Friday, December 25, 2009

Thoughts on Christmas Day

Sunday, December 20, at the Downtown Sheraton Hotel, I attended the 28th annual Fr. Woody Dinner and Present give-away. This event, organized by Holy Ghost Church, downtown, and lots of folks from Regis University, inoculates me for the rest of the holiday season as to what this season of the year is all about. I feel better just knowing that several thousand families, lots of children this year, got a great turkey dinner and an individually matched present based on age, size and gender. For the past few months students at Regis University wrapped the thousands of presents. I had been assigned as an elf to bring presents to the tables, but they had enough, so they said, "Just be the good auditor that you are and go around spreading smiles and good cheer." So I did and I had a great time. To smiling mothers holding babes in arms I said: "Tu sonrisa es bonita." "Your smile is beautiful," and they smiled all the more.

Out of the corner of my eye I spied Fr. Michael Sheeran, S. J., President of Regis University, kneeling beside a table full of eager youngsters as to what presents they might like. You just don't get that at some of our public universities. And seeing so many former Regis students who were volunteering for the event, brought back happy memories of my teaching days at Regis. Many still call me "Senator" which I was when I taught many of them. Lovey Shipp, Holy Ghost parishioner, wished everyone leaving a "Merry Christmas," to which many guests replied, "Thank you." She said, "The thanks goes to you for being here."

A chorus of older but radiant women sang many old time favorites which raised everyone's spirits. Fr. John Lager of the Samaritan Shelter directed traffic in his brown Franciscan robe. Fr. John waved people to waiting tables with the authority of a traffic patrolman.

The luncheon fare boasted roast turkey breast, big slices, potatoes and gravy, dressing and all the trimmings. The plates heaped high equaled the sumptuous feast served the day before Thanksgiving at Rescue Mission.

Denver's famous Rescue Mission in downtown Denver plays host to thousands of Denver's homeless and needy by serving an excellent turkey dinner, supplemented with salad and rolls. The Governor, Mayor and lots of Council Members also help serve the individual lunches for the people at the mission. Tom Noel, Dr. Colorado, and my brother Tim serve a shift and it is always great fun.

At North High School gym, Councilman Paul Lopez, sponsored his annual food box packing event. I bet a thousand neighbors from North and West Denver lined up in long rows to fill boxes full of oranges, apples, canned goods, bread and vegetables. Did I mention a box of dressing topped the stuffed boxes donated by Coors Brewery. Mayor and Council took their spots in line to fill the boxes delivered to families in need and many older people.

Let us hope that our nation moves to long term systemic changes that will lower the need for food lines, lunch lines and box give-aways. And let us be thankful that there are Americans who still care enough to pitch in to help their fellow citizens in tough times.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Debate

When I attended Holy Family High School in North Denver, Sister Marie Catherine Pondorff, S. L., my freshman English teacher, noted that I had the gift of gab and enjoyed talking lots. She encouraged me to join up with the forensics club at our school. "The medium is the message," as Marshall McLuhan, said, and the message from Sister was sign up "it will be good for you and debating will help build your confidence, teach you to be a leader, you will travel on Saturdays and meet interesting students from other schools, and you will learn lots about the debate topic." I believe the topic that year was a guaranteed annual income for all American citizens. Underneath the positive messages of confidence building, leadership, and helping forge myself on the smithy of my soul nested another message: "Sign up for debate, Dennis, or I will make your life miserable in my English class."

Because she was a great persuader with a contagious and jolly laugh, and I knew I would enjoy debating, arguing, verbally scrapping. So I happily and eagerly signed up for all the extra work on evenings after school and debate meets on Saturdays all around our state. I confess I enjoyed every minute of it. It changed my life. Debate made me confident. My grades improved and I did well in Sister Marie's English class.

I thought of my debating experience in high school and college the other day when I received a report from NAUDL, the National Association of Urban Debate Leagues. This organization announced that their association has expanded services to over 150 new schools this last year. NAUDL is now in Denver.

I hope the newly elected school board will look into bringing more speech and debate classes into the curriculum. Those classes will change the student's lives as it did mine. Debate will get them ready for college; help with their career choices; and give them leadership skills.

I plan on sending another donation to NAUDL by checking the website: www.urbandebate.org/support. Tell your friends. Check out the free movie from the Denver Public Library, The Great Debaters with Denzel Washington. This captivating story will persuade you of the importance of debate teachers in our lives and in our schools.

And if the school board really wants to improve the curriculum; change students' lives; give them a sense of history and language; they will vote to bring Latin back into the curriculum. Debate was great for me in school. But studying Latin was even better. Smile until my next blog about Latin. Tu ne cede malis.

Monday, December 21, 2009

FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN – BEN BERNANKE

The overriding story of 2009 was the economy, so I’m not totally surprised that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who helped steer the U.S. economy through its darkest days since the Great Depression, was recently named Time Magazine’s 2009 Person of the Year. The magazine said the Federal Reserve chairman's foresight and success at preventing a second Great Depression -- the history that wasn't made this year -- drove its choice. This mild-mannered man has been credited with taking extraordinary measures to prevent the U.S. credit crisis from turning into an economic depression but he concedes that the Fed, among others, failed to spot the crisis before it struck.

Professor Bernanke of Princeton is a leading scholar of economic history and the Great Depression. He knew how the passive Fed of the 1930s helped create the calamity – through its stubborn refusal to expand the money supply and its tragic lack of imagination and experimentation. Republican Bernanke, was first appointed by George W. Bush and reappointed by President Obama, was determined not to preside over Depression 2.0. So when faced with the worst global financial crisis in decades, he conjured up trillions of new dollars and blasted them into the economy; engineered massive public rescues of failing private companies; ratcheted down interest rates to zero; lent to mutual funds, foreign banks, investment banks, manufacturers and others; jump-started stalled credit markets and more. His aggressive steps have exposed him and the Fed as an institution to criticism from all directions. He’s been called “Bailout Ben’, the patron saint of wall street greed, the unelected czar of a fourth branch of government. But Bernanke knows the economy would be much, much worse if the Fed had not taken such extreme measures to stop the panic.

Bernanke has made subtle changes in the Fed since taking over for his predecessor Alan Greenspan. He has pushed for more transparency and clarity. He has worked hard to explain his actions to the public, holding town hall meetings, writing op-eds and testifying before Congress a record 13 times this year.

Now that Obama has decided to keep him in his job, Bernanke has become a lightning rod in an intense national debate over the Fed and its role. A Senate panel approved the nomination of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to run the nation's central bank for another four years. The Senate Banking Committee voted 16-7 to send Bernanke's nomination to the full Senate for consideration. Before the vote, some of his critics poked fun at Time magazine's decision to name him "person of the year" for 2009. Bernanke "may wonder if he really wants to be honored by an organization that has previously named people like Joseph Stalin, Yasser Arafat, Adolf Hitler, the Ayatollah Khomeini, and Vladimir Putin as their Person of the Year.”
Committee Chairman Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., who voted for Bernanke, argued, "I happen to believe had he and others not acted . . . at a time of critical importance of our country, we'd be looking at a very, very different and far more dire situation in our nation than is otherwise the case." Although the 56-year-old Bernanke appears to have enough votes to win a second term, some senators are lining up against him. They blame him for not spotting problems that led to the financial crisis, failing to protect consumers and supporting Wall Street bailouts. With Bernanke's re-appointment clearing the committee, it now moves to the full Senate for a final vote. The Senate is not expected to vote on his re-appointment until after it reconvenes after a holiday break on January 19. It is expected that Bernanke's re-appointment will face some stiff resistance on the full Senate floor. Some Senators have even flat-out stated that they will try to delay the nomination process for as long as possible. Bernanke's current term expires on January 31.

Ultimately, Time magazine says it selected the Fed chairman because of the immense power he still has to shape the global economy: "The decisions he has made, and those he has yet to make, will shape the path of our prosperity, the direction of our politics and our relationship to the world." Bernanke supporters--and there are plenty of them in the financial community--have long said it's tough to get credit for something that didn't happen. But Time has decided to do just that in naming Bernanke its Person of the Year. Now we wait to see if Congress will sign off on him keeping his job for another four years.

Friday, December 18, 2009

As I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, last week I attended the KPMG Roundtable on Risk Assessment for Audit Committees. One of the most interesting sessions of the meeting came when the presenters wanted to know what positions those in attendence held. The group was composed of 13 audit committee members; 34 audit committee chairs; 9 directors not on the audit committee; 19 members of management; and 26 other attendees. Most were members of private industry and I was the only elected official and a chair of a city audit committee present.

They presenters then asked the attendees: "When will the U. S. economy return to the pre-crisis growth in terms of investment, employment and productivity?"

The answers by the attendees were very interesting and I pass them along to you to compare with your prediction of when the economy will return to "pre-crisis growth."

Only 2 people of the 101 in attendance answered: within one year.

8 ventured a guess: within two years.

56 answered: within three to four years. This was over 50% of those in attendance.

19 said: within five to six years.

15 said "will not return to pre-crisis growth for foreseeable future.

These pessimistic predictions should give us all concern that the vast majority of those on local Denver and Colorado corporate audit committee members, audit committee chairs and others in attendance facing the risks of a risky economy believed we are in trouble for the long haul on the economic recovery. These predictions do not mesh with the rosy pictures painted by some in Washington. Where is Nostradamus now that we really need him?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Last week I attended the KPMG Roundtable sponsored. The roundtable brought to mind some interesting civic memories. The title of the discussion was “Going Forward: Reform and Recovery.”

KPMG, Denver’s former outside auditors of a few years back, picked up on risk assessment issues with Mayor and Council on what the Denver Auditor’s Office should audit. And for a brief time, the Mayor’s so-called Financial Experts Committee, given the charge of suggesting how our city charter should be changed to reform our city’s audit committee, came up with some very poor ideas for reform.

It started when KPMG picked up on comments from Mayor and Council that the administrative and the legislative branches wanted more input on what audits were to be done in Denver. Remember the Auditor’s Office hosts a nesting ground for future mayors. “More input” meant limiting the independence of the auditor to select which audits should be done. They were worried about audit politics. Many a Denver Auditor has lusted to be mayor. And many an auditor running for mayor has made the life of many a mayor miserable in the pursuit of unbridled vaulting ambition. Thank you, Macbeth.

I look back with humor now, but at one point in the negotiations with Mayor and Council concerning Auditor’s Office reform which eventually made it to a charter vote, the Financial Experts Committee would have mandated that the Auditor make an appointment with Mayor and Council and bring a little tin cup and beg leave to do an audit. Most discussion centered on the membership of the city’s fledgling, motley, and not independent audit committee. At that time the Mayor made all the appointments to the audit committee, including two members of his cabinet who could cushion issues for the press where lack of internal controls were found in various departments. Thankfully, the mayor appointed the Auditor to the audit committee, good judgment on his part. I vigorously and clearly informed the mayor, council and the financial experts, that the Auditor has to be free to exercise independent judgment free from administrative or legislative influence. And we needed a fully independent audit committee, and if we did not achieve these to important principles, I would see them all in the precincts of Denver campaigning against them and these Enron-like attitudes. I am happy to report they did not want to see me in the precincts working against any charter change eating away at auditor’s and audit committee’s independence. I just kept repeating: “Does anyone here remember Enron?” And that strategy worked.

But the negotiations hinged on another important point. In my view good politics is often about good relationships. Because of a long-term collegial relationship, keeping it civil and agreeing to disagree, the mayor and I worked out the reforms for the independent auditor’s office. For the city’s audit committee, the mayor and council each make two appointments, and I make two appointments and serve as Committee Chair. The mayor gave up power, appointing all the committee members and the auditor’s office gave up payroll and accounting, which we should never have had in the first place. But in 1906, who knew? We now audit payroll and accounting. This has worked out just fine.

On risk assessment and how the auditor’s office determines which audits to do, the charter asks the auditor to seek from Mayor and Council, for information purposes only, which areas and departments need audit help. So each year, while not mandated in charter language, Kip Memmott, the director of Internal Audit, take the extra step to reach out and get feedback. We interview each appointed department head, the mayor, and council to get input and feedback of risks which might be raising their heads across the city. This enables us to get firsthand feedback as to problems in the departments. Mayor and council can suggest audits, but cannot dictate which audits should be done. The auditor’s office is totally independent of administrative and legislative influence as to audits in the lineup. This is working out just fine.

The 2010 Audit plan can be see on our website. I hope you will look at it and let us know what you would like to see audited for next year.

Monday, December 7, 2009

WILL AMERICA’S MIDDLE CLASS SURVIVE THE FINANCIAL CRISIS?

Can you imagine an America without a strong middle class? If you can, would it still be America as we know it?

Over the past generation, signs of middle-class distress have continued to grow, in good times and bad, in recession and in boom. Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel created to oversee the bank bailouts points out in a recent column that, “Today, one in five Americans is unemployed, underemployed or just plain out of work. One in nine families can't make the minimum payment on their credit cards. One in eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans is on food stamps. More than 120,000 families are filing for bankruptcy every month. The economic crisis has wiped more than $5 trillion from pensions and savings, has left family balance sheets upside down, and threatens to put ten million homeowners out on the street. “

America today has plenty of rich and super-rich. But it has far more families who did all the right things, but who still have no real security. Going to college and finding a good job no longer guarantee economic safety. Paying for a child's education and setting aside enough for a decent retirement have become distant dreams. Tens of millions of once-secure middle class families now live paycheck to paycheck, watching as their debts pile up and worrying about whether a pink slip or a bad diagnosis will send them hurtling over an economic cliff.

Policies to strengthen the weakened middle class will certainly include the creation of jobs, helping families to build assets and reduce debt, making higher education more accessible and affordable, and addressing the healthcare crisis.
America without a strong middle class? Unthinkable, but the once solid foundation of our nation has certainly been shaken.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Wrestling With Moses

Wrestling with Moses, Anthony Flint's book does not discuss the
Israelites crossing the desert from Egypt.

Wrestling with Moses tells the gripping story of how Jane Jacobs took on
New York's Robert Moses and changed the American city forever. It is
more the story of David fighting Goliath, the humble and lowly neighbors
locked in combat against their own arrogant politicians and city
planners. Jane got her start by leading the fight against the Lower
Manhattan Expressway expansion into her neighborhood: Washington Square
and Greenwich Village.

Jane was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania and moved to New York armed with
her high school diploma. She moved to New York City in 1934 and hoped
to break into journalism. After all she did have a few months
experience writing for her hometown newspaper, "The Scrantonian." She
wanted to progress to higher education and applied to several school but
because of her lackluster high school record, Columbia's college for
women informed her she would have to take additional courses to be
accepted. She walked away and decided to educate herself. She
researched the founders of the constitution spending hours upon hours at
Columbia Library.

She met and married a Columbia architect, Robert Hyde Jacobs, and they bought a townhouse at 555 Hudson in the Village. Every year on the
anniversary of her death, people bring flowers to the address,
unfortunately now a business of some sort.

Readers will remember her magnificent book, The Death and Life of Great
American Cities, published in 1961. The Random House publishers put the
following headline on the advertisement for the book: "The City Planners
are Ravaging Our Cities!" I had just graduated from Regis and I agreed
with Jane as I watched my parents and neighbors in North Denver fight
I-70 plowing through Berkeley Park, Sunnyside, Globeville, Elyria and
Swansea and Northeasterly neighborhoods. I-70 laid waste to thousands
of homes, torn off their foundations, thousands of families disrupted
and removed from their neighborhoods. Northwest Denver is finally
beginning to recover from this disruption caused by the federal
bulldozers. But the fragile neighborhoods of Globeville and
neighborhoods east of there are still struggling.

Jane's book hit a responsive chord with me as I watched Denver Urban
Renewal tear out the heart of our city by destroying hundred of historic
structures in downtown. After reading Jane's book, we all mourned what
Paul Goldberger, architectural critic of New York Times, the "unrelieved
plainness and basic dreariness of what turned out to be nondescript, big
red boxes." Any one wonders why folks like LoDo so much. It the part
of downtown where urban renewal left off. It is not healthy when
neighbors pray for a recession to block certain excessive developments
around town. Does God hear such prayers?

Let's cut to the end of the story, Jane won. She beat back Gotham's
Goliaths that won in many cities across our nation. Jane and the
neighbors beat back the plans for expansion of the Lower Manhattan
Expressway. But her book changed city planning in America forever. I
actually saw a copy of Jane's book in the Denver Planning Office not too
long ago.

Are there still wrestling matches to be waged across the neighborhoods
of Denver? What would Jane say about our city's new zoning code? Would
Jane "ooh" and "ah" over the Union Station plans? Wrestling with Moses
inspires me to get Jane's book off my shelf and remember why Denver can
be a great city. "To your tents, Oh, Israel."

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

Colorado Recession Watch published by the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute reported that the recession figure for unemployment in October dipped to 6.9%. That dip, slight blip that it was, prompted the bloggers for Governor Ritter to announce that employment in Colorado has fallen below 7%. I hope you will check the two recession sites mentioned in my first sentence. Statistics do show a trend and this recession is the longest since the great depression which my folks and grand parents fought to survive.

A recent report from the city administration marked the 2008 unemployment rate for metro area was 5.1% but for Denver it was 5.7%. And as I have said before in a previous entry, if you check the unemployment rates for Globeville, Elryia and Swansea and Northeast Denver, the rate will get up around 20%.

These statistics mean little when you have been out of work for months. A former student and now a friend, has been out of work for months, has applied for thousands of openings and is about ready to lose her home. She is desperate and has applied to work as a guard at the city buildings. She wonders out loud why she got her BA from CU.

Speaking of blips in statistics, did you read where there is actually an address to which you can send money to spend down our national debt? I will check this out to let you know if this is another fund congress can raid to add more to the deficit. The report said the fund is supported by many immigrant Americans who show how grateful there are to be living under the blessings of our constitution. That's why they donate to lower our disastrous deficit - only in America.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sand Creek

November 29th, 2009 marked the 145th anniversary of the Massacre at Sand Creek, a day which lives in infamy in Colorado history. That “dies irae,’ that terrible day of wrath, Col. John M. Chivington led members of the Colorado Cavalry in a slaughter of mostly Arapahoe and Cheyenne elderly women, children and old men. Chief Black Kettle who originally welcomed the pale faces to the banks of Cherry Creek and the Platte, was killed in the massacre under an American flag and a white flag. I wonder what went through Black Kettle's mind as he saw the pale faced soldiers killing his people "indiscriminately" as the congressional hearing reported.

On Saturday, November 28th, 2009 at 8 am at Riverside Cemetery on Brighton Boulevard on Denver's border with Adams County, I along with about 100 citizens gathered at the grave of Silas Soule to commemorate his bravery in refusing to kill women and children and in testifying before a congressional committee which broke from concerns about the civil war to investigate Chivington's actions at Sand Creek; Captain Soule, showed great courage and an ethical soul that day, that terrible day. Soule refused orders to fire upon unarmed women and children at Sand Creek. Federal troops present also refused to kill unarmed women and children. Otto, Soule's nephew from Iowa, told me the name is pronounced 'sole."

Spiritual leaders of Arapahoe and Cheyenne tribes blessed runners for their participation in the 11th Annual Sand Creek Massacre

For testifying against what he saw at Sand Creek, Soule was assassinated near 15th and Arapahoe near Skyline Park. His name is listed on the civil war monument at the State Capitol among the civil war military dead. I never noticed that before.

At the ceremony at the Capitol I was honored to speak to those who gathered to mark the day.

Many Coloradoans don't remember Sand Creek, or Ludlow, or the Columbine Mine murders. Our attention spans are about as long as a 30 second TV commercial. I know we can do better to recall important historic events in our state's history.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On Friday November 20th, the “Across the USA” section of USA Today had the following depressing notice for Colorado:

“Denver – Colorado had a record-high number of foreclosures in the third quarter, when filings hit 12,468, the state Housing Department said. The quarter ending Sept. 30 was the fourth consecutive quarter in which foreclosure filings increased. For the year, foreclosure filings are up about 18% compared with the same period in 2008.”

The number of working Coloradans fell by almost 10,000 in the month of October this year. Colorado’s unemployment rate is at 5.3% better than the national average. But I would guess that the Globeville and Northeast Neighborhoods in Denver hit closer to 20%.

I hope you are as upset as I am about these statistics. They hit home to me recently when I saw my neighbor putting boxes in her station wagon. “Are you going out of town,” I asked. “Dennis, I have been out of work for some time now and I am taking the keys to my house down to the bank. My house is in foreclosure.” My neighbor got in the car and drove away.

These statistics hit home to me because I think of my own grandparents who lost their home during the depression. My grandfather lost his job on the Moffat Railroad and the Gallagher family lost their house. “The girls went to St. Clare’s Orphanage on 26th and Osceola and I (my dad) and my brother, Louie went to St. Vincent’s Orphanage on Lowell,” my dad often said. It took my grandparents two years to get back on their financial footing. My dad said, “My brother cried himself to sleep every night for two years while at St. Vincent’s.” Despite being split up from their families, the Gallagher kids had fond memories of loving nuns who tried their best helped them through those tough homeless depression years.

It affected us all. All our family reunions retold depression and orphanage stories. The stories sounded just like McCourt’s "Angela’s Ashes", without the free food wakes, without the humor, without the songs. Homeless counts continue to grow in our city.

So it’s going to take awhile for Denver and Colorado to crawl our way out of the current ‘recession.” Depressing, isn’t it?

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Real Threat

A few weeks ago I attended the Fiscal Wake-up Call initiated by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation where former Comptroller General David M. Walker reminded us of what he considered the number one threat facing our country: our ever increasing debt. It chalks up at over $180,000 per person, 56 billion as of September of 2008. It was cosponsored by University of Denver.

I agree with Walker. And I hope you will double check the website: www.pgpf.org to get the rest of the story.

But I think there is something even worse about which we should be worried when it comes to the future of our democracy. The biggest threat to our way of life is the tremendous lack of ignorance in young and old in our country as to the concepts in our constitution and form of government.

My most recent wake-up call happened on my recent visit to Skinner Middle School to listen to students present their ideas about constitution principles after a period of study. On of my fellow listeners asked a panel of students if the constitution allowed for someone to hold an opinion which might upset someone else's feelings. A student responded that the constitution did not allow people to have opinions which might hurt another's feelings. I tried to tell the students that the constitution does not prohibit unpopular opinions even those that might hurt another's feelings. I tried to remind them that the first amendment protects unpopular opinions.

I am not sure I got through in a few minutes of discussion at 8am on a cold day.

But despite the budget, I think ignorance of the constitution and other current affairs is the greatest threat to our country. We cannot give up and we have to keep fighting and arguing, with civility of course, that people have to wake up as to what our form of government is and what rights in our Bill of Rights protect us even when we hold unpopular opinions.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A thanksgiving Thought

As we approach this year’s Thanksgiving holiday, it is important that we remember those who may be less fortunate. More Americans are struggling to put enough food on the table for their families. Making ends meet is a struggle for some Americans regardless of the state of the general economy. Such a struggle can leave families insecure about having enough food to get them through the month. Some may have to scrimp on the quantity or quality of the food that they eat. While these situations happen in the best of times, they become more common and acute in economic recessions when job markets are weak and State and local government assistance is curtailed by tight budgets.

USDA's Economic Research Service's (ERS) released its annual report on Household Food Security in the U.S., which revealed that in 2008, 17 million households, or 14.6 percent, were food insecure and families had difficulty putting enough food on the table at times during the year. This is an increase from 13 million households, or 11.1 percent, in 2007. The 2008 figures represent the highest level observed since nationally representative food security surveys were initiated in 1995. Colorado was one of 13 states where the percentage of households struggling with hunger dropped over the three years ending in 2008 despite a surge nationally, according to a federal report released Monday. The report also looked at households dealing with the most acute hunger problems and found that the percentage in Colorado rose from 3.9 percent to 5 percent between the two time periods. One in eight Colorado households had to deal with hunger issues, and the problem has intensified in 2009 with the recession, officials surmised based on anecdotal evidence.

The USDA’s domestic food and nutrition assistance programs increase food
security by providing low-income households access to food, a healthful diet,
and nutrition education. I would like to encourage all who are able to donate to our community food banks or find other ways to share during this holiday season. Remember that it is not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, that is the true measure of our thanksgiving.


The full study is available at http://www.ers.usda.gov/features/householdfoodsecurity/

Thursday, November 19, 2009

During these difficult economic times it is important for our governmental. Everyone is tightening their belts and the government must too. However, rather than wholesale cuts across every agency, I believe that government must be strategic in its financial reductions – making sure that the citizenry gets the most “bang for the buck”.

I am proud that under my tenure the Auditor’s Office has added an entire new menu of products intended to help city agencies make strategic decisions. Our “Audit Services” package gives an agency the flexibility to ask for benchmarking and in depth analysis in comparing of how other cities may handle a situation. With our Audit Services we often identify what is the governmental “best practice” in a variety of scenarios. We can provide this insight in real time and it does not require as much time as a full-blown audit to complete.

In these tough economic times, information and insight is the key to providing the most city services at the cheapest cost. Audit Services is a unique and powerful way to ensure this happens.

Monday, November 16, 2009

DaVinci

I encourage readers to check out the DaVinci Institute. This institute has nothing to do about fighting between angels and demons. Alas no medieval knights joining crusades to challenge some medieval foes. It is not an adjunct in the controversy Mary Magdalene’s place in the salvation legend.

The DaVinci Institute encourages people to look at trends and see how those trends might be affecting our future. The organization presents excellent futurists who try to let us know what trends may be facing economics, education, environment and even water availability.

A recent missive by email from the institute noted several trends to keep our eyes on, and these are my humble summaries:

1. By 2020 biotech and genetics will push ahead to occupy the attention spans of futurists.

2. Web amateurs will be seen to be a good or if not better than web professionals.

4.Smart water grid technologies will be the big discussion for future studies.

5.Space hotels are taking orders for rooms by 2012.

6. Many corporations are cash flush with money and are just sitting on their fortunes.

7. Online video services are becoming more like regular TV services.

8. Japan will experience some population concerns and face possible collapse.

9. China, our banker, will loan 10 billion dollars to Africa.

Check out these future teasers. Former Governor Dick Lamm often told me: "It not that one can actually predict the future. What is important is that one tries to think about the future."

I agree with him and hope you will start thinking about the future.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ted Hackworth

Denver received sad news recently that former City Councilman Ted Hackworth passed away at home.

Ted never hesitated to tell you how he felt about something. He never hesitated to vote no if he disagreed on something. He taught me lots and I am appreciative for his good advice which he always shared on issues of significance facing Denver.

Staffers and Council members both joked about a vote being 12 to one; that was 12 to Hackworth. Ted remained active to the end in his Southwest Neighborhood association. And he had a contagious smile which lit up a room no matter how big. Beneath the gruff exterior lurked a good sense of humor and encouraged me to quote more Shakespeare. One council member asked if she could get some credit at Regis for all that Shakespeare I quoted. I told her she would have to pass the test and that was stuff that dreams are made of and not likely.

He was very pleased when I arranged to lead the battle for him to serve as President Pro Tem his final year in office. He seemed to like that honor which the council awarded him for his many years of service. Ted will be missed and his dedication to neighborhood and city will be missed as well.

The Bully Pulpit

Recently it was reported that the City will not renew its contract with Seedco, a relationship which has existed since 2006. I would like to think that this decision was made primarily due to our recent audit which exposed gross mismanagement by Seedco. On many occasions I have been asked, “What is Seedco?”

Seedco Financial Services, Inc. (Seedco Financial) is a national Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) with more than $200 million in assets under management. Filling niche gaps along the continuum of credit from small business lending to New Market Tax Credits, Seedco Financial seeks to stimulate economic development in communities that are underserved by traditional banking institutions by providing affordable capital, hands-on technical assistance and innovative solutions to small businesses, nonprofit organizations, CDFIs and real estate developers. Seedco Financial is a wholly-controlled subsidiary of Structured Employment Economic Development Corporation (Seedco), a national nonprofit intermediary that helps low-income people and communities move toward economic prosperity.

I am pleased that the Mayor has decided not to renew the City’s contract with Seedco.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Fraud in times of Economic Stress

In a previous blog entry I mentioned to you that auditors warn that in times of economic uncertainty and downturn, auditors see an increase in cases of fraud. Why is that? I think it is because people, in an economic downturn, are even more willing to take additional risks to cut ethical corners and come up with schemes to defraud government agencies. You might recall the Association of Government Accountants' website estimates that 7% of the stimulus moneys, almost $60 billion dollars, will be lost to fraud and waste.

So it should come as no surprise to us that we read that over 100,000 people of the 1.5 million folks who have applied for the first time home owner 8,000 government tax credits have already come up with schemes to defraud the government fund accounts. Here is one way in which some have taken the risk to try to defraud the funds: simply lie about the age of the applicant. J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for tax administration, reported recently to Congress that 580 people seeking $4 million were under the age of 18. The youngest recipient was only 4 years old.

Linda Stiff, the IRS's deputy commissioner for services and enforcement, put it aptly when she said to the Congress folks, "any time that there is an opportunity to receive cash back, it tends to attract people that might have the intent to defraud the government." Does this news upset you as much as it does me?

I read with amusement that some governmental agencies are cutting their auditors in order to save money during the economic downturn. In a time of economic downturn, that's when you need more auditors, not less.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Failure should not be an option

I have just released our audit of Seedco, a company under contract to the city’s Office of Economic Development. The audit paints an ugly picture of dismal failure by this company over the three years it has been under contract. Worse, when the contract was renewed the last time, the company was chastised for its failures and promised to do better: So much for that.

Seedco was brought on-board by the city three years ago because it was claimed that loan funds previously loaned by the Office of Economic Development would be more effectively handled by this private entity with better outcomes. That has not happened. In point of fact over the last two years, OED’ loan performance far outperformed that of Seedco For instance, In 2008, OED made 47 loans for $18.1 million while Seedco only made six loans for $950,000.

The contract is once again up for renewal. Denver City Council will take this matter up next week. I don’t know what Council may do, but I do know that if I had a vote on Council, it would be a resounding NO to renewal.

They have failed to abide by the terms of the contract, seeming to treat those terms in the most flippant and cavalier manner;

They have failed to meet the performance measures stipulated in the contract, including the all-important job creation standards;

They have failed to return over $146,000 owed to the city for ten months;

They have spent tremendous sums – and what I would term highly inappropriate sums – of money on overhead, travel, and executive salaries.

I cannot be more displeased with the performance of Seedco, because the economic-generator that this loan program is supposed to be is being inhibited by Seedco’s poor performance. In these difficult times, when tight credit is negatively impacting Denver’s economy, that is performance we cannot afford.

You can view the audit here: Seedco Audit

Monday, November 2, 2009

Debt

David M. Walker, former Comptroller General of the United States, visited the Denver Auditor's Office two years ago on a swing through Colorado. Walker talked to the Internal Audit Section of the office. He has, since last year, served as the President and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. The foundation tries to alert Americans to the looming crisis of our growing debt.

I was pleased to hear Mr. Walker again at the Fiscal Wake-Up Tour at the University of Denver last Thursday evening, October 22. Walker hit similar haunting themes to those he brought up when he spoke to our office two years ago. Slide number one of his presentation told the whole story: "Saving Our Future Requires Tough Choices Today."

Walker pointed out three important points to a mixed crowd of older retirees and younger students. He shared with the audience that in 1968, mandatory spending programs were at 28% with discretionary programs at 66%. In 2008, mandatory programs were at 53% and discretionary spending programs were now at 39%.

The second point, always a Halloween shocker, the burden per capita of the debt in the United States: $184,000 and growing as you read this entry on my blog.

The third horrifying specter of his presentation showed how much foreign holding of US debt has risen. In 1990 our foreign debt holders was at19%. In 2009, it has risen to a ghoulish 49%. Does this scare you? No wonder the Obama White House timidly decided not welcome the Noel Winner, the Dalai Lama to the white house for tea. I guess the White House has decided "we must not offend the US banker." If Bush had done that the Democrats would have screamed like banshees and wailed like Halloween hob goblins.

I was not surprised that the audience unanimously wrote off the Senate and Congress as lacking any courage to do anything to deal with the rising debt. Like Jacob Marley's ghost, you could feel the anger rising at Congress in the DU Cable Center as the speakers continued with their description of how we got into this mess. It was clear to all that Congress will make no "tough choice" on this issue.

One older man to whom I spoke at the end of the raucous, but excellent and civil event told me: "Obama can keep the $250 he is planning to send me this year." He was dressed in a tweed suit with a warm vest. I told him that if he ever got the payment, he could endorse it and send it back to the treasury to lower the deficit. " And they'll just waste it like they did with all the money I have sent them before," he smiled back at me. He told me he was glad to see at least one elected official there at the meeting. I imagine feelings are different among older people in the neighborhood where I live in North Denver. Older people in that area are trying to decide between food and prescriptions. At the end of the meeting, Walker and the other speakers were swamped by members of the crowd. Walker told me he remembered coming to our office and I invited him to come back some time in his new roll of Paul Revere for the scary fiscal wake-up call.

Walker's final slide told the audience why he is so deeply concerned about this issue of federal debt: the slide showed a picture of the three Walker grandchildren. I hope you will look at pictures of your children and grandchildren and for their sake, get involved and focus on this "moral" issue. Type Peter G. Peterson Foundation on the search line of your Internet service or simply pgpf.org and the web pages lay out the whole sad story.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Celtic Halloween

November 1 is the Celtic feast of Samhain. Samhain, Gaelic for "summer's end," was the most important of the ancient Celtic feasts.
The Celts honored the opposing balance of intertwining forces of existence: darkness and light, night and day, cold and heat, death and life. The Celtic year was divided into two seasons: the light and the dark, celebrating the light at Beltane on May 1st and the dark at Samhain on November 1st. Therefore, the Feast of Samhain marks one of the two great doorways of the Celtic year. Some believe that Samhain was the more important festival, since it marked the beginning of a new dark-light cycle. The Celts observed time as proceeding from darkness to light because they understood that in dark silence comes whisperings of new beginnings, the stirring of the seed below the ground. Therefore, the Celtic year began with the season of An Geamhradh, the dark Celtic winter, and ended with Am Foghar, the Celtic harvest. The Celtic day began at dusk, the beginning of the dark and cold night, and ended the following dusk, the end of a day of light and warmth. Since dusk is the beginning of the Celtic day, Samhain begins at dusk on October 31. Samhain marks the beginning of An Geamhradh as well as the New Year.

Chant for Samhain
A year of beauty. A year of plenty. A year of planting. A year of harvest.
A year of forests. A year of healing. A year of vision. A year of passion.
A year of rebirth. A year of rebirth. This year may we renew the earth.
Let it begin with each step we take. Let it begin with each change we make.
Let it begin with each chain we break. And let it begin every time we awake.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

2010 Audit Plan

I hope everyone will check the Auditor's 2010 Audit Plan posted on the Auditor's website.

Charter language approved by voters in 2007 requires the Auditor to come up with an annual audit plan, a collaborative audit plan, a collegial audit plan. The charter requires the Auditor to consult with the mayor and council on issues which need to be audited in Denver. This language arose from the city's tradition that ambitious auditors in Denver find in the auditor's office a fertile nesting ground for future mayoral plans.

Kip Memmott Director of Internal Audit in the Denver Auditor's Office and I have broadly interpreted the charter language to be more inclusive than just found in the written words: we annually meet with department heads as well. For two years now, we have shared the outline of our annual audit plans with department heads and staffs in their offices and have asked if they have any input for the plan. We have received many excellent suggestions for audits from these meetings. I think you will appreciate the emphasis on public safety and internal financial controls highlighted in the 2010 plan. Taxpayers will appreciate the detailed calculations of how many hours our auditors have allocated per audit on various issues and departments. And we have set aside enough hours of audit time to allow for emergencies which may arise in the city in need of attention. In my view visiting with department heads continues to help build trust at the city in that many agency heads feel negative about any audit pending around their departments.

These insightful revelations in the 2010 Audit Plan reflect a new sense of accountability and transparency which our recent peer review appreciated in their recent analysis of our office operations. So let me know what you think of the 2010 Plan and share your thoughts as to what should be audited in Denver. Mike Licht, former Denver Auditor who ran for mayor, had a great motto in his campaign: "Everyone is an Auditor." When asked what that meant Mike said "If you pay your parking bill at the airport and you don't get a receipt, report it to the auditor's office." Not getting a receipt for money paid at any city agency shows a lack of proper internal controls and can lead to possible fraud.

And Mike is right, and every one can offer suggestions to the audit plan.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The medium is often the message - but not always

As you may know the Denver Auditor's Office enforces Denver’s Prevailing Wage Law on all city construction projects. Rob Merritt heads up that unit which rigorously checks payrolls of companies working on city projects. Staff members have informed me that many companies have perfect payrolls, no mistakes, no shorting employees, no fraud or administrative laziness in paying workers what the law requires.

A couple of years ago, I initiated the Auditor's Appreciation Awards to such companies. This auditor believes you have to give credit where credit is due. So I sent a letter to the executive of one construction-company which had perfect payrolls at our Denver Airport. My letter invited the executive to our quarterly meeting at which the award was to be given to him and his company.
However, when he saw the return address from the Denver Auditor's Office, he put my congratulatory letter in his desk, unopened. Seeing the return address on our Auditor's envelope, he had convinced himself that he must have done something wrong on a payroll or owed the city money. This reaction shows the truth of the prophetic words of Marshall McLuhan who said so many years ago, that "the medium is the message." When he finally opened the letter, he had already missed the meeting at which we planned to give him the award for good work. So now I send these award notices in a plain white envelope made from recycled paper, of course.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The End to Pushback on Audits?

Auditors across the country have shared with me that they get pushback from agencies being audited. They get arguments full of fallacies. We get our fair share too. Let me identify a few of the fallacies for you.

We could help end the city deficit if we had a dollar for every time a city agency has said to us, "The auditor has no authority to look at that information." I call that argument from formal logic, an "ad vericundiam fallacy." That fallacy refers to arguments that ask for acceptance based not on sound fact, but appeals to some higher authority or tradition. The agency tells us, "We have always done things this way.” Like Rebtavia in "Fiddler on the Roof," the agencies shout back "Tradition." We simply respond, as did the city attorney, "Read the charter, the auditor has the authority."

One agency, responding for a request of staff work records simply dumped thousands of papers off at the auditor's office with no delineation as to which information covered the requested material. We felt like archeologists sifting through tons of historical residue to find out the truth about employment patterns. I call that the fallacy of confusion and chaos. This diversion process tries to overwhelm the audit staff.

Several agencies have complained that working with the auditor's office is not timely, "We are so busy running our agency, we can't take time to have staff get all the information you request for an audit." I call this one "the no good time fallacy," not a formal definition in classical logic, but which certainly applies to the city. With some agencies there will never be a "good" time for the auditor's office to look at agency records or speak to agency staff. "Just go away, we don't want to be bothered, no one has ever complained before," they tell our office. Like the prayer for the Tsar in "Fiddler," "Lord, may the auditor....be far away from us."

One agency head actually told our audit staff he did not see much value to performance audits. Agencies have hired expensive consultants to anticipate arguments and problems we might find in their agency. The agencies try to diminish what our office finds not working well in a department. We had another department who tried to distract us away from the real scope of the audit. We simply include the information as part of the audit.

And Denver Health, in response to our audit of Emergency Response Times, kept saying to us, "Look what a wonderful emergency room we have, the best in the nation." We told them, "we agree with you, you have a great emergency room, we are simply trying to measure how long it take for you to get injured people to it." I call that close to the fallacy of composition. Our department is composed of many areas, "so if our emergency room is so wonderful, how can any other part of our system be in need of improvement."

Agencies use ad hominem augments in response to audit findings, arguments of personal attack. "Oh, that damn Gallagher is doing this for political purposes. He must be running for mayor."

But, there is hope, I hope.

David Fine Esq., City Attorney, hand-delivered to me, an unsolicited memo which he had written and shared with Mayoral Appointees after a meeting with them on October 9th. The memo is on our website for all to see, including agency staff and heads. He reminds them of our access to records and, indirectly to staff, during our audits.

In the final paragraph, the city attorney reminded the mayor's appointees, "Please be advised that it is illegal to take adverse employment actions against employees from your department based upon their participation in these performance audits." Our audits will only bring improvement if city employees feel free to communicate to us without retaliation for their comments on department situations during a departmental audit. For this auditor any other retaliatory or bullying cultural context is intolerable and unacceptable.

Fine could not have put in any clearer. I congratulate him on a thoughtful and appropriate memo. I hope the agency appointees take it to heart. If they don't, be assured Auditor Gallagher will with vigor call them on it every time.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Blunder?

Last week I heard Professor Ved Nanda talk to the Denver City Club at the Brown Palace Hotel. The City Club meets every Tuesday to listen to some of Denver's finest minds on all sorts of issues. Readers ought to check it out. Guests are welcome, but folks are encouraged to join.

Professor Nanda spoke on the options facing the United States on Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Law Professor Nanda even offered a one page outline on the issues he so logically presented to us. I wish he had offered a quiz on his lecture.

During the question period, I asked Professor Nanda what he thought of the recent slight by the White House which told the Dalai Lama that the White House would not welcome him until President Obama made his trip to China? The White House advisors had said the timing was not right. The visit by the Dalai Lama to the White House would upset China. I had read news reports mentioning that The White House indicated that they were not seeking China's permission to meet with the Dalai Lama. But it sure looked like that to me. Will China call our our loans due? Doubtful.

Professor Nanda thought the Obama White House just made a big blunder. I reminded him that the President's fellow Nobel Prize winner would not hold a grudge and the Dalai Lama had probably already forgiven him for this slight.

Vaclav Havel, former Czech president, summed the White House rebuff of the Dalai Lama quoted in The New York Times as "only a minor compromise. But exactly with these minor compromises start the big and dangerous ones, the real problems."
Fall is my favority time of year. With Shakespeare, I love seeing the yellow leaves shake against the cold of bare ruined choirs. With the cold of winter coming upon us, recently I have been craving motzah ball soup. My sinuses call out for good motzah ball soup.

So I went to my three favorite places where I know I can get top-grade, soul-warming, bone-soothing, motzoh ball soup: East Side Kosher Deli, 499 S. Elm Street, in Glendale; Zaidy's at 121 Adams in Cherry Creek; and New York Deli News at 7105 East Hampden in Southeast Denver. An auditor should be able to measure the quality and size of things, so in this brief commentary, I will measure the size of the motzoh balls in the motzoh ball soups in those wonderful establishements.

The Schribers at East Side Kosher Deli, who provide genuine kosher meals for Denver's prisons, mix up a great soup with lots of chicken in the broth. Their balls compare in size to snooker balls and are tender to the taste. When slepping, I mean, slurping their delicious soup, I alway proudly order "two balls please."

Zaidy's boasts balls about the size of tennis balls accompanied by a generous portion of chunks of chicken and piping hot broth. One ball is enough. Rumor has it the Rudofsky's use less oil and more water in their good sized motzah balls. Working for the city, I always order chopped liver with the soup, because lots of us who work at the city can identify with chopped liver.

But New York Deli News wins the prize for size. And who says size does not count, especially when it comes to motzoh balls. The Belsky's bring you a bowl of soup crowned with a very large knaydalach, Yiddish for dumpling, a motzoh ball the size of a large soft ball. You need only order one. I wondered if the ball would be cooked all the way through, because when I try to make motzoh ball soup, the inside never seems to cook thoroughly and they always fall apart into a mush. Belsky's chef cooks the balls all the way through and they are very springy. Senator Joyce Foster told me I was smushing my matzoh balls too tightly, and that I should use seltzer water not plane tap water. Another rabbi friend told me to mix the eggs more into a froth, that might help. I told Mr. Belsky, this New York deli does not have a real New York atmosphere, the waiters treat you much too nice. "You've had enough smaltz, you big slemiel, get your tochis out of here. We have another customer waiting." Belsky commented without a beat. Belsky is no schmendrick, that's for sure.

So as the Welcome Arch in front of Union State used to say: Mitzpah." And if we will ever see it again with all the buildings stuffed in front, "Mitzvah," Hebrew for "May the Lord look after our coming and our going, until we meet again." Or at least may we be blessed with health and good sinuses until we try our next delicious bowl of matzoh ball soup.

lobbying

When I served in our Colorado Legislature, legislators measured support or opposition to a measure by how many letters or postcards they received on a particular measure. Smart citizen lobbyists send individual letters of one or two pages in length with well-reasoned arguments addressing that citizen's concern about a measure. If legislators received all-the-same xeroxed copy of one letter, that was considered less effective by legislators. That was like the letters Sister used to write letters for us on the board at the parochial school: "Dear Senator, support funding for school buses for private schools....." The letters were all the same even though they were handwritten, and looked personal enough. But they too were counted as one letter from one source. Using the same stamps on the same size envelopes let the legislators know that everybody got in a room somewhere and wrote their letters. Thank you, Sister.

Smart lobbyists asked citizens to bring their own stationary and their own commemorative stamps, not just those found on large rolls from the post office. They let the legislators know someone cared enough to write an individual letter on a particular issue.

Postcards followed the same rules. Use different stamps and messages, though there are not as many postcard stamps available at the US postal service. But handwritten post cards, in my view, equalled two or three repetitive printed letters. A steady stream of postcards and letters increasing each day of a particular campaign, I considered effective and let me know how folks felt about a measure pending at the assembly. Letters and cards from the district you represented meant the most.

Legislators considered telegrams equal to five or six letters. Remember Marshall McLuhan, "the medium is the message." That someone took the time and money to send a telegram conveyed the message that the citizen really meant business. The NRA asked members to allow the organization to use the member's name on telegrams which they sent to the legislators on a measure. I asked a neighbor whose name was on a telegram on a bill, "Why didn't you just come over and talk to me about the bill?" He said he gave the NRA permission to use his name on the telegram which he admitted he did not see, but which he trusted would correspond to his desires and wishes on the gun legislation.

Telephone calls were important, especially if the citizen left his or her feelings for or against a bill. Telephone calls focusing on amendments added to a bill helped get the legislators the feeling of citizens on that amendment.

The same principles apply to digital lobbying. Canned emails all saying the same words mean not much to legislators and council members looking for opinions on particular issues. The more individualized the email message the better as it gives the legislator the impression you are not in a room full of computers sending the same message. So good luck in the new world of digital lobbying. At least now with the computer, sloppy handwriting is not an issue. Sister would not approve of that. Bring on the dreaded rulers.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tip O'Neill

I recently had coffee with two candidates who have thrown their hats into the hurly burly of Denver politics. They have taken the risk, they are ready to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune which will be thrown at them during the campaign.

They asked me about campaign techniques which work. Dan Pabon is running for State House of Representatives, District 4, North Denver. Christopher Scott is seeking the Denver School Board at-Large seat. At-large means he runs city wide for the seat which represents all citizens of Denver across the city. We will vote on School Board races on this year's November ballott, not far off. Dan will be up for the legislative races in next year's state house races. I told both of them the following most enlightening story about Tip O'Neill.

Tip O'Neill ran and won the Congressional seat vacated by John Kennedy when he won the Massachusetts Senate Seat. The Wednesday morning after his victory, O'Neill told people he saw Miss Flynn, I believe her name was, who lived across the street from him. He asked her what she thought of him winning the seat for congress. Miss Flynn did not even look up from he trimming her rose bushes.

"Ah, Tip, I did not vote for you," she volunteered to an astonished O'Neill who had know Miss Flynn for many years. She was his first grade teacher.

"Miss Flynn, why didn't you vote for me, you've known me all my life, you taught me in the first grade," crestfallen Tip responded defensively.

"Ah, Tip, I thought I taught you better. Tip, you have to ask for the vote. You can't take people for granted no matter how long you have know them. It's a sign of respect," she admonished the newly elected congressman. "Tip, you have to ask for the vote."

And humbled by Miss Flynn's reminder, Tip O'Neill ever thereafter asked everyone he knew for the vote, no matter how long he had known them. And Miss Flynn was right, people want to be asked for the vote.

I checked up on these candidates recently, and I am pleased to report Chris and Dan are out asking people for the vote. I hope other candidates will follow their good examples. And damn the slings and arrows

Monday, October 5, 2009

Bed bugs or book bugs?

Gail Lindley, owner of Denver Bookbinding, has printed a provocative and yet thoughtful bookmark which she hands out at book fairs to advertise her company: "Practice Safe Sex, Take a Good Book to Bed with You." This innocent bookmark takes on a horrifyingly Halloween meaning in light of recent library stories in our city. If you drop by her wonderful factory on West 31st and Wyandotte, just east of Tejon, she will happily give you one.

Now I suppose many of you read about this issue in The Denver Post. I hope other biblioholics are as angry and as deeply offended by a hitherto unknown warfare gnawing against the very fabric of our civilization, culture and learning, not forgetting the books involved. Reading on at this point may make one's very flesh crawl. And I suspect when the Olympic Committee which might receive Denver's application for the games soon will be incredulous and furious when they find out. What kind of a city is Denver, anyway? Let's review the case.

There is a Denver Public Central Library Patron who goes above and beyond Ms. Lindley's humorous suggestion about taking books to bed. He actually brought borrowed books to his home which was infested with lots of the species, Cimex lectularius, that's Latin for 'bug and bed.' He shared his bedbug infestation with the city's books and when the books got back to the library, the contagion spread, the wingless cimices lectularii drilled into other texts. The bedbugs even found nesting grounds in the fertile bindings of lots of other books, mostly old and juicy leatherbound tomes.

Are you angry yet? Do you share the pain?

Costs to the library to reclaim damaged books has soared to many thousands of dollars at a time when the city council and mayor are proposing the closing of two libraries in our city. A library official said the person's burrowing, I mean, borrowing priveleges at DPL have been revoked mainly due to health concerns for other patrons. But rumors are crawling at the library that a silk stocking law firm is itching to take on the case. The city attorney's office hopes there will be lots of wiggle room in this case which may have legs.

What punishments should there be for these reckless and incidiously creepy acts of infestation to others? What acts of restitution would fit these gruesome crimes? Sister Mildred Clare, librarian of my high school in North Denver, made students returning books late to her library scrape tossed gum off the sidewalks around the playground and school? What do you think the penalty should be for these acts of urban microbiotic terrorism?

Are you as bugged as I am that we had to read about this in our Denver Post? Surely a citywide email to city employees to spread the word on this health hazard might have been waiting in the wings.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Auditor Humor?

Auditor's need a good sense of humor.  Auditors cannot take the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune sent their way.
 
An illustration in point. And every joke has a grievance.
 
Some time ago, St. John's Cathedral hosted a prayer service for Mayor Hickenlooper to help him to a successful term as Mayor.  Incense bellowed from the incensor gliding slowly to the heavens like prayers for the newly elected mayor.  The choir wafted mellifluent stentorian tones knocking on the very gates of heaven.
 
A friend of mine invited me to the service.  I sat a few seats behind the mayor.  The Dean of the Cathedral, Reverend Peter Eaton approached the Mayor and congratulated him on the prayers being offered for him.  He saw me behind him in the corner of his eye.  Laughingly he asked the Dean, "Is there a prayer for the Auditor, Father," the mayor quipped.  He does have a good sense of humor though sometime seared with sarcasm.
 
Without a beat, the Dean answered that there was a prayer for the auditor. The Dean took a deep breath and intoned a mock  line of Gregorian chant singing, "Lord, may the auditor, be"....a long pause here..the tension built as those nearby listened for the punch line. "....far away from us."  Waves of irreverent laughter echoed off the ancient stones of the Cathedral walls.
 
I felt like I was in a re-run of Fiddler on the Roof,  but I took the place of the tzar.
 
Is an auditor not a human being? Does an auditor not have feelings?  Do auditor's not bleed when cut?
 
Yes, answers all three questions.  But auditor's have to develop a thick skin and remember that the auditor's role is to tell truth to power even if they do not want to hear.  The auditor has to follow the ancient Roman admonition:  "Fiat justicia et caeli ruant. Let justice be done, thought the heaven's fall."  This auditor takes the auditor's role very seriously.  And I know the work of our outstanding staff in the auditor's office brings value to city functions and processes.  And we try to do it all with civility and a smile. 

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Decline of Handwriting

I am very proud of my beloved son, Daniel Patrick Gallagher. But there has always been one source of contention between us....his handwriting. Chicken scratching in a field on the eastern plains of Colorado seems more legible. I have always felt Daniel Patrick's almost letter less signature quickly scrawled across the page has been some sort of rebellion on his part toward his father who still uses a broad point fountain pen, and occasionally a goose quill (but only for contracts at the city about which I feel goosey). I tried my best to encourage him to take up calligraphy. I wish he could have met Sister John Joseph, Sister of Loretto who taught me cursive at Holy Family Grade School here in North Denver. And I say mea culpa, I admit my fatherly failure to encourage him to legible writing.

Consider this short dialogue from our conversation about his filling out his ballot in the last election:

"Daniel, be sure to sign your name neatly so the folks at the Denver Clerk's Office can read it," I suggested.

"Dad, if I write neatly they will think it's not me writing. The Clerk's Office will think someone else signed my ballot," he responded with clarity and logic.

"Sign your ballot, my son, the way you always sign, so there is no doubt it's yours," resigned to his logic I capitulated with a wave of my right hand, my writing hand.

I am distressed to read that many school districts around the country have abandoned classes on handwriting. School districts seem to be shouting, "A curse on cursive!" I don't have room in this short essay on why I think this is such a bad idea, but we will discuss this in another communication.

Poorly written signatures have affected the election process. It begs proper internal controls. Folks signing petitions in our country now have to print their names next to their signatures of letter less scrawls. Election workers have considerable trouble verifying signatures as they audit the sloppy shaky scratches. The words John Hancock, the distinctive signature on our nation's Declaration of Independence, were written distinctively enough, according to John, so King George III would "not have to put on his bifocals to read it." His name still equates to a neatly written signature writ large enough for all to read.

Final word of argument from my son, Daniel Patrick:

"Dad, why do I need a signature? I have my computer and soon we will all have electronic signatures which will do away with hand written signatures all together."

And Daniel Patrick speaks the truth, a prophet in his own digital time. The troublesome contract process at the city of Denver could be sped up considerably and still retain internal controls with a verifiable and secure electronic signature process. Sister, bring on the ruler!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Constitution Day

September 17, 2009 is the 222nd anniversary of the day our Constitution’s framers signed the 4,400 words making up this document. The framers took 100 days to give form to the final version of the Constitution. Some say it is the oldest and shortest constitution of any major government in our world. Jefferson did not sign because he was serving as US Minister in France. John Adams did not sign as he was US Minister in Great Britain.

Jacob Shallus, a clerical worker for the Pennsylvania General Assembly, carefully wrote the four pages on calfskin parchments. However, Jacob misspelled “Pensylvania” above where delegates signed and despite his mistake; he got paid $30.00 for his calligraphic efforts. We all cherish his magnificent “We the People” thick and back- slanting Gothic style letters which have become a logo for the Constitution over these many years.

42 delegates attended the Convention, but only 39 signed. Edmund Randolph and George Mason of Virginia and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts did not sign because the constitution did not contain a Bill of Rights. Ben Franklin was the oldest to sign aged 81and did so with tears in his eyes, and Jonathan Dayton of New Jersey only 26 was the youngest to pen his name to the parchment. Franklin had gout during the convention and 4 prisoners from Philadelphia’s Walnut Street jail carried him to the assembly on a sedan chair. Two signers became president: George Washington and James Madison. Madison kept a journal of his memories of the convention and eventually was published in 1840.

After the Assembly adjourned, the wife of the mayor of Philadelphia asked Franklin what kind of government did we have? Franklin’s famous answer echoes through the 222 years to us today, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

And hopefully we will keep it. To celebrate Constitution Day, get a pocket copy of the US Constitution from Liberty Day, 303-333-3434. Or you can drop by the Auditor’s Office, 201 West Colfax Avenue, 705 Denver, Colorado 80202 and pick up your own copy. Read it and sign it yourself.

Check with ConstitutionFacts.com where I got much of this information.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Civility

The center-page headline in USA Today, September 15: “What happened to civility?”

Today’s story recounts a House Member shouting “You lie.” He acted like a rude back-bencher in the British Parliament to President Obama during his recent speech on health care. The story then tells about a tennis player threatening bodily harm to a tennis official because she disagreed with a call. Then some rapper jumps on stage and grabs the microphone away from another artist who had won an award demanding that the award go to someone else. I can tell you what has happened to civility. These boorish people lack what we in auditing call “internal control.”

They have shut out that inner voice which warns us quietly not to do certain actions, threaten other actions and say vicious threats. They have tuned out the acoustic trigger which raises the volume for internal control. And our culture encourages this incivility because we tolerate it.

The congressman may face censure and a fine. The congressman apologized to the White House for his boorish behavior, but no real consequences here. The tennis player already had to pay $10,500 penalty but then won a championship after a mushy apology. No suspension or consequences, only further praise for the won championship. The rapper appears to be in continuous apology mode even shedding tears on Jay Leno feeling guilt for his juvenile actions. He said he was just “being real.” No real consequences here either. The more he cries the more his fans adore him.

In my view these boorish people will continue to behave inappropriately because they think they are special; they are above everyone; and they have balloon tight inflated egos. They feel they are very important and above civility. What has caused them to go deaf to their internal control mechanism? They are angry that they did not get enough attention from their parents when they were younger. All three knew they were going to be the center of attention in the news, TV, radio, Internet, blogs, twitter and all the rest. With no consequences for their ill-mannered actions they will strive further into greater boorish behavior.

The story in USA Today ends with a quote with which I heartily agree: “So, no it’s not OK to say, ‘That’s just the way society is today’ and leave it at that.”

And I say society does not have to be like that. And Charity Tillemann-Dick, a young constituent from North Denver, feels the same. Several years back, while a student at Regis University Charity got the Colorado House and Senate to pass a resolution to Congress asking that everyone work for civility in our country in our dealings with others. With Charity let us continue to march up the mountain of accountability and civility in our lives, our politics and our nation.

Society does not have to be like that. Boorish and inappropriate behavior should have consequences.

Along with Charity Tillemann-Dick of North Denver, we all have to work to listen to the inner voice that nudges us to self-control and internal control. We have to encourage our friends and families be civil to each other. Let us start there. This will not be an easy battle to change the culture. But we can do it. I know we can.

It’s a pity we don’t have nuns around anymore in long black habits with 3 foot long rulers encouraging us to be civil.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Denver's Grand Union Station

Denver’s Grand Old Union Station, glowering these days at the 17th and Wynkoop in lower downtown, means an awful lot to the Gallagher family.

My grandfather, Bill Gallagher, worked for over 40 years as an engineer on the Rio Grande railroad. Our family bought a commemorative brick in front of Union Station remembering my grandfather’s many years of hard work and service to the Rio Grande.  He started out working on the old Moffat Road, which chugged from the track swerve of Denver and the Platte River, past Winter Park over the thin-aired Carona Pass, and ending in a recirculation on to the environs of the western slope.  

When he took the test for engineer for the Moffat he got 100% on the test.  The test-givers at the railroad thought he must have cheated - No one ever gets 100%.  So they made Gallagher take the test again.  Gallagher got another 100% grade and was hired. But whenever he told me this story he would always lecture me about how the Irish have to work twice as hard as the Anglo-Saxons to get hired, to get ahead, to be fully integrated into “this beautiful land.”  “For them to accept us, Dennis,  we must study twice as hard, work twice as hard and fight twice as hard to hold our own,” he would say puffing on his pipe like a steam engine.  His blue eyes flashed with a little bit of anger accompanied with a smile of confidence on what he had accomplished after coming to America. Ah, indeed, we are all proud of him.

The Rio Grande came into Union Station and I fondly remember going down to Union Station with my dad to meet my grandfather after one of his many trips by rail.  I remember meeting my uncles at Union Station when the all came back from World War II.  The place was filled with soldiers and sailors.  I remember taking the train to graduate school, to visit relatives in Chicago, and many times to Winter Park. I fondly remember my beloved daughter Meaghan Kathleen flipping the switch to ignite the red neon “Travel by Train,” celebrating a long postponed restoration.  The Gallagher's loved, and still love traveling by train, and because of our grandfather, Denver’s Union Station is in our blood and bones.  And to borrow from Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake “welt the floor of the engine cab and be sure to watch your trutter shake.”

When I served in the Senate a few years back, the city administration wanted to move Union Station and AMTRAK out of lower downtown to a site near the animal rendering plant in Adams County. The station was to be turned into a large boutique center as I recall.  Imagine the odoriferous whiff of incommodious viscera of dead carcasses the visitors could sniff as they got on buses to be herded downtown upon arrival to our environs.  So we formed a group, Tom Noel included, called, SOTS, Save Our Train Station.  We met at a brewpub of one of the organizers, John Hickenlooper. We drank lots of Rail yard Ale to protect the station, even after the threat passed. We changed the name to SOS, Save Our Station, for better branding purposes.  The city wisely abandoned the idea as the businesses in lower downtown liked the many thousands of visitors from Europe and America who spent a day in our city when riding the train across the country to our Union Station.

So now our Union Station faces new challenges in its long history. So far all the talk has been about the large developments around and in front of Union Station. Not a word is heard about what should draw people into Union Station. So far it’s all about tax increment financing, how high the buildings will be, and where the buses go. And unfortunately two new buildings on either side of the fa├žade of the station will block the Wynkoop view.  Thank goodness the marvelous model train layout in the station’s basement, a treasure to generations Denver’s children, is being saved.

 With all this talk about development around Union Station, Liz Orr and Vicky Godbey, with help from Dana Crawford, have formed a grassroots citizen participation organization, USA, to help figure out what should be done with the interior of the station. They also want to encourage citizen input on what the small Wynkoop Plaza in front of the station should look like. Joyfully Dana Crawford and others are planning to resurrect the Station’s Welcome Arch. Their goals are “to generate citizen leadership in ‘revitalizing a great civic landmark.”  So if you want to join Liz and Vicky in trying to figure all this out, you can join Union Station Advocates, 1700 Bassett Street, Suite # 1901, Denver, Colorado 80202.  $50 gets you a membership and they have applied for the 501(c) 3. 

And you can check on line www.unionstationadvocates.org/membership, for more information about their big party at the Station on Thursday evening, October 15th, 2009. Tickets start at $40. Tell your friends and fellow travelers. Mitzpah!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Luca Pacioli????

Did he play for the Yankees?  Did he establish a winery in California?  Was he elected President of Italy?

No.

 Fray Luca Bartolomes Pacioli, a Franciscan Monk, born in the mid-1400’s in Tuscany in Italy should be the patron saint of accounting and auditing.  All auditors and accountants should know his name.  He is reputed to be the inventor of double entry accounting on a single page, “to give the trader without delay information as to his assets and liabilities.”  He wrote that debit amounts should be listed on the left side of the page and credits listed on the right side. Did Pacioli place debits on the left because the Latin word for “left” is “sinister?”  And the Latin word for “right’ is “dexter,” giving us dexterous in English, the more graceful and beautiful.  Credits are beautiful and a joy to behold on the page.   The fray wrote that if the two totals are equal, the ledger was considered balanced. ‘If not,” says Pacioli,”that would indicate a mistake in your ledger, which mistake you will have to look for diligently with the industry and intelligence God gave you.”  Translated from the Latin by J. B. Geijsbeek, in “Ancient Double Entry Bookeeping,” 1914.  

 I remember Matt Daly, accounting professor at Regis University, telling me his rule “Debits on the left, Credits on the right, or Debits by the window and Credits by the door.” That is unless the desks face the other direction.

Let me know if you would like a copy of Frater Pacioli’s original Latin instructions on all this. Do you think the Jesuits are upset that history gives the Franciscan the credit for this financial and economic innovation?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Stimulus Funds

The AGA (Association of Government Accountants) recently estimated that
60 billion dollars would be lost to waste and fraud as the federal
government sends the stimulus package monies to the nation's cities,
counties and states. Has that got your attention.  It certainly got
mine.

That recent estimation of fraud and waste prompted Kip Memmott, our
Director of Internal Audit in the Denver Auditor's Office, to warn at a
recent audit  committee meeting,  that in an economic downturn,
auditors play an even more important role in the financial affairs.

Some jurisdictions have even tried to do away with auditors all
together. This year the Nebraska legislature considered a bill to do
away with the office of Auditor for Douglas County, mostly Omaha.  I
wrote a letter to the Nebraska legislators informing them that we may
not always like what the auditor has to report, but the facts have to
be reported. I am pleased to report that the legislators listened to me
and defeated the bill doing away with an office of accountability. Tom
Cavanaugh of Omaha is still the elected auditor.  Tom's two brothers,
Tom and John, graduated from Regis University some years back.

And you may have read that the Jefferson County Commissioners voted to
cut funding for their auditor. Not a prudent way to save money. If I
were a federal auditor I would be wary of any stimulus monies going
to a governmental entity with no auditor.

And you may have read that I traveled to Washington to encourage our
Federal legislators to include some money for local auditors to make
sure there is no waste and fraud in the stimulus grants.  I reminded
Senator Mark Udall that Colorado was selected as one of 16 states for
special review of all the stimulus monies coming to our state.  
Hopefully the federal government has heard how well we audit the monies
they send us.

I want you to know that we will do all we can to monitor stimulus
monies coming to Denver. I told the Mayor recently,  "We do not want
any fraud or waste on our watch."  And Denver taxpayers don't want any
either.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

We Can Do Better

Lately I have been feeling a lot like Professor Charles Kingsfield,
(John Hausman) in the old movie, "the Paper Chase." The movie
dramatized the hectic lives of young law students struggling to outwit
the unflappable Professor Kingsfield during question periods in his
grinding and difficult contract law class. Professor Kingsfield
snarls at his students at the opening of the class, "Now your brains
are full of mush, but eventually you will start thinking like lawyers."
Every now and again my being Auditor pushes me into thinking like a
lawyer. I long for order, logic and common sense approaches to problems
confronting the city. Let me give you some recent and repetitive
examples.

You may have read that 3 years ago I sent a letter to the Mayor and
Council about the issue of work starting at the city before a contract
was signed. Auditor's staff informed me that almost 800 (80%) of 1000
contracts reviewed started before the contract for the work was signed
and finalized. I sent another letter of concern this year alerting the
administration and council that work starting on city contracts before
the contract is signed is about 75%. So as you can see, there has been
some improvement, but not much. I know we can do better and the
taxpayers expect us to do better. I believe we now have council and
the mayor's attention to this important quality control issue. I am
concerned that starting work before the city and another parity or
parties agree leaves the city open to liability.

Secondly, without a clear delineation of what the two contracting
parties agree to, in my view leads to confusion of goals, and encourages
troublesome change orders which subvert the whole process. And change
orders push usually push contractual costs higher than the original
bids.

The mayor has set up a blue ribbon panel to evaluate why it takes so
long for contracts to go through the process. The auditor's office is
cooperating with the Mayor and Council on trying to solve this thorny
issue. I know we can improve the process.

We'll clear the mush from our brains and start thinking about taxpayer
interests with common sense about the contract issue. Any suggestions
welcome. Please email me with your comments.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Denver Post Operas

When I was in high school and college, I worked during the summers at
The Denver Post Opera.  I worked as a carpenter and stagehand and we
actually built the whole set on the fountain in front of the Cheesman
Pavilion in the middle of Cheesman Park.  Miss Helen Bonfils, the owner
of the Denver Post invited the whole city and the suburbs too to bring
picnic dinners at enjoy the operettas.  This was a dream job for a high
schooler like me and I enjoyed every minute of it.

 From time to time Miss Helen would drop by the pavilion to see how the
stage, wiring, lights, and sets were progressing.  She would roll up in
her Rolls Royce; at least I think it was Rolls Royce, with Number 1 on
the Colorado License Plates.  This one day she arrived for inspection of
the troops with Fr. John Anderson who taught me at Holy Family High
School. So Fr. Anderson sees me in my overalls with my hammer,
screwdriver and saw, and he says, "Oh, Dennis! Come over here and meet
Miss Helen."

John Famularo, head carpenter and Al Birch, Denver Post employee and
producer of the show, gave me quizzical looks like "Who the hell is this
Gallagher who thinks he knows Miss Helen."  So sure enough, I came over
and Fr. Anderson said, "Oh, Miss Helen, I want you to meet Dennis
Gallagher, he's one of my brightest students at Holy Family and he's got
a great future and I know we are going to hear more of him."  Fr.
Anderson made praise a virtue and we all appreciated the accolades he
heaped our way. Fr. Anderson made you feel like a million dollars and
you could do anything.   I told her how pleased I was to meet her and
trying to think of something special to say I told her my family and I
always appreciated her building Holy Ghost Church, the beautiful
downtown city parish. Architects agree that Holy Ghost shines one of
Denver's architectural treasures on 18th and California in the heart of
downtown.

And Miss Helen said smiling gracefully, "Oh, Dennis, I built that church
to get my father into purgatory."

Fr. Anderson reminded me that her dad, Frederick G. Bonfils, owner of
the Denver Post, converted to the Catholic Church on his deathbed. Ah,
one of those last minute sinners who slip into paradise just in the nick
of time. So kiddingly I asked Fr. Anderson, "Well, father, do you think
Mr. Bonfils is out of purgatory yet?"  And Anderson said in an
artificial judgmental tone right there in front of Miss Helen, "With his
editorial policy, Dennis, he'll be there until the end of time."

So Miss Helen turned to me frowning coyly and she said to me, "Oh,
Dennis, you and I are going to have coffee and we are going to leave Fr.
Anderson at home." Fr. Anderson laughed and flashed his gold cuff links
with dollar signs on them holding his starched and pressed French cuffs.

 

And I have to tell you, one of the worst mistakes of my life was, I
never made that appointment to have coffee with Miss Helen by myself.
And I wish I would have. We would have had a great talk about Holy
Ghost, her dad, and Denver's history and future.  And may Miss Helen
rest in peace.  And I bet she is out of Purgatory because she gave us
those many wonderful years of the Denver Post Operas.

The recession and St. Rocco's

Far from the luxurious corporate board rooms on Denver's 17th Street,
far from the locked and secure meeting rooms of Denver's biggest banks,
far from the sanitized air conditioned computer analysis rooms of local
economic think tanks, I noticed three important signals about how poorly
the recession is hitting our city. These examples are small signs that
people and institutions are hurting and not able to be as generous as in
previous times, but I thought you might enjoy them.

Every mid-August Our Lady of Mt Carmel Church in North Denver plays host
to an event which sets Denver apart from our suburban neighbors. I am
speaking of the annual procession of St. Rocco which starts at the
church at West 36th Avenue and Navajo. The procession, folks and
statue, parade around several tree-lined blocks around the church and
surrounding neighborhood. The march proceeds south on Navajo past the
old Coors Bar, the Arabian Bar and then turns west past where Little
Pepina's used to be. The marchers circumnavigate past the home of Ernie
and Eleanor Marranzino on 36th and Osage. Ernie served as Councilman for
that part of North Denver for years. The pilgrims then sing their way
past Cerrone's market remembered for it recipe exchange, and then past
Professional Union Printers, former home of The Colorado Leader, the
state's Italian newspaper founded by its publisher Frank Mancini. The
group then turns back to Navajo past the Bug Theatre and the art
galleries and Patsy's Inn Italian Restaurant. Then everyone drives over
to The Potenza Lodge, right across from Leprino Cheeze.


Before the procession and before the bid process, Potenza Lodge members
prepare the statue at the church of St. Rocco for the procession. A
liturgical alb like an ornate scarf is placed just below St. Rocco's
golden halo above his shoulders to which people fasten money as
offerings for illnesses or other human frailties confronted by
parishioners. In times past when many citizens of Italian extraction
lived in North Denver thousands of people, young and old, would line the
streets in front of the church eagerly anticipating the bidding ceremony
for the honor to carry St. Rocco through the streets of our city. This
year only several hundred people showed up at the church for the event,
but this is not the signal which told me the economy faces trouble. Many
parishioners have moved miles away from old North Denver, seeking less
complicated and more reticent lives in our suburbs. I know of no
processions in the suburbs.


The first signal that things were different from all other St. Rocco's
this year; there was no marching band. One of the lodge members told me
that this year the Potenza Lodge could not afford the band which
normally plays between bids and accompanies the parishioners along the
procession route. The band playing always increased tension and passion
between bidding families vying for the honor to carry the statue. So in
place of the orchestra, a car radio sound system played the national
anthem and various other melodies along the march.


The second sign that St. Rocco was in for a rough time this year; the
bids were low. Mickey Lava Clayton originally from Brooklyn, and who
never misses a procession got the bids started with a generous opening
bid of $500. After more radio music and lots of discussion other
families collaborated to bring the final bid up to what I think is
excellent given the economy, $2100. Those wishing to carry the papal
flag on this neighborhood pilgrimage bid $100, also lower than in years
past.


The third sign that this St. Rocco's was different from other St.
Rocco's Days; no flower girls. Most of the residents near the church
now are of Hispanic origin. And these neighbors fully understand the
significance of the statue of a Saint carried past their home, blessing
the house, the family and the neighborhood. And they appreciated the
young kids handing out flowers to the mothers in the neighborhood. And
in times past young women smilingly brought flowers to other smiling
women who lived in homes along the procession route.


So I thought you might enjoy hearing about an event during which I smile
so much my face begins to hurt, and an event that celebrates the ethnic
roots of our neighborhood, and an event that makes Denver and the North
neighborhoods the truly special place it is. And I thought you might
like to hear about some of the smaller ways in which the recession has
affected our city. With St Rocco's help, let's hope the economy gets
better. On the other hand, perhaps we should contact St. Jude, the
patron of impossible cases.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Taking an Oath

Citizens born in the United States are not required to take an oath of allegiance.We are citizens and that's it. Our loyalty is unquestioned and assumed,a gift of the place of our birth on United States soil.

How different for ancient Athenians who wanted to become citizens, andcitizenship was open only to males above the age of 18. But all whowanted to be citizens had to swear the oath even though they were bornin Athens. Being born in Athens did not matter. You were not a citizenuntil you said the words of the oath. They swore the oath before all inthe theatre, and received in front of all their sacred arms for defenseof the nation. Here is the text of the oath:

"I will never bring reproach upon my hallowed arms nor will I desert thecomrade at whose side I stand, but I will defend our altars and ourhearths, single-handed or supported by many. My native land I will notleave a diminished heritage but greater and better than when I receivedit. I will obey whoever is in authority and submit to the establishedlaws and all others which the people shall harmoniously enact. If anyonetries to overthrow the constitution and disobeys it, I will not permithim, but will come to its defense single-handed or with the support ofall. I will honor the religion of my fathers. Let the gods be mywitness."

The oath then goes on to list several gods as witnesses to the words ofthe oath, in particular the father of the gods, Zeus himself.To the ancient Athenian this oath was a civil and military oath. Theoath-taker promises to fight for home and country. I particularly likethe part about leaving the country better off than you found it. Perhapswe should require an economic oath for US citizens in trying to balanceour overwhelming debt. The Athenian oath binds the citizen to supportthe national institutions of the country and take up military duties ifnecessary. The gods witnessed the oath taking along with the citizen'spromise to honor the gods.

I like the part about fighting anyone who tries to overthrow theconstitution. And in my humble view, this oath is not too different forthose who signed our Declaration of Independence, might we say, the oathof Thomas Jefferson:"We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and oursacred honor." I thought you might enjoy this reflection on oaths andcitizenship.

I have made of copy of the classical Greek version of the Athenian oath.If anyone would like a copy, just let me know.