Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A City Election in November This Year

Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low.
Sayre was right ... with one possible exception, the politics surrounding the method of choosing the City of Richardson's mayor.

Richardson will hold a city election in November in conjunction with the presidential election. Normally, city elections are held in May, separate from the partisan bickering that dominates the November elections. But because of a petition organized by Alan North (at unknown cost), the November ballot will also ask Richardson voters to amend the City Charter to replace the current method of selecting the mayor with direct election by the voters.

After the jump, what it means.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Review: Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power

Private Empire
Amazon
From Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, by Steve Coll:

Open quote 
"I'm not a U.S. company, and I don't make decisions based on what's good for the U.S." -- Lee Raymond, CEO of ExxonMobil"

After the jump, my review.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Olympics: A Look Back at Beijing

Beijing Olympics

With the 2012 Olympics set to open in London, I couldn't help thinking back to the opening of the 2008 Games in Beijing. John was there, outside the stadium, and even made the briefest appearance on the "NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams." That's him, above, at the 1:29 mark of the video. Good times.

Three years later, Ellen and I were lucky enough to make our own visit to the site of those 2008 Games. Things were much quieter in Beijing in the spring of 2011 compared to the excitement in the summer of 2008, but the site is still impressive and worth a visit. After the jump, photos of the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube.

Review: The Year of Magical Thinking

Year of Magical Thinking
Amazon
From The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion:

Open quote 
I did not yet have the concentration to work but I could straighten my house, I could get on top of things, I could deal with my unopened mail. That I was only now beginning the process of mourning did not occur to me. Until now I had been able only to grieve, not mourn. Grief was passive. Grief happened. Mourning, the act of dealing with grief, required attention."

After the jump, my review.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

First Landscape Buffers, Then Signs

Earlier, I riffed on the folly of cities requiring landscape buffers between the sidewalk and business parking lots. Screening eyesores from passersby does nothing to solve the root problem: ugly parking lots. Why not create regulations that lead businesses to make those parking lots more inviting to passersby rather than just try to hide them? Challenge those designers who are designing bridges to rethink the parking lot instead.

Walk with me, after the jump.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

DCI at Lake Highlands HS

Every summer Drum Corps International (DCI) makes Lake Highlands High School's Wildcat-Ram Stadium a stop for one of its marching band competitions on its nationwide tour. This year, the performing ensembles included (in order of finish):
  • The Cadets - Allentown, PA
  • Santa Clara Vanguard - Santa Clara, CA
  • Bluecoats - Canton, OH
  • Madison Scouts - Madison, WI
  • Boston Crusaders - Boston, MA
  • Blue Knights - Denver, CO
  • Crossmen - San Antonio, TX
  • The Academy - Tempe, AZ
  • Glassmen - Toledo, OH
  • Cascades - Seattle, WA
  • Forte - Dallas, TX
As always, it was a great show for the large crowd that always turns out to appreciate the music, the marching, and the great effort shown by these hundreds and hundreds of young musicians.

More photos after the jump.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Eroding a Landscape Buffer

The Burger King on Campbell Rd west of Central Expressway is going to get torn down and rebuilt. Woot! The requirement for a certain sized landscape buffer along Campbell Rd is going to give way to make room for more parking. Boo! Burger King insists they need more. Ever more. Everything that's wrong with urban design today is caused by the insatiable demand for parking.

After the jump, the real problem with the Burger King parking lot.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Review: Eisenhower: The White House Years

Eisenhower
Amazon
From Eisenhower: The White House Years, by Jim Newton:

Open quote 
As word trickled through the crowd, Lloyd Berkner, America's official representative to the international committee hosting the conference, graciously acknowledged the work of the Soviet scientists. 'I wish to make an announcement,' he called out. 'I've just been informed by the New York Times that a Russian satellite is in orbit at an elevation of 900 kilometers. I wish to congratulate our Soviet colleagues on their achievement.'"

The above quote does not have anything to do with Eisenhower, but it does have something to do with Richardson, Texas. Lloyd Berkner is none other than the man for whom that high school in Richardson is named. Berkner the man is nearly forgotten today, but that high school bearing his name is a reminder of how important Sputnik and the Space Race were to all Americans in the late 1950s. It's almost impossible to imagine today just how important. That alone makes the Eisenhower presidency important, too.

After the jump, my review.

Friday, July 20, 2012

"You Didn't Build That"

When we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.
Source: President Barack Obama.
That doesn't sound controversial, does it? So, why are Republicans making it sound like President Obama issued the Communist Manifesto in his comments this week at a campaign rally in Roanoke, Virginia? Wait, you say that I'm taking the sentence above out of context? That Republicans want to take a different sentence out of context? Republicans are making hay out of another sentence. "If you've got a business -- you didn't build that."

And by Republicans, I have to include Mike Hashimoto, editorial writer for The Dallas Morning News. Hashimoto takes that one sentence and proceeds to tell readers that the words "pull back the curtain on some personal truth, a core belief" of President Obama. For Hashimoto, "I think it's pretty clear that this is a president -- of the United States -- who has little appreciation for the American way and certainly the American Dream. To his mind, if government doesn't provide it, it's not worth having." [Emphasis his.]

That's a lot of mind-reading there. Thankfully, Americans don't have to read President Obama's mind on the subject. They don't have to read paragraph after paragraph of Hashimoto's own explanation of all that President Obama meant by that one sentence, the only one Hashimoto bothers to quote. Americans don't even have to ask President Obama himself to explain what he meant. He already did. Just read the full context -- a context that Republicans invariably strip from the retelling -- and you know exactly what President Obama meant.

After the jump, the full context.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

How to Repair Streets the Best Way

Stop worrying about the potholes in the road
and celebrate the journey.
Source: Barbara Hoffman.
This just drives me crazy. The City of Richardson is facing numerous serious challenges. The redevelopment of Main Street/Central Expressway Corridor is just the latest major project kicked off by the city. The redevelopment of the West Spring Valley Corridor and the greenfield development around the PGBT DART station are two others that are still supposedly underway. I say supposedly because they haven't been on the council agenda much lately.

After the jump, what the city council thinks is more deserving of its limited weekly meeting time.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Speaking English: Balanced Budget (2012 Definition)

Last year at budget time, I set out with what I thought was a simple goal. I wanted the City of Richardson to adopt a balanced budget. I was disappointed. The city adopted a budget in which expenditures exceeded revenues. The city insisted the budget was nevertheless balanced. That's because the city feels free to use "reserved fund balance" to make up for a shortfall in revenues and still call the budget balanced.

I figured OK, maybe it's at least a cyclically balanced budget. Some years there's a reserved fund balance to draw down. Other years, the city runs a surplus and restores that reserved fund balance. An adamant reader insisted that I was wrong, that the reserved fund balance is drawn down each and every year, and replenished not by budget surpluses, but by increasing debt.

I never did get to the bottom of the conundrum. You can read the conclusion of last year's whole ugly mess if you want.

Now, they're ba-a-a-a-ck! The City Council is holding another of its annual so-called budget retreats this week. After the jump, my firm resolution.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

DART Should Copy UPS

In The Washington Post's most excellent "Wonkblog," Brad Plumer explains "why most Americans can't take mass transit to work." In short, it's because that, "Even though millions of people live near transit stops, and even though millions of jobs are near transit stops, those systems don't line up."

Eric Nicholson gives his take on this news as it pertains to Dallas, in Unfair Park.

My own take is this: it's time for DART to re-invent mass transit. After the jump, the brilliant idea that came to me while waiting for the bus.

Monday, July 16, 2012

You Can't Spell Golf Fund Without F-U-N

The Richardson City Council received a presentation from city staff on the financial status of the municipal Sherrill Park Golf Course. Despite increased greens fees this year and an almost 10% increase in revenues compared to this time last year, the city still anticipates needing to transfer $105,000 into the city's Golf Fund to cover expenses. Most of this is due to a recent change in interpretation of the law by the state comptroller requiring the city to pay sales tax on greens fees, which the city had not been collecting before March of this year.

After the jump, why golf can be such a frustrating game.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Chasing Squirrels Again in Richardson

The City of Richardson held an open house this week to begin public discussion of the future of Main Street and the Central Expressway Corridor. This is likely to be the most consequential subject that this city council takes up in its two year term. So, what is everyone blogging about (and by "everyone," I of course mean "me")? Why, it's the upcoming referendum to vote on whether our ceremonial mayor is directly elected or not. Really.

After the jump, chasing squirrels again in Richardson.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Richardson Echoes

In case you're late to the party, let me catch you up. Richardson citizens face a referendum in November in which they'll be asked whether to change Richardson's city charter to make the office of mayor directly elected by the voters.

OK, I know it doesn't sound like much of a party. No fun here. Still, some are cackling about it like they somehow got into the good stuff. At least those people should find something to amuse them here.

Previously, I wondered, if direct election of the mayor is such an obviously fair and democratic way to do it, why in the world did Richardson's voters not set it up like that way back in 1956 when they adopted the current system? I started searching to find out what I could about that long ago decision, to find out if there might be any faint echoes of it still reverberating today that might inform the choice about to be thrust upon us in this year's November election.

I didn't find the answer to why Richardson made the choice they did in 1956, but I did discover that the City of Dallas, in 1949, switched from a system remarkably like Richardson's today to a system of direct election for mayor. I also found a back story that suggested that contentious council government after Dallas made the change would have justified Richardson's decision not to follow Dallas, but I didn't find any hard evidence that was behind Richardson's decision. For whatever reason, Richardson rejected Dallas's decision.

After the jump, the results of a little more digging.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

1949: Charter Change for Dallas

History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme.
Source: Mark Twain.
Recently, I asserted that "There are pros and cons to any system of government. The [Richardson] charter commission in 1956 must have spent hours and hours considering all of them, before the voters approved a council-manager form of government with limited duties and responsibilities for the mayor and the current method of choosing that mayor."

I said "must have spent" instead of "for sure did spend" because, frankly, I didn't know. I did no research on how much time Richardson's founding fathers spent deliberating over Richardson's original city charter. But "hours and hours" seemed like a reasonable assumption, so that's what I said.

It didn't take long for a reader to challenge me (sort of). He asserted, "Richardson pretty much copied the Dallas charter all those years ago, with some minor changes that were Richardson specific." Whether or not it was intended, that could be taken to imply that Richardson's city fathers didn't break a sweat agonizing over options and details. Someone gaveled the first charter commission meeting to order, someone else pulled out a parchment containing the Dallas city charter, took his big black fountain pen and crossed out the word Dallas and wrote in Richardson, and then said, let's say we call it a day and all go out for a beer. Except I don't know how far they'd have to go in those days for a beer. Pretty far, I reckon. Chicago, maybe. So maybe they just went out for a sarsaparilla. That's another thing I didn't research.

After the jump, back on topic.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Richardson's First Directly Elected Mayor

Who will it be? Read on.

Yesterday, I analyzed the upcoming referendum to amend Richardson's City Charter to have a directly-elected mayor. I confidently predicted that the proposed amendment would pass. I less confidently predicted that there would be no serious organized opposition because the amendment would be likely to pass in any case. Everyone would save their time, effort and money for the upcoming mayoral election in May, 2013.

After the jump, how that will go down.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Mayoral Referendum: Now What?

Revolution is not coming to Richardson, it is finally here.
Source: Anonymous online commenter.
According to a press release by the political action committee that bankrolled it, the effort to secure enough petition signatures to force a referendum on the direct election of Richardson's mayor has met its goal. Assuming the signatures hold up, the big question now is, what's next?

After the jump, the road ahead.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Higgs Boson or Fireworks?

Today's diversion is a simple quiz. Which is it: Higgs boson tracks or Richardson "Family 4th Celebration" fireworks? You decide.

From 2012 07 04 Breckinridge

This July 4th, a team of nuclear physicists announced experimental evidence for the Higgs boson, the particle that gives everything its mass (the so-called "God particle," a term physicists hate). It was predicted to exist in 1964 and ever since physicists have been working towards having a powerful enough particle accelerator to produce experimental results to test the theory. Now they have one, the Large Hadron Collider, a $10 billion instrument buried in a 17 mile circular tunnel, the collaboration of dozens of countries, hundreds of universities, and thousands of scientists, the largest and most complex device ever built. With the July 4th announcement, scientists worldwide celebrated a major advancement in human understanding of the building blocks of our universe.

Coincidentally, the City of Richardson was holding its "Family 4th Celebration" on July 4th, too. Despite the smaller cost and more local audience, the tracks of fireworks across the sky at Breckinridge Park delighted young and old just as much as the Higgs boson tracks delighted scientists. This year, there were two reasons to celebrate. Congratulations, scientists. And Happy Birthday, America.

More photos after the jump.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

OTBR: Desolate Flats of Bessemer Bend

Latitude: N 42° 50.058
Longitude: W 106° 38.922

A child on a road trip with his family asks, "Where are we?" and the father answers, "Let's check the map. We're off the blue roads [the Interstate Highways marked in blue on the road atlas]. We're off the red roads [the US and state highways]. We're off the black roads [the county highways]. I think we're off the map altogether." It was always my dream to be off the map altogether.

After the jump, a few of the random places (and I mean random literally) that I visited vicariously last month that are "off the blue roads".

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Repeat Tweets: Obamacare For the Win

Repeat tweets from June, 2012:

  • 2012 06 02 - Headline: "Detroit turns a freeway into a river." Imagine the Trinity Tollway after a spring flood. http://t.co/x94JjsL9
  • 2012 06 04 - Listen in on Bill McCalpin's phone call to Chris Cutrone: http://t.co/fh46NmpC
  • 2012 06 05 - 1Q84, by Haruki Murakami: Action, mystery, fantasy. Murders, cults, love and two moons. Indelible characters. Best novel in years. A+
  • 2012 06 07 - The Book of Nothing, by John Barrow: Zero, vacuums, quantum theory. Science and history of science. Last half might lose non-physicists. B-
  • 2012 06 07 - Wonder how world leaders could have been so stupid as to blunder into WWI or the Great Depression? Wonder no more. http://t.co/fcUdp052
  • 2012 06 07 - "Rethinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking." Every city council member should read this book. http://t.co/fw4vJ7Yk

After the jump, more repeat tweets.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A "Tammy" for Richardson

The City of Richardson proudly announced that "Richardson’s newly re-designed website has earned the top award from the Texas Association of Municipal Information Officers (TAMIO) for website design in a community with a population less than 100,000."

Kudos to the City of Richardson. After the jump, a few minor caveats.

Monday, July 2, 2012

School Funding: A Race to the Bottom

Kris Oliver, member of the Richardson school board, attended the Summer Leadership Institute, a training conference for the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB). He kept his Twitter followers informed with bits of trivia.
Facts from my @tasbnews finance training. Texas rank in education spending per pupil? 42
Source: Kris Oliver.
If you knew that, then you probably won't be surprised by this next bit of trivia, either.
Texas rank in percent of adult residents with a high school diploma? Dead last.
Source: Kris Oliver.
Surely, you think, the Texas legislature realizes that the correlation between school funding and academic results just might be a bit of a cause-and-effect relationship, too.

After the jump, will it be this year?