Friday, June 30, 2006

All aboard! Schmidt, Gang of Four going off the rails on a crazy train!

See preceding post for the text of the ordinance discussed here.


There may not have been a more brazenly shameless and fatuously disingenuous lie told by an American politician since Dick Nixon said, "I am not a crook.”

And yet the Big Lie reposes in majestic malevolence, awaiting its turn in the spotlight on Monday night even as it grows like Pinnochio’s elongated nose, right there within the opening stanzas of the latest in a series of absurdly reneging “kill Scribner Place and keep New Albany backward” city council resolutions that will continue to be issued like Rally’s belchburger coupons so long as the Gang of Four has a faint electoral pulse – this new one offered by councilman Bill Schmidt, but almost guaranteed to have been written by CM Schmidt’s longtime household numerologist, and one that at any rate is as brutally cynical as any scratch pad memo ever composed by Karl Rove:

“WHEREAS, the New Albany City Council is in support of the Scribner Place Project … ”

Followed closely by a second breathtaking whopper:

“WHEREAS, it is the responsibility of the City Council to support the progress of the downtown area … ”

Accordingly, somewhere in the furthest reaches of Hell, Herr Goebbels is smiling.


Can any reader – can any resident of New Albany, or for that matter, any human being – provide documentary evidence from the public record during the past two years to buttress the phantasmagoric notion that either CM Schmidt alone or the council’s Gang of Four as a whole has “supported” either Scribner Place specifically or the “progress of the downtown area” as a general aim?

(crickets chirping, pins dropping)

I didn’t think so, but that’s all right. It wasn’t fair of me to ask a question that is logically impossible to be answered in the affirmative.

CM Schmidt’s breathtakingly mistaken version of council – and municipal – reality is so utterly devoid of viability that there can be no explanation for its short-circuited inanity apart from a pleasure trip to Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone or serial psychotropic drug use.

Earlier today, my friend and co-editor Randy used the word “offing” to describe the surreal, gleeful manner that CM Schmidt is divesting himself of what remains of his previously passable legacy of public service, and speaking personally, the difference between CM Schmidt’s disintegration and the antics of the Siamese “Boner and Jethro” Councilmen is that from the very beginning, I’ve really wanted to like him. I still do.

However, over and over again, stemming from an ancient grudge or an undiagnosed animus, or perhaps the cantankerousness of old age … or sadly, and far more likely, owing to the accumulated weight of bad information that’s constantly been given him by those who would mistake the ability to hammer a nail for the skill to design a building, CM Schmidt has chosen to lovingly embrace the dark side, and has consistently voted against hope.

So have three others, and it’s a pathetic commentary on the city of New Albany that the Democratic Party continues to sanction this sort of unmitigated civic cannibalism. Seeing as I have no children of my own, can someone please help me understand how it is that grandfathers happily vote against the interests of their own grandchildren?

At this point in time – a full year after Scribner Place presumably was settled – it is impossible for any person of reasonably sound mind and functional body to fathom the purely chemical processes seeking to pass muster as “thought” on the reactionary side of the council table.

Apparently there comes a time when personal honor, common rationality and self-interest no longer figure into the equation, and the Gang of Four, led by the forever caterwauling Dan Coffey, seconded by one-tune-pony Steve Price and abetted by Schmidt and fellow Neroesque grandee Larry Kochert, have fairly pole-vaulted over this line of demarcation not just in attempting to thwart economic, social and municipal progress, but to openly deride and to laugh aloud at those in the community who’ve been working to reverse New Albany’s history of underachievement, and for the first time in decades, have been making strides in the direction of doing so.

Ironically, and shamefully, at a time when surrounding communities from Clarksville to Corydon have jumped to read the tea leaves and are eagerly embracing progress, these four community leaders desire nothing so much as the continued personal power to reject the 21st century and to hold the future hostage to naked fear, undisguised loathing and fratricidal personal animosities so powerful and enduring that Balkan blood feuds look like a formal English garden party by comparison.

To repeat, CM Schmidt’s capitulatory resolution seeks to establish that the city council has supported “progress of the downtown area?”

Exactly what measures has Schmidt’s side of the council table proposed toward this end? Neither plan nor strategy emanates from their quarters – just niggardly doubts and nattering negativism. Never have there been heard encouraging words from the Gang of Four – just rancor and expressions of distaste and distrust for those who dare to formulate plans and strategies.

Nothing positive, ever. They can only impede, block, and malign. It’s a travesty, it’s embarrassing, and it’s way past time that the genuinely capable in the city of New Albany join together in whatever form is necessary, politics be damned, to do what must be done to correct the injustice.

For reasons known only to the Gang of Four and to a relatively small band of dysfunctional, envious confederates, councilmen Coffey, Price, Schmidt and Kochert are endeavoring to hold back the only forces of rational, reality-based change that stand any chance at all of helping to make this community a better place to live and work, and even if the odds of reversing decades of neglect and befuddlement are only 50/50, that’s fully 100% more real hope than any single member of the council’s Gang of Four congenital obstructionists have offered the city to date.

Civilization as we know it has evolved owing to the willingness of millions of ordinary people from time immemorial to take deep, symbolic breaths and plunge boldly forward … and seldom because the effort and sacrifice required to do so has held the slightest promise of material benefit in their own contemporary lives.

That’s because it’s not about us – at least any of us currently reading, working, taxpaying and consuming.

Already, inexorably, irreversibly, it’s about very young children, and others yet to be born. The sooner that we all understand that, the better – but considering the Gang of Four’s impossibly long learning curve, we’d best not hold our breaths, and instead work to ensure that whatever the outcome of councilmen Schmidt’s and Coffey’s dishonorable, reneging, anti-everything resolutions, that their retirement from the political scene comes sooner rather than later.


That’ll have to be soon enough. Let’s hope we can minimize the damage -- to the city, to the children, and to the future -- until then.


In closing, this goes out to Anna: Try as some might to make numerical entities dance the gavotte, to read spreadsheets like they were lovelorn Shakespearean sonnets, and to substitute variable accounting practices for the simple wisdom one derives from a hard day’s toil, they’re all useless when it comes to mapping the aspirations of the human spirit.

Aspirations like these -- hopes, dreams, wonderment -- are alive and well in New Albany, and you are dedicating your husband's council career to smothering them.

Why is that?

Coming this Monday: RESOLUTION NO. R-06-20 (remove property tax back-up for the Scribner Place Bonds).


WHEREAS, the New Albany City Council is in support of the Scribner Place Project,


WHEREAS, there has been concern regarding the financial problems now facing the City of New Albany,


WHEREAS, it is the responsibility of the City Council to support the progress of the downtown area, and at the same time, consider any additional financial burden that might be placed on the property owners in the City of New Albany,


1. Resolution No. R-05-31 be amended in order to pledge EDIT Funds dedicated for the Scribner Place Project Bonds in the amount of $137,500 per year.

2. Resolution No. R-05-31 be amended to remove property tax back-up for the Scribner Place Bonds.

This amendment is necessary due to the increased costs on the property owners listed below:





3. This Council action will not affect the YMCA Project as the YMCA is doing their own individual fund raising and financing for the YMCA Project.

4. The funding for the YMCA Project does not include any City of New Albany funds for financing, bonding, or back-up support for the YMCA Project located at Scribner Place in New Albany.

5. The New Albany Scribner Place Project and the YMCA Project located in Scribner Place are individual projects.

6. This resolution shall be in force and effect from and after its passage.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Déjà vu: Is Bunning Kentucky’s Coffey? Or is Coffey our Bunning?

Is there any more embarrassing a regional political non-entity than Jim Bunning?

Bunning: New York Times committed treason with story; information helps terrorists, he says, by James R. Carroll (short shelf life for Courier-Journal links).

Bunning has said he doesn't read newspapers, but his spokesman said the senator "relies on far more reliable sources for his news than The New York Times, but did read the article after seeing reports of this treasonous act."

Although Bunning doesn’t read, he still knows, and this sounds bizarrely like something I was told a year and a half ago:

NA Confidential vs. NA Incontinent at Monday's City Council meeting (Tuesday, February 08, 2005).

Coincidentally, Dan Coffey does not read Blogs because “anyone can hide behind the keyboard,” but by means of osmosis or the Vulcan mind meld, he purports to know exactly what is written in NA Confidential …

... By his own admission, he doesn’t read, but also by his own admission, he is one of the select group able to understand the money, who controls the purse strings of the city, who knows how things get done, who certainly doesn’t need the advice of mere "complainers" who should know their place in the back of the cosmos bus ...

… The meeting room was quiet as the Wizard of Westside self-destructed.

Then, having encapsulated the most virulent form of New Albany’s native disease in far more eloquent fashion than has been attempted in NA Confidential or any other repository of the written word, Dan Coffey ceased his diatribe.

As a reminder, we have a city council meeting coming up this Monday, July 3, and that means the council Gang of Four is hard at work preparing its own version of reactionary, sect-pleasing fireworks to precede Bullet Bob's riverfront record-shattering rock 'n' roll idyll on the nation's birthday.

Will the city survive the Gang's loving clutches? Stay tuned.

Bistro New Albany sneaks into WHAS-11 news report.

Melanie Snow of WHAS-11 was in New Albany yesterday to report on local reaction to the announcement that a new Honda plant will be built in Greensburg, Indiana, and she ventured into the Bistro New Albany for vital footage of Chef Dave Clancy in the kitchen before turning the camera toward bNA partner and front man Dave Himmel.

Honda announces Indiana plant (video file; registration may be required).

Jim Keith of the Clark/Floyd County Visitors Bureau and Michael Dalby of One Southern Indiana also were interviewed for the story, but neither of them was at bNA last night, laptop in hand, showing the news clip for all to see.

Well done -- not the steak (make mine medium rare), but the chance to score a valuable bit of free PR for downtown.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Canton, Ohio: "The City the Boom Passed By" (NY Times).

I don't do this very often, but the subject matter herein merits a reprint of Sunday's National Perspectives: The City the Boom Passed By, by Fred A. Bernstein (New York Times; June 25, 2006).

(Canton, Ohio)

TIRED of high real estate prices? Consider the alternative.

"I got that one for six," said Jack Lewis, a real estate investor, pointing to a trim Victorian with steep gables and a front porch.

He means $6,000.

"Around the corner, there's another one I got for three."

In the last decade, while houses in much of the country have appreciated at dizzying rates, Canton's prices have gone the other way; the median price in the metro area dropped 11.3 percent from 2004 to 2005, according to the National Association of Realtors. Houses under $20,000 are common, and even at those prices, they don't always find buyers.

The explanation is as simple as supply and demand — one stable, the other not. Canton had 110,000 residents in 1950. Now the population stands at about 80,000, according to the mayor, Janet Weir Creighton. Factories have closed, and few new jobs have come along.

With workers leaving the city, at least 2,000 houses — mostly Victorians from the boom years of the early 20th century — stand empty. And that makes it hard for sellers to find buyers.

It's even hard to find a broker. "It costs you money to sell a home that cheap," said Dennis Drennan, a local ReMax broker, who explained that the commission on a $20,000 house may not cover marketing expenses.

In many neighborhoods, "it's practically impossible to retail a house," said Mr. Lewis, referring to what in any other part of the country would be considered an ordinary real estate transaction, a purchase by someone who plans to use the house as a home. Instead, many houses sell not to owner-occupants, but to investors looking to flip the properties, or turn them into rentals. "You become a reluctant landlord," he said.

Even obtaining a reliable appraisal of a house is difficult, Mr. Lewis said, because there are so few "comparables" — arm's-length sales of similar houses. In some sections of Canton, most transactions involve a repossession, a sheriff's sale or a purchase by a professional real estate investor, Mr. Lewis and others said.

Not surprisingly, Canton homeowners are troubled.

"Does it make me feel good that you can buy any house in the neighborhood for $80,000?" asked Tom Hammond, a senior business analyst for Diebold, a manufacturer of A.T.M.'s and voting machines, who lives in a pleasant section of northwest Canton. "Of course not.

"If I had been acting in my financial self-interest, I would have left Canton long ago," said Mr. Hammond, who then listed many things he likes about the city, including an accessible downtown and lovely parks.

Mr. Hammond decided to become part of the solution. He and his wife, Karen, have bought three houses close to their own house to shore up the neighborhood. One house down the block, he said, stood vacant for 10 years. When it finally came on the market, he said, "it was in horrendous condition," with vines growing through the ceilings.

Mr. Hammond paid $24,000 for the house and is putting another $20,000 into bringing it up to code (working on weekends with his son and son-in-law). He hopes to sell it for around $70,000, but there are no guarantees. "We won't gain much, after taxes," he said.

At the same time, Mr. Hammond is pushing the city to limit the number of houses that are rented out. Right now, about 40 percent of the houses in the city are rental units, compared with about 27 percent in the rest of surrounding Stark County. Many of the renters are transients who don't have much incentive to maintain the properties, Mr. Hammond said.

If the number of rental units is curtailed, he predicted, rents will go up, and sale prices will follow.

His ally in the fight is Donald Cirelli, a dispatcher for the city's Water Department. At a recent City Council meeting, the two men pressed the members to stop issuing the permits that owners need before they can rent out their houses. The council has not acted on the measure.

The mayor said her priorities include attracting jobs to Canton and rebuilding the city's schools, a process that is visibly under way. At the same time, since taking office she has pushed to have more abandoned houses demolished. "We're tired of the dilapidated houses that are sitting there; we need to get them down," she said.

But Mike Rukavina, a real estate investor who was born and raised in Canton, prefers renovation to demolition. The lots that result from teardowns, he said, are often too narrow to build on, under current codes. "That means you end up with a weed-strewn lot, which the city doesn't have the resources to maintain," said Mr. Rukavina, a former marine and police officer. "And since you can't build another house, it's a net loss of people to the city."

Mr. Rukavina, who operates out of an office in Canton's northeast section, said that he used to buy about two dozen houses in the city each year, but that he had moved most of his investing to the suburbs, where demand is stronger.

Some investors have found ways to thrive in the depressed market.

Keith Michael, who is 37, said he had completed deals on about 130 houses in Canton in the last six years. Sometimes, he renovates houses and rents them out; other times, he simply flips the properties without so much as taking title.

On Greenfield Avenue, in the city's southwest section, Mr. Michael and his partner, Michael McClain, were busy renovating an old Victorian, a job that included replacing an antiquated electrical system. Many rooms lacked a single outlet.

Mr. Michael and Mr. McClain expect to rent out the house while giving the tenant the option to buy.

Mr. Michael said that the rent-to-buy agreements, which are common in Canton, require the tenant to maintain the property. That, he said, eliminates many of the headaches of being a landlord. "We deliver the houses up to code, and then it's up to them," he said. "But if it's a really big thing, like a roof, we may step in."

Rent-to-buy tenants are optimists by nature. Dan Brislen rents a house on Greenfield Avenue for $550 a month, with an option to buy it for $72,500. He was about to buy the house last year when he lost his job as a forklift operator.

If Mr. Brislen finds another job, he said, he hopes to buy the house before his option expires in 2007.

Mr. Michael, meanwhile, conceded that he had never had a single tenant exercise the option. "In Canton," he said, "99 percent of them aren't able to cash out."

Mr. Lewis, the investor, said, "The financial habits that get renters into trouble in the first place tend to get them into trouble again."

In 2003, Mr. Lewis became a franchisee of HomeVestors, a national company that specializes in buying houses from people who need to sell quickly. Between April and July of that year, he signed contracts to buy nine houses in Canton; his goal was to fix them up and sell them for a profit.

It didn't work out that way. Mr. Lewis complains that the company failed to offer him proper advice, rubber-stamping his decisions to buy houses that, in fact, were overpriced.

"In this market, if you're not properly supported, you run out of money before you can figure out what to do," Mr. Lewis said.

John P. Hayes, the chief executive of HomeVestors, disputed Mr. Lewis's charges. "There are plenty of franchisees in Ohio who don't share his opinion," he said.

No longer a franchisee, Mr. Lewis said, he buys houses and either rents them out or sells his interests to investors.

The purchaser may simply flip the house again. That's what happened with the house that he contracted to buy for $6,000. Mr. Lewis said he sold his contract to Mr. Michael for $9,000; Mr. Michael said he sold his contract to another investor for $12,000. Both said they don't know what happened after that.

But the house still has plywood over the windows, and one thing is clear: neither the house, nor Canton, benefited from the serial transactions. "I don't get attached to bricks and mortar," Mr. Lewis said. "I made my $3,000."

Mr. Michael did, too, and has moved on to other properties, including one as far away as Florida, where he hopes to apply lessons he learned in Canton.

"You know that saying about New York?" Mr. Michael said. "Well, in real estate, it's Canton. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere."

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Nickels and dimes add up to fifty cents, right?

We had fun with this one last week at the New Albany Bicycle Coalition blog.


By popular demand, from the New Albany, Indiana, Code of Ordinances (TITLE VII: TRAFFIC CODE ... CHAPTER 73: BICYCLES AND MOPEDS), here are the bicycle "rules" for the city of New Albany.


All bicycles shall be operated as near as practicable to the right-hand edge of the roadway.
('71 Code, §73.12) (Ord. G-64-180, passed 11-9-64) Penalty, see § 73.99

The operator of a bicycle emerging from an alley, driveway or building shall, upon approaching a sidewalk or the sidewalk area extending across any alleyway, yield the right-of-way to all pedestrians approaching the sidewalk or sidewalk area. Upon entering the roadway, the operator shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles approaching the roadway.
('71 Code, §73.13) (Ord. G-64-180, passed 11-9-64) Penalty, see § 73.99

(A) It shall be permissible for any person to ride a bicycle within a residential district of the city. Such person shall yield the right-of-way at all times to pedestrians. ('71 Code, §73.14) (Ord. G-64-180, passed 11-9-64)
(B) No person shall ride a bicycle upon a sidewalk within a business district. ('71 Code, §73.15) (Ord. G-64-180, passed 11-9-64)
Penalty, see § 73.99

No person shall ride or propel any bicycle upon any sidewalk within the city bounded by the west side of State Street or the east side of Bank Street, the south side of Main Street to the north side of Elm Street; nor on Vincennes Street from Oak Street to Main Street.
('71 Code, §73.31) (Ord. 4120, passed 3-6-39) Penalty, see § 73.99

No person shall operate a bicycle at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions then existing. Every bicycle shall be operated with reasonable regard to the safety of the rider and of other persons or property.
('71 Code, §73.19) (Ord. G-64-180, passed 11-9-64) Penalty, see § 73.99

No person shall operate a bicycle while under the influence of liquor or drugs, or while physically or mentally unfit to safely operate the same.
('71 Code, §73.20) (Ord. G-64-180, passed 11-9-64) Penalty, see § 73.99

No person shall leave a bicycle unattended upon any sidewalk, in the areas provided in §73.18, unless a regular parking stand is available for the purpose of parking such bicycle.
('71 Code, §73.29) (Ord. 4120, passed 3-6-39) Penalty, see § 73.99

All such bicycle parking stands must be placed at the outer edge of the sidewalk, and must be removed from the sidewalks at sundown.
('71 Code, §73.30) (Ord. 4120, passed 3-6-39) Penalty, see § 73.99

No person shall operate a bicycle which is not in safe mechanical condition.
('71 Code, §73.07) (Ord. G-64-180, passed 11-9-64) Penalty, see § 73.99

No person shall operate a bicycle with a wheel diameter greater than 15 inches on any street, sidewalk, alley or other public place, unless such bicycle has been licensed by the city and the proper license is attached thereto as provided by this chapter.
('71 Code, §73.01) (Ord. G-64-180, passed 11-9-64) Penalty, see § 73.99


No person shall ride or propel a bicycle upon any public highway, street, boulevard or other public place in the city, unless the same shall be licensed as herein provided.
('71 Code, §73.28) (Ord. 4120, passed 3-6-39) Penalty, see § 73.99

Application for license shall be made by the owner. If the owner is under 12 years of age, application shall be made by the owner's parent or guardian, in the office of the City Controller upon forms provided by the city.
('71 Code, §73.02) (Ord. G-64-180, passed 11-9-64)

The City Controller shall make a record of the number of each license, the date issued, the name and address of the person to whom issued and the number on the frame of the bicycle, for which he shall collect a fee for the city of $.50.
('71 Code, §73.03) (Ord. G-64-180, passed 11-9-64)

Upon receiving proper application, the City Controller is authorized to issue a bicycle license which shall be valid during one calendar year; provided, however, that it shall be lawful to retain such license of the year last past until, but not including March 1 of the current calendar year, at which time, the old license expires and a new license must be obtained.
('71 Code, §73.04) (Ord. G-64-180, passed 11-9-64)

The license shall be firmly attached to the rear of the bicycle so as to be plainly visible.
('71 Code, §73.05) (Ord. G-64-180, passed 11-9-64) Penalty, see § 73.99

Upon the sale or other transfer or destruction of a licensed bicycle, the license shall either be surrendered to the City Controller, or may be assigned to another bicycle upon proper application, but without payment of any additional fee. A license issued for a particular bicycle shall not be attached to a different bicycle.
('71 Code, §73.06) (Ord. G-64-180, passed 11-9-64) Penalty, see § 73.99

Monday, June 26, 2006

UPDATED: Overt anti-intellectualism? Well, that would explain CM Price's votes against the interests of his own district.

During the past week, two letters to the editor by Shirley Baird appeared on the opinion page of the New Albany Tribune. Without delving into the phantasmagorical details, it should suffice to say that Ms. Baird’s point of view differs somewhat from NA Confidential’s perspective.

Ironically, as Ms. Baird posits the existence of a “silent” majority that supports her point of view, she remains one of the few open supporters of the city council’s Gang of Four who is willing to comply with the Tribune’s requirement that letters to the editor be signed.

This is commendable of her, although it is equally regrettable that Ms. Baird -- along with sitting council members and their wives -- continues to abet, assist and enable the anti-social blatherings of the academic-pretend blogger “Erik” at the anonymous rant forum known locally as Freedom of Speech.

Enough of the negligible "professor," but what about Ms. Baird's majority? Let’s not be coy about these exaggerated claims, whether expressed on behalf of non-existent scholarly credentials or conjuring a tsunami of righteous Luddite indignation.

Any honest reckoning of the composition of a “majority” in this or any other American city of similar size surely must lead to the inescapable conclusion that many more adult citizens than not are apathetic and indifferent to the topics discussed in traditional news media like the Tribune and here in the blogosphere.

They’ll neither participate in the debate, nor vote, and as always, we are left with a minority of the citizenry, a majority of whom, in the electoral determination, eventually will determine the state of affairs and direction for the remainder.

Regrettably, Ms. Baird has chosen to align herself -- intentionally or otherwise -- with social, economic and political sentiments that are conservative, oppositionist, regressive and fundamentally anti-intellectual in nature – and we at NAC persist in our contention that these qualities represent a relatively small portion of the civic-minded minority as presently mobilized in New Albany, even if such populist perversities are the lifeblood of the conniving Siamese Councilmen and their enablers.

Conversely, NA Confidential proudly and unapologetically carries the banner of genuine progress, smart growth, multicultural diversity, social and political tolerance, and the virtues of education and individual empowerment, all of which stand as achievable and sustainable aspirations that rely not on base, populist appeals to fear, prejudices and conspiratorial suspicion, but are supported and advanced by human reason, engagement and cooperation among real people with real skills and real goals.

Readers are invited to perform their own calculations as to the size and parameters of these two divergent sides of the New Albanian coin, but it cannot fail to have escaped all impartial observers that whatever their total number, virtually all of New Albany’s progressives are known, visible and identifiable entities who write, speak and move in the reality-based community.

The same cannot be said of those populating Ms. Baird's side of the aisle, where cowardice remains the flavor of the day.

Now and in the future, New Albany’s progressives live productive lives of full disclosure. We are out in the open. We hide neither our identities nor our platform for an intelligent, improved New Albany.

And you?


The following was first published here in October, 2005: Overt anti-intellectualism? Well, that would explain CM Price's votes against the interests of his own district.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, comes this quote from a long-forgotten 19th-century writer and pedagogue, Bayard R. Hall:

In 1843, Hall wrote of frontier Indiana that "(w)e always preferred an ignorant bad man to a talented one, and hence attempts were usually made to ruin the moral character of a smart candidate; since unhappily, smartness and wickedness were supposed to be generally coupled, and incompetence and goodness."

162 years prior to New Albany’s summer of infantile troglobyte discontent, and even long before that time in 1980 when future councilman Steve Price strummed himself to sleep at night to the pleasing chords of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” (“We don’t need no education” … sang Roger Waters, and murmered CM Price -- in the dark, as always), Hall accurately glimpsed and correctly diagnosed a cankerous sore on the American body politic, which Wikipedia proceeds to describe:

Anti-intellectualism is a term that in one sense describes a hostility towards, or mistrust of, those who call themselves intellectuals, and intellectual pursuits. This may be expressed in various ways, such as an attack on the merits of science, education or literature.

Those progressing beyond the literary realm of Bazooka Joe comics and the dubious merits of reality television will at some point come into contact with the ideas of historian Richard Hofstadter's, whose 1964 book, “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life,” surveyed America’s past and identified the malign influence referred to in the title.

The common strain that binds together the attitudes and ideas which I call anti-intellectual is a resentment and suspicion of the life of the mind and of those who are considered to represent it; and a disposition constantly to minimize the value of that life.

Eric L. McKitrick writes:

If any one theme could be said to unite all (Hofstadter's) his writings, it was the importance of ideas in history; more precisely, it was the relation between the way people behaved, in politics and other realms of effort, and the use they made of their minds.

Further elaboration is provided by writer Ariel Dorfman, who paraphrases Hofstadter’s findings.

Anti-intellectualism had its origins … in American traits that anteceded the nation's founding: the mistrust of secular modernization, the preference for practical and commercial solutions to problems and, above all, to the devastating influence of Protestant evangelism in everyday lives. Anybody who cares to read (Hofstadter’s) masterful book today may be astonished to see how it anticipates and even predicts the rise of the neo-conservatives and Christian fundamentalism in contemporary Washington.

Anti-intellectualism in American life is a sufficiently common phenomenon that it need not be discussed exclusively within Dorfman’s neo-conservative, fundamentalist context, although the connection is a point well taken.

In political terms, New Albany’s most renowned practitioners of the anti-intellectual craft are registered as Democrats, although it remains difficult to imagine most of them voting for John Kerry in 2004 – or, more accurately, it is difficult to imagine them voting against George W. Bush’s convoluted grammar, Karl Rove’s simplistic, kindergarten slogans, and the GOP’s Orwellian fables of the deconstruction.

Beyond the collateral damage incurred by other Democrats, why does this matter?

To paraphrase McKitrick’s reading of Hofstadter, “the relation between the way politicians like Dan Coffey and Steve Price behave, in politics and other realms of effort, and the use they make of their minds,” is of central importance for the future of New Albany.

Speaking only for myself, CM Coffey can remain the ward-heeling emperor of his tiny West End electoral district – one ripe for immediate and unforgiving redistricting if not for the desire of most involved with local politics to see him remain in relative isolation – for as long as his supporters are content to endure their ongoing impoverishment, but the 3rd District is a different story entirely, if for no other reason than it being my district of residence.

The only plausible explanation for 3rd District CM Price’s abysmal voting record, one that grows more bizarrely predictable each month, is a strident and growing anti-intellectualism.

A permanent state of distemper and incomprehension seems to have spiked CM Price’s landing gear, leaving a steady stream of knee-jerk “no” votes as the only way of him coping with a future direction for this and other cities of its size that he is ill equipped to understand, and detests all the more for his confusion.

Neither for CM Price nor for his conjoined counterpart is there sentiment for the idea that life’s difficulties are best confronted “with an intelligence of which no human should ever be ashamed,” as Dorfman puts it.

Rather, they warn us to be ashamed, but even more so, to be afraid, always afraid – afraid of a pantheon of imaginary enemies, of shifty, phantom withholders of vital information, of the smarty-pants engineers, of those who read, of those who write … afraid of those who can “do,” and not merely posture for the benefit of the congenitally incapable in order to gain re-election.

My councilman, Steve Price, relishes his role as poster child for anti-intellectualism – and for class warfare, mistrust and plain envy. By doing so, he sends a loud, clear and tragically, utterly mistaken message to the community that he is perfectly willing to condemn our children to an uncertain future -- to the same atmosphere of unaccountability and low common denominators that brought us to the state we’re in (and CM Price accidentally to office) -- rather than to learn, to improve and to succeed.

Anti-intellectualism in this context is little more than the enraged epithet of the slumlord, cynical and exploitative, fearing a change in the “natural” order of things – when a change in this unacceptable order constitutes this city’s best, and perhaps only, hope for enrichment and progress in a competitive, changing world.

It is sadly likely that CM Price consistently and brazenly votes against the interests of his own 3rd District out of sheer spite, because he loathes the very ideas, the very strategies – the very people – who are best placed to lift it up beyond his own abilities to achieve.

He refuses to undertake the necessary process of reform and renewal within the narrow capabilities of his own stunted political worldview, and as long as this remains the case, he cannot be expected to do so outside the boundaries of these self-imposed, damning limitations.

Whatever one's political affiliation, anti-intellectualism is unacceptable. Those in politics who espouse it are making the most fallacious promise of all – that somehow we "the people" can make things better by attacking the possibilities of the human intellect rather than bolstering, furthering and trusting them.

It’s easier to be mad as hell than it is to think … but only the latter can lead to a better tomorrow.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

UPDATED: By request ... views of St. Marks, the corner property and environs.

Earlier in the week, we stole a glance as St. Marks mulls the future of its property at the SE corner of Spring and Bank.*

Follow the link and see the "comments" to read what the church's senior pastor, John Manzo, wrote with respect to the building's future disposition.

Several readers asked for a photo of the property in question. Here is is , looking in a southeasterly direction from the corner of Bank and Spring:

Shifting to a view toward the southwest, here's the main part of the church and the old bank building:

Looking to the south from the corner of 3rd and Spring, we see St. Marks parking on the east side of 3rd:

Shifting to a Market Street vantage point, the vistas to the north and west reveal large tracts of cleared urban land surrounding the church on two sides:

A final note: According to information in the church newsletter, it has received an offer for the bank building from a legal firm -- not, as some persist in believing, from local food and drink entrepreneurs. It is important to understand that the bank building is next to useless for those contemplating entertainment that includes adult-friendly libations, as it would be impossible to obtain an alcoholic beverage sales license from the state of Indiana owing to the building's close proximity to the church.


* Thanks to Bluegill for the aerial view (via Google Earth).

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Shoah, again.

This weekend, the Confidential household probably will begin watching the DVD release of director Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 documentary film Shoah, an oral history of the Holocaust that runs almost ten hours and demands an effort on the part of the viewer that goes somewhat beyond that required to indulge the pablum of the typical Hollywood blockbuster.

I’ve not seen Shoah in its entirety since the early spring of 1988, a year or more after videotaping it from public television. Then, for a solid ten days, I set the alarm an hour early each morning and made my way through the film in bits, pieces and chunks before heading off to work.

While not particularly enjoyable in the conventional sense of entertainment, the Shoah documentary experience proved visceral as well as essential for my understanding of the Holocaust in the context of European countries I’d already been, and other places that were slated for future visits.

I’ve discussed Shoah with Mrs. Confidential on several occasions, and with the videotape long gone (Joe?), she took the initiative to check the appropriate Netflix boxes and kick off the process. It may take a couple of weeks, but surely after all these years it will be worth the effort to view the film a second time.

Shoah is an unconventional, brutally effective documentary that depicts and describes historical events without the use of archival footage or reenactments.

During the 1970’s, Lanzmann began filming real people – Jewish survivors, serenely acquiescent Poles and even (surreptitiously) an unrepentant SS officer – all of whom had lived through cataclysmic and unspeakably horrible events that primarily took place in areas of dense pre-war Jewish population, which during the Nazi occupation became dotted with planned centers of systematic slaughter.

These memories and recollections were filmed in a dozen or more then-Communist locales in Poland and Eastern Europe, with occasional side excursions to Israel, Germany and elsewhere in the world in conformity with the post-war diaspora of victims (and perpetrators), then organized into stories woven together with consummate skill as the hours pass, leading to an emotional crescendo guaranteed to leave the viewer both drained and fearing for the future of humanity.

It’s true that we manage somehow to survive. It’s unclear how we manage to do it.

At the time Shoah was released, its director was fiercely criticized for including footage that unflinchingly exposed lingering anti-Semite tendencies on the part of ethnic Poles, this coming at a time when Poland – through the activities of the Solidarity trade union movement and a sitting Pope – was being lionized by anti-Communists throughout the world as the best extant hope to commence the toppling of the Bloc’s socialist dominoes.

I’d studied the Holocaust in college and devoured Abba Eban’s Heritage: Civilization and the Jews PBS series. As a philosophy major, debates pertaining to the ethical culpability of ordinary Germans in atrocities committed during the war were certainly familiar to me – but when I watched Shoah in early 1988, it had been only a few months since my first trip through Poland.

This fact made for uncomfortable mornings in front of the tube.


In 1987, I was in Krakow, Poland with my friend Barrie (who’s now a Scribner Middle School history teacher) and two fellow travelers from Florida. We’d taken an unscheduled detour from the Soviet/Baltic/Poland youth and student package tour by hopping a Friday night train from Warsaw, an experience that taught us the dubious (and embarrassing) value of handing the conductor $5 cash and watching him evict people from their seats to make room for us.

We rationalized: It was the system to blame.

On a Saturday morning, after overnighting in Krakow for $2 each in a pensioner’s shabby flat, we rustled a few grams of greasy salami and bread, then found the dingy bus station in the city’s crumbling and neglected downtown, and joined several dozen Polish weekend trippers on a bumpy, grinding, two-hour SRO journey to Oswiecim – in German, Auschwitz. There were no English speakers around to help, but we managed to guess the correct stop near the entrance to the museum and memorial.

Once there, we paid a fee and wordlessly passed through the numbing exhibits inside the old brick barracks buildings of Auschwitz 1, a strangely bureaucratic and tidy introduction to the supreme horror a few hundred meters away at Birkenau, the epicenter of the assembly line death camp. You’ve probably read or heard about the rooms filled with abandoned luggage, eye glasses, artificial limbs, shoes, children’s toys – all confiscated from prospective victims as they were paraded off cattle cars to perish within the gates that read, “Arbeit Macht Frei” … or, work will make you free.

Intense? Chilling? Insane? Yes, and so much worse than these and any other inadequate words that we have little choice except to pretend might encapsulate some measure of the emotion felt at a crime site with a scale of aspiration well beyond the imagination of a twenty-something Hoosier bumpkin.

After two hours, we’d had enough. To get back to Krakow – and return to Warsaw later that evening – necessitated a short walk into the center of Oswiecim, where we boarded a train that ran roughly half the distance back to the city before abruptly disgorging us to change at a rural crossing point.

The day had become hot and sultry, and activity at the station was minimal. There was a simple buffet offering plates of mystery meat in gray sauce, but we weren’t so much hungry as thirsty – not just thirsty, but fairly desperate for an adult beverage or three to ease the transition from wartime Auschwitz back to shabby 1980’s-vintage Poland.

Pivo? Wodka?

Alas, there was no succor for the bibulous at the train station. Resigned to temperance, and waiting at the platform, there were green fields and crops visible in the distance beyond the tracks. Clean but roughly dressed people were walking in little groups toward the settlement – surely even in a Polish farm town there’d be something happening on Saturday night – and just before the train finally limped in, a horse-drawn cart clattered across the weathered cobblestones nearby.

I’d been looking at the older folks among the crowd. With memories of Auschwitz still raw, It’s obvious what I was thinking … and I kept those thoughts to myself.

Later, watching Shoah, the parched rail platform reverie and the native Poles populating it came back to me with a vengeance, and they wouldn’t let go throughout the remainder of the film over that period of days as Lanzmann meticulously peeled away the dusty layers of memory and forced the viewer to think: What did it all mean?

This is by no means a denunciation of Poland and the Poles, or an attempt at facile erudition with respect to their places in the historical record, only an observation that there are times when very little makes sense, especially when one’s own senses are being burdened with the unsettling melancholy of time.

Or, of time passed.

It has been thirty years since Lanzmann’s film went into production, and certainly all survivors he chronicled are dead. The people I saw in Poland in 1987 are twenty years older, and many of them have passed on, too. While I am reasonably confident that the readers of this blog need not be reminded of what the Holocaust meant, to be honest, I’m not so sure when I look out the window of my office toward the rental properties lining the other side of the street – or toward the streets in parts of Europe where anti-Semitism persists in spite of what happened there more than a half-century before.

Nature or nurture – or both? We’re classified as human by biological default at birth, but mustn’t we learn how to be human? If no one is there to teach us what it means to be human, or shirks the responsibility, aren’t we condemned to repeating these instances of man's inhumanity to man?

I'm told that a new translation of Elie Wiesel’s Night is back on the paperback bestseller list. I sincerely hope that’s a good omen.

George W. "Gitmo" Bush might even read it.

Friday, June 23, 2006

For the record, I chose "Jesse the Revolutionary."

Chronologically advanced readers will recall that during the 1980s, I was known to submit an occasional “letter to the editor” to the New Albany Tribune.

To put it mildly.

One of these days, I’ll dip into the bulging banker’s box and unearth fragments of the archive, but for now, just one example will suffice to make the point.

After writing a letter to the Tribune in opposition to one or another of Ronald Reagan’s reactionary conservative excesses, I received a small envelope in the mail. There was no return address of any sort, only a New Albany postmark, and those being the days before one became accustomed to shaking suspicious envelopes for white powder or similar residue, I shrugged and opened it.

The crude, palsied, superannuated handwriting on a small rectangle of spiral notebook paper was brief and to the point:

Jesse the Revolutionary
Or Killer Kennedy
Who is your choice?

The note wasn’t signed.

And so it was that two decades before blogging, the first anonymous response arrived to brighten my day. It strengthened my belief – as it does today – that anonymity is a fundamentally malicious affliction undertaken by the chronically dysfunctional to exact vengeance on those who they envy for having the integrity to stand behind their words, thoughts and opinions.

Obviously, it was during those halcyon days that I first developed my severe allergy to the frequent abuses of anonymity, as manifested by the note I’ve described, but a feeling of disgust quite intensified by the Tribune’s willingness at the time to print anonymous missives.

Whatever small role I may have played in subsequently convincing the publisher to reverse the newspaper’s longstanding policy and to require the identities of writers to be revealed is a source of great personal satisfaction to me.

It’s worth remembering that the front office’s policy change came against the strenuous objections of then-editor Eddie LaDuke, himself the embodiment of the Peter Principle, who defended anonymity in much the same manner as some continue to do today (paraphrasing):

There are numerous times when adults seek to sacrifice personal integrity for the short-term satisfaction of venting of intemperance, and there are comparatively rare instances when legitimate concerns like whistle-blowing preclude disclosure of identity, and so the illegitimate former must somehow be tolerated to provide for the infrequency of the legitimate latter.

To put it bluntly, there’s nothing more patronizing than for an adult to be coddled in this manner by being informed, in effect, that he or she isn’t sufficiently sophisticated to understand the rights and responsibilities of free speech, and therefore should be permitted to spray anonymous attacks like diarrhea in the general direction of misunderstood ideas and detested real people.

It is pandering to an extreme degree, as it precludes the very real possibility that even set-in-their-ways adults can learn if provided with information and the tools of instruction, and while fears of reprisal are understood in the context of criminal informants and legitimate whistle-blowers, the vast majority of anonymous letter writers and today’s masked blog commentators have no such concern, and rather are exercising their desire to “speak out loud” without acknowledging the proper and responsible channels for doing so.

As the wag once said, we already have a Bill of Rights – now we need a Bill of Responsibilities. Free speech is a right, and it implies a responsibility, although sometime politics stands squarely in the way of understanding these points.

Right, Blogspastic?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Tribune investigation contradicts Coffey's, Price's Reign of Error; discredits affiliated audit fetishists.

Dwyane Wade’s not the only entity capable of scoring at will.

State doesn’t recommend extra audit; Council to probe finances first, by Eric Scott Campbell (News and Tribune).

An official for the State Board of Accounts, which audits New Albany’s finances each year, said Tuesday he does not recommend the city hire an accounting firm for an independent audit as the City Council voted on Thursday to do.

“We wouldn’t recommend that they get an independent audit because that’s exactly what we do,” said Mike Bozymski, deputy state examiner.

And so it transpired that the Tribune, falsely accused by increasingly desperate local conspiracy theorists of eschewing investigative reporting, did the one thing that eluded the consciousness of 1st District councilman Dan “The Great Reneger” Coffey and his band of morose fabricators: It asked a question, and received an answer.

The newspaper asked the State Board of Accounts, and the State Board of Accounts responded.

Page 40 of the city’s 2004 audit lists nine city funds overdrawn that year, then reads, “The cash balance of any fund may not be reduced below zero. Routinely overdrawn funds could be an indicator of serious financial problems which should be investigated by the governmental unit.”

Asked to elaborate on that language, Bozymski said it meant the council — the “governmental unit” — should examine the city’s financial records itself, along with the controller, Kay Garry.

“I would say the city controller would certainly be involved in any discussions,” Bozymski said. “If they had specific questions they could certainly call upon our office for help.”

Enlisting the aid of ever loyal sycophant and fellow Siamese Councilman Steve Price, CM Coffey was left to root frantically through his spin mode pumpkin patch, scrambling furiously to concoct straw men and suitable back stories to cover his “auditory” tracks.

With the reporter standing by in need of a quote, the Wizard bizarrely chose to divert attention from his own role in fomenting chaos by waxing angelic about the oft-maligned controller Garry:

Coffey, who was with council colleague Steve Price when reached by phone Tuesday, said he thinks the controller is doing a good job: “If Kay Garry wasn’t in there right now, the city would just be a financial mess. I don’t know how she’s able to hold it together.”

Delightful ... but reeking of deception.

Recall that the Siamese Councilmen’s longstanding justification for some undisclosed and undefined variety of outside auditors – trained professionals, as it were, for a duo that despises trained professionals – has been that these interpreters are required to stand between the councilmen and the controller, the obvious insinuation being that as an appointed tool of the municipal regime they detest, she could not be trusted to provide the information that so often eludes their coprehension.

It’s utter hogwash, of course, and in the end probably owes as much to CM Coffey’s thinly veiled streak of misogyny as to his patented unwillingness (or pathological inability) to pursue the sensible course suggested by the State Board of Accounts.

Glorious; simply glorious. The month of June, 2006, will be remembered as a e cherished golden age when the perpetually underachieving councilmen Coffey and Price – the city’s foremost prehistoric obstructionists – commenced a long and glorious free fall, shedding relevance, credibility and electability as they dropped.

But keep your eyes on them, because cornered politicians have been known to theatrically snarl.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

ABBA Rules!

I was guzzling my coffee this morning in anticipation of today's installment of "The DanVinci Code" when the ol' CD player began cranking out a killer classic from the aforementioned Swedish supergroup.

The single couldn't have been more appropriate to what I read in today's edition of The Tribune.

The ongoing self-destruction of the Siamese Councilmen takes yet another turn, and Dancing Queen serves as the accompaniment.

Headline: State says no to extra audit; Council will look into finances first

No rumors circulating, just good reporting by Eric Scott Campbell. Here are a few excerpts:

An official for the State Board of Accounts, which audits New Albany's finances each year, said Tuesday he does not recommend the city hire an accounting firm for an independent audit as the City Council voted on Thursday to do.

CM's Coffey, Price, Schmidt, Kochert, and Blevins demonstrated again their inability to understand their jobs, but won the day with their majority vote. Disregard the fact that the resolution was muddled, nonspecific, and unfunded. Somebody told them the audit called for an extra audit. Somebody was wrong.

"We wouldn't recommendt that they get an independent audit because that's exactly what we do," said Mike Bozymski, deputy state examiner.

Under prevailing rules at the Big Lots of conspiracy theories, Bozymski must be on the take. Anyone holding actual knowledge of the law and expressing it would, under those rules, be crooked.

Mayor Garner and his administration, among a cast of thousands who were baffled by Coffey's insistence that his expertise trumped that of the sentient populace, stand vindicated today.

And the Gang of Five are dancing. Dancing away from this wrong-headed proposition as fast as they can.

St. Marks mulls the future of its property at the SE corner of Spring and Bank.

Previously at NA Confidential, we briefly considered the future of the bank building on the southeast corner of Spring and Bank Streets, a structure currently owned by St. Marks United Church of Christ.

As the church’s May newsletter indicated, the church had been seeking approval to demolish the structure, but wasn’t able to gain the requisite nod from the Historic Preservation Commission. The church then received an offer for the property, but as the following lengthy excerpt from the church’s June newsletter reveals, it simply isn’t as simple as selling a functional building to a willing buyer.

Sans editorial comment, here’s a valuable glimpse of what the members of the St. Marks congregation are discussing as they consider the church's options.


The Visitor: The Monthly Newsletter of St. Marks United Church of Christ (June 2006).

A Suggested Course of Action to Consider -- Alan Mason

Allan Hoffer has invited me to use the VISITOR to give my opinion on the Bank property, since he has given his last month. I apologize for the length, but there is a lot on my mind about the topic.

This is what Allan Hoffer and I know about our congregational meetings: No matter what opinion we have going into the meeting after we have talked about it and voted, the decision we make together is the right decision. At some point we will have a congregational meeting and will vote again on the best thing to do with the Bank property.

I feel we have not exhausted our possibilities for demolishing the building. I believe we will find a way to clear that site. I think we should continue to pursue demolishing the Bank Building. We are certainly not out of options.

With the Bank Building demolished could expand our handicapped parking. We may even want to put an all weather entrance on that side of the sanctuary to let our handicapped members and other people get out of their cars in cold, rainy or snowy weather. Perhaps that is a good spot for us to build a choir practice area or an area for brides to dress or all three.

There are lots of possibilities if we own that space; there are none if we don't own it.

St. Marks has a glorious past, but if we are to have a future in New Albany we will need room to have a future.

Opportunities to buy adjoining properties in our area will only come our way once in a lifetime. At this time we own this property free and clear. Despite a temporary setback, we eventually can do with it as we please.

However, if we are going to put it on the market, let's put it on the open market. Let's let everybody make an offer and then let's vote to accept that offer or not. Let's remove the drive-thru overhang, survey the property we own, and make a deal to let the buyer rent parking space if that is what we want to do.

Whatever decision we make as a group becomes the directive for what we do next. Allan Hoffer and I believe in collective wisdom and open discussions and making decisions based on congregational votes. All of us are smarter than any one of us. I can support any decision that the congregation chooses.

However, to make the right decision all of us need to know all of the information. We need to know all that is in the contract for the Bank Building. Perhaps we are just looking at dollar signs and have not looked beyond that to see all that is in the bid. To make that clearer I have chosen a question and answer format, and have asked Allan to give a balancing perspective.

Remember this is still a fluid situation and many things could change between now and the Congregational Meeting.

Who has made this bid to buy the Bank Building?

Mason: The bid is not from an individual; it is from a holding company, an entity which can last many lifetimes. This means we may never again have an opportunity to control this area that is now our property. Once the holding company owns this, it is probably gone forever.

Hoffer: This is not surprising. Even individuals keep property for many years and will them to their children, for example. The attorneys contacted St. Marks when we were having difficulty with demolition. After our second denial of demolition permit, they made me an offer, news of which I felt compelled to bring to the congregation in both the Visitor and four Chapel meetings, especially since even the appeal process to pursue demolition would have required us to vote as to whether to list the bank for sale with a realtor. So the sale topic had to come up.

If they wanted to, could the holding company build a new building that would cover all of the space they buy from us?

Mason: Yes, they could. Remember a holding company is designed to last a long time. Several buildings could come and go in that time.

Hoffer: Some would say that is a good thing because something new would look better.

Will we ever have an opportunity to own this property again?

Mason: More than likely, no, and we probably couldn't afford it if we had the chance.

Hoffer: I agree. Downtown churches nationally are not in growth modes. Many are struggling. St. Marks is holding steady, but hasn’t shown any indication of outgrowing our sanctuary. Both services are less than half full.

So the holding company wants to buy that corner of our property?

Mason: Yes, and also wants to own outright a strip of land that runs from our rear sidewalk to Bank Street about 30 feet in back of the Bank Building.

Hoffer: Yes. The line proposed by the law firm would be an east-west line parallel with the drive-thru island. A survey is being prepared to show this.

How much of our current space would be included with the lease and the land purchase?

Mason: For the next 20 years we would rent the whole parking lot, and the rear handicapped entrance to our church would belong to the holding company.

Hoffer: We retain all our normal church hour rights for regular painted spaces. The corner handicapped entrance drop-off area details can be worked out in the parking lease if we are worried about that. Remember also we have another ramped entrance at the inside “L” corner of the lot, which has a ramp which goes immediately under roof to protect against the elements.

What is this about handicapped parking?

Mason: The best area for people to let off wheel chair bound family members is right in that corner spot. It is used for this every Sunday because there are no steps involved.

If we grant them this parking lease, what does that mean?

Mason: It means we have to maintain it for parking for the next 20 years and will be paid 16 cents a day to keep it in repair.

Hoffer: We would maintain our lot anyway.

What are the advantages of this parking offer for the holding company?

Mason: They pay no taxes on the lot, are guaranteed 20 cheap parking spaces six days a week, have no liability, and get free maintenance. The holding company deals in buying property every day. They know there are no other buildings available in New Albany with space and off street parking right out the back door.

Hoffer: At the request of the Bank Committee, the law firm agreed to amend its offer to remove easement language which would have included free parking. Knowing it would probably be charged for parking over the years, the firm thought about reducing its sales price by $20,000 down to $230,000, to cover future parking expenses (which would have been totally legitimate), but ultimately figured paying the full price and paying a nominal lease fee was simpler for all concerned. In essence, the firm has pre-paid for 20 years of parking, with no guarantee that St. Marks won’t build on the parking lot, reducing available spaces. (See end of contract re: lease being modified or terminated for new construction.) St. Marks wins on this one.

What does St. Marks get?

Mason: We get the right to use our own parking lot on Sunday.

Hoffer: Plus we get $20,000 in 2006 value, rather than charging rent and letting it dribble in over the years as inflation chips away at it. Investing this money and/or using it for repairs and more efficient utilities will offset perceived losses to a significant degree.

If it snows during the week who pays to shovel the snow?

Mason: Good question, but I don't know the answer. The contract does state that St. Marks will keep the parking lot in an "acceptable and safe condition." That specifically includes re-paving if the holding company thinks the lot needs it.

Hoffer: Good question. It’s negotiable. Whoever works on the lease can address it.

We can still rent out space there for Harvest Homecoming, can't we?

Mason: No, there is no provision for that in the contract. If they rent the lot for the year, all the parking spaces in that lot during Harvest Homecoming are theirs, not ours.

Hoffer: That’s true, they will have pre-paid. It’s also negotiable, so we can tell them how we have dealt with other of our prior parking lease customers and offer them other nearby spaces and ask for their flexibility.

So, have we been earning money on that parking area during Harvest Homecoming?

Mason: Yes, in the short time we have owned this area; we have made thousands of dollars renting out parking directly behind the booths. True, it is not a lot of money each year, but we could maintain the parking lot with just those four days of rental time.

Hoffer: This can likely be worked out. Again, they have prepaid $20,000, so we have made up for many future Harvest Homecomings already.

Is there more?

Mason: Yes, we have also earned money by renting week-day parking to the architectural firm across the street. During Harvest Homecoming they have used spaces in the Second Street lot.

But the holding company is going to pay us to park there aren't they?

Mason: They will pay us 16 cents a day for all 20 parking spaces and we maintain the parking lot for them and their customers for the next 20 years.

Hoffer: They could have reduced their offer by $20,000, but didn’t. They have paid for non-guaranteed parking.

Will we still be able to walk between the buildings to get from front to back on that side?

Mason: That is not up to us, we will not own that sidewalk.

Hoffer: Common sense should prevail here. There won’t be any walking police nearby.

But handicapped members will still be able to enter the rear side door to the church won't they?

Mason: No, we will not own the area that we now use for handicapped and van parking near that door. Nor will we own the exit from the parking nearest the building. Part of the understanding is that the holding company can add to the canopy and set up a fenced picnic area and garden area behind the Bank Building site.

Hoffer: They certainly can from the Handicapped spaces at the back of the sanctuary, and do it all under roof. And the closer door will likely not be a problem, but obtaining an easement in advance from the firm would be regarded as presumptuous.

But we have to sell the building don't we? The Historical Commission will not let us tear it down.

Mason: We don't know that yet. The Historical Commission does have an appeal process built into their rules and we are following that course. There are options beyond this appeal.

Hoffer: We don’t have to sell the building, no. That is why we vote. Oddly, one requirement in the appeal process to obtain a demolition permit is that we MUST list the property for public sale. Or, we can sell privately to any person or entity we wish and leave the various city boards and commissions out of the loop.

But this Historical Commission turned us down?

Mason: Yes, they would not let us put in handicapped spaces where the Bank now stands.

What happens to funds donated for the demolition if we decide to sell?

Hoffer and Mason: Those funds will be offered back to the original donors either to keep or re-designate . Or the donor could let the funds stay with sales proceeds to be used for other upcoming capital projects.

What about the Prayer Garden?

Mason and Hoffer: They also would not let us build a prayer garden for the community on that site. So, that is off the table.

But, we are going to make an appeal?

Mason: Yes, and it may involve inviting church members to join the Bank Committee at this meeting for a show of support.

Hoffer: Yes, but only if the congregation votes to continue the appeal. It involves listing the bank with a realtor, which we previously voted down. Plus, the motion to be presented at the congregational meeting will be to accept the current offer. If you want to appeal, you should vote “No” on the offer and wait for an appeal motion to be made afterwards.

What do you suggest we do?

Mason: I suggest we follow the recommendations of the Bank Committee and the Trustees.

Hoffer: I suggest you decide after you read the offer, after you pray about the matter, after you ask more questions, and after you find out about new information to come in re: appraisal, about upcoming sanctuary and Education Building repair needs, etc. At that point, vote your heart and mind on what would be best for St. Marks.

What are those suggestions?

Mason: We remove the roof of the drive-thru from the Bank, survey a line about five feet in back of the Bank Building that includes an easement that will let us use our wheelchair ramp we have there and put the building for sale on the open market as part of the appeal process.

Hoffer: The upcoming vote will be one of the few times you have total control on this situation. If you vote to sell, we don’t have to take further direction from city agencies, and we can begin to plan for necessary repairs and more efficient utility replacements which will cost in the short term, but save thousands of dollars in the long term. This is a congregation matter and folks will disagree. That’s OK. You don’t have to feel pressured by any particular group, including me or Bank Committee or Council. Use your own good sense.

Why do the Trustees suggest removing the drive-thru roof?

Mason: It is part of the building. If we include that area in the sale, we lose an exit from our lot, the wheel chair entrance, the closest handicapped parking spot and a chance to reconfigure that area to provide more parking.

Hoffer: It is presently part of the existing offer. If we vote down the offer, then it can come down for simplicity’s sake.

So the parking lot is not for sale?

Mason: That is correct. We offer only the Bank Building for sale.

Hoffer: Agreed, after we decide on the current offer. At the moment, the law firm actually wants the drive-thru area.

So what would we do next?

Mason: When the 90 days or so ends, as a congregation we examine any and all offers and decide. That should complete our grounds for appeal and the demolition should also be an option. Everything would be on the table. We could choose to demolish, hold still, or sell the Bank Building.

Hoffer: We keep gathering facts, then we vote. We will send out a church-wide mailing several weeks in advance of the meeting. At that time you will see the survey and know the appraisal amount, which may aid your decision.

Is there any other danger?

Mason: Yes, if the Congregation votes to sell the building, all bargaining on our part is probably done. The thing to remember with contracts is that everything must be in writing. Oral understandings don't count and are often forgotten about over time. Selling the building with conditions that are not in the contract will be a difficult situation for the holding company and for St. Marks. It could slow the process considerably and involve more Congregational Meetings.

Hoffer: Delay is a danger because a good offer could walk away. Or, after we try to appeal and can’t get any good offers, we go back to the law firm, who will then have all sorts of bargaining advantage on us. I doubt we’d see $250,000 again.

Hoffer and Mason: A biggest danger is if we let this matter divide us as a church. There is too much negative energy being expended in being upset with various groups, boards, and individuals. Allan Hoffer and Alan Mason both would have you remember the example set by Herb Garrison, who a year ago voiced his objection to the building of the Chancel extension. Herb was outvoted on the issue, but showed up every day the next week to work on building a project he himself had voted against. St. Marks could use about 300 church members with hearts like Herb’s. We think we will find those folks. They sit among us every week.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

History Lessons

Excerpted from Adam Gopnik's New Yorker review of "The Terror: The Merciless War for Freedom in Revolutionary France," by David Andress and "Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution," by Ruth Scurr.

Robespierre was never a Rationalist...It was Rousseau's vision of the workings of a mystical general will, not Voltaire's vision of toleration achieved through popular education that moved him...[over] the course of the next eighteen months [Robespierre] oversaw the execution of almost two thousand men and women in the Place de Revolution. Trials were held in which no defense witnesses were called and the jury had only to be persuaded that there was "moral proof" of the accused's opposition to the Revolution...Andress recounts, succinctly, the feuds and rivalries among the bewildering sects and sub-sects of the revolutionaries...this sense of beleaguerment helps explain a central mystery of the Terror regime: not how the ideologues kept their hold on the other ideologues but how, despite obvious signs of looniness, they kept their hold on the apparatus of power...

Monday, June 19, 2006

Tribune in the vanguard? Now, there’s something to be for -- so guess who’s against it?

For the first time in recent memory, New Albany has a newspaper that’s willing to up the ante and take risks by expanding local coverage of governmental and political affairs, and expressing cogent and articulate viewpoints about the best available ways for the city to move forward during its current window of opportunity for ecnomic growth and the betterment of its quality of life.

Naturally, for those whose smudgy windows remain draped with heavy black shrouds of acrimony and bile, the future view isn’t as clearly understood, but the maudlin and self-defeating preferences of New Albany’s unreconstructed Luddites, conspiracy aficionados and anonymous character assassins need not detract from the New Albany Tribune’s steady progress toward relevance.

Reporter Eric Scott Campbell may well be the hardest-working man in local journalism circles, and the newspaper’s publisher, John Tucker, has penned a series of insightful and deadly accurate columns decrying the city council follies perpetrated by Siamese Councilmen Dan Coffey and Steve Price.

To be sure, some former Tribune employees have made it clear that they do not appreciate the management style of the new regime, and while I’m cognizant of these objections, the positive results so far are clear, unmistakable and crucial in the face of a last-ditch summer counter-offensive of regression and indecency undertaken by New Albany's shrill “we can’t” obstructionists.

Accordingly, earlier today the reigning troglodyte shaman (“Trog Sham,” to the uninitiated) kicked off Morbid Hour at the Luddite Bar & Grill with a strident denunciation of Tucker and the Tribune, including this priceless bit of xenophobic legerdemain:

Who is John Tucker to come to town and second guess what citizens have been working on for more than 10 years?

These sentiments, which are freely divulged by the Luddite’s shadowy cast and crew, are eerily reminiscent of those sons and daughters of immigrants who express wholehearted opposition to immigration, in the sense that the poster woman of Trog Nation is an idolized and idealized Main Street business owner who came to town herself just two or so years before the Tribune’s publisher.

That’s simple hypocrisy, of course, but being a dazed New Albany trog nativist means never having to admit to inconsistency and other logical fallacies.

Why 10 years? It’s worth noting that Trog Sham doesn’t stop at linking ultimate truth to vaguely defined residency requirements. She’s also ruling out any remote possibility that truth might be discovered in the blink of an eye – or at least in any less than a decade:

Yep, 10 years have accumulated under the belts of several civic activists in town, and their hard work will NOT be trivialized!

Evidently it’s not about the possibilities inherent in truth, vision and efficiency – any of which might be embraced by a newborn or an adult first-time visitor to New Albany – but about long-term efforts undertaken by a select and specific crew of the chronically disgruntled.

And that reminds me of another old saying:

Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting the outcome to change.

Do you hear the tubs being thumped? Yes, the weekly Trog karaoke has started ... so take it away, EastdistEnded:

We don't need no education
We don't need no thoughts or goals
No activism in your pressroom
Tucker, leave them Luds alone
Hey! Tucker! Leave them Luds alone!
All in all it's just another drip in their craws.
All in all you're just another drip in their craws.

With apologies to Roger Waters and David Gilmour and their “Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2.”

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A summer of Coffeyist discontent -- to the detriment of the city's future, but it's not about us, is it?

The malignant political virus known as Coffeyism, while undoubtedly an intimidating, dishonorable and morose collection of simplistic chemical reactions to complex external stimuli, cannot be said to be systematic in any meaningful way.

With dark origins as an angry personal doctrine of contempt for progress and modernity, and one that remains utterly dependent on a virulent and often self-defeating anti-intellectualism, Coffeyism almost certainly defies convenient organization into predictable habits of thought.

Rather, Coffeyism at its most basic and self-aggrandizing – a level that it rarely so much as attempts to exceed – is vigorously opposed to all meaningful habits of thought, which are associated by the virus’s namesake with education, improvement and achievement – and although these attainments are laudable and sought-after at most levels of functional human society, here or elsewhere in the world, they act as handy straw men and imaginary bugaboos in the interior logic of the Coffeyite, and thus are to be suspected, despised and hectored during the course of perpetual opposition.

Given these realities of Coffeyism and its concurrent absence of ironic detachment, it is perhaps unlikely that the city’s Coffeyites would ever truly appreciate the zaniness of the scene at last Thursday’s city council meeting, during which both 1st District councilman Dan Coffey and loyal 19th-century acolyte from the 3rd District, Steve Price, expressed the stark urgency of stopping the world from turning on its axis until trained accounting professionals come to audit New Albany’s books and explain the true meaning of the ciphering to the Siamese Councilmen and their adulatory fan club of Luddites, obstructionists and Brambleberries.

And yet, gripped by the malevolent fever of anti-intellectual envy, how many times have these same two councilmen ritualistically abused and denounced the numerous trained professionals dispatched to testify before them about issues ranging from drainage to sewers to zoning codes?

When is a trained professional not a tool of the hated regime?

Apparently, only when Dan Coffey says so.

Albeit it somewhat metaphorically, both local news organs devote Sunday column inches to the excremental New Albany phenomenon of Coffeyism, with the New Albany Tribune considering CM Coffey’s sacramental use of the “audit” as a magic Jedi light saber to smite down his hoity-toity enemies, and the Courier-Journal favorably examining the good prospects for the Scribner Place redevelopment project.

An audit is not the answer; Resolution not going to provide answers promised, by John Tucker (Publisher of the Tribune):

Coffey seems to thrive on capitalizing on the people’s mistrust of government. He continually throws out allegations and innuendos without backing up his bravado. Yelling for an audit plays to the fears and mistrust of the public. It also diverts attention from the performance or lack of performance from the council – something that Coffey is a pro at doing (make no mistake, it was not a coincidence that Coffey came up with the audit idea right after it became apparent that the public did not appreciate his latest attempted murder of Scribner Place).

How true.

A motley collection of audit proponents from the citizenry, including at least one prominent and colorfully charismatic female Republican, has long since joined the acrimonious Coffeyite faction of non-democratic Democrats to perform syncopated and dizzily gyrating mating dances of varying intensity, and CM Coffey’s resolution might have been floated at any juncture therein, but it was held back as a tactical maneuver that became necessary when the Wizard’s ham-fisted, anti-revitalization Scribner Place “resolution” was peppered with buckshot emanating from all parts of the community.

In short, John Tucker scores again, and the Tribune continues its ascendancy to a position of relevance in New Albany.

Scribner project considered a catalyst; New Albany rebirth sought, by Ben Zion Hershberg (short shelf life for Courier-Journal links).

Eric Kelly, a professor of urban planning at Ball State University in Muncie, said municipal investments such as Scribner Place show that a community is serious about renewing its downtown, which can work wonders.

He has seen that happen in Muncie, where many professional households moved downtown in the past five years after the city spent money refurbishing the area.

Once dead after business hours, downtown Muncie is becoming lively, Kelly said.

The rebirth of community downtowns is a recent phenomenon nationally, and Kelly said Scribner Place could draw New Albany into that revolution by attracting people to live downtown, the first step toward center-city rebirth.

"Your project sounds wonderful," Kelly said.

Kelly isn’t the only “trained professional” quoted in the story. Hershberg also speaks with the Estopinal Group’s lead architect, Kyle Wilson …

"They expect to have 500 car visits as day," Wilson said, and that would be an enormous increase in visitors.

… and Paul Wheatley, New Albany's economic development director, who describes a study undertaken by the Browning Investment Group of Indianapolis, which “has conducted a study of what Scribner Place can attract, most likely on city-owned land near the YMCA and swimming pool.”

Of course, almost from the beginning of the Scribner Place debate, the YMCA’s eagerness to spend $8 million, and the Caesar’s Foundation’s $20 million commitment to make the project come to fruition have combined to present the project’s dysfunctional critics with myriad logical and rhetorical dilemmas. If both these efficiently operated and well established organizations see Scribner Place as a plus, and are perfectly willing to put their monies on the table, then arguing against the city’s comparatively small investment becomes exceedingly difficult.

Consequently, when taken as a mounting whole, and considering the voluminous available testimony and laboriously compiled evidence on behalf of Scribner Place’s prospects, whether provided by ordinary citizens, city hall or trained professionals – whether articulated by the YMCA itself, Caesar’s, numerous downtown businessman, prospective investors or reputable studies – comprising Democrats, Republicans, churchgoers, atheists, and on and on and on … it becomes obvious that a comprehensive and broad mandate in favor of Scribner Place undoubtedly exists here in the city of New Albany.

And what then of the self-appointed “leader” of those opposing the project – the same councilman who was heard demanding no less than the finest trained professionals to perform his pet audit project?

Hershberg provides the unintentionally hilarious answer:

New Albany City Councilman Dan Coffey is skeptical about the impact (of Scribner Place). "I think it will be limited," Coffey said. But "I could be wrong."

Yep, that's it.

No facts, studies, or research.

No appeal to reasoning, justification or support.

No point of reference beyond his own expansive ego.

Nothing except “I think,” and the thoroughly disingenuous and insincere addendum, “I could be wrong.” Just malice, envy and the face staring back at him each morning while shaving -- and waiting to be transformed into public policy proposals.

The double standard practiced by Dan Coffey is obvious, ludicrous and damning.

When it comes to the purely political objectives of his cherished audit, CM Coffey proposes to spend top dollar for the best available trained professional – and when it comes to Scribner Place, and by extension, to the very principles of downtown revitalization that the city needs so desperately embrace – there’s not a trained professional on the planet whose expert testimony CM Coffey would be willing to accept. Ever.

There may be a trace of leadership in CM Coffey’s machinations, but only in the sense that the first lemming in the queue will plunge off the cliff and then be followed in short order by the remainder of the gang.

Dan Coffey is the living, breathing exponent of the satirical office memo topic: “The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves.”

But he’s not joking, is he?


See also: On driving a stake through the toxic heart of the New Albany Syndrome, in NAC (Tuesday, June 13, 2006).

Erika: Grammar and usage declared optional during Year Zero.

Over at Freedom to Screech, Erika the masked academic poseur has been hard at it since last Thursday’s council meeting. Here's another classic of erudition from the pretender.



One single taxpayer stood before last nights City Council Members and ask the one question most everyone in New Albany wants to know.

Valla Ann Bolovschak ask:Where is our money?


The question that NAC wants to ask is: “Where’s the past tense, Erika?

That’d be the “-ed” suffix, in case you’re wondering.

Did the Mayor steal the past tense? Did the numerological fairy forget to include it in your template of bile? Did you leave it in CM Price's mailbox in the social science department at Imaginary University?

Hmm, they must have failed to include the past tense in the curriculum for “non-existent college professors of political science” back when Truman was president.

Another question is: “Which time zone/dimension/planet do you occupy?”

Erika, your post is dated Thursday, June 15 – the same date as the council meeting to which you refer as “last nights,” and a previous post praising the Thursday night performance of 3rd District Uncouncilman Steve Price is dated Monday, June 12 – or, three days before the meeting in question.

Best go back to your fairy princess for more schooling, Erika. But don’t tarry too long in the magic kingdom – it’s going to be very painful for you when you’re no longer needed to serve as a human shield for the ambitions of others.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Not spectacular enough? Maybe they should play some Zappa, instead.

Apparently since local officials see little need to use the New Albany riverfront on any regular (or creative, or sensible) basis, director Bob Trinkle intends to make as big a bang as possible during the annual 4th of July fireworks display, hence a plan that is so innately Trinklesque that it fairly begs for Steve Price's musical participation:

City’s goal: A harmony of hundreds; July 4 organizer wants band to set Guinness record, by Eric Scott Campbell (News and Tribune).

If you wake up July 5 with fuzzy memories of the world’s largest rock band playing “Hang On Sloopy” and “Louie, Louie,” don’t assume the holiday heat and beverages went to your head.

New Albany riverfront director Bob Trinkle is organizing an attempt to set a new Guinness Book of World Records mark at the city’s July 4 celebration. Not break one — there’s no category for largest rock ’n’ roll band yet, said Trinkle, who has been e-mailing back and forth with Guinness officials.

This year’s attempt won’t be the first time New Albany has tried to elbow its way into the Guinness annals. Indeed, Trinkle said the city should be in there already.“

Back when Chas Hunter was mayor, in the early ’80s, we tried to do the largest hot dog roast,” Trinkle recalled. “I think we did 3,000. I tried to pick something I didn’t think was an existing record. But it didn’t get in.”

Why not? “Beats me; I sent everything I was supposed to. I think maybe they considered it not spectacular enough to put in the book,” Trinkle lamented.

In fairness to Price, the 3rd District councilman often has proclaimed his support for using the riverfront, and I believe him.

No money? Well, why not privatize it? Given a reasonable opportunity to make a profit, there should be a promoter somwhere who's willing to incur the risk based on advance contractual criteria.

Here’s the pitch to NAC’s weekend readers: Would you rather see New Albany in the Guinness Book of World Records for playing “Hang on Sloopy,” or would you rather drink Guinness by the riverfront while listening to regularly scheduled musical events?