Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Grand Rapids Budget Cuts Get Ridiculous

Today it became clear to me that the City's management team hasn't a clue. As I mentioned earlier, I'm the tennis coach at a local high school. Now that our season has started, we are spending a lot of time at the local park where our home courts are located. The fall tennis season here in Michigan is very short however and even though we're only two weeks into the season, we only have 20 more days of competition or practice at our courts.

Unfortunately, we do not have any access to restrooms, even though there are facilities there onsite. It seems that the GR Parks and Rec Dept.'s budget has gone dry and they no longer can afford to keep the restrooms open so that we, the taxpaying public, have somewhere nearby to answer nature's call. For right now, I'm forced to tell my team and our opponents to use the nearby fastfood restaurant's restrooms. Luckily we've been rained out twice, but starting next week I'll be hosting at least one and sometimes as many as three matches a week.

It's not just my tennis team that's affected. Already I have seen Hope Network vans come by and unload their charges, only to discover that the restrooms are locked. Instead of a fun day at the park, they apparently have no choice but to reload the vans and look elsewhere. Every day we've had morning practice, I've seen the swings and slides full of young families with babies and toddlers - they've been forced to go without as well.

I've been told by Tom Zelinski, the head of Parks and Rec's maintenance, that keeping a restroom open "for the season costs approximately $1200." That is for the water bill alone, the cleaning services cost the city more on top of that. He offered to see if his budget had room for a Port-A-Potty but wasn't sure he'd be able to come up with that even. According to an email my athletic director sent me on Tuesday, he no longer has the budget for that luxury (cost = $60/month), but he could give us the number to a business that'd rent one to us if we wanted to pay ourselves.

I have emailed the Second Ward Commissioners plus the City Manager, Comptroller and Treasurer, trying to get some help from downtown. I received a call from First Ward Commissioner Jendrasiak Tuesday afternoon, again offering a Port-A-Potty. I politely turned him down, reasoning that it'd be unlikely that the girls would be much interested in using it and the City would just be wasting money. He promised to look into this further, said he had raised the subject at the City Commission meeting and would ask the management at the Parks Dept. to see if there was anything that could be done.

The most mindboggling, utterly astounding thing I've learned: while the City does not have the wherewithal to open these restrooms for 20 more afternoons (I've even offered to sign out a key and open them only when someone requests access, plus clean them myself), according to Commissioner Jendrasiak, the City has just approved another $50,000 study. I wish I could report just what he told me the study will delve into but my brain was too busy trying to grasp how a city that can't afford to let 16 and 17 year old girls flush the toilet 40 or 50 more times this fall can afford $50,000 for a study probably no one will ever read outside some overpaid, underworked bureaucrats. From looking at the Commission meeting agenda for Tues. Aug. 30, I think it's probably Resolution Four, under the Committee of the Whole, "authorizing the engagement of Lean Concepts, LLC for the purpose of implementing Administrative Lean practices."

I'm no highly paid business consultant, but here's my free advice to the City regarding Lean Administrative practices: Slash the bloated administrative staff downtown, stop loading more public safety work onto fewer firefighter's shoulders, privatize anything that can be and KEEP THE RESTROOMS OPEN FOR THE KIDS.


Should you want to make your views known, your Commissioner's email addresses can all be found at this City website.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Supporting Our Troops Overseas

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have a brother and sister, both Army MP's, serving overseas. I'm also the head coach of my high school alma mater's girl's tennis team. I've been thinking of ways to combine the two and recently I decided what I'd do.

Blackfive.net
(a great mil-blog) has for a long time been pointing out an awesome website, called Anysoldier.com, dedicated to making sure our men and women in the armed forces get the support they deserve. Most of them are young and more than you'd think don't have anyone back home sending letters, emails and care packages. Anysoldier.com has stepped to fill that need. You can browse their list of over 3,000 soldiers who have requested care packages, either for themselves or to hand out to the lonely or forgotten troops with whom they serve. If you want, you can even go to their sister-site, Treatanysoldier.com, and purchase pre-packaged care packages. Heck, Treatanysoldier.com will even choose a deserving soldier for you, so if you're really pressed for time you don't even have to search Anysoldier.com for one.


I've decided to see if my tennis team would like to do the same for my sister, currently serving in Afghanistan. I've emailed my sister and got her APO address, so the next step is to present this to the girls. I'll post updates here as this project advances.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

FOIA and Me

For the last several months, I have been reading a Grand Rapids blog called Local Area Watch. LAW deals with the various underhanded deals and shenanigans going on here in River City. Recently, I have taken a more active role than just reading LAW.

One of LAW's ongoing endevours (and primary reason it exists) is the under(non?)-reported scandal involving the Boardwalk Building. The Boardwalk Building was the site of the Berkey & Gay manufacturing plant for many years, which was itself built on top of urban fill - both recipes for pollution and toxic waste. (What kind of toxic waste? Nothing too serious, just 26,000 tons of soil contaminated with toxic levels of lead, arsenic and mercury, along with phenanthrene, which leaches out into the air we breathe if contaminated soil is disturbed.) LAW has filed lawsuits alleging that we, the citizens of River City, have been exposed to these toxins. The City of Grand Rapids is party to this suit, and that's where I (and FOIA) come in.

An attorney for the City, Daniel Ophoff, had been stalling LAW's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request regarding the value of Boardwalk Building. (It's a further complication: the Boardwalk Building developers appear to have either committed bank fraud and/or tax fraud in declaring its value.) LAW asked its readers to try filing a FOIA request of our own, to see if we got any farther. I and two other readers filed the requests. City Attorney Ophoff, after about a month's delay, finally sent me the requested documents, which I turned over to LAW this Tuesday afternoon.

Case closed, right?

Wrong. City Attorney Ophoff (who works for us taxpayers, remember) came up with the lame excuse that my request was not specific enough (requested items #2 and #3) and claimed he was unable to locate the (damning) letters.

So, where we do we now stand? LAW has decided to force the issue into the open by filing yet another lawsuit in Kent County Circuit Court. I will post updates on the progress of this situation as it unfolds.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Walter Kirn Slurs Troops



Walter Kirn slurs US troops

GQ magazine ran an article by Walter Kirn in the August 2005 issue reviewing the top ten books about war. Writing about Caesar's "The Gallic War," Kirn had this to say about the men and women in today's military:

"These incentives [loot & women-OPC] attracted society's ablest men, not just the cheapskate oddballs of today who want their college educations paid for in exchange for wearing uniforms as teenagers."

Wow.

While I don't pretend to know the reasoning behind their decisions, I do know that my stepbrother and stepsister (both are MP's in the Army and have served overseas, he in Iraq and she in Afghanistan) are not "cheapskate oddballs" nor are they solely wearing uniforms in exchange for their college education. And after reading a lot of mil-blogs, I've come to the conclusion that most of our soldiers do not fall within these catagories.

I've since cancelled my subscription to GQ and have posted about this idiot Kirn elsewhere on the internet, with apparently no effect. If you find this as offensive as I did, you can email GQ here.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Long Lunch I



My first walkthrough set for Flickr.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Brassworks



My first ever panoramic, it's also the home of my favorite bar: Founders!

Their Pale Ale and IPA is the best. And don't miss the Breakfast Stout if you like your beer thick and dark.