.  When I attended the Advanced Government Finance Institute at the University of Wisconsin, I met someone who was the Finance Director for a large metropolitan Public Safety unit in another state.  We, as finance professionals, were happy to see that this city hired someone who understood the intricacies of budgeting and kept their officers in public safety positions. 

Let's face it:  Why should local citizens pay a police or fire officer a public safety salary and public safety benefits, only to have that person sitting at a desk doing budgeting?  Do they really need to retire at 52?  Granted that budgeting can be stressful, but I would hope that police work and fighting fires is more so. 

With a new Police Chief in West Bloomfield, maybe we can eliminate a police officer doing budgets (and whatever other non-police work jobs that officers are doing) and hire someone at a salary and benefits commensurate with a finance job.  Yes, that trained person may have a higher annual salary, but their benefits would be less, especially in the retirement cost. 

We as residents want to see our officers on the street.  If we are truly only hiring the most-qualified officers out there, then let's use their skills on the streets, not on the desks.  Unfortunately, some of our public officials seem hung-up on having a police chief who knows how to do a budget.  Fortunately, the majority realized that is not the skill that is necessary to run a successful police department.

Restructure the department.  Put our officers on the street.  I might just support a millage increase if I see that happening.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Eating My Words

When I started this blog earlier this year, I said I was not going to get involved in political issues.  Oh, well.   How can I stay away from this when it is all around me?

Some friends have suggested that I write two blogs.  One about my life in retirement and one about the crazy political 'stuff'.  They obviously think I have all the time in the world.  Not true.

I have other things to keep me busy. Like playing Freecell on the computer.  My winning streak is over 400 games and I have no intention of losing a game.  (There is at least one unsolvable game and I've got its number.)

There is getting the yard ready for winter.  Right after this beautiful spell of warm weather ends.

There is getting my bathroom back together after the contractor leaves.  And then moving on to painting the family room.  And cleaning the basement.  Well, come to think of it, blogging would be more fun.

Anyway, I will be writing more about local politics over the next two years.  We need some changes in West Bloomfield.  We need them now, but I do not see the minority dissidents giving us a break.  And after 20 years of being involved in politics and the fact that I still serve on State level committees dealing with local finance, I believe I have some insight.  IMVHO.  lol

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

This could give you an ulcer

At nine o'clock this morning I logged on my computer and starting looking at the Township Board meeting of Monday night.  I am sitting here waiting for them to swear in the new Police Chief. 

The meeting ran 208 minutes.  I have now watched for 334 minutes. 

I have to just stop and walk away.  Were we this bad?  If so, it must be why I decided to leave. 

OMG, I find I cannot listen to the Supervisor pontificate.  I am sick of hearing her say she does everything by the book.  It must be some comic book about evil forces. 

At least when they got to the end, they swore in the right man as Chief. Now these  folks need to drop their lawsuit and move forward.  I for one am truly sick of it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Home, Sweet Home

In a few minutes another episode in the continuing drama known as the West Bloomfield Township Board Meeting will begin.  I will not be in attendance, nor will I be watching on TV.  On the advice of several friends, I am trying to maintain my sanity.  Now this is despite a call I received telling me that a certain person said I would be in attendance.  I have no idea why they thought that since I never speak to them, not do I know anyone in their circle, but whatever.  I will not be a presence.

I keep thinking they can't get any worse (for clarification, the culprits here are Economou-Ureste, Weingarden, and Kaplan, hereafter referred to as UWK, pronounced Ugh).  But now we have UWK suing the other Board members. 

So, if I understand UWK correctly, the Supervisor serves as all supreme ruler of West Bloomfield and the Board only votes to confirm what she wants to do.  I believe that in Washington and Russia they call these people Czars.  And we know what happened to the Romanovs.

One wonders why we would even have board meetings to vote on township employee matters if the supervisor is the only one who can make hiring and firing decisions, negotiate contracts and set policy.  I guess the boards I sat on for over twenty years were doing everything wrong.

I remember that when the police chief was appointed 20 years ago, he was not the choice of the supervisor.  She had another candidate in mind.  I have not bothered to look up the old minutes, but I think it would be interesting to see who made the nomination.

This supervisor is totally inept, IMHO.  Seems that her strings are being pulled by the trustee, who I hear spends a lot of time in Town Hall.  Does he not have a job in Macomb County?  As for the third member of the triumvirate, she says her skills are in working with people.  Anyone know if Wal-Mart needs another greeter?

Do we really have to wait two more years to replace them?  Could they just do us all a favor and resign?  I may be home tonight, but that does not mean I have not had phone calls, emails and drop bys asking me to attend.  I'm curling up with a good book.  Though nothing as crazy at what goes on over at town hall.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Those pesky 800 numbers are not always so bad

Those of us who have caller ID love the ability we have to ignore 800 and 877 or 866, etc. phone numbers, no matter what time they call.  But when the same number calls every thirty minutes, you get curious as to what is going on.

That happened to me yesterday.  After four calls, I decided to 'google' the number showing on my caller ID.  Every blogger on the website I went to said that it was the fraud division of a major bank. 

So, I hit the dial button on the phone and was connected to an automated message that there was a fraudulent attempt to use my credit card.  Still not being convinced of its legitimacy, I hung up.  

I retrieved my credit card from my purse and called the number on the back.  After entering my card number and verifying my zip code, I heard the same message I heard when I called the number on caller ID.

Uh OH!  This is not good.  After a long series of questions verifying my identity, I was transferred to a REAL LIVE PERSON.  Tada!

He asked me which of the latest charges were made by me.  Well, there was the trip to Home Depot on Thursday, but, I had not spent the day shopping for electronic equipment in Brooklyn, New York.  Attempts were made at two stores on Fulton Street, within a block of each other.  Fortunately, the card was rejected. 

The representative I spoke with closed my account and suggested that I make a police report with the local police, which I did.  They in turn gave me more information on protecting my credit.

Today I placed a fraud alert at all the credit bureaus.  I also reviewed my credit report.  I tried to make a report with the State AG office, but could not find the form online, so I will call tomorrow and ask where to find it.  I saw the picture of the form, so it must be there, right?  (BTW, the State website is not the easiest site to find information on.  I found myself going round in circles.)

I have several cards that I am going to cancel.  Everyone says it will hurt my credit score, but they are cards I rarely use and are just another opportunity for some thief.

You may wonder how this happened and I did too.  I went through all my charges and believe I know the culprit.  In examining my receipts, I discovered one that did not truncate the card numbers as required by state law in Michigan.  I will be contacting them about their procedures.  (Apparently, the law allows someone doing a manual procedure to record all the numbers.  Who in this day and age does not have a handheld card reader, or, if not, calls it in to a central number????)

You never know when you will be the victim of this type of crime.  I thought I was always being careful.  Guess you just don't always know.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Just Go Away

I've already voted absentee.  I've made up my mind and nothing was going to change it.  Admittedly, in some races I found both major party candidates lacking ... in lots of areas.  So, no vote there.

But that does not mean that my evenings will not be disrupted by the phone ringing and some volunteer wanting to remind me to vote for Candidate (fill in a name).  It is nauseating.  I'd rip the phone out of the wall or turn it off completely, but if I forget to turn my cell phone on, I might miss someone important. (not any candidates, of course)

There are also the flyers left on the porch and on the mailbox, not to mention the daily flyers in the mail.  Can you spell 'circular file?'

Then, while sitting in front of my computer this afternoon, I heard a dog barking up a storm out front.  I got up to see a neighbor walking his dog and talking to someone in my driveway.  The neighbor moved on and the guy turned around with 'FLYERS IN HIS HAND'.  I opened the front window and told him not  to leave anything.  He looked hurt.  I told him I had already voted. 

He smiled and said, "Did you vote for candidate ABC?''   I said, "Of course not!"  I thought he was going to cry.  It was like he couldn't believe I had said it.  It felt good.  I may have to answer my phone and upset every caller out there.  And then again...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Walking the Line

I have been 'on strike', officially, once in my life.  Refusing to do cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. until my husband and kids helped out doesn't count as 'official'. 

It was in late 1969 that the union I was represented by at the City of Detroit took a strike vote.  Actually, it was a 'call in sick' vote, fitting for hospital workers. I do not even remember the reason we did it.  I left the city for a year from 1968 to 1969 because they hadn't settled the union contract and I was offered more money at Hutzel hospital.  I went back in July, 1969 when the contract had been settled.  In the fall we spent one day on the picket line.  Mayor Cavanaugh went into court and got an injunction.  Facing daily fines for walking out, we all went back to work.  And the hospital suffered no loss from us since we made sure the labs were minimally staffed.

The 1994-95 baseball strike left a bitter taste in my mouth.  I used to go to a lot of baseball games.  I enjoyed sitting there and watching the game, boring as some may think.  Not I.  Returning home from a trip to Baltimore in June, 1995, I decided to swing by old Tiger Stadium and see the Tigers play the Yankees.  OMG.  The stadium was practically empty.  This was the Yankees.  Where was everyone?

Like I did, many had not forgiven their teams from striking.  And it forever affected my attendance at games.

Now I read that the musicians at the DSO are ready to walk out.  And go where?  Your salaries come from patrons like myself.  I was ready to stop being a season subscriber but after talking to someone from the DSO earlier this year, I decided to continue.  The strike may mean this is truly the last year for me.

I understand disagreements with management.  I have been on both sides of the bargaining table.  Sometimes disagreements go far beyond wages and benefits and get into more difficult things like working conditions.  (We joked at the City that workers at the old Detroit Receiving/General received combat pay.) 

But the long term unseen effects of strikes are not usually considered by workers.  And that is that folks will take their money elsewhere during the void and may never bring it back.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

"Bambi has to go" and she can take Mother Goose with her!

I just received the latest issue of National Wildlife Magazine.  There on page 31 is a story titled 'Oh Deer!'.  Oh, dear, indeed!

The National Park Service in Washington, D.C. is busy counting deer in Rock Creek Park.  The November 2009 census showed 67 whitetails per square mile.  Fort Washington National Park counted 200 deer per square mile.  And at Gettysburg, they are shooting the deer, not reenacting battles.  (Ahem, Rochester Hills).

Deer eat everything under four feet tall.  They'd eat taller stuff, but they can't reach it.  Shrubs and seedlings are rapidly disappearing in Rock Creek, with shrub cover down by 40%.  This results in less habitat for smaller mammals and birds.  Tree regeneration is being affected.  But for the deer, it is a bonanza, and thanks to the food, they are now having twins, making the population increase even faster.

Rock Creek has a deer management plan to reduce the population to 15 to 20 deer per square mile using sharpshooters and euthanasia.  Not everyone in the area is happy about the plan, but it was one local resident who said at a meeting, "Bambi, has to go".

So, I agree with the woman.  And while we are at, let's get rid of Mother Goose too.  Plant damage aside, I personally am tired of cleaning deer scat and goose droppings out of my yard.  Yuck!

P.S.  For those who say the deer were here first, I've lived in my home since 1972 and have only seen deer in the last ten years.  I wonder if Mr. Big will be back this fall?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Updates - Round Two

I tried to be good yesterday when doing my updates.  I really wanted to write that if I wanted to see wrestling I'd watch WWE Raw on USA.  But I wanted to behave and not let my cynicism and sarcasm be too evident.

So, I absolutely loved it today when I got to the editorial page of the Detroit News and saw the cartoon by Henry Payne.  This man seems to hit so many subjects right on.  And he sure got this one right.  See for yourself:



9/26/2010:  I have been trying to understand American's fascination with debates and I think I've got it: REALITY TV.  Seems the general public watches more of that than documentary or drama, unless, of course it is sports.  See above. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Updates

1. Update 9/21/2010:  Let's 'Do the Math.'

Back to my blog about the Ponzi scheme.  I give you 250,000 for an investment lasting roughly 420 days based on a 360 day calendar year.  I earn 10,323 in interest.  My effective yield is 3.54%.  Really?  Banks were paying that in 2009? 

My internet search did not show me historical CD offering rates, although I am sure they exist someplace.  But I do know that when I left government in November, 2008, rates were not that high.  And they sure were not going up in 2009.  A 'red flag' anyone?

2.  Update 9/22/2010:  More Interviews

The West Bloomfield Township Board now has six candidate interviews for Police Chief on three different days, but no names are shown.  You can check the agendas online.

3.  Update 9/17/2010:  Just keep rolling along

Another bill was introduced affecting local government.  If enacted, HB 6464, which is tie-barred to HB 6465, would place new requirements on local units when they adopt and amend their budgets.  No provision for funding the mandate, of course.  Why worry about Headlee provisions?  Units not complying would lose state shared revenue.  

Actually, I think this bill should be tie-barred to SB 1464.  That one adds 'giant hogweed' to the definition of noxious weeds.  I could come up with some good descriptions of 'giant hogweeds'.  You know.  The term-limited kind?

4. Update 9/11/2010  Not prime-time for me

Seems like the voters in Michigan can make the popcorn and watch our gubernatorial candidates debate.  Well, count me out.  Do I really need to hear this?  I think not.

5.  Update 8/27/2010  Making Music?

Still no settlement between the DSO and the musicians.  Unfortunately, this is a business with a product that fewer people are willing to buy.  And in that case, you do what you have to do to stay in business.  They all understand that, right?  If not, my CDs are ready to spin.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Decision Time

During the tenure of West Bloomfield's last police chief, Detroit saw eight different men and women come and go as Chief.  You work for the Mayor in Detroit and if he doesn't like you, you are gone.

Next week the Township Board is interviewing two candidates (I do not know who they are) for the West Bloomfield position.  Appointments of Department Heads are made by the full Board.

Whomever this board chooses, they need to get it in writing that he serves at the pleasure of the Board and can be dismissed, or demoted back to whatever position he held internally before the promotion, without cause, at any time.  No claims of Americans with Disabilities, Age Discrimination in Employment, or anything else.  Get it in writing.  If the candidate doesn't sign, don't choose him.

This last situation was a complete fiasco.  I, along with other residents, am upset that we were 'held up' for more money.  Let's make sure that it doesn't happen again.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Violating a Public Trust

Update:  Jan, 2011  Latest news on Dante DeMiro

A Columbia Township investment of $100,000 for ten years, a Mona Shores Public Schools investment of $3.5 million from the school improvement bond fund, a Comstock Township investment of $1.75 million in certificate of deposits and a Lapeer County investment of $750,000. 

Unless you live on the west side of the state or follow financial news in the municipal world, you may have missed the news of the FBI criminal complaint against Dante DeMiro of MuniVest Financial Group in Southfield. 

I have listed the FBI complaint below, but as a former financial professional, I can say this:  If you are dealing with a broker, make sure you are holding your municipal certificates and securities in a third party safekeeping account in your name.  And if you don't understand what I just said, then you probably should not be investing public money.

TIMELINE OF PONZI SCHEME AS OUTLINED IN FBI CRIMINAL COMPLAINT

March 9, 2009

• Lapeer County transfers $750,000 to Dante DeMiro’s MuniVest Financial Group for the purchase of CDs from three banks.

March 11, 2009

• MuniVest check for $600,000 sent to Universal Jewelry & Watch Repair in Birmingham. FBI later determines MuniVest account couldn’t cover the check until the Lapeer County funds had been deposited.

April 2009

• Comstock Township transfers $1.75 million to MuniVest for the purchase of CDs from seven banks.

• United Service Credit Union in Des Moines, Iowa, transfers $396,000 to MuniVest for the purchase of CDs from four banks.

• Lapeer County transfers another $250,000 to MuniVest for purchase of one CD.

• DeMiro sends $1.16 million check to Boiler Makers Local 169 in Allen Park with “refunding principal and interest” in the memo line. FBI alleges account the check was drawn from had only $187,000 prior to the transfers from Comstock Township, Lapeer County and United Service Credit Union.

August 2009

• Mona Shores transfers $3.48 million to MuniVest for the purchase of CDs.

January 2010

• DeMiro tells Comstock Township that one of its CDs had matured and sends it $255,122 as principal and interest. FBI alleges the money came from funds transferred by Mona Shores.

May 2010

• DeMiro sends $250,000 to Comstock Township for a second CD he says has matured. DeMiro also sends $260,323 to Lapeer County for a CD he says has matured. FBI alleges those payments came from Mona Shores’ funds.

Sept. 9, 2010

• FBI informs Mona Shores officials of its investigation of DeMiro.

Sept. 15, 2010

• FBI files criminal complaint against DeMiro in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan alleging he violated federal bank fraud statute and federal wire fraud statute.

Sept. 16, 2010

• DeMiro appears in U.S. District Court on FBI criminal complaint and is released on $10,000 bond.

Source: U.S. District Court filing

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bills that Shouldn't even be Necessary

HB 6443

A bill to amend 1994 PA 451, entitled "Natural resources and environmental protection act," by amending section 32729 (MCL 324.32729), as added by 2008 PA 185.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN ENACT:

Sec. 32729. (1) Except as specifically authorized under this part, this part does not authorize the assessment of fees.

(2) THE STATE OR A LOCAL UNIT OF GOVERNMENT SHALL NOT IMPOSE ANY TAXES ON GROUNDWATER WITHDRAWALS FROM WATER WELLS. (added)

No wonder some folks refer to lawmakers as 'money-grabbing you know whats'.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sometimes You Just Gotta be that Way

While it seems like only yesterday, it was one year ago that Rep. Joe Wilson yelled 'You lie!' at the President.  An article in today's Detroit News by Nolan Finley is titled 'On Obamacare, Wilson was Rude but Right'.  Thank you Mr. Finley.

When I first heard the report last year, I thought that sometimes you just get so frustrated you have to shout it out.  Somehow, in our world of political correctness, many folk are afraid to speak their mind lest someone trash them for doing so.

I understand the frustration.  I had a reputation in college and in my first profession for being a bit of a hot-head and rabble-rouser.  I, of course, see nothing wrong with that.  And if you enter politics as Mr. Nice Guy or Ms. Nice Girl, you will likely be trampled by someone who sees an easy target.

What I really found interesting about Rep. Wilson's outburst was that the same thing had occurred at a Township Board meeting in the early 90's.  I do not remember the exact issue being discussed, but I do remember the exchange. 

The Supervisor at the time was making one of her well-crafted speeches.  It had something to do with Town Hall and employees.  I remember that because it was an employee who stood up on the issue and told the Supervisor that she was a liar.  No mincing of words, she called her a liar.

The employee was correct in her assessment.  The Supervisor was distorting the facts.  It is what politicians do, so I guess we have to give her that.  But what was a frustrated, non-unionized employee to do other than take the opportunity at a public meeting where the issue was being discussed?  And at that point, the last thing they are thinking about is how others might interpret their actions.

Did I think she owed the Supervisor an apology?  No.  We as elected leaders have to earn respect by performing our job.  We do not earn it at the ballot box, even if we get 100% of the vote.  All we get there is opportunity.  We would do well to remember that.