Stop Me If You’ve Heard This

The Governor, Lt Governor and House Speaker have had a change of heart. They met for a long prayer meeting. It was unclear who initiated the meeting. They came away feeling remorseful about the limitations they imposed on local governments.

In a sense of fairness, they announced their main legislative priorities for the next session:

  • They will cap the basis upon which state severance taxes on oil are computed. They will “rollback” with a cap of only $30 per barrel.
  • They will eliminate the state’s sales taxes on boats and motor vehicles.
  • They will cap their own salaries to 2010 levels with increases capped at 1/10 of the CPI.
  • They will forbid the use of state airplanes with travel limited to commercial coach only.
  • The Governor will only have one security guard, saying public safety is no longer a priority for him.
  • The Governor’s mansion will be sold; however, a small stipend for an apartment will be allowed.
  • The Trio will apologize to the City of Austin for everything bad ever said about the City. Unprecedented cooperation will be the order of the day.
  • The Trio pledges to cover previously unfunded mandates going back for at least 10 years, and will forbid same in the future.
  • All future state congressional hearings will be conducted by a panel of fair judges who will be required by law to listen to the testimony of local officials, professionally evaluated and presented to the Legislature.
  • State incentive money for companies already coming to Texas will be removed from the state budget and given to existing companies that have been productive and faithful contributors in the past.

The announcement of these new sentiments will be at a meeting hosted by the Trio in conjunction with a goodwill gesture embracing the Texas Municipal League and singing kumbaya. The theme will be “Local Government Appreciation Day – We Want To Be Responsible Like You.” LFM

The Whack-a-Mole Citizen

Imagine a Whack-a-Mole game with the sides removed so you can see the innards. Oh, I know the connotation of a mole, but hang with me for a minute, please.

This is the image I get when I read or see yet another story of the right and self-righteous folks appearing before the City Councils with only one mission in life: to not pay.

The Whackers don’t really have any interest in looking at the workings of government. It would be completely against their nature to listen to citizen requests for services. They don’t have the guts to be there to shout down an elderly citizen asking for their sidewalks to be fixed. They could care less about the wishes of the youth sports representatives wanting more ballfields and for them to be maintained properly.

Nope! Not in their DNA. What they want to do is stand above the responsibilities of governance and simply take the mallet to crack the noggins of the elected body and staff wanting to deal with the most basic of questions. How are we going to pay for all the things our citizens want?

Do you think these things come free? Answer: Whack!

Are you listening to what I am asking? Whack!

Do you have any sense of fairness about you? Whack! Whack!

Would you consider sitting on this side of our jobs and … Whack! Whack!

Are you a robot? Whack!

Have you ever been responsible for running any kind of business? Whack!

Is it your plan to do anything other than wield a mallet? Whack!

Have you ever asked the city to fix a problem?

Have you ever needed the police, fire or EMS?

Do you children participate in any of our recreation programs?

You’re being awfully silent. Are you reconsidering your position? Whack! Whack!

I see.

LFM

 

Putting Opioids in Perspective

It is imperative that you read the recent story published by the Washington Post. Actually, it is just one of a dozen stories I’ve read in a period of a few weeks. Therefore, I know that opioid abuse is rapidly moving to the forefront as it should. But I’m really burdened by this story. Why? Because of a number. The metric is 5,432,109,644.

What’s that mean? In our society, we see big numbers all the time. In fact, I’m convinced that we don’t grasp the magnitude of the difference between millions and billions any longer. And in many cases we have become numb to what trillions translate to.

There were 5,432,109,644 opioid pills sold between 2006 and 2012. Wow! That’s a big number for the U.S., right? No, no, no! That’s in Texas alone!

It is interesting that the Washington Post had to sue the Drug & Enforcement Agency (DEA) to get the data. And there is still another lawsuit to get more recent data. That’s simply amazing.

Tell Me More

These ugly Texas numbers totaled 602,064,872 for 2006. They climbed to 870,722,919 in 2012 for a compounded annual rate of 6.34%, about 3x the population growth.

Whenever you want numbers to look big, you add up several years. When you want them to look small, you divide by a big denominator. Okay, let’s do that. This billion-pill number equals about 53.75 pills per year for every Texan 18 years and older. Let that sink in for a minute. Do you consider that small?

Gee, Lewis, I’m sure glad you aren’t going to put the spotlight on individual cities!

Oh, but I am. It’s in the database. By city and even right down to the pharmacy or doc buying them from the suppliers.

I lied. I’m not going to show you. Why? Because you will look to see if you are better than average and gleam to know other cities are worse. Or else you will try to make up excuses or even find flaws in the data interpretation. I’ve already done that. Many cities don’t have pharmacies in their towns, making them go to an adjacent city. Interestingly, many of the pills go to veterinarians.

As you can guess, the total number of pills by city is somewhat correlated to the population. But the pills per capita for those over 18 does vary significantly. You will be gravely alarmed by some of the high numbers.

You are welcome to download the database. It’s got 12,108,468 records just for Texas. It won’t fit into Excel. Your IT folks can help you get it downloaded and summarized.

Example: My City

I live in McKinney. The total opioid pills purchased from 2006-2012 were 28,711,325! I almost choked when I saw that number. We are below average on a per capita basis, but that’s nothing we can really brag about. I don’t see a city in Texas that has any boasting rights. Rather, we have everything to fear about the threatening stories embedded in these numbers. We could talk to our school officials, hospitals, social services, police and EMS departments to discover exactly how 28.7 million opioid pills in McKinney translated into headaches, heartaches and costs.

What Are Today’s Counts?

Now, you’re getting my concern. If Texas accounts for 5.4 billion opioid pills in 2006-2012, what do those numbers look like for 2013-now? I have a guess based on the past trends plus population growth, but enough with the numbers. If 5.4 billion won’t get your attention, then you will also be numb when (not if) we go beyond double-digit billions.

Hmmm! Is that why the DEA doesn’t want to release more recent data?

Recommendation

There seems to be plenty of talk, talk, talk. And fortunately, the situation is so deeply into the critical stage that “epidemic” won’t capture the scale. It’s a pandemic. I’m guessing opioids have touched everybody reading this blog. They scare me to death.

How many of your employees are struggling with opioid addiction? Find out! Offer an employee assistance program.

Are there other implications? A prominent Texas City Manager got involved in taking a $25,000 land advisory fee years ago that ended his municipal career. Why did he do this? The answer was he needed to help his brother who had gotten addicted to opioids.

For every story I might have, I bet you have 5-10 or more. Strained relationships. Loss of productivity. Life-threatening situations. They are all around us. Let’s act now. LFM

 

 

Why Should I Apologize for Serving the Citizens’ Needs & Desires?

Every citizen is going to have to put themselves in the shoes of their LOCAL elected governing bodies. Here’s the deal as I slip into those combat boots:

“Dear Citizen:

I was elected to listen to your needs and to your wants. You come before this governing body asking for things at every council meeting. We evaluate those requests. We know about most of them because we walk and drive the community. We attend luncheons and all kinds of meetings. We talk to you on the phone. We ask you for advice, such as priorities and urgency. We can’t do everything you ask, but we would if we could. We try our best.

We know that you are intelligent and don’t truly think for a minute that there is a free lunch. We’d give services and utilities away for free if that were possible, but no responsible person would ever entertain that foolish notion. None of us are fools. And name one service we provide that was dreamed up only by local elected officials. Just about everything we do is because 1) you asked for it; or 2) because the state or federal government imposed it on us.

Now comes state government that thinks they know you better than we do. But wait. I’m not going down that road. To bash the Lege and the Gov is not constructive. You know what? Let’s just deal with what we are handed. You, the citizens, and we, the council. Don’t make any mistake about it. We’ve been handcuffed by the state without regard to our pledge to serve you.

And here’s a glimpse of the future. It is highly likely that we may have to hold an election every year for you to approve to pay what you have asked for us to provide. Representative government has been partially tossed out the window. That’s okay. We will put your wants and needs into the budget, but you will likely have to give direct approval as a separate step.

That’s the deal now. Let’s be honest. Holding an election each year is not all that expensive in the grand scheme of things. It’s simply a nuisance and will cause fatigue. Gird up! We didn’t ask for this, but it’s the law of the land. And we will follow the law.

We hope that part of the election routine will be coupled so that capital project approval will be married to the cost of operations. That has actually always been implied. You don’t expect us or anyone else to build a fire station, recreation center, ball fields or swimming pools and then expect the staffing, equipment and programming that goes inside to not cost something, right?

Did you know that the Operating & Mainteance costs, at least over time, are about 2-pennies for every 1-penny of the O&M tax rate? If permitted, we will start including this dual-approval on the ballots: “Approval for $____________ in Project X along with the companion O&M Costs that will mostly be paid for out of Ad Valorem Taxes.”

We may even have to go back and re-vote for some past project approvals or at least to explicitly approve the O&M that you implicitly approved into past bond elections.

The weird part of this onerous requirement on us and you is that we may be asking you to vote annually just because your values went up. We fully understand that our property tax revenues are the results of both taxable values and tax rates. Thanks to the new legal constraints, we may be asking for voter approval only because inflation has outpaced our property tax values. It’s complicated. We’re all for disclosure and being fair, but our Truth-In-Taxation laws are gravitating toward IRS-like hoops when all we are trying to do is to pay for the services you requested.

What we do know is that we won’t stop listening to your needs and wants. If you are willing to pay for these things, we will service your requests. It just might have to be in two steps.

We ask for your patience. We wouldn’t wish this imposition on anyone in the business of helping citizens. However, we are confident that you can wear our shoes at two critical times in our future: 1) when you ask for new services or for us to continue existing services that meet the needs of our community; and 2) be there for the companion decision to pay for those services.

No matter who is wearing the shoes, you can’t have one without the other.

Thank you!

Your Local Elected Official”

The Missing Link in Council Prayers

I am absolutely in favor of prayers delivered by local clergy to start off Council meetings. Many if not most are written, and that is okay with me. They are carefully prepared and delivered from the heart of the person speaking. They invoke a spirit of civility and, aways, wisdom and discernment on behalf of the governing bodies.

Many of these prayers create an inspiring moment and a reminder of why councilmembers said they wanted to represent the people with an emphasis on ALL of the citizens. Most council meetings are launched with the framework for pledging not to forget why everyone in the chambers is there. Many of these prayers are confirmed as the purpose of proper governance with an appreciative Amen!

Not just from the elected body but from the citizens in the audience. Translated: We are in agreement with your words and with your spirit of love and the contract embedded in the response to work for the common good.

And that’s it.

Thank you, dear clergy, and don’t let the exit door hit you in the butt! Let the slugfest begin!

Why is there such a disconnect from that moment to the plunge into the political fracas that often follows? How can one feel blessed and re-committed to be civil and constructive one moment and then jump into personal agendas a few minutes later, turning a collective back to the clergical guidance and plea?

A few years ago I decided to compile all of the prayer for one year and to publish them with a concluding statement: All you have to do is to adhere to these words, perhaps the only words in the meeting that are needed to replace any toothless Code of Ethics or Rules of Decorum, to be the best council in the history of your city!

But then I thought about the level of work versus the potential to make a difference. A cop-out, I’m sure. Here’s all I need as a source: https://chaplain.house.gov/archive/index.html. I will close with the first prayer.

My own prayer is that elected bodies, staffs and audiences listen to the prayers – and incorporate the words into every action and exchange of thoughts and opinions. Most local governments will have a few new members as of the elections yesterday. The first meetings are typically the best for the entire term. Warm congratulatory well-wishers in front of families. Genuine words, usually, with a spirit of renewed commitments as sitting members reflect back on that same night for them.

Freeze that moment and scene. Savor it. Study and replay.

But it means nothing, really, if personal agendas and a lack of respect dominate every hour after that first one.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Fortunately, I have seen a few councils that seem to run against the grain. It wows me to see how it can be done and should be done. Disagreement, sure, but without a drop of bitterness. Genuine supportive statements exchanged with ease. It is common for some councils to praise the staff. It would be awesome for councilmembers to praise their peers.

Things like that would happen if only the words of the clergy prayers permeated the chambers and the hearts of everyone there or watching online. How profound! I’m certain that there would be a covenant of decorum that would change the council and every committee and, in fact, the entire community would be changed forever. LFM

First Prayer of the Continental Congress, 1774

The Prayer in the First Congress, A.D. 1774<br />Courtesy of the Rector, Church Wardens and Vestrymen of Christ Church, Philadelphia
The Prayer in the First Congress, A.D. 1774

O Lord our Heavenly Father, high and mighty King of kings, and Lord of lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all the Kingdoms, Empires and Governments; look down in mercy, we beseech Thee, on these our American States, who have fled to Thee from the rod of the oppressor and thrown themselves on Thy gracious protection, desiring to be henceforth dependent only on Thee. To Thee have they appealed for the righteousness of their cause; to Thee do they now look up for that countenance and support, which Thou alone canst give. Take them, therefore, Heavenly Father, under Thy nurturing care; give them wisdom in Council and valor in the field; defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries; convince them of the unrighteousness of their Cause and if they persist in their sanguinary purposes, of own unerring justice, sounding in their hearts, constrain them to drop the weapons of war from their unnerved hands in the day of battle!

Be Thou present, O God of wisdom, and direct the councils of this honorable assembly; enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation. That the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that order, harmony and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish amongst the people. Preserve the health of their bodies and vigor of their minds; shower down on them and the millions they here represent, such temporal blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come. All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior.

Amen.

Reverend Jacob Duché
Rector of Christ Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
September 7, 1774, 9 o’clock a.m.

The Looks On Their Faces; The Thoughts in Their Heads; The Jubilation in Their Hearts!

Some would have been certain it might happen. Most probably had no clue. But I imagine the looks on the faces when it was learned that Christ had risen. I imagine my face had I been there.

The doubters, upon learning the news, must have quickly begun making up an explanation that would confirm they were still safe being doubters. Thieves in the night did it. But even the believers must have gone off in their private places to be quiet, to consider in their minds just how massive this event was then and would be in the future. I can see myself being stunned even if I had no doubts. The silence would be both warm and thrilling as I, and they, replayed the scene over and over of this physical rise. After all, He was in that tomb. He was a real person. That was a body.

But the private pause, as special as it would have been, doesn’t compare to the jubilations in their hearts. I imagine it being intoxicating fueled by joy risen to its highest level, higher than anything ever felt before. That revelation would change the look on their faces forever. Often smiling, but most often with a different kind of glow. The kindness that shines in the eyes. That look reflective of looking into the eyes of Christ; The Person of God that was seen and touched. Can you imagine you looking at Him and, most importantly, Him looking into your eyes?

Can you place yourself there? Watching it as much as you could soak in? Feeling the joy coursing through your body with a new energy? Perhaps the part only vaguely realized in that moment is that His joy can be invoked over and over again for all the days of our lives. One might never have an absence of His joy, but we are fortunate to have times of prayer and worship to allow that joy to rise to the highest level to match that special day. It happened! Place yourself there on this Easter morning. LFM

Why Don’t Governments Invest in R&D?

How many governments would risk spending (investing) $5 million a year knowing they might save multiple times that amount in the future?

Few.

And I know that the word “might” is enough to quickly order the thinker to not even go there.

I also know that Research & Development is not totally absent in local government by any means. If the fire department buys a drone for their use and the police department asks for them to let them “play” with it to test a use in law enforcement, that experiment on slack time for both departments is a form of R&D.

But think of the areas in your city where service costs are growing and draining more resources each year – with control only getting tougher in the future. What would the private sector do? They would put money in R&D knowing that the investment now will enable for them to survive in the future. I know it’s not exactly the same in government.

Oh my, why did I just say that? It’s because I’ve been involved in local government for most of my career. To jump up first with a defensive argument of why we are different or why it won’t work here is a revealing statement.

The Think Tank

When just a young pup in my early career at the City of Garland, the City Manager, Charlie Duckworth had a coffee meeting for a handful of employees. He was seeking input on ideas and observations from mid-level employees and young professionals. I suggested the City create a Think Tank. I had just read a book with that title, and it may be about the time I read the book Mega Trends.

Typical of the fast-acting City Manager, he created just that kind of organization. I still have the booklet outlining the “charge” at that time. Also, typical of most cities, the think tank went nowhere fast as the crisis of the day shoved the idea to the back burner to disappear and never be revived.

I’ve often wondered if this idea had stayed on the front burner, and given some resources, would it have produced more than ideas but rather a completely different way of doing things over four decades later? I want to think so, but …

Another Thought

I’ve often wondered how resourceful staffers would be if they really had an incentive (and mostly the time) to take all of their experiences and smarts to blossom in the R&D mode?

“Here’s the deal: I will dedicate three people to create a Public Safety R&D function. I will give them x millions of dollars (depending on your city size) and five years to find ways to improve performance and save multiple times the investment. They would be free to look at all possibilities, including training (staff, public), technology and, get this, to spend as much money on preventive things as on responding to the demand not under their control. Prevention is our only hope. Progress would be reported on a monthly basis. A significant bonus would be made at the end of the R&D experiment for verifiable savings and workable solutions. The expectation is that we can truly reinvent government in ways not even envisioned today.”

Okay, I know I may be dreaming. But I do know that not much changes except for getting more expensive when there is no reason to change in a risk-adverse environment.

I read a story this morning about the Amarillo Police Department having 85 car thefts reported in one month, with 77 of those with keys left in them! I see these kinds of stories, and I think SENSELESS WORKLOAD. I assume that some fashion of R&D goes on to address the time required to deal with the 77, including how to prevent as well as how to recover the cost.

Enough!

I know full well that various forms of R&D are on-going in every organization. To not be ALWAYS looking for ways to do the job better and to save money would be mismanagement.

My main purpose here is to point out how interesting it is that without R&D, many private sector companies would be doomed. And somewhere and somehow, I believe it is imperative that local governments increase their investment in R&D to be effective in a future where resources are going to be under greater pressure. Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. We are staring at that mandate.

Lastly, I am incapable of thinking about this topic of R&D without recalling my favorite scene in Robot cop. Language warning needed for the easily offended. However, you can watch it with the sound off and still appreciate the message. LFM