What Does This Troll Have to do with Managerial Problem Solving?

 

Troll

This Troll is located under a bridge in Seattle, Washington several miles from Bill & Melinda Gates’ $68 million home. I saw it on a bus tour on Saturday. It is visited night and day by kids, families and sightseers. How could you resist the invitation to go look for the troll hiding under a bridge? You can see the pedestrian bridges coming down both sides. That’s a full-size VW in his left hand. The hubcap resides in his left eye. There is a road in front of the troll to see it by driving under the bridge.

But this is end the of a story. Let’s work our way back to the beginning. The troll is the product of a neighborhood contest. A group was formed to come up with an artsy idea, and this was the result. A grant was provided to construct this attraction. Great idea, right?

Yet the motivation wasn’t to support the arts. The purpose of this troll was to solve a problem. A very ugly problem. This was the site for nightly drug use at the height of heroin addictions in Seattle. Police detectives were being called to this location almost nightly to deal with overdose problems. If detectives were called, then you know this was a death-related call – the kind that sends a team of people seeking the cause of death and another team seeking the drug dealer or murderer, either the direct or indirect cause of death.

Let’s Enumerate the Team

At the risk of stating the obvious, let’s count off the people who might be involved in just one case like this. I’m sure I’m leaving some group out, but this is from memory.

  1. Police call takers and dispatchers.
  2. Police patrol squad.
  3. Police Detective Investigators.
  4. EMS.
  5. Public Hospital Staff.
  6. City Morgue.
  7. Pauper Burials.
  8. Crime Scene and Crime Lab Personnel.
  9. Jail Facilities and Personnel.
  10. County Criminal Court Facilities & Staffing.
  11. District Criminal Court Judge and Administrative Clerks.
  12. Two Criminal Bailiffs for Court.
  13. Two Criminal Bailiffs for Criminal Transport.
  14. A Court Reporter.
  15. Two Criminal District Attorneys & Investigative Staffs.
  16. Two Court Appointed Defense Attorneys.
  17. The Jury Fees & Lost Time for Jurors.
  18. Expert Testimonies.
  19. Prison Facilities & Personnel for Decades, perhaps.
  20. Probation Officers & Support Staff.

Back when I was the Dallas County Budget Officer in my early career, I priced out the cost of just one trial. It was staggering back then, so I can only image the sticker shock today.

May I remind you that I mentioned the calls for overdoses and murders were routine. And it was just for this one location.

So, what if this wasn’t such an easy place to do drugs? Oh, and did I mention this problem in turn was creating a blighted area well beyond the spot in question as do all neglected areas where crime is left to move in?

That’s what the City in general and this neighborhood in particular wanted to address.

There is always the conventional alternative, and that is to keep adding costs triggered by one murder multiplying into 20 different areas of specialty – all at premium costs. Can you imagine the General Fund budgets for the City and County governments bloating up? Much worse, the money would grow as the problem grew, but not a thing would necessarily be done to solve the problem.

How do you stop that one murder from happening?

Lights, people and traffic motivated to come see an attraction was their answer. An investment instead of an expense. Hey, the protective shelter for Mr. Troll was already there! And imagine this – an art project investment turns into an economic development stimulator as the immediate area was reclaimed without corporate welfare!

Comments & Conclusion

If your first response is that all this did is to move the drug users and dealers to another location, then you have just revealed something about yourself. You are worthless as a problem solver.

Here is what I do know. The tax caps and cuts that are coming are real and will likely be severe, especially as they become cumulative over a period of a few years and then compounded by an economic downturn where real losses cannot be restored politically.

It’s. Going. To. Happen!

Here is a companion comment and a few questions. How many people working for you right now would be hired/re-hired today knowing what you know about them and their productivity right now? For each one of them, what are you doing to train/re-train, mentor, motivate, discipline or terminate? How many of them have 1 year’s of experience 20 times vs 20 years of continued growth in responsibility and contribution?

How many are good people, but they have just become way too expensive as the numerator has climbed with raises and generous benefits while the denominator has diminished with extra holidays, vacation days and sick leave days?

More than once in my career I have had city managers and department heads yelp like they had their legs chopped out from under them from a cutback – only to tell me privately that it was one of the best things that could have happened to make them step up to earn that part of their paycheck that includes making hard decisions they had been hesitating to make.

On The Other Hand

If your first response from the Troll story is that the demand side of your workload has got to be addressed, especially for services that require 24x7x365 coverage, then I apologize for scolding and only wish to provide encouragement.

I don’t like the way things are going with citizens and elected officials caring less about who gets hurt, that there is only one priority – cut taxes. I am working hard to provide analyses to show the fiscal impact for every city, county and school district in Texas. You should have already seen my report.

But you know what? They don’t care about facts. And I hear that nothing sets them off like being threatened with the consequences to public safety. I’ve even heard that one State Senator responds to that threat with “sometimes a few people may have to die.”

Here’s the deal. There are only a dozen or so ways to balance a budget. Improving Productivity is the first and Raising Property Taxes is last. LFM

Budget Balance Options

(I’m writing a more complete blog on these alternatives as soon as I can)

  1. Improve Productivity. $Impact: High.
  2. Defer Needed Spending (kick the can down the road, compounding costs) $Impact: High.
  3. Trim Expenditures. $Impact: Low.
  4. Reduce Program Service Levels. $Impact: Medium.
  5. Eliminate Programs Altogether. $Impact: Usually High.
  6. Don’t Start New Programs Requested by Citizens. $Impact: High.
  7. Refuse Unfunded Mandates. $Impact: Medium to High.
  8. Use One-Time Solutions (i.e. Reduce Reserves). $Impact: Medium.
  9. Shift the Burden (ie. To employees or another government). $Impact: Medium.
  10. Charge New Fees for Service. $Impact: Low to Medium.
  11. Increase Existing Fees for Services. $Impact: Low to Medium.
  12. Raise Property Taxes. $Impact: Medium to High.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The McKinney Elephant NOT in the Room

Let’s keep this simple:

  • Commercial and Industrial taxpayers cost less to serve than Residential.
  • The tax rates in cities that have a high Residential to Non-residential ratios are generally higher.
  • McKinney has a relatively high R:NR Ratio. And it has grown significantly higher in the last two decades as we have added many, many residential rooftops.
  • Just about everybody running for McKinney City Council in recent years have had a big plank in their platform acknowledging everything I’ve said up to this point AND pledging that they are going to do something about it to lower taxes.
  • Now comes the issue of raising the tax exemption for homeowners over 65 from a gigantic $60,000 to an even larger $65,000. Who can resist the opportunity to lower property taxes for the voting class, especially those over 65? Exactly nobody.
  • But here’s the catch. Every exemption for one taxpayer is a tax increase for another taxpayer. In most cases, the burden is added to the Non-Residential class + Apartments + Renters.

Watch the video from the Council meeting of June 19. Mayor Fuller tried to make the points outlined above. I don’t think he used the word “irony” in his comments, but that was the centrality of his message. The plea was to no avail. In the drama of a patriot explaining why he or she would die for their country, it was clear that most council members were going to vote to raise the exemption. So, Mayor Fuller makes the motion to approve the exemption increase himself. Good for him.

Where’s The Frigging Elephant in the Room?

There was not a single member of the business community there to explain the irony and the issue of making it attractive for businesses to come to McKinney. Wait, before you shoot me with the gospel gun, I know that there are many reasons for a business wanting to locate to any particular city. I can list them all. Fair treatment to the business community is just one of the signals that we want everybody to be part of the family here.

We spend a lot of money giving economic incentives to attract new businesses. Where was the McKinney Economic Development Corporation Board to at least make the points the Mayor was trying to make?

Thanks a lot big talkers who go to Chamber luncheons to make each other feel like you’re important and to talk about prosperity in McKinney. Thanks a lot MEDC for letting the Mayor twist in the wind while he was trying to keep a good balance between Residential and Business tax burden.

Oh, I forgot. You want somebody else to put their name and reputation on the line while you raise a glass to McKinney today and look only for opportunities to help YOU. If being on the MEDC Board is a stepping stone for being elected to the Council someday, why would you want to speak up for the McKinney headed for more imbalance in the decades ahead? The two-year vision you have while serving on the Board is quite revealing.

We stand behind you, Mayor! Waaaaayyyyy behind you. I expect there might have been a few from the Chamber or MEDC who called the Mayor after the meeting to pat him on the back for trying. You are of the most cowardly and selfish people walking the streets of McKinney.

Business Community, MEDC: you got what you deserved. And there will be more shifted to you in the future. The new guys will get incentives for coming. You will get shafted for staying quiet. LFM

Why Do We Wait for Animal Control to Reach a Crisis Before We Act?

Actually, I could have replaced “Animal Control” with a blank since this question applies to hundreds of situations in government.

But today I want to focus on just animal shelters in particular. As most of you know, I read from a few hundred (246 to be exact) Texas newspapers and their suburban editions each day. I look for stories that are of interest to city officials, city managers and mayors in particular.

I have known for decades that few topics consistently make the Top 5 as often as animal control issues. I live in McKinney, a city of 180,000 people, meaning just about that many people have an interest or downright big investment in pets.

In recent years, there is one common topic that pervades the Texas headlines. It is the overcrowding of animal shelters. On most days I can point you to at least 10 stories about animal shelters waiving fees and going to extra lengths to incentivize residents to make a permanent home for a pet in order to keep them from being euthanized, the ugly alternative.

While there are usually two primary ways to deal with challenges like animal control, programming and larger facilities, it is always programming that should be given resources even though that means physical space, too. Spay and neuter efforts are foremost, of course. That goes without saying. And adoption endeavors need a robust and unrelenting dedication from staff and volunteers.

But the facilities need to be sufficient, and that is where I want to place an emphasis with my comments today. My main point is to not be surprised at this need. I rarely go to our animal shelter or any shelter. The reason is simple. Although my wife and I have four pets, I am positive a visit for any reason would result in us adding to our fur family. But the last time I visited the Collin County Animal Shelter, it was organized chaos. I’m sure the pet inventory was over-crowded, but I had to work my way through the people (some bringing pets, some taking one home) and volunteers to talk to the person I went to see.

Here is what I was left wondering, and I think about this every time I read yet another “Code Red” adoption story across the state in my daily readings. Why would we not realize that the companion story to the daily rah-rah about Texas’ hyper-growth in population has the same direct correlation to animal population management?

To know that any city’s population that has grown 5-20% in the last five years, and is likely to be on that same path for many more years – and to not have an animal shelter program and facility expansion in lockstep – is to have one’s head stuck in the sand.

There was a new story in the Amarillo news media this morning. A dog in labor was euthanized. I’m having difficulty even imagining how that could happen. But I do know  there are some basic management principles at play. There is an intake rate and an outflow rate. When the former grows at levels that some would have no problem describing as “massive,” then the inventory (facility) can only expand so far until the outflows have to increase: Pets have to be adopted, shipped to another facility (shifting the burden) or else the animal has to be euthanized put to death.

But those inventory and processing steps – called animal shelter programming and facility capacity – need to be sized commensurate with the population growth. Otherwise, city and county leaders can expect mistakes and regretful decisions from staff and volunteers. To turn one’s back to this problem is irresponsible.

C’mon folks, these animal shelters need some help – and kind-hearted adopters who already have too many pets cannot be the only solution. LFM

 

Stadium Cracks, Forensic Investigation and Bureaucratic Sedation at McKinney ISD

You can’t make this stuff up. MISD has known since January 2018 that the new stadium, in the race for the most expensive high school football stadium in Texas – or is it the world?, had problems with cracks. A forensic firm has been hired to figure out what to do. Months ago. And apparently it was not the contractor and engineer who found the cracks.

It’s too much to restate here, and you might not even believe me.  See the video. You can see more than you can hear since the Board Chair doesn’t have the sense to ask key speakers in the audience to step up to the microphone. Oh by the way, I can only see about a dozen humans sitting there to witness this giddy gathering.

But so far there is a bigger story here I see. Watch the video and how calm (and rehearsed?) the Board and staff are. There is a lead up to the official news unveiling at the meeting. No, it is not somber. It is all but a lead in to a Bruce Springsteen concert. The praises for the construction firm and engineering firms drip like syrup. I thought the staffer was going to choke up as he spoke of the privilege to be working with such a fine group.

Then the revelation. It’s a dry, boring, evenly paced announcement delivered like Ben Stein talking – after he’s had an extra dose of muscle relaxers.

Then comes the softball questions from the Board. Well trained to defend the bureaucracy, they grind up the strength to ask a question or two. They even award an attaboy at the end for “vetting” the problem.

One speaker even chunked in the obligatory word “transparency” to emphasize the honesty in the room. Kumbaya, my Lord! Someone is crying. And it’s the taxpayers. Or will be. No wait. A handful voted for these Board members and for The Stadium. And they are getting their full worth from MISD.

Holy cow! Look back over my blogs about MISD at http://www.citybaseblog.net. The Elected and the Bureaucrats want to lull us into acceptance of anything and everything they say once again.

Not me! LFM

Assertions, Exaggerations and Anecdotal Evidence

Last Wednesday night at the Special Meeting of the McKinney City Council, the Censure of La’Shadion Shemwell ended with a pleasant surprise. The public spoke, followed by individual Councilmembers speaking, saving Mr. Shemwell for last. I thought the monologues were more scrambled eggs than insight until the very end. Councilman Shemwell made the motion to approve his own censure. It was better than the ending I was hoping for as explained in my last blog. Like a professional, statesman and gentleman, he let his fellow Councilmembers off the hook.

But that wasn’t the biggest takeaway from the evening. Mayor Fuller was making notes of the public speakers’ comments. Then he led off the council comments with a response. He made a point of the way many people brought forth complaints to the City Council, including an illustration of how one of his closest friends and campaign volunteers had claimed an incident occurred. It was also recorded. The Mayor was quite blunt. The video provided a rebuttal of the events told to  him by a trusted friend. The event didn’t happen the way he was told. The Mayor stopped short of saying the friend was a bald-faced liar. He didn’t need to. We all got the point.

One very articulate woman made the claim that the City had done nothing to improve race relations since the ugly pool party incident three years ago. The Mayor rebutted that her statement couldn’t be further from the truth. He then enumerated the things the City had put in place. Another equally impressive speaker from the delivery standpoint asserted that if the Council thought Mr. Shemwell had done wrong, then just wait, he was going to reveal the very next day the number of shady deals that had occurred by past and current Councilmembers. The Mayor didn’t flinch. He all but deputized the speaker to bring those charges forth and said it was his duty to reveal such actions. Again, put up or shut up!

The Warning Shot for Future Speakers

It happens all the time and not just in McKinney. Speakers get up to register a complaint. Then to authenticate their assertion, they make an outlandish statement. “My taxes have doubled in the last three years!” Whoa! Hold it right there. Is that a true statement? I doubt it. The good thing is that the facts are obtainable. And should be. That would not be a smart move with the McKinney City Council. Most people of reasonable intelligence know when a story has been embellished. You will get nailed here.

In most cases the staff is obligated to check into assertions and complaints made by the public. Can you imagine the hours spent researching faulty statements? Not a problem if the claim is true and something needs to be done to rectify the findings. Most of the time, the Council is informed that the claim was in error with the facts documented made available to them.

I would like to see a follow-on report made public, just as the false or embellished claim was made public. Especially when made to feed an anti-government audience.

Stay on Track

Oh my gosh, watch the video of last Wednesday’s meeting. Some of the speakers started on one path and then veered off like one of those crazy race car video games. The facts in this meeting are very clear and simple to enumerate. But somehow some speakers wanted to throw in stories and extraneous information that would have rendered the Council playing Whack-a-Mole if they had tried to respond. Even Mr. Shemwell’s mother made a passionate statement that took us back to his childhood, one of terror and extreme odds to overcome. I was touched. There was only one problem. It had nothing to do with Mr. Shemwell speeding, refusing to sign a ticket and then getting arrested.

Anecdotal Evidence

One of the speakers I mentioned started her comments by yelling out that McKinney has a racial problem. If so, then let’s dig into it and prove or disprove her assertion. What I do know is that all 180,000 people in McKinney have seen or experienced a problem of some kind. We could all stand up and say McKinney has a pothole problem, a high-weed problem, a junk car problem, a leaning street sign problem or a littering problem. And I don’t want to downplay any of these. But there is a big difference between anecdotal evidence and a widespread problem.

There is also a distinction that needs to be made between now and the past. If McKinney had a racial problem a decade ago and has made great strides to address and correct the problem, where do we get credit for the improvement? Almost any statement about anything the City tries to fix is tempered with an obligatory comment: But we have room to improve, and we won’t be satisfied until we are better than we are now. Professional city management and good governance will never be able to sit on its laurels.

Then comes a companion issue. Let’s not be bashful when it comes to cost. On some things, response time and capacity are realities. If we were to fix every single pothole the instant it is spotted, and I’m talking 100%, that could be possible. But it would be an exorbitant expense, meaning taxes would have to be raised to pay for it.

If every ounce of our energy was spent to eliminate even a tinge of racism, that would be a different issue where the cost is more than just dollars. And dollars wouldn’t be the solution. Hey, I would like that. I bought in to every word the Chicago Bishop said at the recent Royal Wedding. Did you?

I thought it was interesting at last Wednesday’s meeting that a couple of white speakers used anecdotal evidence to make a point about racism. They have a friend or someone important in their life who is black. Yeah, that won’t cut it either. It works both ways. Alone, that doesn’t prove or disprove racism.

But where is the evidence that McKinney has a racial problem? I haven’t looked at the government required police racial profiling report where there is more than anecdotal evidence revealed. Yes, I know not one single piece of information would tell the entire story.

So, how do you prove McKinney has a racial problem? Or, how do you prove that McKinney does not have a racial problem?

And just exactly where and how is it manifested? And if it is rampant, point that out to me. And if existed but is improving, where would I find the people standing up to say it’s better or, someday, almost non-existent?

A Recommended Requirement

The Mayor reads a statement at the beginning of each meeting that basically enacts a decorum mandate for speakers and the audience, such as to address the entire Council and not single out an individual person.

I think he should add a similar note ahead of the Public Comments portion of Council meetings:

“We are genuinely interested in public comments. You are being asked to identify yourself and to provide contact information on your speaker’s card. We also want you to know that in almost all cases we will seek to answer your question or respond to your need. Please be factual and accurate with any assertions you make regarding your situation. We do not want to embarrass you or put anybody on the spot. However, as your comments are public, we will make our responses to you public at a later date. Thank you for assisting in the decorum of these chambers.”

 

The Best Option for Councilman Shemwell

There’s only one person who has done anything wrong in the Shemwell arrest saga, and it is without doubt that it’s a fact rather opinion as I said in my last blog.

Mr. Shemwell has placed the burden of dealing with this ugly episode on the City Council, which is truly a cowardly thing to do. Next Wednesday night, the Council is going to censure him. The resolution on the agenda is quite blunt and clear, as was Shemwell’s actions.

There are two appropriate actions I see the Councilman taking. The first is to resign before a vote is taken. That would be the honorable thing to do.

But I have a better idea, and one that is consistent with the man everyone supported during the elections – well beyond the voting base of his District.

He should seek redemption.

That decision would be consistent with the man I praised a year ago. That shouldn’t be so hard for a man caught in a blatant lie. The action would pave the path for a true reconciliation between Mr. Shemwell and the public, along with the City Council and Police Department.

But it would have to be more than a decision. It would  have to be genuine, and the burden is on Mr. Shemwell to be convincing.

I cannot imagine a single person not responding well to Mr. Shemwell’s redemptive steps. Steps that include an elocution and allocution of the facts. Yes, we know the facts. But we haven’t heard him speak the facts and ask for forgiveness.

Yes, he needs to ask for forgiveness. From the officer involved. And from the City Council to which he has shrugged his shoulders as he tried to shift the focus on everybody but him.

Even if Mr. Shemwell is censured, this story doesn’t end there in a satisfactory way. His credibility will never be restored. He will be powerless. Oh, he could make noise, but that’s a far cry from being a leader anybody wants to follow.

On the other hand, forgiveness is the completeness of redemption. And I know he will have forgiveness. The restoration means we can all move forward. We can heal, and we can build. I dare say that in no time the memories will be of the redemption, not of the act. The prayers will be of gratefulness from all sides.

But only one man committed an offense here. And only one man can write the proper ending to this story. LFM

Will the Real Councilman Shemwell, Please Resign!

There are some fair, balanced news accounts about the fiasco involving McKinney City Councilman La’ Shadion Shemwell. Short version: Councilman speeds and gets a ticket, which he refuses to sign. Then he gets arrested after repeated requests to sign. Councilman cries racial bias.

But there’s a twist to the story. CAMERA!

Knowing there’s a camera and being cautioned by the mayor not to say more until the video is reviewed, Shemwell keeps flapping his lips about being mistreated. Then he sees the video. His story changes or at least he owns up to his behavior, which he had left out of his first version of this story. But apparently not able to put toothpaste back in the tube, he keeps squeezing. Somehow he weaves a justification into this actions saying he won’t stop speaking truth to power.

Huh? What truth?

I would invite the reader to figure out all by yourself where the truth is.

Here’s what we know. Councilman Shemwell’s version of the truth was clear and unwavering, chocked full of defiance, and then only slightly modified in light of a true video.

But the real story of truth is embedded in this question: what if there had not been a video? Even the most shallow imagination can figure out where Shemwell’s truth was heading. The police officer would have been painted as a full-fledged member of the Gestapo. Perhaps a gun would have been shoved into Mr. Shemwell’s throat.

Hey, when it’s a he said-he said, why not get creative?

But then there’s that damn camera!

I believe the true Mr. Shemwell has been revealed. He’s pretty crafty with his words, and apparently he is still trying to turn this story around as recent as last night. He’s a failure as a spinmeister.

I thought I knew the real Shemwell. See my blog where I had nothing but praises for him.

I think we all know the real Mr. Shemwell now. He is an embarrassment for the City of McKinney and has caused unnecessary damage. If he cared for the City, he would resign and let someone else lead in his place. Someone who acts like the camera is always on, even if it is not. LFM