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Subject: In which I become a tad more anti-government rss

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Chad Ellis
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The K-8 public school next to my house is near the end of a major expansion that roughly doubled its footprint. Views from my house and backyard that were once open skies and park are now dominated by brick, most notably a three-story section that is twenty feet from our property line. (Prior to the expansion the closest part of the school was well over one hundred feet away.)

Sucks for me, but I bought a house next to a school with a steadily-rising child population. I looked at the case by the town that this needed to happen and strongly supported the project.

Some neighbors on the far side of the school have been less supportive. To be fair, their kids are either grown or in private school, so they won't benefit from the expansion. They also have more of a "this is my property" and less of a "this is my community" perspective than I do. In any case, they have been an angry presence at many meetings and have even taken legal action to try to block the development (unsuccessfully).

Just as it looked like the protests were over, the project manager (and town committee with oversight responsibility) screwed up. The HVAC units that will go on top of the building are bigger than anyone realized and some of them are close to the 'angry' abutters. Naturally they flipped out, claiming that the town had added another story to the building, etc., etc. Another trip to the Zoning Board of Appeals with their lawyer in tow failed utterly but their complaints got some sympathy from a few members of town government. One of them (who, by total coincidence lives near the next school up for renovation) decided that the town needed to treat its citizens better and proposed a warrant article that basically says the Selectmen should look at moving the HVAC units next summer and the town should set aside money to pay for the movement.

We're talking about at least $300,000 to move units from 70 feet away to 90 feet away. It's minimal and it's the sort of thing that other people's money is good for. Bleah. So I went to the meeting where a sub-committee would make a recommendation on the warrant article. I argued that even if the town decided that the abutters had borne too high a private cost in order to realize the public good of expanding the school this wasn't the way to address it. One point I made was that they agreed that my house had gotten the worst of it and yet the proposal was only relevant to the folks who had fought the project, threatened lawsuits, etc. Was that the message they wanted to send?

The guy who wrote the article and the selectman who signed on to it both said that there wasn't anything they could do for me. I pointed out that, in fact, they could do all sorts of things if they wanted to, for far less money, including:

1. Put a trellis up against the largest wall and plant flowering vines.
2. Replace the chain link fence along the property line with a nice one.
3. Buy* and install a kinetic sculpture by George Rickey where it would be visible not only from my back yard but also from much of the public play area around the school.

As I made clear in my mini-speech, I wasn't actually asking for any of these things to happen. I was using them to illustrate a broader point that moving the HVAC units was both inefficient (in terms of money spent vs. value received) and rewarded only the neighbors who complained and sued.

After the meeting the selectman approached me and said he thought it was unfair how close the building was to my house and that he hoped they could do something for me. I laughed and said, "I'd love to have that George Rickey sculpture," and he said, totally seriously, "Maybe we can get it for you."

If the town wants to spend something in the low-to-mid five figures on extra landscaping or a nice fence, that might even be appropriate. But this is talking about spending six figures and as far as I can tell neither the town meeting member who wrote the warrant nor the selectman who would like to get me a sculpture seem to have any sense of the cost of spending that money. Bleah.

* I actually have no idea how much his sculptures go for, but my guess is one could be had for under $200K.
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True Blue Jon
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Sounds like something the local media should be made aware of.
 
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Chad Ellis
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bjlillo wrote:
Welcome to the dark side.


Not really. I'm much less pro-government than most conservatives assume and this is really less about me becoming anti-government and more an example of where I've long agreed with conservatives.
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Chad Ellis
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quozl wrote:
Sounds like something the local media should be made aware of.


Yeah, I'm working on a completely useless opinion piece for the Tab.
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fightcitymayor
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I award you this badge and the title of Temporary Honorary Libertarian.
Congratulations!



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Chad Ellis
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I'd rather have a badge for consistency. I feel the same aversion to the town spending a few hundred thousand dollars on me as I do them spending it on the other abutters.

(OK, slightly less...but only because lots of people would actually be able to enjoy the sculpture.)
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Small, local government, on a day to day basis, the worst most wasteful and corrupt type of government.
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Jerry Martin
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My town has a rule that whenever a certain amount of money is spent on building anything a percentage must be spent on Art. It has made Loveland, CO one of the greatest looking towns in America and I totally support it.
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The Steak Fairy
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And Tad Ellis is born.
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Damian
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Syvanis wrote:
My town has a rule that whenever a certain amount of money is spent on building anything a percentage must be spent on Art. It has made Loveland, CO one of the greatest looking towns in America and I totally support it.

Huh, 1% of any capitol project over $50k and they have over $7.6 million in public art, although most of it was donated. That's pretty cool.
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bjlillo wrote:
Yep. Lots of cool statues in Loveland.


I particularly like this one -



I assume you mean the Loveland theme park in South Korea, right? Because if you're talking about the statues in Loveland, Colorado they're okay, but nowhere near as compelling.
 
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Ben Vincent
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Weren't you planning to run for the town council, Chad? Sounds like you have a campaign issue.
 
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Jasper
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I deal a lot with local government for my work. We do a lot of projects (usually on the behest of said local government, if indirectly).

The scenario goes as follows:

Idea is conceived and debated

Idea is decided upon by council(s), funds reserved and project created.

Up to now we are in solid democratic territory. Most council member will make sincere efforts at understanding the gist of the plan and weigh it against standing policy and party platform.

Of course what no one thinks of is to involve the locals except through the official channels of announcement and appeal, which have a very limited audience.

So on goes the show, preparations are mad and cost are sunk.

Then local people get wind of it, and within no time opposition has formed around several interests groups hell bent on stopping all progress.

At this point a sincere effort is made to 'involve the public'. Failure is universal as decisions have already been made and true involvement is no longer a possibility. Frustrated by their lack of influence the interest groups become immune to reasonable arguments, appeal only to emotions and start recruiting existing social organizations to their cause.

Local politician fearing electoral punishment, and who sometimes receive serious threats against their person, buckle.

From here on it can go several ways, but expensive delay with expensive and useless mitigating measures is the absolute minimum. Cancellation with huge claims by third party contractors are very much on the table.

This is democracy at work. This is what we all want. Things get done, but at a higher price than the purely technical costs. The alternative is autocratism without appeal.
 
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Jon M
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Venga2 wrote:
I deal a lot with local government for my work. We do a lot of projects (usually on the behest of said local government, if indirectly).

The scenario goes as follows:

Idea is conceived and debated

Idea is decided upon by council(s), funds reserved and project created.

Up to now we are in solid democratic territory. Most council member will make sincere efforts at understanding the gist of the plan and weigh it against standing policy and party platform.

Of course what no one thinks of is to involve the locals except through the official channels of announcement and appeal, which have a very limited audience.

So on goes the show, preparations are mad and cost are sunk.

Then local people get wind of it, and within no time opposition has formed around several interests groups hell bent on stopping all progress.

At this point a sincere effort is made to 'involve the public'. Failure is universal as decisions have already been made and true involvement is no longer a possibility. Frustrated by their lack of influence the interest groups become immune to reasonable arguments, appeal only to emotions and start recruiting existing social organizations to their cause.

Local politician fearing electoral punishment, and who sometimes receive serious threats against their person, buckle.

From here on it can go several ways, but expensive delay with expensive and useless mitigating measures is the absolute minimum. Cancellation with huge claims by third party contractors are very much on the table.

This is democracy at work. This is what we all want. Things get done, but at a higher price than the purely technical costs. The alternative is autocratism without appeal.


No. The alternative is to involve the public at an earlier stage.
 
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Ed Bradley
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Jon_1066 wrote:

No. The alternative is to involve the public at an earlier stage.


And in good faith rather than as a post-decision piece of window dressing.
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Jasper
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Jon_1066 wrote:
No. The alternative is to involve the public at an earlier stage.
I'd like to think so, but this is excessively hard because:

1: at the idea stage of a plan, the public is not organized and is not motivated to organize, at most you will open steady talks with a minute sample of the public, which in now way helps to preclude a public outcry later. The best representation of the public we have already sits, you know, on the democratically elected council.

2: Political reality: Politicians are unwilling to discuss plans at the early stage as it hinders political maneuvering, diminishes point scoring possibilities and opens them up to attacks from the opposition and pretty significant electoral risk.

3: The time and hence money involved in doing it properly means that council and civil servants are unwilling to engage in such activities for yet unsure plan, especially as it is entirely unsure that even a sincere and thorough effort will prevent the eventual outcry (in which case the costs to the public would be even higher, for no tangible improvement).

4: It is actually rather hard to predict which plans will end up stirring controversy and which not. I have seen quite a few plans which were so well argued that everyone loved them founder in the face of purely emotional backlash from the nimby's we all are. Again, that makes it unattractive to invest in public involvement beforehand. It may not be required and you might end up creating your own controversy.

Very little would get done, I'm afraid, unless there is some mayor change in how these thing are done. And when I say mayor change I mean a complete revamp of public governance and public involvement in the broadest sense.
 
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Jasper
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On topic: we should have our principled objections to the misuse of public funds. However in the case you describe, and judging only from the info you provided, the municipality is simply paying the inevitable friction costs involved with such a project. That may not jive with ideology, but pragmaticly it may be something we are forced to accept until we can come up with a better system.

So if you end up getting that sculpture (and it would not surprise me), learn to love it as a symbol of the price of democracy.
 
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Boaty McBoatface
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It might be me but this seems to be an example of small governemnt in action. It's the politicaly savy ones who have the money for law suits who get to influence politicans. It's sod all to do with bad government, after all they have been forced into it by local activism.

Yiur story does not make me more anti-government, it makes me more anti-nimby.
 
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Andy Andersen
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I'm not surprised by the Selectman at all.

It's easy to spend someone elses money.
 
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fightcitymayor wrote:
CHAMPION OF LIBERTARIAN IDEALS
Fighting for the rights of private property against a Government gone bad


FTFY
 
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Ed Bradley
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HeinzGuderian wrote:
fightcitymayor wrote:
CHAMPION OF LIBERTARIAN IDEALS
Fighting for the rights of private property against a Government gone bad


FTFY


You forgot "based on free-market fairy tales"
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Eric Knauer
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Chad_Ellis wrote:
If the town wants to spend something in the low-to-mid five figures on extra landscaping or a nice fence, that might even be appropriate. But this is talking about spending six figures and as far as I can tell neither the town meeting member who wrote the warrant nor the selectman who would like to get me a sculpture seem to have any sense of the cost of spending that money.


This seems like textbook Keynesian spending to me. Even more so than the GSA Vegas stuff since it was on infrastructure, i.e., public goods.
 
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Chad Ellis
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eknauer wrote:
Chad_Ellis wrote:
If the town wants to spend something in the low-to-mid five figures on extra landscaping or a nice fence, that might even be appropriate. But this is talking about spending six figures and as far as I can tell neither the town meeting member who wrote the warrant nor the selectman who would like to get me a sculpture seem to have any sense of the cost of spending that money.


This seems like textbook Keynesian spending to me. Even more so than the GSA Vegas stuff since it was on infrastructure, i.e., public goods.


Given how strong an anti-Keynesian you are, it would be helpful if you added an emoticon to comments like this so we'd know if you're being tongue-in-cheek.
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Eric Knauer
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Chad_Ellis wrote:
eknauer wrote:
Chad_Ellis wrote:
If the town wants to spend something in the low-to-mid five figures on extra landscaping or a nice fence, that might even be appropriate. But this is talking about spending six figures and as far as I can tell neither the town meeting member who wrote the warrant nor the selectman who would like to get me a sculpture seem to have any sense of the cost of spending that money.


This seems like textbook Keynesian spending to me. Even more so than the GSA Vegas stuff since it was on infrastructure, i.e., public goods.


Given how strong an anti-Keynesian you are, it would be helpful if you added an emoticon to comments like this so we'd know if you're being tongue-in-cheek.


Very well. Maybe I'll shrink the photo of the GSA guy in the bathtub and add him in future posts concerning government spending.
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