Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Nobody Listens To Me

COLUMN NOTES: This one is an update column on two items I previously wrote about.

I wrote about Jeffersonville's sex offender ordinance issue three other times over the last couple of years. You can read the other three columns to see how I followed the issue and why I titled this post as I did.

Click here for the first column I wrote when they first passed the ordinance.

Then when the Eric Dowdell situation continued, I wrote this column.

The city continued to fight this guy and back their ordinance which led to this next column.

And finally, I just couldn't help myself, but I had to write one more which is the update I included in this column posted today.

By the way, I don't know what it means but the Indiana Law Blog posted a link and said it was a "must-read column."

HARBESON: It’s update time on a couple of issues
Local Columnist

Jeffersonville’s sex offender in parks ban

The Jeffersonville City Council still doesn’t get it. They still pretend that a law banning known sex offenders from parks will protect your kids.

They have obviously not taken my advice and educated themselves about this issue because they still won’t admit that the park is not where kids get in trouble with sex offenders.

They also won’t admit they were completely wrong in how they handled the Eric Dowdell case. Dowdell is the dad who tried his best to follow their new ordinance so he could get an exemption to go watch his son play baseball.

I bet you don’t even remember all the steps this case went through, which is usually what happens in these situations because people simply get fatigued and quit paying attention.

But I’m still watching, so let me refresh your memory. It started in Jeffersonville City Court, and then moved to Clark County Circuit Court to Clark County Superior Court to the Indiana Court of Appeals.

The city tried to take it to the Indiana Supreme Court, but this court declined to hear it, so in the end, the city lost. Now Jeffersonville is spending more time and money to rewrite the ordinance.

I tried to convince them to just leave Dowdell alone, but I failed. Sorry. And if you review the above list, you’ll note that this battle involved more than just city court, so everyone reading this helped pay for this. Sorry again.

Is this what people mean when they tell me we need a monopolized government-funded court system? To pay for a city to use the court system rather than admit their mistakes is one of those essential services we’re supposed to be thankful for?

What I’d really like to know is, when a city council and its lawyers go overboard and create extra costs and waste time in the court system, why aren’t they held accountable somehow? Could it be that one of the reasons we see such blatant misuse of the system is precisely because there are no specific accountability measures on the government side?

I guess the best we can do is to protect our children from ever getting near these people so they can’t corrupt them with their misguided ideas of right and wrong.

Tourism bureau
I received a call this past week from a gentleman who has been involved in local politics for a long time. He wanted to tell me about his experiences with the Clark-Floyd Counties Convention and Tourism Bureau on a project he was working on to persuade a group to host a convention in Southern Indiana.

His story was quite interesting. He explained that he didn’t think he received much help at all from the bureau for his project. Instead he attributed his success in attracting the group to town to the assistance and work that came from staff and owners of several local businesses.

He couldn’t praise these private businesses enough for their work in helping to get this particular project done. His conclusion in all of this was that Executive Director Jim Keith needs to go.

I wasn’t sure I understood him correctly. So in order to get clarity, I asked him this, “So what you’re saying is that local private business organizations worked along with you much more effectively and did a much better job in helping to accomplish the goal of persuading your group to come to Southern Indiana for their convention?”

He did not hesitate for a second before he said, “Oh absolutely.”

I know how I interpret this, how about you?

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson’s failure to persuade government officials to think before acting has convinced her to try something easier first, like getting pigs to fly.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Is Limited Government An Oxymoron

Wow, one of the best videos I've seen lately. They made such great points in such a short time.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Stop Counting On Government

HARBESON: You should stop counting on government

A perplexing pattern popped out at me recently as I analyzed some recent news reports which really has me worried about the government’s ability to count.

As far as I can tell, officials ran out of fingers to count on long ago and have been hoping no one would notice. How bad is it? Let me count the ways.

Actually, I will only count a few ways because there are far too many, one could even say countless, examples to fit within my limited word count. Besides, if any government officials are reading this, I wouldn’t want to confuse them with too high a number. So I’m going to share three, one example from each layer of government: federal, state and local.

The first example concerns the recent news that Indiana is in trouble with the feds because the state has somehow grossly miscounted the number of billboards lining the highways. This is a problem because the federal government bureaucrats have the authority to withhold money based on a provision in the Highway Beautification Act.

For those who don’t know, the federal government uses this law to limit and control the number of billboards you are allowed to read while traveling on the government highways. See, a few decades ago, a president’s wife decided billboards were ugly and took away from the beauty of miles and miles of federally funded concrete and asphalt.

Now, state government has no real problem with this federal law because they get to help control something, which means they get to increase their funds by selling permits. Both layers of government do not care to eliminate billboards totally because having a government-approved number to count and track keeps a lot of people busy.

To better understand this logic, think of the Statler Brothers song “Counting Flowers on the Wall,” particularly the lyric, “So don’t tell me, I’ve nothing to do.”

Anyway, now the state is trying to correct their failure to maintain an accurate inventory of these billboards so they don’t lose any federal money. But guess what? Yep, they need money to correct this problem. Two million dollars has been suggested. What will they do with it? Train their workers to count. Insert another Statler brothers refrain here.

OK, let’s move down to a state level counting requirement. Did you know that for a long time Indiana’s government schools claimed that one-half is equal to one? In the past, when school was in session for a half-day, it was counted as a whole day.

But then, the new Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett, decided they better use the same math most of us use in the real world so he changed the rule. I’m not sure it really makes much difference though. The number of days of compulsory attendance required tells us nothing about whether a child is actually learning anything, besides counting down the days to the end of the year.

Finally, thanks to local citizen and soon-to-be forced Jeffersonville resident Bruce Herdt, we have a local example. He discovered the possibility of a huge mistake in the count of homes involved in Jeffersonville’s annexation.

The mistake could number in the thousands, which I find amazing. After all, a house is a pretty hard object to miss when counting. Most preschoolers with just a few hours of Sesame Street under their elastic waist should be able to count something as big as houses without messing up too bad.

I don’t know, maybe someone can do something to help these people get better at performing such elementary tasks. But I’m not counting on it.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson has at least two things in common with preschoolers — a love of counting and elastic waist pants.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tourism Bureau Trouble

Column Notes: This one generated some good reactions. Someone said I should run for office and another person said I should be county merchandising coordinator. :)

For context, here's a link to the tourism bureau's website so you can understand the references to the Sunny Side of Louisville. And here's a link to the story about Larry Wilder and his adventures with a trash can.

HARBESON: Follow the money trail to the Tourism Bureau

Local Columnist

For many years now, the Clark-Floyd Counties Convention and Tourism Bureau has worked to promote Southern Indiana as “The SunnySide of Louisville.” But last week, an ugly dark cloud settled over the organization’s board meeting.

The first indication of trouble was the influx of local politicians in attendance. Of course, whenever two or more politicians are gathered in the name of government, the sun usually makes a hasty retreat, but why were they there?

They don’t normally attend such meetings.

Apparently everyone was interested in the possible retirement of Executive Director Jim Keith. After a heated meeting full of confusion, Keith ended up with a contract for four more years. This upset the politicians who were under the impression that his retirement was imminent.

If I was a Jeffersonville politician, I’d want Mr. Keith to retire too. He certainly did not take advantage of the opportunity to promote local tourism when Larry Wilder made national news. Just think of the jobs it could have created, selling maps to the location and little souvenir trash cans.

Some board members were also upset because until now they felt this organization had managed to stay nonpolitical, but what they need to realize is that politics was inevitable.

After all, the board is a government organization and it only exists because an arbitrary law makes it so. The most logical reason that political maneuvering did not happen before now is because the funds under their control were not worth the trouble.

But since the area has grown, I’m sure the funds have increased significantly enough that they can smell opportunity. Just like tourists are attracted to fun, politicians are attracted to big piles of tax money. It’s just nature.

Another reason we haven’t heard much controversy is because the people who are forced to pay the taxes that fund government tourism bureaus mostly do not live in the area. So no one really hears their grumbling.

I wonder how this all started. Certainly more businesses than lodging benefit when tourists come into town. Plus there are many reasons why people stay overnight that have nothing to do with tourism, such as weddings or a car breakdown. Yet they still have to pay the tax to help promote the area’s tourism.

So here we have yet another example of government interference in something that could easily function without it.

Any businesses that benefit from tourists and overnight visitors could easily set up their own private organizations and work to promote the area in mutually beneficial ways.

There could be a variety of membership options and benefits offered and businesses would be free to join or not. Then they could price their products and services according to market value without having to also play tax collector for the government.

The freedom would benefit the general public too, and not just in regard to taxation. Business groups can have disagreements privately which means we wouldn’t have to endure battles full of the bullying and threats that occur when politicians want more control.

It’s just so strange that politicians are involved in this at all. They provide absolutely no valuable service to the visitors. They’re not the ones who change the sheets and clean the toilets, get up early to prepare breakfast or work late hours to be available for late check-in.

But I guess they don’t have time for such things when they are so busy trying to figure out how to take control of yet another government agency that might have a load of other people’s money they can spend.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson thinks the best way to promote tourism is to send all politicians to an area where the sun don’t shine.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Baron Hill, David Allen Coe and Richard Nixon

Column notes: I already posted a short blog item about this video where Baron Hill got caught in a "compromising position on youtube," but I decided to also write a column on the topic. I love it when I can make such interesting connections between seemingly unrelated people.

HARBESON: Perfect YouTube video stars Rep. Baron Hill

I love YouTube.com. On this Internet Web site, anyone can post videos, so I can find almost anything I want. Videos range from the amateurish to the professional, ridiculous to thoughtful, intelligent to downright stupid. I can find quality videos to learn something new or I can just watch some silly mindless entertainment.

For a while now, I’ve been on the lookout for the perfect YouTube video. If that extra verse in David Allen Coe’s famous song that includes mama, prison, getting drunk, trucks and trains could define the perfect country-western song, then there has to be something similar for YouTube videos.

I was confident one would show up eventually that would succinctly and effectively define the medium. Well, I finally found it and it stars our very own congressional representative, Baron Hill.

During one of his recent town hall meetings, a student asked Hill why she couldn’t record the event. Hill explained that he refuses to allow videotaping because of the chance that excerpts could be put up on YouTube in a compromising position.

Of course, it’s now on that Web site and I challenge anyone to find a more perfect YouTube video, at least in the political realm.

He knew it was going to be difficult to control his message and tried to do it on his own terms by attempting to ban average citizens from recording the event. He even digs a deeper hole in the video excerpt when he says that it was his town hall meeting and constituents aren’t going to tell him how to run his office.

So much for the humble public servant aspect of being a representative I guess. Rarely do we see so much truth packed into about 70 seconds.

It also proves that Baron Hill’s instincts were right. The poor guy tried his best to avoid town hall meetings this year because he knew it wouldn’t end up benefiting him. But constituents can be so darn annoying and demanding so he gambled that he’d be better off by scheduling a couple than not having any.

He learned the hard way, now that technology has given the average citizen way more power, that what happens in town hall meetings does not stay in town hall meetings. He probably would have been better off hiding out in Las Vegas for a couple of months.

I wonder if it would console him to realize he now has a lot in common with Richard Nixon, who also knew his share of woes as technology passed him by. First, it was the humiliation of comparisons over his appearance to Kennedy’s during the 1960 presidential debates. Then when he finally made it to the Oval Office, he thought recording technology would be his friend, but alas, Nixon could never erase all the mistakes he made.

I’m sure many of you have made a call recently and been informed it could be recorded “for quality assurance purposes.” This is a well known method of evaluating employee competency that does not disrupt the business interactions taking place.

So doesn’t it make perfect sense that a constituent who wants to evaluate his congressman might want to do the same thing and record interactions for quality assurance purposes?

You would think a politician like Hill, one who claims to serve his constituents, would be applauding innovations like YouTube. But what we see instead is that Hill automatically assumes that if someone simply attends a meeting and presses a record button, they’ll gather plenty of material to make him look bad. Of course, that’s the most interesting aspect of this entire situation.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson is often in the mood for something mindless but sometimes has a hard time choosing between YouTube dancing babies and political speeches.