Sunday, December 25, 2011

Clark and Floyd County Officials Cause Harm To Kentuckiana Medical Center

HARBESON: Where’s the justice?

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Kentuckiana Medical Center may soon be drawing in its last breath. The private hospital has struggled from the start and will now die unless Clark County government acts to help resuscitate.

I wonder how much it hurts the doctors to ask Clark County government for help. I can’t even imagine how nauseating it must feel, considering Clark County government is, in part, directly responsible for the trouble the Medical Center has experienced in the first place.

The current deal supposedly puts a tourniquet on the bleeding medical center; however, the government involvement seems to be drawing blood of its own because if the deal goes through, the county could receive $200,000 per year for participating. This is ironic because one of the reasons the doctors wanted to open their own hospital was to get rid of the administrative middle man.

There’s more to this sordid story. So much so that if you are not currently in good health you may not want to read further.

The original idea was simple: a group of doctors decided to take a risk and provide another health care option for people needing acute medical care. However, Clark and Floyd county government, on behalf of their respective county hospitals, fought this idea. Hard. These people wanted to block competition.

In 2005, both counties’ commissioners assumed power they did not have and passed ordinances creating temporary moratoriums on new hospitals. The private hospital investors sued, successfully obtaining a permanent injunction against enforcement of these ordinances.

The damage had already been done, though. The private investors had to spend time, money and energy fighting the unjust interference instead of pursuing the plan developed and based on variables that existed at the time.

Imagine how much can change in a year. Previous agreements and approvals can expire, construction costs can increase, etc. It was as if the county injected the medical center with a slow-acting poison.

Amazingly though, the center opened and began treating the sick. But the symptoms of disease in the form of financial problems started a year later.

Clearly the government-forced moratorium negatively affected the center. I’m not sure there’s a way to revive the hospital in its current form absent further government involvement. Some might say the moratorium helps justify this deal, but government interference was wrong then and further government action is also wrong.

But what can be done about it now?

I wholly commend the investors for their attempt — if nothing else they have taught us what government entities are willing to do to you if you dare to compete with them. That’s not a satisfactory end to this story though. Those harmed deserve justice. They deserve at least some restitution.

Not from the abstract entity we call county government though. The restitution should come directly from the people responsible for taking individual action that was necessary to create the interference. Those people are the commissioners, and arguably the county attorneys, at the time of the moratorium.

One might want to include individuals in the two hospitals as well, but it was up to the commissioners to enact the ordinance and the attorneys to defend it. They could have done the right thing and ignored the hospitals.

Clark County passed their ordinance unanimously, and the commissioners at that time were Ed Meyer, Vicki Kent Haire and Ralph Guthrie. The county attorney advising them was Daniel Moore.

I do not know the vote or the attorney at the time, but I do know that Commissioners Chuck Freiberger and John Reisert signed the ordinance in Floyd County.

Individuals who act in ways that directly harm other individuals should be held accountable. Isn’t that what a healthy form of justice is all about?

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson would be adversely affected if government officials who cause harm were required to pay restitution because she’d surely have a heart attack.

Year-Round School

NOTE: I wrote this for publication on Thanksgiving day and just realized I never posted it here. I guess I ate too much that day and just forgot about it.

HARBESON: Talking around the year-round subject

SELLERSBURG — Will you have the pleasure of interacting with school-age kids on Thanksgiving Day? If so, I have a suggestion for you — ask them how they feel about year-round school.

Be careful though. If they don’t know anything about year-round school, their first thought will be that you’re suggesting they attend school for more days of the year than they do now. The very idea would likely freak them out and you could end up with cranberries up your nose for even suggesting such a thing.

So make sure you explain that, at least right now, year-round school means a “balanced schedule.” The mandatory sentence they have to serve out for the crime of being a kid would still be 180 days, but the days off would be spread out somewhat more evenly throughout the year.

If you can get them to understand this before your nostrils fill up, great. Now you should be able to find out whether they would prefer to have most of their time off grouped together during the summer, or whether they would prefer taking time off throughout the year and have a shorter summer break.

If you ask more than one kid, chances are good that the answers will vary. Some will prefer to get the school year over with and enjoy the longer break and others would rather take more frequent breaks in smaller chunks of time.

Some kids will realize that the question is really a request to make a choice that isn’t really much of a choice at all. Fundamentally, the question is just a scheduling detail to these prisoners — I mean kids. Either way, they still have to “do the time.”

I bring this issue up not because I want everyone’s Thanksgiving Day celebration to be punctuated by having little red berries falling out of their noses, although the thought does kind of make me smile.

No, I bring it up because local government school districts are discussing the idea of moving to year-round schedules, mostly because they say it could lead to improved test scores.

Whether or not that’s true, and the data is mixed, school schedules are like everything else related to education — a singular choice mandated for all will never fit the needs and desires of each individual child.

There are possible advantages with year-round school though. This schedule could give kids more experience with real-life math because more frequent breaks provide many more opportunities to calculate and count down the days to the next break.

Year-round school would also help the problem of kids not retaining important lessons while enjoying a longer summer break. For example, year-round school might help kids retain the lesson that what they do outside of school during free unstructured time, while engaged in self-initiated and self-directed play, is not as important as what happens in school where information is injected inside their brains for the purpose of passing a government test.

There would also be more chances to remediate kids, particularly the ones who struggle because they would rather learn in their own way, at their own pace, sparked by their natural born curiosity. Yes, I imagine year-round school could be very useful in helping to retrain those troubled kids.

On the other hand, maybe neither schedule is the answer. Perhaps society should dump the compulsion and work on creating wonderful places that would draw kids in by choice. Places where kids are free to play, investigate, experiment and explore on their own terms. Places that immerse kids in a friendly, respectful environment — one that supports year-round learning rather than year-round schooling. Yes, there is a difference.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson hopes she doesn’t end up with cranberries up her nose on this fine Thanksgiving Day.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Business Pushing for Annexation in Clarksville Indiana

HARBESON: ‘Clarksville’ company cashing in any way it can

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Usually, when I see the word annexation in the news, the story is about a government entity extending their boundaries to neighboring property owners without their consent. But last week a local business, Rivera Consulting Group, actually requested annexation from the town of Clarksville. NOTE: If you click on the link, scroll down to the "Business Expansion" section.

Why would a business want a local government to annex property they plan to use for expansion? The only logical reason is to receive special government favors. However, I’m unclear at this point as to what the town of Clarksville might be offering.

I know the Indiana Economic Development Corporation has already offered this company $1.1 million in tax credits if they meet specific job creation goals. So maybe the annexation is just a necessary step required by the state and the town is not offering any additional government handouts.

It seems strange that the company is out promoting a move to Clarksville as if all the steps have already been completed. Clearly that’s not the case because the town of Clarksville does not have power or control over the property in question and has yet to present or vote on an annexation ordinance.

Yet Rivera Consulting Group President, Dr. Joey Rivera, has stated that Clarksville was “very aggressive” in keeping the company local and thanked them for their support as he announced the company’s move to Clarksville. On land that isn’t currently in Clarksville.

All of this increased my curiosity about Rivera Consulting Group. A company that promotes a move to Clarksville before the land is yet to be controlled by Clarksville must know a lot about working with governments.

And they do. This company specializes in U.S. Department of Defense software applications and has gained several specific designations that help push them to the front of the pack for certain types of government contracts. The federal government has to “set-aside” and award a certain percentage of contracts to specific groups of people.

Rivera Consulting Group has managed to collect quite a few of these designations, including: Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB), Veteran-owned and Service-disabled, 8(a) certification, and HUBZone certification. These designations are all meant to give preferential treatment to businesses based on demographics, as opposed to merit.

There are many questionable practices that go along with such designations, one of the more controversial being a price evaluation adjustment, which means that a designated company could bid 10 percent higher than a non-designated competitor and still get the contract.

I am also troubled by the company’s mission statement which is presented on their website as a direct quote from Rivera:

“Our country is at war. Our Mission is to provide sound guidance and expertise to our government customer in a time when technical expertise makes a difference. We are ready to stand side-by-side with our customers as we support the war-fighter. We are ready.”

Remember the column I wrote in October about Indiana’s push to attract federal defense spending and promote businesses that are healthiest during times of war? It appears that this whole setup is another local example of that policy in action.

I can’t really blame this company for taking advantage of the special demographic designations if they meet the requirements. It’s perfectly rational for a company to go after them if it can. Of course, I’m assuming they didn’t have anything to do with the slimy political manipulation that created those programs.

However, is it wise to actively work for new government action, like the pursuit of this annexation, in order to gain even more government benefits? After all, by doing so, this company is actively working to force others to subsidize their growth so they can continue to cash in on war.

Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson invites reader response, but you should know she gives preferential treatment to specially designated groups.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Little Free Library Indiana

HARBESON: This idea is book smart

SOUTHERN INDIANA — There’s a lot of truth in the phrase, “bigger is not always better.” For example, due to my husband’s love of NASCAR, I’m forever thankful that tiny collectible versions of his favorite cars exist. If they didn’t we’d need a lot more garage space.

I’ve always been fascinated by miniature versions of most anything. (Well, except for those miniature versions of candy bars — that’s just annoying.) So when I first saw a photo of a Little Free Library, I was immediately intrigued. These little libraries look like tiny buildings and are usually mounted outside on posts.

The idea for building tiny libraries began in Wisconsin as a fun way to support literacy and build community. The Little Free Library organization is “building and promoting ‘take a book, leave a book’ structures that fit in a front yard, by a sidewalk, coffee shop or park and are just big enough to hold 20 to 30 books that kids and adults can give and take.”

The idea attracted me on many levels. I’m a voracious reader and I really like the voluntary, local, grass-roots aspect. Even so, I didn’t pursue it any further than bookmarking their website. But then several interesting connections happened.

Through the Courier-Journal, I found out that Jeffersonville resident Phyllis Wilkins has been working on promoting the idea, not only for the local area, but throughout Indiana. She has created Little Free Library Indiana which is a partner with Little Free Library International.

I was glad to see someone else enthused about this idea. We met last week to discuss the project and it was fun talking about all the possibilities. We came up with about a million or so.

Phyllis is planning a Little Free Library in memory of neighbors Charley and Mickey Reisert, who both passed away recently. That was yet another connection for me. Although I only knew him for a short time as a result of writing my column, Charley and I had a couple of interesting lunches discussing books we both read on politics, philosophy and economics.

This brings me to yet another connection. During one of our discussions, Charley told me he wanted to set up a lunch with me, himself and Mayor Tom Galligan. I’m always open to having lunch with anyone, but I can’t help but suspect that Charley just thought it would be fun to watch the fireworks if any heated discussions erupted.

Even though that never happened, being reminded of it did make me think this Little Free Library Indiana project might be good for Galligan. So I’d like to invite Mr. Galligan to join us in this local community project that needs people who enjoy construction. He’s going to need something to do in a few weeks after he’s no longer the mayor anyway and it might be a good idea to keep him away from bulldozers.

As a matter of fact, this project perfectly fits all local politicians recently put out to pasture. They could have complete control over a building project, with no taxpayers breathing down their necks about cost, no council members biting ankles about minor details and no columnists complaining about using government force.

Anyway, no matter who you are, if this project speaks to you as it does to me and you would like to help create little libraries throughout the local area (and there are many ways you can help), I encourage you to get involved. Phyllis is hosting the first “official” meeting of the Little Free Library Indiana at 6 p.m. Friday at the Red Cross office, 1805 E. 8th St., Jeffersonville.

You can also keep updated on this project through the Little Free Library Indiana Facebook page and the Little Free Library Indiana blog, which is at

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson thinks the inventor of those miniature bite-sized candy bars must surely be a masochist.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Haven House Revisited

HARBESON: Reflections on my Haven House column

JEFFERSONVILLE — Every once in a while, after writing about a specific topic, I sometimes wonder if I should have just kept my mouth shut. When this happens, I always know exactly what to do: Keep spouting off about the issue.

The specific column I’m referring to is one I wrote in September about Haven House. I did not expect the reaction I received after stating that I cannot in good conscience contribute to an organization that does not appear to be under competent financial management.

The responses I received, whether in writing or in person, were overwhelmingly in support of what I said and I was surprised to hear from so many people whose work is focused on helping those in need.

Even so, something still didn’t feel quite right and I’ve been trying to figure out why. It may have something to do with the unusual experience I had that led to the writing of that piece.

I subscribe to several email lists that pertain to home education and sometimes general parenting issues are discussed, too. One day, a young mother I’ve never met shared a struggle she was having and asked for support and guidance.

I could relate so well and I knew I could help. It really didn’t take much time to respond and I didn’t think much more about it until the next day when I received a private reply from her.

She told me that I really gave her spiritual food and said it might sound odd, but she had made a personal decision to tithe to people who give her spiritual food. I thought that was very interesting and decided I would accept her offering and pay it forward myself in some manner. The amount was really not that much in the grand scheme of things, but it was far more than I expected.

I’m not sure now why I decided to earmark this little windfall for the homeless. The reason the two of us connected had nothing to do with the homeless — we connected because we both reject spanking as a valid method of raising children.

Still, for whatever reason, I chose to pay this forward to help the homeless in some way. But when I thought about how to go about doing that, it reintroduced old feelings of frustration surrounding the management of Haven House.

I could have just kept my mouth shut and quietly worked around the organization. That’s what I did in the end anyway because after getting a recommendation from someone I trust, I purchased specific items for another group who assists the homeless.

So I could have just completely ignored Haven House and its issues. Instead, I wrote the column. And even though I wouldn’t change a word, I still wonder if I might feel better about the whole tithing experience if I had just quietly paid it forward instead.

Ahh, but maybe the whole purpose of the tithe coming when it did was to get me to say out loud what I, and apparently many others, have been thinking for such a long time.

I think it bothered me for a while because this was a situation where I was not forced to do anything at all. Donating to Haven House or not was completely under my control. No one was pointing a gun at me and telling me what to do like government organizations do.

So why did I feel the need to tell everyone why I would not give to this specific organization? Maybe it’s because even in our voluntary interactions, looking for effective and ethical management of organizations is still an important thing to do.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson only cares about keeping her mouth shut when riding her bike through a gnat cloud.