Oct 11 2012

New Downtown Library

Published by under Uncategorized

I hope everyone will get out to vote in the November 6th election.  There are some very important ballot issue that we all deserve a say in.  If you don’t vote – don’t complain if the outcome is not what you wish.  One of the items on my “wish list” is the approval of the funding for a new downtown library.  I have a vision of the entire available block between Division, 5th St., Liberty and Williams as a central “gathering place” for daily and weekly events such as concerts, speakers, games and festivals such as the Festival of Fools and the Greek Festival in the summer and outdoor skating, meetings and such in the winter.  The Library off Library Lane will be the Crown Jewel and play a big part in the activity.

What is more democratic than a library and a park?  A place where people can research job opportunities, prepare a resume, find a new book to read, research a paper, act as a place for public dissent and conversation and a whole host of other valuable activities for our residents and especially our children and grandchildren.

As I understand it, the cost will be less than $70 per $100,000 of taxable value per year so the owner of $250,000 house will only pay slight over $200 per year, less than $20 a month for what will become one of the defining features of Ann Arbor for generations to come.

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Feb 19 2011

Pension Reform

Published by under Budget

Everyone knows that we cannot afford the rich defined benefit pensions and retiree medical benefits that the City still promises to all it’s workers yet they still offer it to almost all new employees.  Why won’t  our City mangers and elected officials face the facts and at least stop offering this benefit that already is the “albatross” hanging around our necks?  Just “kicking the can down the road” is not good enough any longer.  Write a note to your Council person and tell them we must at least slow down this fiscal train wreck we are headed for while there is still time.

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Aug 02 2010

Don’t forget to vote tomorrow on Aug 2nd.

Published by under Ideas Good,Uncategorized

If tomorrow is like previous election years we will have a hard time getting 30% of the registered voters to get out and vote.   If I had my way it would cost each voter $50 if they missed an election.  There is no excuse for not voting.

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Feb 28 2010

Irresponsibilty

Published by under "Stewisms"

There is a finite amount of irresponsibility that can exist in a family and if one family member hogs it all the rest of the family members will become more responsible to balance the equation.

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Feb 27 2010

“So” the new “Umm”

Published by under etc.

Have you listened carefully to any young professional answer questions  lately?  It used to be that when a speaker paused to catch their breath or gather their thoughts the most popular expression was—“Umm–I am glad you asked that question, Stew!”  Now days, we are most like to  hear–“So–I am glad you asked that question, Stew!”  I am not sure why this matters or why I have even noticed it but test my theory out and see for yourself.  Maybe the younger generations have just figured out that “Umm” is not really a word!

So“– for you young professionals that may find yourself reading this, remember some of your elders may not actually hear anything after your initial syllable just like my elders stopped listening after my “Umm“.

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Dec 13 2009

The reward of Giving goes to the Giver!

Published by under Lessons learned

After losing my campaign for Ann Arbor City Council in 2008 (by a landslide) I started looking around for other ways that I could become more involved in my community.   In addition to joining Ann Arbor Rotary and working with three local non-profit organizations that I deeply admire, I have been volunteering at Ann Arbor SPARK, SPARK East and the New Enterprise Forum, NEF,  and GLEQ to work with local entrepreneurs that have promising business ideas that potentially could help breathe some life into our tired local economy.

As a volunteer coach for the Annual Collaboration for Entrepreneurs, ACE-10, Business Plan Competition,  the luck of the draw brought an interesting idea for a new Not-For-Profit organization that resonated with me almost immediately. (See Youth of Tomorrow at YOFT.org)

Most business plans that come across my desk these days are from energetic young professionals looking to make a killing promoting the “Next New Thing” against all odds.  To my surprise I was sent an extremely well thought out Executive Summary written by a 25-year old engineering student, Marc Alexander, from Kettering University in Flint, MI.  Further research on the author revealed a truly amazing story of a young man that some how managed to make the best of a seemingly “bad hand” life dealt to him.  A great example of, “if life gives you lemons…make lemonade!”  When most others would simply make excuses for why they can’t get ahead in life this young man with an infectious smile, a sparkle in his eye and and “almost naive”, radiates an indomitable will to persevere and achieve his personal goals.  How could I not get involved?

Remarkably his personal goals are not based on based on monetary and personal gain but on his desire and passion to help others achieve their goals– indeed a young Bodhisattva!  His inspiration has opened my eyes and helped me formulate some thoughts on economic development in Ann Arbor, SE Michigan, Michigan, the Mid-West, U.S. and the the World.

The recent international financial  meltdown and the Global Warming Conference should vividly remind us of how interconnected the world has become.  They should serve as a stark lesson to us on the value of economic cooperation.   Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” has been replaced by Lucas Film’s “may the ‘Force’ be with you”.  Our “Force” is the will and spirit of ALL residents of our great State.

The entire state of Michigan is looking to Ann Arbor to become the technological engine that will help push the State out of the economic depression we are mired in.  As we all work hard to help jump start our local economy we need to look at the bigger picture and  let Marc Alexander remind us what good does it do to “get rich” if we leave everyone else behind?  How can sustainable economic development take place in Ann Arbor and leave Ypsilanti behind?  How can SE Michigan and Michigan have lasting prosperity while Detroit still has burned out homes, factories, bankrupt schools and 30% unemployment? You get the idea!  Sustainable success cannot be achieved by a  “beggar thy neighbor” attitude on any geographic scale.  If we sacrifice this core value we do so at our own peril.  Thanks Marc!  I have already received a precious gift from you.

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Nov 27 2009

Democracy

Published by under Lessons learned,Politics

I listened carefully to NPR Commentator, award winning journalist and educator–Jack Lessenberry’s speech to my Rotary Club on Wednesday.   With witty and sometimes snarky language,  Mr. Lessenbery lamented the demise of the print editions in the Newspaper Industry and the lack of substance for the online “free” versions of our local papers.  One of his main theories is that politicians everywhere are the only people celebrating this trend.  Jack stated that the First Amendment, Freedom of Speech, is the main guardian of  good government.  I could not agree more.   Government is only as good as what we as citizens are willing to accept.  Without the press shining their cleansing light in every nook and cranny of the governmental process it is impossible for the ordinary citizen to keep up with every day workings of our government.  A strong newspaper is a fundamental requisite for an ethical government.

As I sat through the speech I became more and more convinced that the Ann Arbor Chronicle must succeed.  It needs our monetary support and courteous involvement in the dialogue.   The unbiased reporting of the governmental meetings that Mary Morgan and her husband Dave provide the transparency that we must demand of our elected officials.  As an unbiased historical record of each of these meetings they attend is made available to us it  gives us all an opportunity to lend our voices and opinions to the processes that may ultimately affect our lives more than State and National issue.   Read the Ann Arbor Chronicle, subscribe and then let your voice be heard or forever hold your tongue!

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Mar 18 2009

Service cut backs at City Hall

Published by under Budget

Amazing!  The headlines of the Ann Arbor News broke the bad news today about how the losses in the AA City Retirement Pension Fund may force cuts in services over the next three years.  The worst case scenario that Mr Crawford outlined to the reporter is another example of how disingenuous City staff can be.  The fact of the matter is that the worst case scenario Mr Crawford computed was on December 31,  2008 when the Dow was at 8800.  It is not 20% below that and now and I am sure Mr Crawford hopes that he even can make the worst case scenario now!

Defined Benefit Plan

It is amazing to me that the City still offers a defined benefit retirement plan.  They cannot meet the financial obligations that they have now so why are they still oferring a form of pension that virtually no business offers any longer?   I am sure that in addition to “praying” for 7% a year in investment returns, they are also counting on the generosity of the Ann Arbor tax payers to help meet a moral obligation.  I will try to do some calculations on this in the next month but I think they will find that between the VEBA Trust that is less than 25% funded and the Pension Trust that is less than 70% funded, they would need to raise taxes by 15 to 25% to get them out of the hole.  How can the City Council continue to do business the way they are?  I have concluded that they are either in denial or they know they will not be in office when the proverbial feces hits the fan.

The pension plan has lost 50% of its value in the last 18 months.  At 7% annual return, it will take over ten years just to get to where we were 18 months ago!  The pension plan that 8 years ago was funded at 140% is now funded at less than 70%.  We should force our City Managers to stop promising defined benefit plans and take the pension plan out of the hands of well intentioned amateurs before we will all be forced to leave the City because we cannot afford our already ridiculous taxes.

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Mar 13 2009

Ann Arbor Airport Runway Extension

Published by under Ideas Bad

I felt like calling the airline pilot that wrote the column in the Other Voices Column in the Ann Arbor News (Friday, March 13). Sol Castell complained about spending money to add 800 ft to the runway.  The pilot while I am sure that he had good intentions, had no idea what he was talking about.

In the article, the 747 pilot stated that the length of the runway has no bearing on the glide slope a plane flies on approach.  While his statement is basically true,  the real problem is not the length of the runway per se,  rather where it is located.  Picture a runway up close to the foothills of the mountains.  The length of the runway (assuming it is long enough) doesn’t dictate the slope of the approach, but the mountains sure do!   That is the problem at the Ann Arbor Airport that we want to fix.  The real motivation for the construction is to move the approach end of the runway away from the nearby road. (State St) If the approach end of the runaway moves west, then planes can fly a shallower and safer approach over the vehicular traffic on State St.

He was also wrong in stating that larger aircraft will be able to use the longer runway.  Sure there may be one or two larger aircraft that will now be able to land on the longer runway, but 800 feet will not significantly change the mix of aircraft arriving and departing.  To attract bigger and noisier aircraft we would have to have at least 5000 feet of runway and a precision approach.  That is not going to happen for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the proximity of Willow Run  which is a much better airport for small business jets.

The thing that will happen is a safer operation. I wish that the pilot had called me before he put out his erroneous information that may cost a future pilot his life.  I was on the Airport Board for 7 years and a commercial pilot for 32 years. There were several very serious overruns while I was on the Board. Luckily none were fatal.   The current members of the the AA Airport Board are pretty smart folks and I can assure you they do not want to waste your money.

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Mar 08 2009

Good People or Good Equipment?

My 21 years in the the Air Force taught me that “Good People” make up for “Bad Equipment” everyday.  The advantage one achieves by having the best of equipment is always fleeting if you don’t have the best people using it, so given the choice I will always choose the best people and try to hang onto them.   

The Russians are a great example of good people making up for bad equipment.  During the cold war the Russians faced chronic shortages of every strategic material and computer available to us Westerners yet they continued to bluff us into thinking they were a superpower for 40 years.  They did it with their intellect and hard work.  Take a look at vintage 1980 Soviet aircraft.  Lacking sophisticated computers and wind tunnels  for advanced aerodynaminc modelling, the Russians just became very good at copying our basic designs and adapting them to their needs.  The results were nothing less than outstanding.  Couple adequate design and outstanding pilots and the results were a talented air force that was the envy of the world.

So if you ask me whether I would rather have a new city hall or a good police force and I am sure you will know what my answer will be.  Don’t get me wrong, we need an adequate place for our policemen and women to call home and then we need to invest in their training to insure that they are ready to protect us.  Remember, our young men and women don’t gravitate to law enforcement for the money!  They do it because of their desire to serve.  Let’s keep the best and the brightest and make our investments in “them” not the building.  We will all be safer if we do. 

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