Sunday, November 22, 2009

In my medical career I have frequently felt that some of my best decisions were to NOT do something. Sometimes, especially in an emergency there is a temptation to just do something, anything... but sometimes the best thing is to just stand there! Some problems resolve themselves, sometimes the initial impulse is not the right one and sometimes one has to take time to think to do the right thing.

Some of our recent Town Council decisions fit into this same rubric. My initial response to the speed camera proposal was negative. However, I have great respect for our police chief and his advice and wanted to evalute them further and also seek the input of our citizens. My research only reinforced my initial instincts and I am glad we are not moving forward with this. Although there was initially much enthusiasm among some on the council, clearly public opinion took its toll. While we don't always have to make an active decision not to do something, I thought this was a time when we should make that statement and made the motion to not move forward with this idea. I'm glad it was accepted and passed.

The same applies to raising the sales tax. Obviously we can always use more money, but at this time with the economy only just starting to recover and many of our businesses struggling, this would not be the right thing to do.

Bill Lusk has raised several other proposals recently which we have decided not to pursue. He asked the town to research curfews for youth. I did some research and found evidence that they didn't seem to work. Chief Veal agreed that the problem didn't warrant the solution. I'm glad we are not moving forward on that proposal.

Mr. Lusk has also raised the idea of a "dog park". I have owned dogs almost my entire life. I currently have two. I stand behind noone in my love for dogs. However, I don't see this as a pressing need in our community. Mrs. Robertson stated that we didn't plan to spend tax money on this and it would only be done if it was run by volunteers. Since we have never discussed any of this I'm not sure just what she meant. She may have just been expressing her own opinion, but she did say "we". If she is having these discussions with the rest of the Council in non-public meetings, it is a violation of the public meeting law and that would be unfortunate. Obviously, if someone wants to buy some land and create a dog park with volunteers I would say more power to them, but since this was brought up as a town effort, it would clearly involve tax dollars even if volunteers agreed to "scoop the poop". I think there are much more important issues for us to address and greater needs for our tax dollars at present.

While those that know me as a liberal might be surprised, I am a believer in the principle that government which governs least governs best. It is a classic liberal principle to keep government out of people's lives as much as possible. I do believe government has a role to play in public safety and can do much to improve people's lives, but was never interested in just looking for things I could meddle in. We have way too many needs in this town to be creating more.

As I enter my last year in office (and no, I do not plan to run for re-election), I hope to see a few things finished that we started. I wanted to re-write some of our ordinances to make them clearer and began re-organizing our whole board and commissions structure. Honna has taken my initial work, improved it and the Council will hopefully be passing this re-write in December. I hope to see the Planning Commission and Council complete work on re-doing our subdivision and zoning regulations before I leave, but considering how long it is taking, I am not optimistic. Considering that I have been totally sidelined on this issue anyway, it probably doesn't matter.
I am please with many of the environmental initiatives we have begun. These have not been just "feel good" initiatives, but actions such as replacing lighting fixtures with more energy efficient ones and replacing light bulbs with compact fluorescents will save the town money while cutting down our carbon emissions. I am proud of that. I'll deal with a few other outstanding issues over the next few months.

Speaking of elections, the town council elections are a year off! We were criticized last year for not publicizing them more broadly and some thought this is why noone ran against the incumbents. Clearly there will be at least one open seat next fall, mine. Hershel was talking about running for re-election last I heard from him, but I honestly don't know what his final decision will be. I also don't know what Susan Robertson, who is also up for re-election will do, though I would be surprised if she didn't run. I would urge anyone who has considered serving in town government to think seriously about running. It is a great service to your community and a great experience. I'm happy to talk with anyone considering this. Deadlines for "signing up" aren't until next August, but elections up here have gotten a lot more serious lately, so it is best to do some advance planning. Give it a try!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A few issues in the news...

I wanted to comment on a few issues currently in the news. We had our monthly agenda/work session last Monday and several of these were discussed.

On the topic of "speed cameras", I have previously stated my opposition. I just don't think we need them on Signal Mountain right now, although I support our police chief and his efforts to enforce our laws. It seemed apparent to me that Hershel Dick also opposed these and he expressed this in the meeting. The other three Councilmembers had seemed fairly supportive of the idea, however Bill Lusk stated that after further research he was now leaning against them. I suggested that we should formally make a statement that we would not be moving forward on this issue. The other two (Ms. Allen and Robertson) expressed no opposition, so I suspect this is a dead issue and will be formally dropped.

Mr. Lusk has also raised the issue of curfews for minors. We have had some problems with vandalism in some of our parks and apparently he had been asked by citizens to consider this option. Many cities have adopted these and, while the cities claim they decrease crime, at least one independent study that I found did not support this. Mr. Lusk had asked Chief Veal to research this and, while Chief Veal stated it would give the police more flexibility, he didn't seem to think it would help that much. I have my own concerns that the primary effect would be to hassle law abiding minors returning late from dates, etc without significantly impacting the few problems we have. I did tell the Chief that I supported the idea of the police contacting parents of minors found out late at night. I think that sort of notification is the best approach to this issue. The general consensus seemed to be that this was a solution in search of a problem and that we shouldn't pursue it.

In the paper today is an article about dog parks. This is another issue Mr. Lusk has raised for the town staff to research. I have never heard anyone raise this issue before. I don't see this as a need for this town and in the current fiscal situation could not support any money being put towards this kind of a project. I can certainly see the need in cities where many people live in apartments with pets, but in a town where the council continues to prefer to require that citizens have large yards it doesn't seem necessary.

The staff has suggested we consider a referendum on raising the sales tax. Our current tax rate is 9.25% with the highest allowable rate in Tennessee being 9.75%. The concern raised was that the state legislature might consider raising this tax statewide to raise revenue and, in that case Signal Mountain would lose significant funds unless we raised it ourselves first. However, it has also been pointed out that next year is an election year and, with a state legislature controlled by taxophobic Republicans, it seems likely they would look for more subtle ways to raise revenue. It seems unlikely we will be pursuing this anytime soon. Certainly the town could use additional funds for capital projects and this is the case that would have to be made. However, while the recession seems to be over the the economy starting to slowly recover, it doesn't seem like an ideal time to raise this tax.

As many of you may know, the MACC is having major ceiling and roof problems. Raccoons have nested in the ceiling for years and their, shall I say "items left behind" have led to deterioration of the ceilings. This building originally had plaster ceilings. When the ceilings began to crack, apparently the school board covered them with drop ceilings as a cosmetic fix. However, the damage is such that the plaster ceilings are now beginning to fall through and the roof has leaks in it, too. Parts of the roof have been repaired in the past and some areas such as the "portable" metal buildings and the cafeteria area are still usable, however it would be foolish to repair the ceiling without repairing the roof, so this has turned into a major project. We are currently in the process of collecting bids and proposals, so I will have more info later. The MACC board has been very active and supportive of this effort as has the Friends of MACC. We will certainly be seeking any grants available for this historic building and if any of you have ever considered contributing to the MACC through Friends of MACC, this is the time to do it. I want to thank Barb Storm new MACC director for her leadership in taking on a project which was not apparent when she took the job!

Finally, my personal congratulations to the Signal Mountain High School Girl's Golf Team on winning the State Championship and to the SMMS Varsity Football team for making the play-offs! Go Eagles!