Tuesday, December 28, 2010

COR Best of... 2010

Just to prove I'm not (only) a grinch, here are some departments/people worthy of recognition in 2010.

Richardson Public Library
The RPL has been a lifeline for my family during this economic rough patch.

  • DVDs and CDs to rent for entertainment. I haven't been to a multiplex in years.
  • books (duh)
  • Wifi. IMO the wifi is a tremendous value for taxpayer money. No additional hardware required for users; they bring their own. I wouldn't mind paying for a buildout of that infrastructure. Nothing fancy, just enough bandwidth to check email and do light browsing. The kind of stuff students, job seekers, and the retired might need.
  • the new Six Flags-style waiting line seems to be an improvement
  • Interested and interesting reference librarians stashed away in the basement. If you haven't been down there take a few minutes to poke around.
  • RPL director Steve Benson is kicking butt, in every way I can think of.
  • It's time to consider a separate slot on future bond votes just for the RPL; I believe they are doing great work with our collective tax monies.

COR Solid Waste

  • Our guys are efficient, quiet, and don't make a mess. Thanks, guys!
  • BABIC is Johnny-on-the-spot. An excellent program.

Don Magner @ COR Neighborhood Services
I can't tell if this guy is a robot, never sleeps, or is just exceptionally organized/dedicated. But he and his team win the "getting stuff done" award for 2010. I don't know how he does it, but I am grateful.

Dave Carter @ COR Traffic/Transportation
He handles resident concerns professionally and respectfully in situations that might make lesser men lose their temper. I actually enjoyed watching his presentations at the work meetings; he obviously knows his stuff.

Every RPD patrolman I have talked to this year
...or read about, or heard on the scanner. [No disrespect to female patrol officers; just had no contact with any this year. Same for RFD.]

The street cops are representing us well, making good decisions, doing the best with the resources and directives they have. I won't comment on leadership since I have no direct interaction with them. I keep hearing decent things about Chief Spivey, though, even from grouchier folks than me.

Staff @ COR Utilities office
The folks there are always friendly and helpful. I usually snailmail my bill but when I stop by in person these ladies are great.

So that's my list for 2010.

feathers in our cap

In Catch-22 there is a character who is obsessed with appearances/reputation. He obsesses over small details and decides which ones are "feathers in my cap" and which ones are "black eyes."

This is what immediately popped into mind when I read the "City Receives Two Awards from GFOA" article in the December issue of Richardson Today.

Now, before we go any further: if you have not read about the Wine Spectator fake award scandal please do so now. I promise it's relevant (and funny).

Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting
How to get certificate:
  1. join GFOA ($840)
  2. send in at least another $290 with your application (pdf) for the certificate
  3. do your job reasonably well.*

*Note: even if you fail to meet the standards (but your check is still good at the bank) we might still give you the award and not tell anyone but you (pdf) that you really didn't deserve it. [Not making this stuff up, folks. Read it yourself.]

At most places I worked, doing one's job as expected resulted in a type of certificate called a paycheck, which could be used to buy food and such. Apparently city governments (like peewee football?) are teams where everyone who plays gets a trophy. Ok, maybe not everyone. Only 7,132 entities got the award in 2008.

Note to self -- membership fee + app fee times 7,132 = $8,059,160. Quite a going concern. Here's a an offer: for $1130 a year I will issue anyone, anywhere a certificate that says you are KING OF THE WORLD or any other wording you prefer. (certificate issued when your check clears)

BN: if you are excellent but just can't get your application (and check) in on time, the deadline has been extended.

Distinguished Budget Presentation Award

More good stuff, and this one at the low price of $185, assuming you've already ante'd up for membership. Richardson has already won this one for 12 yrs (12 x $185 = $2,220).

This award puts us in an elite group of Texas municipalities like Abilene, Addison, Allen, Alvin, Amarillo, Arlington, Austin, Azle,
Baytown, Bedford, Belton, Benbrook, Brenham, Bryan, Burleson, Cedar Hill,
Cedar Park, Cleburne, College Station, Colleyville, Conroe, Coppell,
Copperas Cove, Corinth, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Denton, Edinburg, El Paso,
Euless, Farmers Branch, Flower Mound, Forney, Fort Worth, Friendswood,
Frisco, Gainesville, Garland , Georgetown, Glenn Heights, Granbury ,

Getting the idea?

Grapevine , Greenville, Haltom City, Harker Heights, Harlingen, Heath,
Hewitt, Highland Park, Highland Village, Houston, Huntsville, Hurst,
Hutto, Irving, Jacksboro, Kaufman, Keller, Kerrville, Kilgore, Killeen, La
Porte, Lake Jackson, Laredo, League City, Leander, Lewisville, Longview,
Lubbock, Lufkin, Mansfield, Marble Falls, McAllen, McKinney, Melissa,
Mesquite, Midlothian, Missouri City, Nacogdoches, New Braunfels, Odessa,

Ok, I have to admit at this point I almost stopped. But so close...

Pearland, Pflugerville, Pharr, Plano, Portland, [Richardson], Richland
Hills, Richmond, Rockport, Rosenberg, Round Rock, Rowlett, Saginaw,
San Angelo, San Antonio, San Marcos, Shavano Park, Southlake TX, Sugar
Land, Sweetwater, Taylor, Temple, The Colony, Tomball, Trophy Club,
Tyler, Uvalde, Victoria, Waco, Watauga, Webster, Weslaco, Westlake,
White Settlement, Woodway

Those were in 2009. 116 x $185 = $21,460, and that's just for Texas. A few states like that and you've got yourselves a real income. Get cities to do it year after year and it starts to look like an annuity.

I'm not saying GFOA awards are a strict quid pro quo. I am saying two things:

  1. If you want to impress the populace, publish the stats on what percentage of applicants were rejected (including the "tell no one" exception above)
  2. We, the taxpayers, are paying for memberships and app fees for some third party to give the city awards. Is this a wise use of your money? Who really benefits?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Rob the Town

Lots of action around the Zone [d'Erotica], and apparently not the erotic kind.

Dunno about you guys, but I'm getting a little tired of all the armed robberies in the last 30 days two months?. I started writing a robbery-related post here a few days ago and shelved it as being a bit too obnoxious, even for me.

"Rob the town" to accompany our "apartment the town" initiative?

12/16 DART Station robbery (4x BM)
2700 12/14/2010 11:25:00 PM CST 2600 Block of CUSTER PKWY 120 ROBBERY 10-120162 (BM, UM)
12/13/2010 08:15:00 PM CST 500 Block of CENTENNIAL BLVD 120 ROBBERY 10-119768 (2x WM - atm bandit + accomplice?)
9100 12/12/2010 06:15:00 PM CST 500 Block of CENTENNIAL BLVD 120 ROBBERY 10-119453 (2x WM atm bandit + accomplice?)
6300 12/12/2010 08:00:00 PM CST 800 Block of E ARAPAHO RD 120 ROBBERY 10-119467 (BM, WM)
8200 12/07/2010 08:25:00 PM CST 2400 Block of BUTTERCUP DR 120 ROBBERY 10-117859 (BM, WM)
1700 12/07/2010 07:10:00 PM CST 700 Block of W SPRING VALLEY RD 120 ROBBERY 10-117844 (2x BM)
0610 12/02/2010 03:10:00 PM CST 100 Block of N COIT RD 120 ROBBERY 10-116200 (2x WM, WF)
6610 12/01/2010 06:14:00 AM CST 1000 Block of FRANCES WAY 120 ROBBERY 10-115667 (BM)

0800 11/30/2010 10:30:00 PM CST 900 Block of S COIT RD 120 ROBBERY 10-115606 (2x BM)
7610 11/29/2010 12:00:00 PM CST 1400 Block of E ARAPAHO RD 120 ROBBERY 10-115123 (2X BM)
2110 11/27/2010 07:20:00 PM CST 500 Block of W ARAPAHO RD 120 ROBBERY 10-114663 (UM)
0800 11/26/2010 04:30:00 PM CST 1300 Block of WESTON WAY 120 ROBBERY 10-114339 (WM)
1200 11/22/2010 11:27:00 AM CST 900 Block of REDWOOD DR 120 ROBBERY 10-113060 (2x BM)
11/12 Attempted Robbery 1700 Belt line (2x BF, BM)
11/5 Agg. Robbery 3500 Harlington (2x BM)
11/4 Bank Robbery 4200 Renner (BM)

34 suspects in 17 events.

(image from Oleg's site.)

First K2. Then RMD Gutkha?

Actually, I'm less concerned about whatever exotic betel nut / tobacco concoction people are chomping on, and more concerned about the fact they are leaving the wrappers in my front yard. "You hopped up kids! Get offa my lawn!"

Interesting sidenote: it appears that the fellow who did the "formulation" is some kind of shady character.

Maggie on 75@Renner

There's so much good in the recent Maggie May post that I wanted to chime in on a few points and simply repeat a few others.

The majority of people like, even love, excitement and prestige, not to mention convenience, and also wealth. There's nothing wrong with that. It's just not free. Neither is decay nor the dreaded "creeping blight."

The "not free" part is the crux of the matter. All decisions have opportunity costs, and many have direct costs. Our leadership would like us to believe we can have whatever they sell without actually having to pay for it (in taxes or otherwise).

I don't feel good about subsidizing other people's profit dreams to such a large extent these days.

Preach, sister, preach.

Business should mean competing and taking the risks (and reaping profits, if any). It should not be about crony deals, governmental PR blitzes, and fleecing the public tax cattle for all they can bear.

For the ones who do not want to use a vehicle or give up private transportation, I hope there is improved, viable travel options, like real bus service and rail and other things, that gets them where they need to go.

Bicycle-friendly would be cheap, and wouldn't hurt.

As you can tell, I am hopeful, but skeptical and I think I have very good reason to be.

I think this is the most productive stance. It would be nice if these ruby slippers worked as touted, but I'm not holding my breath.

If you haven't noticed, our taxes never go down...

Tex's position on this is: "the council can vote to reduce taxes at any time."
Wayne's position on that is: "Monkeys might fly out of my butt."

...the developers make the sale, set up to make the profit, spread it around to just the right person or people to convince and sell it to well-meaning and enlightened people to be completely for it and not to ask too many questions and not to give too many answers.

Well put. I worry that the HOA/NA leaders are pawns in the developer-COR complex (to paraphrase Eisenhower). The Complex shows a few people some slides and then crows about "support of the neighborhood." This is a real problem. I've got some ideas about it and may post some ideas on it later.

The crime doesn't go down when dense apartments move into an area. Traffic doesn't reduce in the area. Air pollution doesn't get better. Education levels do not go up and the dropout rate doesn't decrease. Local schools don't seem to get better because of dense apartments even though the schools get more money with increased head count (so far) ... Apartments are not any more dream-like than anything else.

Nothing to add. Just thought it was worth repeating.

Well managed apartments have a place in most communities ... Apartments are not evil. It is what comes with poorly thought out plans that could be called that.

True. There are even oases of tranquility and beauty in the much-maligned SV corridor barrio. I lived in one for a few years and ran into the manager at one of the SVC consultant-clicker fests; this manager was unamused by the broad painting of "blight" across the whole SVC. I agree, but that's a different topic altogether. Sorry. Back to Mags...

...the politicians even pretend to blame the developers who they say they have no control over to get them to do certain beneficial things, when that's just not true. But naive people believe it and repeat it, not holding them accountable and pointing fingers at only developers and commissions under the politicians. The anti's turn on each other and favor the smooth tongue politicians who won't level with them and the top politicians are free to move about the cabin.

Holy crap. If you are not reading MMUSA on a daily basis, this is the kind of writing you're missing.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

ATM robber caught (on TV, no less)

Robber shows up to rob people at the same ATM. TV crew is filming, catches robbery on tape.

You can see the video in the story here. Check out how the guy approaches the SUV. This is useful info.

Maggie and msteger on density

Maggie on density:

"I like my [suburban] life. If I wanted to live in a much more dense place I would have moved directly into the big city."

This is a straightforward, compelling argument. Makes me pine away for a comment function on Maggie's site. At least 1x/week I find myself wanting to chime in on MMUSA, but I respect MM's decision not to enable them.

msteger has a different view:

"Banning apartments is not the key to that success. Limiting density is not the key to success. The key to success is setting high quality building standards and strict and continuous inspections, not just during construction but for years and decades afterward.

Richardson residents should resist the urge to stop the project..."

I am sympathetic to the idea of mixed use, urban living. I've seen it work in France, Italy, Germany, and a few cities in the US that have a cosmopolitan, worldly feel. I am concerned that the model, as Bloom remarks about continental philosophy, "does not travel well" to areas that lack an existing sense of place.

You can build it, but you can't make it succeed. Eastside appears to be holding together for the meantime but Brick Row may be stillborn. Perhaps we make any new developments contingent on the success of the old? It'd keep us from ending up with a bunch of boarded-up, never-occupied property development projects.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Armed Robbery @ ATM

[update - he got caught]

Here's the DMN story. I suspect this was at the Bank of America but haven't listened to the scanner audio yet. If so, this is the place that was hit (in Nov?) by an armed robber who fled on foot and, apparently, was not apprehended.

Here's a link to the release; I didn't see it on COR.net yet.

And here's how to get an application for a CHL (concealed handgun license).

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Gas line rupture: Belt Line / Jupiter

RFD is working it as HazMat.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

RC: "Misconceptions of the Past"

In the RC editorial "Richardson's Restaurant Scene, A Whole New (and tasty!) Experience," they say:

It is time to rethink any misconceptions of the past, and rejoice in the gastronomic diversity that is now available in Richardson.

I don't get it. What were the former misconceptions? Has Richardson historically been some kind of culinary laughingstock and I didn't know it?

I know the String Bean moved, but can we really call it a "new restaurant that [has] opened recently"? I mean, it'd been next to the patio furniture place just across the Dallas border since fire was invented.

BTW, it's palate not pallet.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thanks, vets!

My heartfelt thanks to our former and current servicemembers.

I will think of you today.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

@DallasISDblog disappeared

It wasn't deeply involving, but I did read their Twitter posts. Wonder where/why they went.

Not found in the Wayback Machine, either.

Monday, November 8, 2010

RPD manhunt for robber, Buckingham/Audelia

Happening at the time of this post. DPD Helo (Air One) and DPD ground officers are assisting.

[update @21:23 - the robbery appears to have been a carjacking. Sounds like the scene is winding down.]

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

ALDI review: beef jerky

Ok. Today's smackdown is beef jerky.

Jack Links vs Kroger vs ALDI Simms

Jack Links: $5 for 3.25oz (on sale for $3.99 that day). Uninspiring, almost wet.
Kroger: $2.99 for 3.25oz (on sale for $2.49 that day). I've had it, but don't remember much about it. Most house brand (and 2nd tier national) jerky isn't particularly good.
Simms: $2.99 $2.95 for 3.25oz. Decent for non-premium jerky.

Recommendation: make your own danged jerky. It's cheaper, more fun, and much better than storebought. Plus your house will smell like heaven for a couple of days. I like a good dusting of cracked pepper over jerky as it dries. Woo hoo! I've made jerky for a couple of decades and AB's recipe to be a great starting point. I suggest skipping his selfconsciously geeky box fan recommendation and use your dehydrator as the Good Lord intended.

Of course, if you are on a road trip it is mandatory to stop on the side of the highway to buy jerky from any smokehouse you might see. Bring all your money, as it will not be cheap.

{updated to correct Simms price; read the receipt wrong. D'oh}

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Props to Carona for his [e]mailer

Disclosure: I have no love for John Carona (for several reasons, including his foundational role in the "HOA foreclosure for fines"-obsessed CAI). But his Nov 1 emailer contained useful information and was even borderline interesting. I think this may the first mailer I've ever received from a politician that seemed to have content for the citizens' benefit and not exclusively the politician's. I will assume that it was timed to remind His Base to vote but it was done subtly enough that I raise my coffee cup in his general direction. Well done, sir. Give that staffer a day off or something.

If there is a bright spot in the usual self-serving pol emails, it's that they are at least not franking snailmail postage at our expense.

Monday, November 1, 2010

ALDI's review series

Since ALDI is cheap but relies heavily on unfamiliar house brands, I'm going to start a series of reviews about ALDI food items. Before we start the beginner must know a few things:

  1. bring your own bag for the loot. Yes, there are bags but you have to pay for them. Besides, not bringing your own bag is the Mark Of Cain which indicates you hate whales, koalas, endangered creek snails, etc.
  2. bring a hard quarter if you want a cart. You have to use a deposit to get the cart. I just carry my stuff.
  3. Cash and debit only. Seriously.

So here's the first reviews. Where possible I will compare national brand vs. common store brand vs. ALDI store brand.

Kool-Aid vs Wyler's vs ALDI Mixade

Kool-aid: ~$0.25 each ($3 for 12; see below). The standard from your childhood.
Wyler's: ~$0.20 each ($2.40 for 12; see below). Fewer flavors, but I don't veer far from the norm in most cases (sharkleberry excepted). Another exception: Wyler's black cherry is beautifully colored while Kool-aid's BC is plain red. Weird. 25% savings compared to Kool-aid.
Mixade: ~$0.89 for a package of 12. The packs I got were:
  • 3x berry punch (blue)
  • 1x grape
  • 2x lemon-lime
  • 2x strawberry
  • 3x cherry
  • 1x fruit punch (blech, I hate fruit punch)
If you liked all the flavors this would be a 70% savings compared to Kool-aid. Since I hate fruit punch and would not have bought that packet that makes it only a 68% savings.

Verdict: ALDI Mixade for the win.

I'll do saltine crackers next. Please try to control your excitement.

ALDI Richardson, TX
1549 E. Beltline Road
Richardson, TX 75081

Business hours
Monday - Friday 9am - 8pm
Saturday 9am - 8pm
Sunday 10am - 7pm

Saturday, October 23, 2010

C & S (Ace) Hardware closing

Popped up to C&S Hardware to grab some o-rings, and saw Store Closing signs. :-(

I overhead the clerk say their building (and the garden center) are being torn down, and the C&S owner will retire rather than relocate.

Although the store is technically across the street on the Dallas side, it has always felt like a part of Richardson to me.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

NNO followup

Last year I rode a bicycle on every street in my neighborhood; took 2.5hrs. I stopped and talked to everyone I saw outside; two knew it was NNO.

So this year I sat in my front yard in a rocker alongside a card table to hold neighborhood info, Crime Watch info, NNO info, and a dog to keep me company. Saw four couples walking; none knew it was NNO.

It is not clear to me what else COR could do to get the word out on the cheap. I'm not so enamoured with NNO that I'd support buying new hardware for the project. Maybe drag around one of those programmable road signs if we already have one? Leave it at the main entrances to each neighborhood for a few days in Sept next year? Maybe that'd seed the idea at least.

Monday, October 4, 2010

National Night Out is Oct 5

Here's the official RPD page on it.

My plans this year are fairly low-key. Maybe sit in the front yard in a lawn chair, pet the horse, and meet passers-by. Enjoy the Fall temps.

But I'm a little conflicted about NNO. On the upside it's a decent way for neighbors to meet each other. It's an excuse for the more motivated to have a party.

On the downside it seems, on my more cynical days, like one more "feather in my cap" pantomime for COR/RPD brass. Accruing awards for best NNO for any city in a given category, etc.

When the wife and I lived in the Spring Valley Corridor a few years back we made it a point to be seen walking the 'hood almost every night. We called it Nightly Night Out, and did it to make some small stand against the Dallas thugs coming up north to SVC to prey on locals. Hey, punk, if you 'jack my paletero you 'n' me are gonna have a problem. Wifey gotta have that la fresa goodness and I could use el coco.

BTW, if a fire truck swings by your location (and your house is not on fire) be sure to call it a fire apparatus. Apparently that's the PC name these days. But, seriously. How many little kids will be inspired to grow up and ride on a fire apparatus? It's a fire truck to me.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

September = National Preparedness Month

Basic information can be found at Ready.gov, including making a preparedness kit.

Unofficial nudges from me (not the .gov):
  • Have your important documents copied or scanned and backed up? I carry mine (encrypted) on one of those flash drive dongles, but that might be overkill for Normals.
  • Have a bit of water on hand in case we get into a no-water situation as happened in a nearby town this year?
  • Have a bit of food in the pantry in case a distribution infrastructure problem prevents the local supermarket from getting restocked? (note: many grocery stores are an extreme case of Just In Time and have about 3 days of inventory at any given moment).
  • Have a way to cook if your power/gas goes out unexpectedly? Or at least have a few meals that require no cooking?
  • Have a plan to prevent spoilage in your freezer/fridge if the power goes out for a couple of hours? Days?

  • Have an agreed-upon plan for housefires and tornado?
My most recent preparedness efforts included making a Get Home Bag (GHB) to stay in the trunk of my car. I picked up a serviceable, used Jansport daypack for $2 at a garage sale in Heights this summer and it goaded me into action.

Note that a GHB doesn't have to be all 'tacticool' or $$$; do the best you can with what you've got. You probably have all the items already, or can find them at garage sales or dollar stores. Something is better than nothing. Build one, then build another for your mate's car, kids' cars, etc. Hopefully you'll never need it.

Monday, September 6, 2010

No more apartments at Brick Row

Word is that the developers (Winston Cap?) are going to ask COR to let them skew the existing 300 condos / 500 "luxury apartments" agreement toward more apartments units at a lower price point.

DART Rail + cheap apartments = bad news. Listen to a scanner and see how often RPD is dispatched to the rail station. There is already graffiti on the upper deck, and broken glass panels. DART PD is MIA. Maybe the new radio tower will encourage them to show up in Richardson from time to time?

Anecdotal, but interesting: my last two experiences on that DART rail platform have been unpleasant. This Tuesday I rode the DART down to the VA hospital for a dr's appointment. While I was buying a ticket at the Spring Valley station ticket kiosk I was approached ("Hey, dawg...") with an offer to participate in an activity specifically prohibited on the ticket. I will note that getting approached with a "Hey, dawg" when you have your wallet in your hand bumps up the threat level from yellow to orange pretty fast. My right hand settled down to the Spyderco Endura clipped to my pocket.

The time before that I called 911 when it appeared my wife and I were in physical danger. Yay, DART.

Got a little sidetracked there. What was I saying? Oh yeah, NO to more apartments in Brick Row.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dallas Green Festival, Sept 18th

I'm more of a "primitive skills" guy than a treehugger green if that distinction makes any sense. I recycle fairly rigorously, mainly because it seems wasteful and pointless to pay someone to bury a bunch of stuff that could be repurposed. I don't do it because a Wolf spirit guide (be sure to read the reviews) appeared to me in a dream and told me to "get back in sync with Mother Nature, man."

Anyhow. I haven't attended DGF before but will go this year to take a look around.

Dallas Green Festival 2010
Texas Discovery Gardens • Fair Park Dallas

The third annual Dallas Green Festival will be held at the beautiful Texas Discovery Gardens, Saturday September 18, 2010 from 9:00 until 2:30.

Join us for a day of family fun and environmental stewardship including...

• Monarch butterfly tagging
• outdoor recreation zone
• recycled arts and crafts
• lifestyle demonstrations
• food and live music
• door prizes and give-aways
• mass butterfly release
• children’s area
• face painting
• classes for adults and kids
• vendors and artisans
...and much more!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I. Did not. Have. Postal relations. WIth that mailer.

[the formatting is a little weird. This started out as a comment but was too big for blogger.com to accept. D'oh!]

A commenter (Mark) identifying himself as Mr. Harcrow has taken issue with the content of my [original] post. Since he deleted the comment I will not repost it to comment on it.

I will try to summarize and address his concerns. I hope to do so fairly.

1. I have the facts wrong.

My response: I look forward to correction in any factual errors I have made.

2. Misrepresenting oneself as the VA is wrong.

My response: Well, I agree. I will point out that I did not claim SMI was misrepresenting themselves as the VA. Readers can make their own judgement about that. The scan of the actual mailer, with the Seal of the United States, the words "Verterans Affairs" and "Official notice", combined with a total absence of a business name does not seem purpose-built for transparency or clarity.

BTW, it is not entirely clear to me that the Seal is lawfully usable in that manner:

TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 33 > § 713
§ 713. Use of likenesses of the great seal of the United States, the seals of the President and Vice President, the seal of the United States Senate, the seal of the United States House of Representatives, and the seal of the United States Congress
(a) Whoever knowingly displays any printed or other likeness of the great seal of the United States, or of the seals of the President or the Vice President of the United States, or the seal of the United States Senate, or the seal of the United States House of Representatives, or the seal of the United States Congress, or any facsimile thereof, in, or in connection with, any advertisement, poster, circular, book, pamphlet, or other publication, public meeting, play, motion picture, telecast, or other production, or on any building, monument, or stationery, for the purpose of conveying, or in a manner reasonably calculated to convey, a false impression of sponsorship or approval by the Government of the United States or by any department, agency, or instrumentality thereof, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

3. I (Mark) have not sent any email or mailer advertising a rate reduction.

My response: I didn't say you did, nor did I say you generated the mailer at all. The mailer itself has the words "rate reduction" on it. The readers may decide for themselves whether or not an advertisement with the words emblazoned with the words "rate reduction" is, _prima facie_, an advertisement for rate reduction. The rate reduction aspect seems to be the smallest of the problems of this mailer, anyhow.

4. I assume you searched for the mortgage company, found my name, and thought I sent the mailer to you.

My response: Close. Since no business name was given I searched for the address, found the company at that address (SMI), found another page related to SMI (http://www.vamortgageconnection.com/contact.php) by address and email, which had Mr. Harcrow's SMI email address on it.

To be fair, the site referenced above no longer gives the 4230 LBJ address and no longer lists the SMI email address. This, combined with some of the content of Mr. Harcrow's removed comment, suggest he has moved on to greener pastures. I accept this, even though the SMI page still lists him as a staff member:

I did not claim you sent the mailer. I did claim:
* the mailer claimed to come from the 4230 LBJ address
* where SMI claims to reside,
* where your company/site VA Mortgage Connection claimed to reside (now changed)
* and on the VAMC site MH's SMI-based email address was given.

That is the sum total of my claims directly or tangentially related to Mr. Harcrow.

5. Deceptive practices are wrong; slander in this type of forum is wrong.

My response: Deceptive practices are disagreeable and ultimately unproductive. Slander is illegal, which is why I didn't do it. The phrase Truth is an absolute defense come to mind. If you believe any of the facts in my post are incorrect, point out the counterfactual information and I will correct it. The approach you are taking appears to be "You claim I did this. I didn't do this, the other people in my office did it." Fine with me. I never claimed you personally did it. I claimed your email address was on a VA-related website related to SMI.

BTW, the TDSML complaint link on your contact page is STILL broken. Specfically, it's missing the http:// prefix so it looks like a relative URL to the server. Your webmaster will know what this means.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Free VIN etching Sept 9

Richardson Police Department | 140 N. Greenville Ave.

The Richardson Police Department in partnership with the North Texas Auto Theft Task Force and UTD, will be offering free VIN etchings and conducting H.E.A.T. registrations on Friday, September 10, 2010. This is a pre‐National Night Out 2010 event.

Bring your car to UTD at 800 W. Campbell Rd. in Richardson, between 10am and 2pm to have your car’s VIN etched into each window. VIN etching is used to deter auto theft. Car thieves who steal cars for re‐sale or for parts will tend to avoid vehicles that have the glass etched with a VIN. VIN etching reduces the criminal’s profit, associated with replacing a vehicle’s windows and the windows themselves becoming worthless for resale.

The H.E.A.T. (Help End Auto Theft) registration program places a sticker on your vehicle and registers it in a statewide database used by
law enforcement in Texas. H.E.A.T. registration allows Police to stop the vehicle if it is operating between the hours of 1:00am and 5:00am to determine if the driver is the owner. The event is conducted on a first come first serve basis and only takes minutes to complete and is free of charge.

The Richardson Police Department will also be collecting canned food donations for the Network of Community Ministries. If it should rain, the event will be rescheduled and details will be published at a later time.

Contact the Richardson Police Department, Crime Prevention Unit for additional information at 972‐744‐4955.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

State Fair 2010

The official site is bigtex.com.

Opening Day: Sep 24.
Senior Citizens days: Thursdays. Highly recommended. Calm, uncrowded.
DISD day for secondary: Oct 8. Accidentally did this once; never again.
RISD Day: Oct 11. Have fun!
Closing Day: Oct 17

Here's the livestock schedule.

Richardsonians (?) should be able to ride the Red line DART train, xfer to the Green line and step off at Fair Park if the Green line opens on Sep 17th as planned. Looks like any station between Pearl and West End will allow transfer between the lines, but do your own homework.

Note: if applicable, have your CHL/DL visible before the Fairgrounds guard wands you. I usually hold them up, splayed, by my face at eye level so the guard can immediately grasp the scenario; no ambiguity. Sometimes they will wave you through. Sometimes they will direct you over to DPD who waves you through or makes small talk. No drama. Security has already been briefed to some degree, but handling it this way will make everyone's life easier.

RPL email newsletters

I attended one of the recent RPL focus groups. My tablemates indicated that the RPL had a rather extensive list of broadcast email lists.

Hmmmm. Hadn't seen those before.

Turns out they are called Bookletters on the main RPL page. The only other link to the email list page is on the left menu of the Calendar of Events page where they are called newsletters. I wonder if the lists would see more subscribers if they were called something more intuitive.

So I selected the ones I wanted and subbed. Each list sent its own "welcome" msg without requiring an opt-in. A bit sloppy, but better than nothing. I think email lists are an effective and cheap way to reach the residents.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

the publicity nature of transparency

Just doing this off my low-quality recording from Ch16, so I am not sure who the first voice was. I think the speaker was recognized as Bob before he spoke, so this would mean Macy or Townshend.

The following exchange suggests that Old School ways of governance have a certain amount of inertia. The CM was quick with the damage control. I don't think it's scandalous or evidence of shady doings, but it does reveal a partiular style of thinking.

Bob: I wonder about the, uh, publicity nature of those organizations we do business with. You know, people will get on there and just... you know, all this "the city does business with so-and-so." Are there effects [unintelligible] get in any trouble with that kind of thing...

Keffler [cuts in quickly]: Uh. Uh. I wouldn't know what that would be, but... uh, we, uh, I mean, we, you know, we, award bids all the time and so it's... it's a very public process. [CM pivots and changes the redirects the conversation].

I will leave it to the reader to decide if the leadership wants transparency or just the appearance of transparency. I hope for the former.

I am reminded, however, of most city "art" museums. They unintentionally give evidence that the city was less interested in art than they were about being seen as the kind of city that has an art museum.

I have heard a possibly-related beltway joke --

There are two things you must do to be a Senator:
1. get elected
2. get re-elected

Monday, August 2, 2010

COR Library focus group needs volunteers

If you are interested in providing input to help make RPL even better, this is your chance to donate some time.

Here's the Point of Contact info for the pre-screen:
Dallas by Definition
(972) 869-2366
Diane or Sheila. Mention it's for the Richardson Public Library study.

Early word is that they need something like 10 people in each of 7 planned focus groups.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Three recommendations for auto services in Richardson

I've been meaning to mention these businesses, so here we go.

  • Discount Tire Co. on Midpark.   Discount Tire is superfantastic;  I would never, ever buy my tires anywhere else.  Seriously. Start a conversation around the watercooler with "hey, where should I buy my tires" and people will start gushing about Disco.
  • Bass Automotive on Floyd.  I've had a couple of repairs there. Good troubleshooting, repairs done quickly and at the quoted rate.  I don't remember who recommended these guys, but thanks!
  • If you have a Honda, your place is Hondew behind TI.

Mortgage [kittens] target veterans

When we got our mortgage from the much-loved Guardian Mort. in the Chase building, the rep told us to expect a truckload of mortgage-related knavery in the mail.  I've tried to mention the most obnoxious of the [kittens].

Here's a nifty one that should remind you read carefully and assume the worst.  Imagine your war vet great-grandfather reading this.  Are you ready?  Here we go.

The company does not list their name, only "Interest Rate Reduction Department."   The outside of the mail says "Official Notice" on a fake seal and "Veterans affairs Program Information," as you can see above.  Nice, yes?

On the inside the letter is topped by a bolded line that says Audit Review and the company name is still not revealed.  It helpfully lists a "VA Case #". 

Google shows us that the address in the letter matches this local business:

SMI Lending, Inc.
4230 LBJ Freeway Suite 225
Dallas, TX 75244

This same address appears on vamortgageconnection.com. I am certain that the link to the Texas Department of Savings and Mortgage Lending for complaint lodging on their contact page was broken accidentally and not on purpose.

The email address associated with the company is  mharcrow@smimortgage.com.

[update 2010/09/02: Mr. Harcrow wishes to clarify he was not the source of the mailer. I take him at his word. See below.]

Friday, July 23, 2010

One book: The Art of Racing in the Rain

I like the Richardson Reads One Book idea.  I read the tea book last year and got a copy of Rain from the RPL.  All of them were checked out but there were so many copies (30?) that my hold request came through in a couple of days. 

I'm about 50 pages in.  For the first couple of pages I thought it would be maudlin "marley and me" pap, but it's shaping up.  I assumed the "racing in the rain" reference was going to be about the dog running around in the rain but that misconception was cleared up in a (for me) more interesting direction.

I should point out that when I first cracked open the book in bed my own aging, graying hound was crashed out beside the bed on his own dog pillow. So I might approach the story with a bit more bias than I otherwise might. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

I met Igor @ 7-11

I saw him on the tv show and have been meaning to stop in and meet him at his 7-11 on the SE corner of 75/Campbell.  I made an excuse to make trip up there and make a trivial purchase (see below).

If you haven't seen this segment, do so now.  If you are ever cynical about mankind or this country, this gentleman will restore your faith.  Consider this sample: 

"That's the story about America.  That's not story about me...  I am so thankful for this country which allow me to survive and be happy."

The moment I cracked the door Igor noticed and called out to me.  I waved and made my purchase.  Afterwards I went over to meet him. He had been cleaning up the soda machines and stopped immediately to say hello.    He was friendly and warm, and received my congratulations humbly and with gratitude.  I turned and left rather quickly because I was having some kind of allergic reaction that caused some tearing up and a runny nose all the way home.  

Welcome, Igor.  I am proud to share the Texas soil with you.  People like you make our nation great.  Іске сәт!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

July 12th council meeting - West Spring Valley Corridor Reinvestment Study

Part of the recent emailed annoucement:

"The consulting team is scheduled to make the final presentation related to this phase of the study at a meeting of the City Council on Monday, July 12, 2010, at 6:00 PM in the Council Chambers at the City Hall/Civic Center, 411 W. Arapaho Road (southwest corner, Central Expressway at Arapaho Road). The presentation will include the recommendations that have been developed with the community and market-tested by the consultants, along with an implementation strategy and a computer animation depicting the redeveloped corridor. You are welcome to join the Council for this briefing. No RSVP is necessary."
Monica Heid, AICP
Community Projects Manager
City of Richardson

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Preparedness display up in City Hall

Went to go pay the water bill today and noticed a KnowWhat2Do preparedness display out in the hallway.  DVDs, pamplets, and a small booklet for kids.

KnowWhat2Do is a north central Texas regional emergency response effort for citizens.  The DVD mentioned above is streamable online.

IMO the most important takeaway is the emergency kit planner (pdf).  You may also hear these referred to as 72-hr kits or, if easily portable, bug out bags (BOBs).   I have found that this kind of kit is conveniently storable in a a 5gal "homer" or "pickle" bucket.   One per person.  Stack'em up in the corner, tape the contents list (with expiration dates) to the outside, and remember to rotate food stocks in/out.  A $3 bucket opener will save your fingernails and cussing.

There's also an online emergency planner that you can populate with your specifics, but I am cognizant that not everyone feels comfortable submitting their personal data to quasi-governmental sites.  I got about 3 pages into it and went, "nahhh, I'll do that in OpenOffice instead."

If you need a little bit of motivation, consider these non-paranoid scenarios:

  • A run of 100F days cause massive increase in load on the electrical grid, causing rolling blackouts in DFW.    Your house is without power for 48hrs.  Can you get around?  Cook?  Feed your kids?
  • Trucker's strike causes infrastructure slowdown.  Grocery stores keep about 3 days of rolling inventory on hand.  Can you feed your family?
  • Gas line break disrupts natural gas to your home for 48hrs.  Do you have a way to cook or enough food that can be eaten without cooking?
  • Some kind of water main problem disrupts water to your home for 24hrs.  Do you have a bit for hydration, cooking, and hygiene?
  • Some kind of algal or other contaminant gets in our water supply from Lavon.  Water flows but is not safe to drink untreated.  Do you have water for hydration?   Have a way to boil or otherwise treat water?  What if there is a simultaneous electrical or gas outage?  
Just like we wear seatbelts but don't plan to get in a wreck, we plan for emergencies we hope never happen.  I humbly suggest that duty to one's family can require more than providing iPhones and Xbox games.  Our fantastically high and thoroughly enjoyable standard of living is a precarious balancing act.  A three legged stool is stable so long as all three legs are present...

Friday, July 2, 2010

If you think *I* get fired up about HOAs...

These folks burn with a white-hot hate for HOAs.  They make me look positively beatific by comparison.

Found them while doing some google-fu on the Community Associations Institute (CAI), who are putting on a trade show in Plano next month.

Essentials (ABCs) Class with Paul Grucza, CMCA, AMS PCAM of Classic Property Management, Inc., AAMC, provides board members with the basics of properly governing their community.
New pond technologies by Trent Lewis at Pond Medics.
Understanding High-Rise mechanical systems by 4-L Engineering.
Managing foreclosed communities by Marc Markel, Roberts Markel, PC and Norm Silversteen, PCAM
Closing keynote by Paul Grucza, CMCA, AMS, PCAM, of Classic Property Management, Inc, AAMC
And more!

In case you were wondering:

CMCA = $250-$300. "It can elevate your credibility and your community association's confidence in you."

AMS = $150-$250 application, $75-$175/yr. "The AMS designation demonstrates a higher level of commitment to your career and the community association industry."

PCAM = $195-$295 application, $150-$250/yr. "The pinnacle of community association management... earn your PCAM and join the elite — the select — the best."

AAMC = $300-400 application, $150-$325/yr.  "The AAMC accreditation demonstrates a company's commitment to providing the unique and diverse services community associations need."

Oh, and just in case you thought letters were free:
"CAI designations and accreditation programs are trademarks of CAI. Misuse of CAI trademarks, designations, or other copyrighted materials without proper authorization is a violation of CAI policy and federal law."

Can you tell CAI is in the credentialing business?  I've always mistrusted that market.  Admittedly reductionist, but to me it seems like "give us money, and we'll refer you business!"

If you're a big fan of policies like non-judicial foreclosure, unlimited increase in HOA fees without resident voting, more esthetic control, HOA liens, no requirement to adhere to minimum standards of decency put forth in the Fair Debt Collection Practices act, and reliance on CAI-credentialed service providers then you need to get on this bandwagon ASAP. Open your heart, open your wallet. You (and the new resident of that house you think you own free and clear) will be happier.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Theft is dangerous

When criminals start telling each other it's dangerous to steal AC units, copper tubing, etc., the behavior will decrease markedly.  Until then it's an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Somewhat related: G20 looter steals some stuff, bystander tackles him and tosses the loot back into the store.  Nicely handled.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Who says we don't care about World Cup?

Some locals are fully engaged.

BTW, did anyone else get in on the "world's largest paella" at the Anatole when World Cup was hosted here last?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"Frisco HOA that foreclosed on soldier..."

Oh, you wacky HOAs. Why don't you hire a public relations officer after the fact instead of doing the right thing in the first place.

Plenty of fault to go around here, but is this really what your organization wants?

I certainly do not condone death threats, but they do make an interesting barometer for how one's actions are being received by the public. If you're getting death threats it's a pretty good indicator you're Doing It Wrong.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

M Cafe has closed

I liked this place, but it's closed down.  I should have realized ut when I got this spam recently:

My name is John Macatee, and I am the former owner of M Cafe', Atlanta Bread Company, and Macatee Brokers, Inc..  I want to make you aware of the fact that in late 2009 I aligned my financial services practice with New York Life.  I have had the opportunity to establish myself as a valuable resource to many individuals, families, and business owners.  I have had great success in developing plans to help guide my clients toward reaching their financial objectives. 
The email addy it was sent to was on my business card, so I assume I dropped a card in a jar or similar.  Maybe I can't call it spam if I gave them my email addy.  Or maybe I can since it's not being used by the company I gave it to?  Hmmm.

I had assumed that the owner had sold the place to another owner at some point rather than shutting it down.  Guess not. Seems to me that little strip is in sad shape.

You requested these (nonexistent) projects

Do you remember the 100% of bond projects that you requested, and how your city leadership listened?

Some of the Prop 4 projects some of them were not even defined;  there would be a request for proposal after the bond vote. But now that we've agreed to pay for them we get some input on what they might be.  Get crackin'!

So which is it?  The projects existed and we requested them, or the projects did not exist so we could not have requested them.  Perhaps I am operating under a faulty understanding of what "requested" means.  Perhaps elected officials are tempted to increase their power and influence by redistributing the treasure of the tax livestock, and will dangle the vaguest of carrots to get it.  Seems like the real request, if any, was "please tax us and go deeper into debt.  We'll work out the details later."

We are in an unenviable position of begging the city to get our own money back to our neighborhoods.  Let us be clear:  the citizen wouldn't have to be a supplicant if his funds were not co-opted in the first place.  An economist's argument might be:  if the neighborhoods really wanted these tokens of "vitality" the residents would have already bought them.  

While I'm playing the crank this morning, let's keep going.

Consider these two scenarios:
1.  Protection racket
You buy a house in a nice neighborhood.
A fellow knocks on the door and tells you he'll watch your house to make sure nothing happens to it, in exchange for a yearly fee.
He provides some neighborhood services which you may or may not want, and you can ask him for favors.

2.  Taxation
You buy a house in a nice neighborhood.
The city knocks on the door and tells you to pay a yearly fee or something may happen to it  (ie, "Property taxes attach as an enforceable lien on property").
The city provides some neighborhood services which you may or may not want, and you can ask them for favors.

In both cases it is demonstratable that the provided services are unwanted, fictive,  or at least overpriced;.  Otherwise the residents would have voluntarily sought to pay for those services beforehand.  In both cases power accrues to the provider of protection and the resident must pay or lose property.  Does this setup sound like a good idea?  If we were remaking it from the ground up would you choose this option?

I am not a tea party guy but I do believe it is in the citizens' best interest to avoid "enabling" the tax/spend/indebtedness addiction of local governments.  (Link pointed out by RCN; thanks!)

Monday, May 31, 2010

DFW Chinatown entry feature

Noticed this entry feature going up last week when I was on a crime watch patrol. DFW Chinatown is a commercial property and so not on our patrol route, but I saw the equipment from Apollo.

Haven't been back by to see what it looks like now.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

kudos to RPL Director

Earlier this year RPL Director Mr. Benson bravely waded into the blog comment world, and provided interesting and valuable input.

I want to point out that that there were also results, not just talk. Here was his response to one particular suggestion in the commments:

Call numbers for My Lists? I know it's possible because I've seen it done on other Horizon systems and I've asked for the change before. I'll ask again and push harder.

As the screenshot shows, Mr. Benson made good on his word. COR needs more high profile folks that listen, think critically, and take action where warranted.

So here's a public pat on the back for our library director.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Dissent, physical threats, and city government

This is an interesting situation in Plano.

If the guy really did make a physical threat then he got what he deserved. This is a practical reminder to keep arguments civil and reasonable. More light than heat.

If the guy did not make a physical threat then the city is misusing the legal system to stifle resident dissent. Question: are there citizens that COR leadership would prefer to keep at a 500' distance for whatever reason? While answering this question for yourself you may want to think back on COR hiring an expensive new PR flack to deal with blog posts.

I found this piece interesting:

It also bars Lagos from going near Plano Mayor Phil Dyer and City Manager Tom Muehlenbeck. The order excludes public events, such as City Council meetings, in which Dyer and Muehlenbeck are acting in their official capacities.

I think interaction with public officials about city matters should be handled in public, official events. This helps keep the interaction official (literally related to the public office) rather than personal. It may also assist transparency as it will have a greater chance of being recorded/transcribed.

My preference for this approach is why it bothers me when officials want to take a citizen's concerns to a private venue: phone, meeting, email. It's public business and needs to be handled in public. No drama, no he said / she said, and much less opportunity for misunderstanding.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Remember: HOAs are evil

To quote Mike Myers: "E-ville. As in froo-its of the deh-ville."

Seriously. Do NOT get involved with control freak organizations, particularly ones that can charge you money and take your house. Run, do not walk.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Bond vote results

I am ok with the voting results. Link

The Yes win was narrow enough that I hope the council/manager will be more aware of their responsibilities toward all residents and to their official duties. I hope we get a leaner, more fiscally responsible city govt. I hope for more transparency.

I hope that neighbors continue the broader discussion and bloggers keep writing about their home city.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

"100% of these projects were requested by you..."

Received a postcard from Neighborhoods for Richardson today; I assume everyone else did, too.

"100% of these projects were requested by you, , the residents of Richardson.
Your city leadership listened."

Uh, no. Some of the more vocal residents screamed for pet projects the same way baby birds scream for worms.

Doesn't anyone remember the quote about how the council didn't want a bond package now and had to be strongarmed by Tex?

"Invest wisely". Indeed. I already cast my vote.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

COR and AAA bond ratings

When I was listening to Tex Keffler at the HTNA neighbor meeting earlier this month something chafed me a bit. He mentioned our AAA bond rating and added something like "the bond rating people know what they are talking about."

What chafed me was I remembered that bond rating agencies, including Moodys and Standard and Poors, had been involved in conflict of interest and unwarranted optimism exacerbating the current economic crisis. A somewhat spicier write-up is online here.

The situation is so jacked up that rating agencies actually started claiming immunity from liability for their ratings by claiming they had free speech rights like (and no more responsibility than) a movie reviewer. Unfortunately for them (WSJ):

Manhattan federal Judge Shira Scheindlin dealt a blow to ratings firms, rejecting a free-speech defense asserted by Moody’s Investors Services and Standard & Poor’s.

Do those names sound familiar?

I am not claiming that COR's AAA ratings are fraudulent. I do think they are unlikely to stay AAA if we keep up the profligate spending, including elective project spending and overpayment of top officials. My suspicion has been that COR wanted to shoehorn in a huge bond because they know/fear/suspect that the AAA bubble will burst sooner rather than later. I sure would like to be wrong about this.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Early Voting

There was no line in the civic center; I was in/out in about 3 minutes. There were no other voters while I was there.

To be fair, there were projects I would have considered funding on a bond if they were line items and not bundled with other non-essential stuff. If I were the the director of the Dog Pound or Library I would pressure The Powers That Be to put my projects on seperate lines next time around.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch: pro-bond folks are probably not amused that the DMN published an article about Keffler's sick/vacation pay bonanza today. There's no straight line to be drawn between Keffler's benefit package and the bond, but seeing non-trivial amounts of citizen treasure spent that way might irritate some residents who were otherwise on the fence about the bond. Link

Saturday, April 24, 2010

COR employees used to pull Vote No signs?

I'm hearing chatter that COR employees may be:
  1. contacting households with the Vote No signs on their property and/or
  2. removing the signs based on that contact
Can anyone confirm/clarify? FOIA request on a police report may be productive shortly. Trying to pull some RPD audio.

Monday, April 19, 2010

COR library's new system

From (I assume) Cheri Duncan-Hubert in the comments on this C&P blog post:

"Library RFID upgrade is a Multi Bin System from TechLogic at a cost of $450k. But the reported amount of 724,500 is almost double the cost with markups and the lovely 5% capital improvement cost (sweeping, sweeping, sweeping)."
I was in the Library a couple of weeks ago and noticed the self-checkout stand was gone. You know, the one with the "a new printer has been ordered" sign on it that's been dead for at least a year.

I asked a staffer if they'd given up on the station and she said "yes, but we're getting a new system in the Spring." I wonder if there is, coincidentally, a new [self-]checkout system coming in the spring or if the worker bees are metaphysically certain that the bond will pass.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

City bond video on cable access

From the recent COR email update:

2010 Bond Election Video Available Online In an effort to provide information to voters about the upcoming May 8, 2010 Bond Election, our Citizens Information Television Department has produced a video overview of the $66 million proposal. The video is available online at www.cor.net and will also be aired on the City's cable channel.
I wonder if video from last night's Just Say No meetup will get free play on the cable access? It's worth thinking about. Equal time and all that.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cabjacking in Richardson ends in HP

Dallas police are looking for a man who carjacked a Yellow Cab in Richardson early this morning and led officers on a chase into Highland Park.


According to Richardson police, the carjacker got into the cab in the 400 block of East Buckingham Road, pretending to be a passenger. This was about 12:40 a.m.

Story here.Link

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Just Say No" enclosure in Money Mailer coupons

We love our great city, and we love it enough to demand strict fiscal accountability. Go to the polls and vote Against a 10.4% tax increase for you and your neighbors.
The insert references www.jsn2010.com (a yellow page with the text from the flyer) and blog.jsn2010.com, which lists all and discusses some of the project proposals. I think the blog is interesting, as the format allows readers to comment on each project.

If I were on the council and had made a lot of porky promises, I'd think I'd be feeling a bit uneasy these days.

No wonder Highland Terrace gets no love

Oh, man.

After publishing the meeting on the website, physically delivering newsletters with the meeting time/date to every house on every street in Highland Terrace, and at least one email blast, the neighbors at the neighborhood meeting were in real danger of being outnumbered by the speakers. I'm guessing there were 20 residents there, and half of those were HTNA board members or family of board members). If HT votes in those kinds of numbers it's no wonder the city thinks they don't need our input on projects like the MST Gym.

I would not fault the speakers if they opted not to accept invitations to our meetings; the turnout was so low that I cannot imagine it was worth their time. As a resident of HT I believe it was worth my time to be there, if only to hear the questions submitted by the audience.

Speakers included:

  • HTNA board members who spoke about their respective efforts.
  • Button's policy wonk was there to throw red meat to the right. Fair enough; that's the demographic here (for now).
  • Lanet Greenshaw, RISD Board of Trustees, was there to remind us she's up for re-election (same ballot as the bond election). Don't know anything about her, but she seemed pleasant enough.
  • Amir Omar (Place 7, at large) was there to talk about Tree The Town (April 18th, 2pm @ Galatyn Plaza). Gracious and impressive as always.
  • Steve Mitchell (Place 6, at large) and Bob Townshend (Place 1, our member) both spoke. Mitchell more briefly and Townshend in a bit more detail about things happening on the east side. Don't care what anybody else says: I dig Mitchell's jeans-and-jacket vibe.
  • Bill Keffler had the most speaking time: he was on-hand to provide background information on many land/development deals that came up during Townshend's talk; Keffler did a good job job filling this info in. Keffler also made the "Vote Yes on the Bond" pitch. He kept his cool during the pitch, stopping to answer questions or comments that came up. Audience participation was more civil than recent "baby killer!" or "you lie!" scenarios but there was a bit of heat in some of the tax rate increase comments. Others were very neutral and thought-provoking: "is it common for cities to build water towers on land they do not own?" This was a reference to the UTD land-lease-for-roads deal. I was not swayed to vote Yes on the bonds, but I did come away with a greater respect for Mr. Keffler's encyclopedic knowledge of development in Richardson.
  • Non-speaking attendees of note. From other parts of the city: Nathan Morgan and David (DC). From COR: Assistant city managers Morgan and Thames.
If I forgot anyone, let me know.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Oncor admits meter-reading error

But it turns out the error was in reading the old meters during the changeover to the new meters.

If this is true only the first bill should be out of whack.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

3/30 Spring Valley redevelopment meeting

The majority of the ~50 attendees were homeowners. There was a renter and some biz owners and some non SVC interlopers like me. Apparently some folks from Dallas were there. Mitchell and Murphy were there. The audience skewed distinctly Anglo, shall we say.

Executive Summary
What Richardson Heights doesn't want: Mexicans. Things that are Mexicany. Admitting that it's about Mexicans.
What Richardson Heights wants: {mumbling} uhhhh...... distinctive... uhhhh... destination..... mid-to-upper income... Did we mention no Mexicans already?
How Richardson Heights proposes to pay for it: {crickets chirping}

About 1hr of the 3hrs was productive: the table discussions and the feedback sessions using the little remotes. In the example to the right, we are voting on how well this mixed-use streetscape fits our vision. I timed it so you could see the voting graph overlaid on the image. The left of the graph is SUCKS! and the right is GENIUS!, so you can see the crowd seemed to like this image.

State of play
It appears the locals are ready to rip-and-replace the Spring Valley Corridor (SVC hereafter). I don't know that this is really necessary and I have to believe the project will die on the (expensive) vine without 100% buy-in from Dallas.

I think another approach would be simpler, faster, and would result in fewer property tax hikes and bond proposals. The overall idea would be to embrace what's productive about SVC and set postive expectations to change what's counterproductive:

Embracing the productive
  • make use of the capitalist spirit and work ethic of the people who live and work in the SVC. Let's use a trivial example. Ever seen elderly heladeros pushing the ice cream cart when it's 105F outside? That's a work ethic. Buy a dingdang ice cream (they are generally $1, and quite good. I like vanilla; wifey likes fresa). Welcome the heladero; encourage him to follow the rules, and encourage residents to value him and his service: this is a churro. These are duros. This is how you buy them from the vendor. Learn to love the heladero. He could be as valuable as a Crime Watch Patrol member in watching your neighborhood.
  • Make our Hispanic brethren feel more welcome and wanted. Rework business buildings as needed, but retain a esthetic that says "we value what you bring to the table." Solicit Hispanic leadership in the SVC process. Sponsor a food fair where Mexican regional dishes are prepared and tasted. Simple cooking classes given by matriarchs would be delightful.
  • Sponsor "tours" of mercados and other businesses so that nearby residents will experience the astounding vegetable/fruit/cheese/meat counters our Hispanic residents already know about.
  • There are some lovely old apartments on the SVC; I lived in Spanish Trails (now Lakeside or something) and the physical area was really nice. Calming. Interior courtyards, ducks, a pond. It was cheap, quiet, and safe. Which brings up the next point...
  • retain a place in Richardson for hardworking blue collar people to live. Seriously, folks. We can't (and shouldn't) push out our working folks of modest means to Garland or whatever. We need all types. We are them.
  • etc

Changing the counterproductive
  • require (or strongly suggest) that all rentals require background checks. When I lived in the SVC the crime was largely youth from Dallas preying on Hispanic folks living in the SVC. Still, criminal background checks would weed out the few bad apples and would soothe the concerns of nearby residents.
  • Provide "this is how Richardsonians behave" information to all newcomers so they know how things are done in our city. They may not know. Follow this up with bilingual beat cops who are dedicated to the enduring success of the SVC.
  • Enforce traffic laws rigorously; the SVC is a deathtrap of terrible driving, DUI, and lack of insurance. I have affection for the SVC and still avoid it much of the time because the drivers are so predictably bad. It would be funny if it weren't so dangerous.
  • etc

Ok, that's enough Pollyanna for tonight. I certainly don't have the answers, but perhaps these disjointed thoughts will inspire someone smarter, better organized, and better connected than I am.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Strongest case

An anonymous writer laid out a compelling, rational argument to vote against the upcoming bond proposals.

It's worth reading, even if you are voting for the bond proposals.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tree fixation @ work session 3/23

[this was a draft I started and didn't finish. But it contains a dig at the datacenter millions, so I'll go ahead and turn it loose as-is.]

I may have made some errors while making this transcription. Better check it against the video yourself. :-)

I'm digging this "visually obscure 25% of the front door or porch" bullet. I mean, we're interested in making Richardson look good.

But there's this detail where the law only allows us to use this kind of tactic for "health & safety" issues. Still, we really like to be ahead of the curve.[0] Do you really think we are we going to be able (with a straight face) to claim in court this is about health and safety and not about looking good, despite what I just said 10 seconds earlier?

Don: Oh, hells yeah. We've been pulling this crap for years, since at least 2001; we were the first ones in North Texas to twist the law this way. We're way ahead of the curve. And now Mesquite is doing it, too! We haven't been sued yet by the residents or slapped down by the A.G. so we're golden. Masters of the universe and all that. It may be a dilrod thing to do, but our lawyers say it's totally defensible[1] and can be tied back[2] to health, safety and general welfare[3].

Mitchell: Man, you're good. Ok. Next question. My neighbor has this big old oak tree. I mean, this thing is annoying, what with all the birds, the acorns, the shade and all that crap. Is is this a stump, based on your new language?

Don: Believe it. If you don't like it (and you've got some pull) then it's a stump. They'll have to cut it down even to the level of the lawn.

Slagel, interrupting: Let me just ask. Is there any way we can pay some completely transient, unstable company five or ten million dollars to cut that tree down and then relocate some kind of datacenter or insurance company where the tree was? We could call it LumberTech or something. I like that branding, and I think it might yield the city thirteen or fourteen cents over the next six centuries.

Tex Keffler: I know some people who are perfect for that. I was playing golf with them Saturday morning. Or was it drinks in the hotel lounge? Regardless, it'd probably have to be closer to 10mil to "get their attention", if you know what I mean.

Macy: It seems traditional in many places to cut off the tree trunk at a couple of feet high and use it as a flower planter. Are we allowing that?

Don: The people who do that are trashy, and may not even be White. Deeply, profoundly "problematic". Denied!

[unfinished, unedited draft ends here]

[0] ie, do things that wiser people might say is "unwise", "inadvisable", or "illegal".
[1] ie, "we will bill you $500/hr to defend it"
[2] ie, fig leaf successfully attached
[3] ...of the city

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

bond props, 1-4

First off, COR webmaster, stop with the unnecessary Flash animation crap, ok? I think there's an important metaphor in there somewhere but I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

I think in future bonds we need more granularity. Instead of
Street Improvments
Parts and Rec

Municipal Public Buildings

Neighborhood Vitality

we could have
Street Improvments - Critical
Street Improvments - Optional
Parts and Rec - Critical
Parts and Rec - Optional

Municipal Public Buildings - Critical

Municipal Public Buildings - Optional

Neighborhood Vitality - Critical
Neighborhood Vitality - Optional

This would help prevent critical expenditures from getting bundled with "sure would be nice" issues.

Or, even better: think of how different borrowing would be if we actually got to vote on each item. That would be something like 34 items instead of 4. Would I be willing to take the extra 10 minutes at the poll? Believe it. I don't think it will ever happen because it would KILL pork, and pork is the lifeblood of politics. Starve the beast, people.

Prop 1
, $24.7M
The question here is whether or not to spike this $24.7M prop because of the inclusion of:
Galatyn Overpass Extension $787,500
UTD Roadways $2,836,000

Am I willing to drive on worse roads for a couple of years in order to send a signal that the city shouldn't try to bloat up bond props? Yes, I am.

BTW, I'm not sure I'm entirely comfortable with the city building erosion features for what appear to be two private residences at 1709 Timberway Dr. and 1502 Braeburn Dr. Anyone know the dates of the work sessions or council meetings when those were discussed? I'd like to educate myself on that issue. My immediate reaction is that underwriting poor residential location choices increases moral hazard.

Prop 2, $22.6M
This one is easy. No.

We're likely required to do
City Wide - Park ADA Modifications $262,500
which we can do out of current funds.

As much as I'd like to see trails, I will take my own medicine here. This is not the time to borrow money for that.

Note: Hey COR, I understand your girlfriend Heights Park is hot and more than a little high maintenance. Promise her all the trinkets you want, just don't expect the rest of us to underwrite your adventures. We're trying to buy groceries and make the mortgage over here.

Prop 3, 10.5M

Would I like to increase doggie ventilation? Sure. Do it out of current funds. Or get a corporate partner. Who wouldn't want to go on the record as helping adoptable dogs stay cool?

The 724K RFID project will probably save money in the long term, and if so should be in a reasonable bond prop.

Prop 4, $8.15M

Seriously, this is how you're going to list it? How about a link of some kind.
HOA Requested NV Projects Screening walls, entry features, bridge aesthetics $2,100,000

I have no problems with sidewalk repair but 25% undifferentiated fluff in that prop seals it for me.

Man, I'm getting grouchier as I age.

Tree The Town == debt lever?

I'm getting a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I really, really hope this isn't the underlying rationale for Tree the Town:

Posted by Dollar Tree @ 2:04 PM Tue, Mar 16, 2010
The hidden story in this is how these sponsors are effectively bolstering the City's asset base by tens of thousands of dollars. Not long ago, the Texas Legislature enabled municipalities to place a dollar value on trees. This is intended to increase the net worth of the municipality, and thus make its financial solvency seem more plausible. Well, enter the Tree The Town project. For every tree that is planted, the City will gain additional credibility in the financial markets, thanks to the value of trees being added to the asset base. The only loser here are the citizens who have to repay the debt for which these assets will be applied as collateral.
I hope Amir addresses this in public somewhere.

Line in the sand: I will actively work against any council member/candidate who seeks creative ways to increase COR's ability to go deeper into debt. We need leadership that will help wean COR off debt.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Trash Bash 2010

COR Trash Bash
"All citizens, social organizations, and civic groups are invited to participate in this event to help clean up the community from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, April 3rd."

I did this in 2008 and had fun. 2009 I had to attend a teaching class. It's on my calendar for this year. See you there!

Census letter

I just opened the pre-Census letter from the Census Bureau. I am not someone they need to convince. I will fill out the form and return it; it's my duty, at least the way I read the Constitution.

But they go on to mention "without a complete, accurate census, your community may not receive its fair share."

I will confine myself to remarking that the simplest method of ensuring folks get their fair share is to not take it from them in the first place.