Sunday, September 25, 2011

Haven House, Barbara Anderson and Financial Management

COLUMN NOTES: The topic of this column concerns a long-running controversy in the local area. There is a lot of back story and history but my main concern is the ability to financially manage. I mentioned this issue once before when it looked like others were going to take over. Unfortunately, even after the property was auctioned off for payroll taxes that were intentionally unpaid, the property still ended up in the same hands. Now the shelter has been in the news again, here and here.

HARBESON: Haven House needs new direction

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Due to concerns about the ability to make financially responsible decisions, it’s generally agreed that if you encounter homeless people on the street, it’s not a good idea to give them money.

I feel the same way about Haven House, at least as long as Barbara Anderson is in charge.

I cannot in good conscience give money to this local organization helping the homeless because the management has simply not proven to be financially responsible. The most recent example is the discovery that Executive Director Anderson decided to ignore the shelter’s sewer bills since 2008, which has now resulted in a lien being placed on the property.

This is not the first time Anderson made her own decision on what she shouldn’t have to pay. The property was taken from her once and sold at auction for unpaid payroll taxes. (Yes, the property ended up back in her hands.)

I was actually a bit sympathetic the first time, since it was a tax she chose not to pay. Too bad she didn’t take this action based on the principle of taxation being theft — I would have supported her in the protest. That wasn’t the case, of course.

Anderson thinks the work her organization does is important. She’s right. It is important. But it’s not exclusively so. Many people do important work that helps their neighbors — important work that is done in charitable organizations, in for-profit ventures and simply within a circle of family and friends.

Yet, somehow everyone is supposed to believe that what she does matters more than the hard work everyone else is doing. It’s just not so. Even a single individual who can only manage to take care of his or her own needs is doing something that matters.

I do not find her financial decisions on behalf of the Haven House organization acceptable. I do not accept her decision to simply not pay the sewer bill because she determined in her own mind, based on her ideas of how society should work, that they should not have to pay.

She tells us that her organization deserves free sewer service, which of course really means that she wants to force other people to pay. Her attitude of entitlement is certainly not an example I want to see set for the people currently living at the shelter. In addition, ignoring utility bills doesn’t exactly teach lessons of financial responsibility does it?

The problem is complicated even further since government operates sewer service. Politics can easily get intertwined and there is potential for corruption in deciding who gets special favors and who does not.

Anderson herself complained that the private citizen who brought this to everyone’s attention only did it for political reasons.

Anderson claims Haven House deserves special treatment because it provides a service to the city. But the city is merely an abstraction. The service is actually provided to people in need and, again, helping people is something many others are busy doing every day in a variety of ways, while still paying their sewer bills.

So I will never give money to Haven House as long as the current management structure exists. Even though the problem may be directed at a certain individual, let’s be clear that it’s specifically tied into the relationship and involvement the person has to the organization in question. My feelings and actions are no different than deciding not to fund any other entity if it has leadership I do not trust for whatever reason.

I’d rather give money directly to a homeless person to get drunk than give it to an organization that has Anderson making financial decisions.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson sometimes solicits money on the street. Not to get drunk, but to get sloshed on soft serve ice cream.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

More Important Problems Than Sherman Minton Bridge Closing?

HARBESON: A weekend to whine about

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — A lot of people in Southern Indiana have been in a bad mood this week. Of course, we all know why.

The news about the damage and what has resulted from it has completely consumed the attention of the entire area and will continue to do so for an indefinite amount of time. And I’m already sick of the whiners.

Oh sure, I know some people place a lot of importance on the ability to achieve effortless drives to the ultimate destination, but really now, it’s not the end of the world. People are making a much bigger deal out of this than necessary.

Reaction was really crazy as the news spread and we moved into the weekend. Under more normal circumstances, no one pays much attention, but due to this situation people were even having lots of discussions on Saturday, which hardly ever happens.

People with any sense already knew this was bound to happen eventually. Even though they hoped the situation would continue on for much longer, they knew the constant pressure of all those pounds moving at full speed for years and years were bound to have an effect after a while.

Everything eventually wears out.

Many people who have watched this go on for so long knew it was only a matter of time. So when trouble was first spotted by the experts, naturally no one wanted to take unnecessary risks that could cause further damage. The folks in Indianapolis made the right call. After all, no one wanted to end up with an unspeakable disaster.

So the whiners should stop complaining, particularly about age, and let those who are paid to handle these situations do their jobs. Yeah, I know we’ve already seen a lot of fumbling around, but surely it’ll get better.

I will say though that by the end of the weekend when it became very clear that tough times are ahead, I also started questioning some decisions. For example, I’m not at all confident about some of the changes being made to the normal type of drive everyone is used to. I think it’s a huge mistake to begin a drive with options completely cut-off.

Forcing a drive into specific lanes is not necessarily the best way to move forward. Everyone who has ever been out there playing this game knows that. If a hole is open, it’s important to rush in at full speed and grab all the gain you can, even if it’s only a few inches. If you don’t do this, you risk never moving forward.

But with or without that decision, we all know that stalls are inevitable. Yes, a lack of forward momentum is bound to happen and people will be completely bored while waiting for any movement. I recommend just making the best of it by enjoying the types of activities you don’t normally have time to do when all is going well — like drinking a lot more beer and texting updates to all of your friends who are lucky enough to be somewhere else.

So to all complainers, just relax and put the situation in its proper perspective. This will end positively — your precious Indianapolis Colts will get through this. One day soon I’m confident that a new and improved Peyton Manning will once again be where he belongs, behind the behind of Jeff Saturday.

Now, as far as the bridge problems we are experiencing, well, I’m not as confident about how that’s all going to shake out, so go ahead and whine if it makes you feel any better.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson is standing by, ready to hand out plenty of cheese.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Job Creation: Does Government Help or Hurt?

HARBESON: Here’s to free trade

(COLUMN NOTES: There are quite a few comments on the newspaper's website that you may want to go check out.)

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Politicians spend a lot of time jabbering about jobs. They make a lot of noise, fussing with each other over what to do. But there’s really only one question we need to answer about job creation: Does government help or hurt?

Maybe it can help us find the answer if we strip down the issue. In simplest terms, a job is created when one person pays another person to perform a task. Even young children can do it. So let’s simplify and use a real-life example of a time when my two children created a job for themselves.

Some years ago, our family lived in a condo complex in Jeffersonville and a winter storm dumped a lot of snow overnight. This happened on a weekend, which meant many of the neighbors did not have to go to work, so there were many cars in the parking lot covered with snow.

My daughter and son saw an opportunity and decided to offer their snow-clearing skills to the neighbors. They charged 50 cents a car to clean off the snow and successfully earned a nice chunk of cash that day.

Now, let’s imagine how this could have turned out if they had to deal with the government. What might have happened if government was involved anywhere in the process?

First of all, depending on local ordinances, they would need to apply for an official government-approved solicitor’s permit before they could even knock on a neighbor’s door. Next, this job could require licensing. What if they had to pay fees and attend a government-approved class to get the proper “government training” because everyone who performs this job has to have a license?

What about the working conditions? The government certainly can’t let ambitious individuals decide for themselves when to go inside for a cup of hot chocolate. So they impose a break schedule much stricter than necessary, thereby restricting the number of hours they have available to offer their services.

Since this particular job was a result of a weather “disaster,” the attorney general may decide to take a look to see if they are taking advantage of the situation. If he determines that 50 cents a car was too much it could mean they’d end up being accused of “price gouging” their customers.

Let’s say another kid wants to help out. This prospective employee is very inexperienced and low-skilled, but they offer to pay him 15 cents for every car he helps clean. He agrees. But the government’s minimum wage laws require payment of 30 cents per car.

At that price, he’s not worth hiring, so this kid doesn’t get the job. Even if he’s perfectly willing to work for 15 cents, the government won’t allow it. So there he is, out of a job, unable to buy that superhero coloring book he wants. Until those other kids come along and offer to pay him 10 times the money he’d make cleaning cars to sell drugs. (Yes, the government does know how to create high-paying jobs.)

Finally, if the government was involved, the kids would pay taxes on their earnings, because, well, someone has to pay the salaries for all the jobs created for the people the government hires to enforce all these laws and regulations.

Yes, this is all imaginary, as far as my kids were concerned. They were completely free to offer a service to their neighbors who were free to accept it or not.

But stripping the job creation conversation down to this simple example does make me wonder what would be different if government did not interfere so much in peaceful voluntary trade between supposedly free individuals.

— When it comes to politicians, Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson doesn't even want to pay attention, let alone a salary.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Government is a Malignant Polyp

HARBESON: Cleaning out government

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — For some time now, certain people have been telling me I’m full of it, and as it turns out, they were right. I discovered this last week when I went through the process of having a colonoscopy.

For those of you who don’t know, a colonoscopy is a medical procedure that enables doctors to look inside the colon for any abnormalities such as polyps. Since some polyps can be precancerous, they are removed at the time of the screening.

Now, for a medical professional to have a clear view inside the colon, the organ needs to be thoroughly cleaned out. Although a laxative is taken the day before, the really strong stuff is taken a few hours before the exam.

The directions warned me to be close to a restroom because it’s supposed to work really fast. I took the first half of the bottle expecting to run to the bathroom at any moment. But nothing happened. A half hour went by. Still nothing happened. As I was getting close to taking the second dose I started to think something must really be wrong.

Why wasn’t this working?

I wondered if I should have told them I was a political opinion columnist. Maybe they would have given me a stronger dose. As it turned out though, after the second dose, the stuff started working really well. I was definitely cleaned out in time.

Maybe I was still high on drugs, but after it was all over, I thought the colonoscopy process could serve as a great analogy to understand government. Let me explain by using Clark County as an example.

A few years ago, a group of well-intentioned people on the county council thought they were doing a good thing by cutting property taxes. In essence, they gave county government a laxative to clear out the reserve that had built up over time.

Now Clark County is experiencing severe budget pains. It’s important to note that many local governments are also struggling because there have been other factors at play such as property tax caps.

However, since Clark County did get that extra laxative boost, it did create a unique situation that does allow for a better look inside the inner plumbing to see how government works.

The most glaring example is the various lawsuits that have been filed. First, the county judges sued the county council. Then, the county sheriff sued the county council and the county council is appealing a decision by the Department of Local Government Finance in court.

Yes, they whine and moan that they don’t want to do it, but, gee, they have to spend the money. After all, another department of the same government said so.

You’re supposed to focus on these lawsuits as if one government entity is suing another government entity to get money. But what’s happening here is that these people are really suing you, the taxpayer. You are the one who pays. The lawsuits merely use legal complication to help create an illusion intended to deflect and soften this truth.

So the previous council’s laxative that led to the lawsuits did accomplish something: Now we can clearly see that when the government wants more money, there’s always a way. We now know there is another method inside the government toolbox that officials can, and will, use to get your money.

What can we learn from this? Well, it’s not about getting “new” people in there to deliver a one-time laxative. Such a cleansing can feel good, but government itself is a malignant polyp.

Eventually, we’re going to have to go deeper, snare that abnormality and remove it. Until people accept that, it’s just going to continue to metastasize and cause problems.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson actually kind of enjoyed the time she spent not being so full of it.