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.