Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Marshall McLuhan, the famous media consultant, indeed the first media ecologist is noted for a famous saying:” The medium is the message.” Scholars have speculated ever since on what McLuhan meant when he said this probing quote. In my view I think McLuhan was saying that the message has to be couched in a way which will peak the readers interest. An example: a few years back my son and I were watching a program on television, a black and white television in the basement. After a while my son said he liked the program and wanted to go upstairs to the television upstairs and “watch it for real on the color TV.”

I recently attended Inter Neighborhood President’s Annual Dinner and it is always a treat to learn what creative leaders in our city are doing to meet the challenges of living in our City. I email lots of my newsletters electronically because it saves paper and money. The name of the newsletter is Accountability Update. The update lists information about important audit findings reported by our Internal Audit section. We included information on the first ever performance audit of IT controls for the city’s PeopleSoft program. The update highlighted the Economic Development Office contract with Seedco, a national economic development company. Based on our findings, the mayor and council decided not to renew that contract. We reported on the Peer Review conducted by the Association of Local Government Auditors. They gave their highest ratings to our office for best practices. The update informed about how our office is being recognized nationally for the reforms we have made and for the cutting edge performance on audits. The citizen gave no comment on the content of the Update only on the form of the message which gets us back to McLuhan.

At the INC dinner I handed out some printed copies of the Update. I have 1500 copies printed so I can hand the Update out at senior residences, community meetings and dinners like the INC last week. A citizen emailed me that the newsletter should have been printed in black and white to save money. Not a word of comment about the substance of what information was in the Update. I do hope the person eventually reads it. There will be a quiz on it when next I see her in the city.

I wrote the citizen back quoting McLuhan and reminding her that if I had printed the Update in black and white, a Xerox copy, no one would read it. People want a readable and inviting newsletter so they can read it. I promised people effective communication with the office. I want them to engage with the office and our work. So I will continue to put out the Accountability Update, so people in Denver can be informed of what our office is doing to change the culture of accountability and transparency at our city. Let’s read The Update for real with a little bit of color.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Well, here is a headline which should make your blood run cold, your blood pressure rise, and your temper flair. The February 2, USA Today headline printed partly in big red numbers showed: “Since 2003, 65,000 US flights with maintenance problems have taken off anyway.”

NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting system allows airline employees to report incidents of maintenance problems confidentially without out mentioning their airline or the flight. Are you angry yet?

Turn to page 2, and USA Today tells us that: “Airlines contract about 70% of their maintenance work to repair shops in US and abroad where mistakes can be made by untrained and ill-equipped personnel, the Department of Transportation Inspector General says.” US airlines save money by contracting out airline maintenance to some foreign country’s lower paid poorly trained workers who may not be able to follow the repair kit instructions. Are you getting more upset? Have you asked to what country you are talking when you try to make an airline reservation? I have been able to practice my Sanskrit and Tagalog talking to airline contractors from India and the Philippines. Are airline executives saying this is work American workers won’t do. Fair is foul and foul is fair in this industry.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

When I was in high school, Denver’s Urban Renewal launched a project which included tearing down the old Tabor Grand Opera House, and grand it was right in the middle of downtown and it would be a crown jewel in the crown of downtown if the grand dame of theatres still stood. Old stage hands with whom I worked at the Auditorium Theatre, Central City Opera, and the Elitch Theatre told me that The Tabor Grand “had the finest grid of any theatre in Denver.” The grid was the rope drawn fly sets which could be lowered by stagehands pulling ropes for the canvas and wood backdrops for stage sets.

I sent a letter to the papers and The Denver Post printed it. I reminded my fellow Denverites that to lose the Tabor Grand would be a tragedy and a waste of resources to our city and a loss to our history. I suggested that we start a fund to save the grand old theatre. My letter was the only letter to appear in the papers. No group rallied, no historic preservationists came forward to save the theatre. The wrecking ball crashed in the walls lined with cherry wood from Japan, smashed the historic box seats, ripped out the best grid of all the theatres in Denver. City fathers called it progress.

Last week I attended the Colorado Preservation Inc lunch where Walter Sedovic, noted preservation architect from New York, spoke about what preservationists have to do to make sure that truly historic buildings are preserved. We have to connect conservation of infrastructure with the preservation movement. He chided the process used for federal ARRA moneys sent to cities for “shovel ready” and “cash for caulkers” projects. He reminded us we got lots of roads with a narrow focus on construction companies but not much in long term thoughtful sustainability. He asked the 900 preservationists, the largest preservation group among all the states, to demand more from the stimulus moneys, not just caulking. Preservation is being truly “green.”

Architect Sedovic then congratulated the metro region for having the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District. He thought this organization has done much to keep our cities resting in the flood plains of the great American Desert from flooding. I remembered we have had several 100 year floods in my short lifetime. He showed a slide of the Paris sewer system which welcomes tourists. And the Paris system still works today. He continued with an example of sustainability from Philadelphia, an old power plant which will be revived to provide power for the city. Ben Franklin designed the pipes going to and from the power plant.

He asked all to read Nicholai Ourossoff’s book, Reinventing America’s Cities which I hope our Denver Public Library has a copy. I can’t wait to read it.

Someone at the conference asked me, “Why should an auditor be so interested in historic preservation?” I told them, “Because it saves money when we can retool and use older buildings. That’s why.”

Monday, February 8, 2010

Jim Karagas, cultured gentleman and owner of Brother's Bar at 15th and Platte, usually closes his doors on Sundays. When I see him I think of Anthony Quinn and "Never on Sunday." But Sunday, February 7th, Jim opened the door of his historic establishment to celebrate Neal Cassady's birthday. And today Cassady and Kerouac aficionados filled the back room and spilled over into the bar section. Two of Cassady's kids, John and daughter Jamie, came in from California for the first Denver Cassady Birthday celebration. San Francisco has hosted a Beat Birthday for Cassady for some years now, at the Beat Museum, across from City Lights Publishing.

Cassady chummed with Jack Kerouac and mentioned lots of Denver sites in their writings. James Joyce described sites and used actual Dublin addresses in his books. In Dublin if a developer applies for a permit to tear down a building where something happened in a Joyce story, the whole nation gets involved in an uproar and the government usually steps in and preserves the building. Joyce has done more to preserve old Dublin than all the historic preservationist committees together. The preservationists argue that tearing down the historic structure would hurt tourism. Joyce readers around the world want to come and see his buildings. But sadly 7 Eccles Street, where Molly and Leopold Bloom devoured the innards of animals and slept head to toe in Ulysses, felt the stinging blows of the wreckers ball and has been scraped off the Dublin skyline for many years. A slight consolation, one can see the front #7 door in the James Joyce Museum on the North side of the River Liffey, Dublin's Platte, and a mighty river it is.

Organizers of Sunday's happy event kindly asked me to give a welcome on behalf of the city and share stories. And I did.

I told John and Jamie Cassady that they could be related to Bill Clinton because Bill's mom was a Cassady and not spelled the usual Cassidy. Cassady faithfully served mass at Denver's Holy Ghost Church when he wasn't trying to drag his dad out of various Larimer Street beer joints. He attended Ebert school which is still on Park Avenue. But despite Cassady's dad having the awful Irish curse, the drink, Cassady loved his dad and always capitalized "Father" when writing about him. I thought of Shakespeare's Sonnet 116, "Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds..." Just because your Dad is a raging alcoholic doesn't mean you don't still love him. I reminded the crowd that God made whiskey to keep the Irish from ruling the world. I shared that the Gallaghers had lots of drinkers in the family and we could be spiritually related. I guess we relate through the family suffering.

Like James Joyce's alcoholic dad, Cassady's father a Denver barber,drank away the family money. It is said he never missed a day's barbering, but on Saturday nights spent his earnings at local Larimer bars. But Joyce got the lucky chance to go to two Jesuit schools: Clongow's Wood College in Kildare and Belvedere College in North Dublin. Cassady, by contrast, spent 10 months in the Colorado Reformatory in Buena Vista for stealing cars. He wrote a letter from the reformatory to a Denver friend asking him to drop by Paul's Place, now My Brother's Bar, and pay the bartender $4.00 owed. In the next sentences he talks about new books and authors he wants to read. I added that if Cassady has the luck to end up at Regis Jesuit high school instead of the reformatory his stories might be preserving endangered historic buildings here in Denver.

All things considered, it was a great afternoon and John and Jamie read a poem about their Dad to the beat and rhythms provided by the gathered throng.

Next year the organizers want to have a three day conference on Cassidy and Kerouac. They mentioned an event at The Mercury Cafe. Maybe next year I will tell the story about my conversations with Beverly (Babe) in Kerouac's On the Road when she visited me in the Senate Chambers.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Property tax issues are surfacing around the nation.

Last Saturday's Weekend Edition of the Wall Street Journal noted that Indiana is wrestling with rising property taxes and the homeowners are protesting at tea parties. The mayor of Indianapolis was ousted in 2008 because of increased property taxes on residential properties.

Under consideration now is a change in the property tax laws limiting property taxes to 1% of the assessed value. Business at 3% of the assessed value.

In Iowa the legislature is telling its local school districts that the district must exhaust cash reserves before and property tax raises can even be considered.

Sound familiar? The Colorado legislature will be wrestling with these issues this year as it tries to figure out what to do about the fiscal crisis.

Bring on the alligators.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Were you as upset trying to listen to Obama's State of the Union Speech as much as I was?

The applause wreaked havoc with my concentration and I found it hard to follow. Like Macbeth with sleep, Congress murdered the speech. Almost after every sentence, Congress jumped up like clapping seals hooting and hollering and slapping their hands for and at the president. Sadly the applause was aimed at the American people and in my humbled view, distracted all our ability to follow the speech. I felt like I was watching a re-run of and old Saturday Night Live show. The applause reminded me of canned laughter on a TV comedy show, insincere, not real, and equally distracting. Do the Congress folks really think the American people will raise their opinion of them if they shout and stomp at every other sentence of the president's speech?

Next year the Speaker ought to consider handcuffing the Congress’ hand' behind their backs and place tape across their mouths. This will do much to cut down the applauding and the incessant shouting and yelling. The White House should have offered the American people a televised copy of the speech with all the applause and shouting cut out. But we have become so used to the distraction of Congressional shenanigans it would become an new medium in an unfamiliar ground.

I don't think things will improve in the State of the Union speeches. Next year, I will wait to read the speech from print in a quiet room somewhere shut off from Congressional hurly burly and their sound and the fury.

Monday, February 1, 2010

My old chum, Bill Himmelmann, former city Councilman for District 7, "a little bit of heaven," as he always said of the district, has sent me an email which comments on the Supreme Court’s latest decision. Readers will remember that is the decision which allows corporations to give unlimited contributions to political campaigns.

The email humorously suggested that now with no limits to contributions, the corporations are considering running for Congress themselves. The ‘onion’ type press release from a PR firm in Maryland backed up its rationale with the comments: "Business of America is business. And after the court opinion, business is the business of democracy."

The best line in the light-hearted email reasoned that the Supreme Court has now cut out middle-men in the whole election process: Before corporations had to rely on campaign contributions and influence peddling.

Himmelmann told me that someone suggested that if corporations can run for Congress, the United Auto Workers Union could run for Congress from Michigan.

In my view, all kidding aside, voters must look to see which candidates are taking exorbitant contributions from corporations. People have to tell their candidates how they feel about the issue. This week certainly points out the truth of the quotation hanging on the wall of Dolores Dickman's house, our beloved Democratic Captain, "Politics, the only game for adults."