Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Raises? What Raises?

Total expenses for fiscal year 2011 increased by approximately $11,374,000 (8.96%) when compared to fiscal year 2010. This increase is predominately due to increases in salaries and employee benefits.
Those sentences are from the 2011 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for Richardson. I'm still trying to figure out where the city thought the money for those employee raises was going to come from. But even more, what raises are we even talking about?

After the jump, following the money.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Playoffs: Desoto 64, Berkner 55

The Berkner Rams men's basketball team lost their third-round playoff game Tuesday night to Desoto 64-55 at Grand Prairie High School. The Rams jumped out to a 9 point 1st quarter lead, led by 7 at halftime and still led by 1 after the 3rd quarter. But the Rams seemed to run out of steam in the 4th quarter, with Desoto outscoring Berkner by 10 to make the final result 64-55. Kendal Harris led the Rams in scoring with 20 points. The Jaguars were led by Matt Jones with 29.

With the loss, the Rams' season is over. And what a season it was. The Rams were District 9-5A champions with a 13-1 record. Their overall record was 27-7. Thanks for the great season, Rams.

More About That KPMG Audit

A word of thanks to the Richardson City Council audit committee (Bob Townsend, Laura Maczka, Scott Dunn) for asking the city's auditor, KPMG, if their Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) could be published in spreadsheet format. KPMG insists that it not be, in an effort to make it harder for unscrupulous people to change the data. Of course, that also makes it harder to audit the auditors, so to speak. KPMG have allowed the report to be published in a searchable PDF format. I can attest that this year's CAFR is searchable (thanks).

After the jump, so what?

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Devil Wears Green Eyeshades

Last week, without any training, I played art critic. This week, I get to play accountant, again without any training. Consider this a layman's adventure into the netherworld of municipal accounting, otherwise known as the CAFR. Fun fact: CAFR happens to be the abbreviation of a Latin phrase that means, "Abandon all hope ye who enter here." (Warning: I don't have any training in Latin, either.) Open the door and you'll be lured into a spider's web of terms and numbers that will bring you down and overwhelm you and smother you. Last warning: run away!

After the jump, the descent begins.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Phantom of the Opera at PHS

From 2012 01 Musicals

Phantom of the Opera, at JJ Pearce HS: Great voices. Lavish production. Ambitious. Romantic way to celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Playoffs: Berkner 70, Mesquite Horn 61

The Berkner Rams men's basketball team won their second-round playoff game, beating Mesquite Horn 70-61 at South Garland High School. The Rams fought back from a 35-27 halftime deficit, outscoring the Jaguars by eleven points in the 3rd quarter and by six in the 4th. The balanced Ram offense had four players in double figures in scoring, with Kendal Harris leading the scoring with 23 points. The Jaguars were led by Mike King, also with 23.

With the win, the Rams are area champions and advance to the regional quarterfinals, where they will play the winner of Saturday's Desoto/Rowlett area championship game. Date and location are to be determined.

It's a great time to be a Ram!

The End of Western Civilization

Rodger Jones, editorial writer for The Dallas Morning News, takes time out from his primary cause, whining about the sidewalks to Richardson DART stations, in order to warn us of another apocalyptic problem on his mind, the end of Western civilization.

After the jump, the source of the danger.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Failure to Launch - cont.

Yesterday, I panned the sculpture planned for the plaza at Richardson's rebuilt Heights Recreation Center and Aquatic Center. In turn, some panned my review. Now that I've had 24 hours to think it over, do I have anything to add?

After the jump, more highbrow art review from someone with no training whatsoever.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Rocket Ship Fails to Achieve Liftoff

Rocket Gateway
This week marked the fiftieth anniversary of the orbital flight of John Glenn. Fittingly, the City of Richardson unveiled "Rocket Gateway," the sculpture design concept selected for the redeveloped Heights Park Recreation Center and Aquatics Center (the latter is what we used to call a swimming pool, but in a nod to John Glenn, maybe we ought to call this one a splashdown target zone). A lot of attention was paid to reusing the old playground equipment, especially the rocket ship climbing structure removed when the playground was redeveloped a few years ago.

After the jump, a high-brow art critic's opinion (of course, by high-brow art critic, I mean low-brow and me).

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Where Is Everybody?

Yesterday, I praised the improved transparency and usability of government databases. Today, I use an excellent example, courtesy of Washington and New York. It's US Census data and a user interface provided by The New York Times.

After the jump, does your Richardson neighborhood feel less crowded than it did ten years ago?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Transparency and Usability

There are more government databases becoming available to the public. This improved transparency is good. The usability of that data is improving as well. This is also good.

After the jump, an example from Richardson, and a wish for more.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Recovery

Jeffrey Frankel, Professor of Capital Formation and Growth at Harvard University, suggests that, listening to the political discourse in this election year, whether Republican, Democratic, or middle-ground observers, a listener would be led to believe that economic statistics show no discernible improvement in the economy over the last three years. He offers three graphs that dispute that. He says you can argue about the causes behind the positive trend, but you can't argue with the data itself. He suggests the reason for the misunderstanding is that data now show "the US economy to have been in far worse shape in January 2009 than was reported at the time."

After the jump, the other two graphs.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Repeat Tweets: Caucuses, Bowls, and Other Games

Repeat tweets from January, 2012:

  • 2012 01 04 - Local Tea Party blogger headline: "Bitter-Sweet Ohio Caucuses." I'd add geographically-challenged, too.
  • 2012 01 05 - The NFL's loss is Wisconsin's gain. (To be safe, better take out an injury insurance policy.)
  • 2012 01 06 - Headline: "Payrolls up 200,000 in December -- 50k above expectations. Unemployment down to 8.5 percent." GOP blames Obama.
  • 2012 01 07 - Wisconsin's JJ Watt picks off TCU's Andy Dalton, returns it for TD. A tiny measure of revenge for 2011 Rose Bowl loss.
  • 2012 01 09 - My tweak to the BCS format: four team playoff of highest-ranked conference champions.
  • 2012 01 10 - Headline: "Engibous replacing Ullman as Penney's chairman." What's a retired semiconductor exec know about retail?
  • 2012 01 12 - Burka has finally gone off the deep end. This is conspiracy thinking gone mad. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck territory.
  • 2012 01 12 - Film Socialisme (2010): Weirdest movie you'll ever see. Pretentious crap. Still, liked the llama in gas station. D-
  • 2012 01 13 - Craig James, candidate for US Senate from Texas: "I don’t trust anyone who has been a politician." There's a paradox in there somewhere.
  • 2012 01 13 - High school basketball: Berkner 64, Richardson 50. It's a great time to be a Ram.

After the jump, more repeat tweets.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"Tumultuous and Divisive"

Dan Johnson was named Richardson's Deputy City Manager on November 7, 1997, and originally joined the City of Richardson in June 1996. Prior to joining the Richardson staff, Johnson served as City Manager of Carrollton, TX.
That's from the official biography of Richardson's next city manager, Dan Johnson, from the City of Richardson's website. That's about all that anyone probably knows about Dan Johnson's background, or at least all that anyone probably remembers, given how dated his pre-Richardson work history is. I, for one, didn't even know that much.

Richardson residents weren't given much time to learn anything about their next city manager before his appointment. One minute and seventeen seconds. That's the amount of time from when Richardson Mayor Bob Townsend announced Dan Johnson as the city council's choice to succeed retiring City Manager Bill Keffler and the time when the city council voted unanimously to make it official. One minute and seventeen seconds is hardly enough time to find the Google search box and type in "Dan Johnson."

After the jump, one of the more interesting hits Google returns.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

February 7: The City of Richardson issues this press release: "City Manager Bill Keffler announced today he is retiring from the City of Richardson after a 35-year career with the City, 17 as City Manager. His last day will be May 31, 2012. The City Council will consider options for a successor at a future date."

February 13: Mayor Bob Townsend, in public meeting, announces: "We discussed a search firm. We decided that we could not find anybody that's more qualified to run the city of Richardson at this time than Dan Johnson." With that, the Richardson City Council approved the appointment by unanimous vote.

Time flies. After the jump, some thoughts.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

OTBR: On the Island Muhu in Estonia

Latitude 58.5993° N
Longitude 23.0737° E

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".

Monday, February 13, 2012

City Hall Fills a Pothole

I urge them to take their time, to act independently and resist outside influence, to conduct a wide and thorough search, and to choose someone who is a strong leader, an able manager, a good communicator and will always have the best interests of Richardson at heart.
Source: The Wheel.
That was my advice to the Richardson City Council last week upon hearing the news that longtime City Manager Bill Keffler was retiring, effective May 31, and the council would need to choose a replacement.

After the jump, how is that working out?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Red Tails, Red Faces

The Dallas school district (DISD) sent 5,700 fifth-grade boys to see "Red Tails," a movie about the WWII African-American fighter pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Noble subject. Talented executive producer (George Lucas of "Star Wars").

So, what's wrong with this field trip? After the jump, let's count the ways.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Lessons From Kids' Sports

Zac Crain, in FrontBurner, relates a lesson from his experience coaching his young son's basketball team. Crain's story involves poor sportsmanship on the part of parents of the opposing team. His point is muddled somewhat by Crain revealing that his own son was ejected from the game for committing a flagrant intentional foul, but, hey, Crain's point comes through anyway: "Sports Parents Need to CHILL."

After the jump, my own lessons.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Help Wanted: Apply at City Hall

Longtime Richardson City Manager Bill Keffler announced his retirement yesterday. He's served as City Manager for 17 years. Congratulations to Mr. Keffler on his retirement and thanks to him for his 35 years of service to the city of Richardson. Keffler's retirement compounds the changes Richardson is undergoing at city hall. Last year, longtime mayor Gary Slagel stepped down. For years, city government in Richardson was almost synonymous with the Slagel/Keffler partnership.

Due to Richardson's council-manager form of government, the role of city manager is a particularly strong one. The city council sets policy for the city and has the responsibility to hire the city manager, but day-to-day execution of city business is in the hands of the city manager. It's that responsibility to hire another great city manager that now falls to this city council. Because of Keffler's long tenure, no one on this city council has any experience doing that. I urge them to take their time, to act independently and resist outside influence, to conduct a wide and thorough search, and to choose someone who is a strong leader, an able manager, a good communicator and will always have the best interests of Richardson at heart.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Richardson 45, Berkner 51

The Berkner Rams extended their District 9-5A leading record to 11-1 Tuesday night, beating the Richardson Eagles 51-45 on the Rams' home court. The win clinched the district championship for Berkner. Berkner closes out their season with away games against Sunset (Friday, Feb. 10) and Samuell (Tuesday, Feb. 14).

Winter in the Steger Garden (2012)

From Flowers

The calendar says Winter but the daffodils say Spring.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Selection, Election, and my Defection

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,
adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.
I'm allowed to change my mind. I've done it before. Now, I'm doing it again. After long opposing the direct election of the mayor of Richardson, I'm now in favor.

After the jump, my reasoning, not that reason is all that important here.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Guys and Dolls at BHS

From 2012 01 Musicals

Guys and Dolls, at BHS: Celebration of 1940s sexism. Great singing, live orchestra, shout out to choreography. See it.

Berkner 76, Lake Highlands 71

From 2012 02 Berkner Basketball

The Berkner Rams men's basketball team extended their District 9-5A leading record to 10-1 with a 76-71 win over Lake Highlands (7-4) on the Wildcats court. Berkner closes out their home court season next Tuesday at 7:30 pm with a game against Richardson (5-6). Be there to support your school, whether it's BHS, RHS, or just the kids in general.

All photos can be seen here.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Review: The Prague Cemetery

Prague Cemetery
The Prague Cemetery, by Umberto Eco: Spider web of 19th century European conspiracies. Relentlessly depressing novel. C+

From The Prague Cemetery, by Umberto Eco (2010):

Open quote 

At the end of that alleyway, quite inconspicuous, was the window of a junk shop that a faded sign extolled as Brocantage de Qualité -- a window whose glass was covered by such a thick layer of dust that it was hard to see the goods on display or the interior, each pane being little more than 20 centimeters square, all held together by a wooden frame. Beside the window ... a door, always shut, and a notice beside the bell pull announcing that the proprietor was temporarily absent."

After the jump, my review.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Campaign Promise? That Was Then

Perhaps you remember the 2011 Richardson City Council election campaign as being particularly contentious, with the candidates unable to agree on anything, even the benefits of planting trees. Well, memory can be a tricky thing.

Despite the overall tone of contention in the election campaign, one thing that all candidates agreed on, every last man and woman, was that they were open to the idea of a charter review. It's been a quarter of a century since the last time a commission was appointed to review the city charter to bring it up to date.

The man ultimately chosen by the council to be mayor, Bob Townsend, said he would strongly support a charter review. Even the one candidate who expressed opposition to making structural changes to Richardson's form of government, Scott Dunn, even he said that if specific sections of the charter were found to be outdated, he'd be open to review and revision.

Monday night, the city council finally got down to work on the issue. Or not. After the jump, what went down.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Assigning Blame for School Closures

Yesterday, I looked at a recent Dallas Independent School District (DISD) school board meeting and criticized the trustees for not all remaining present for a public hearing. Some stepped out during the hearing and eventually the whole board moved to a private room to finish their deliberations and vote on a plan to close 11 public schools in the DISD. Trustee Carla Ranger said her fellow trustees "walked out on their community."

I didn't criticize the DISD for those school closures, only for how they mishandled the public hearing. It's a shame that they did. DISD is between a rock and a hard place, but their behavior at the public hearing caused the public to overlook the state's share of responsibility for the mess our public school financing is in.

After the jump, placing blame.