Common Sense

I was hanging around with some grumpy old men recently. You know, just drinking coffee and complaining about everything, as grumpy old men will. We mostly stayed away from talking about our various bodily functions. We’re not quite that old, as a group.

We did come to agreement on a few things, though, that I think are worthy of consideration – even if you’re not grumpy or old. We call them common sense. In grumpy old man parlance, common sense means we decided and further discussion will only serve to make us more certain of our decision unless you have verifiable facts we don’t already know.

  1. If you’re spending other peoples’ money in large quantities, there are steps that need to be followed. If you can’t follow those simple steps, maybe you’re the wrong person for the job.
  2. The first step is to identify a problem before looking for a solution. Let’s say hypothetically, you’re wanting to put a traffic revision someplace where there are no significant traffic issues not involving trains. That would be a solution without a problem. Let’s strain the hypothesis to the absurd degree that the revision proposed is a roundabout that will require sacrifices from local landowners, impacts on local businesses in the near term, regulatory issues –and will cause more traffic problems than it solves. Keep in mind the problems it solves are statistically about zero. That would be beyond dumb, but it illustrates the point.
  3. Once you’ve decided you have a problem look at possible solutions. Given that the local economy hasn’t improved in a few years, it’s best to look at inexpensive solutions. Let’s just imagine that the entrance to town from the highway is less attractive than we want it. We want to attract people to spend their money here. There are inexpensive options. Social media is almost free. Montesano could have a Facebook page with a positive spin on all things Monte. Parks, recreation, restaurants, night life, other local business could all get a boost from that. For a modest fee important posts can be boosted to expand how many people see them. Spending a large sum of other peoples’ money to build something nobody sees until they’re already off the highway would be silly.
  4. Once you’ve decided that you have some valid options, each option needs a cost-benefit analysis. We do those all the time when we’re spending our own money. It means, “Will that be worth the money, or is there a cheaper way? Do I even need that?” In a city planning setting, you do it a bit more formally. After all, it’s other peoples’ money you’re spending. Those people have a right to know you’re thinking things through and doing the smart thing with their hard-earned dollars.
  5. Finally, make sure the people whose money you’re spending have access to the decision process if they want it. Post an explanation of the problem and solicit ideas for solutions. Landscaping might make the entrance prettier. Getting rid of unused railroad tracks might make it better. The cost-benefit analysis should be easily available – maybe on the city’s website with the URL posted in the local newspaper or city Facebook page– so people could read it and ask questions. A city council meeting to discuss the options should have the city council all there and be called to order. In short, treat the people who elected you as your employers instead of your subjects.

We talked about some other stuff, but mostly that. After we all had about four cups of coffee, everybody started excusing themselves from the table for one reason and another and the gathering sort of disintegrated.

We’ll probably gather again soon to discuss that stuff again. Stubborn grumpy old men are fun to hang out with if you are one or want to be one someday.

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Pie, meet Sky

Aside from money from state and county agencies and a few employees of very few industrial companies around and about the Grays Harbor area, Montesano doesn’t have much to call income. There’s lots of “For Sale” signs around and about.

Economics 101 says you need money to get better economically. We can’t even afford to smooth out the main drag through town. Which is to say, we don’t have a surfeit of extra cash laying around as a city.

We need to attract businesses that bring money from other places into our little hamlet – not just places like the passing motorists’ wallets on their way to the beach. We need to attract money from people in Seattle, Illinois, Nebraska, Michigan, Belgium, China, South Korea. Right now we buy things from those places (read: send them our money) and sell them to each other for enough profit to pay our mortgages. We cannot grow our little town until that changes.

That’s what’s broken. That’s what needs to be fixed. Besides basic maintenance and upgrading of essential infrastructure and services, that’s where our mayor and council should be focused.

Roundabouts and rest areas and burdensome building upgrade rules are solutions without problems. At least in the last two years, the problems weren’t publicized if they exist. The simple fact of the matter is that those things will, at best, go unnoticed. At worst they will discourage businesses from coming to town and maybe cause some businesses to leave town.

Making Montesano better is a simple process:

  1. Identify a problem.
  2. Identify possible solutions.
  3. Generate a cost/benefit analysis (CBA) for each proposed solution.
  4. Find the solution with the best CBA.
  5. Do it.
  6. Make sure it’s done right.

I’ll do step one for you:

  1. Montesano needs legal, non-government-subsidy income from outside of town.

Get to work.

 

 

 

There’s a “Meeting” Here Tonight!

vinishitOctober 30th. Big City Hall Gathering to “discuss” the proposed traffic revision(s). Two of the proposed revisions were roundabouts, so that didn’t actually go away. Of the two other revisions, one involved adding a bunch of lanes just south of Monte Square and a stop light between the coming-from-Olympia off-ramp and Monte Square that would be a four-way, three color light, just like on Main & Pioneer. Gridlock on the train tracks should be fun to watch.

The fourth possible revision actually made some sense and seemed relatively inexpensive compared to the others. It involved expanding the off-ramp coming from the Olympia side and drawing some graphics on it that let the driver know to move to this side if you want to go this way, and move to that side if you want to go that way, and I suppose the city could pick one of the two sides to indicate straight ahead. Not to be mean or anything, but I’m thinking the city could probably accomplish that on both off-ramps in a weekend, without paying too much overtime and using leftover paint from another job.

You might think I’m being grumpy, but I arrived at the “meeting” on time. There wasn’t anything to suggest a formal or even informal discussion with the group was planned. There was no podium, microphone, apparent PA system, schedule of speakers – nothing to indicate any respect for the community from Mayor or City Council.

There was no presentation of a cost-benefit analysis – how in the near term any of this was going to affect Monte Square during construction, nor how it was determined that it would help Montesano as a whole in the long term.

The presentation was approximately as polished as an eighth grade science fair, except the presenters weren’t quite as ready to answer in-depth questions about the costs and benefits we might expect as a city from their assigned projects.

Everybody knows what a cost/benefit analysis is when they’re talking about their own money. When you decide the ’83 pickup will probably get you by for another couple of years, so let’s wait to trade it for ’92 because I really need that money for rent and groceries – that’s a cost/benefit analysis. When you’re deciding to spend other people’s money, it’s even more important because you’re affecting their rent and groceries. This little project has been going on for quite a while now.

I’ve been to a couple of City Council meetings, one town hall meeting,  where this issue was discussed. People have asked for a cost/benefit analysis. Now the song and dance at City Hall – a meeting in name only – and still there is nothing.

We have not been clearly presented with a problem for which these boondoggles are a solution.

We do not know how much money and business will be lost by Monte Square or the rest of the city while these projects are under construction.

We do not even have a reliable projection of how much money in the forms of additional business and revenue this will bring the city over the long term.

Free WiFi.

Hmmmm.

Does anyone read the Crazy Old Man? I’ve heard from a couple, but not many. Whoever you are, spread the word about the meeting at city hall on Monday regarding the “Traffic Revision,” which shall be called a “Roundabout,” from this point forward because “Roundabout” is a song by Yes from the early 70s. Songs from the early 70s have no legitimate application when discussing projects costing an initial taxpayer investment of over half a billion dollars, blocking or changing traffic at a major hub of city commerce, possibly causing long-term traffic difficulties, and having no real or supportable explanation of long term maintenance expenses.

Roundabout is a song. It may also be a very expensive bunch of BS, but it’s still just a song.

Endorsements

For those of you who forgot about this little blog about Montesano, I just want to remind you about free Wi-Fi. You remember free Wi-Fi, don’t you.

Free Wi-Fi was going to be the next thing in attracting tourism and business and good will and lollipops and rainbows and unicorns and bubblegum to Montesano.

Those of you who keep up with things know those items never materialized in quantity. You almost never hear anyone say, “Gosh, isn’t this free Wi-Fi wonderful?” I don’t think I’ve ever heard it mentioned except by people who actually care about it except questions like, “Who’s maintaining it?” “How much does maintenance cost?” “Does it even exist anymore?” “Was the crazy old man right two years ago when he said it was total BS?”

I’ll be casting votes for Barry Iverson and Robert Hatley. That’s not based on anything against other candidates, but I’ve talked to both of them and they seem to think clearly. Mostly I agree with their thinking.

As usual, if I wasn’t right I wouldn’t waste my time on all this typing.

Applicant

1828, Webster’s Dictionary:
APPLICANT, noun One who applies; one who makes request; a petitioner.
1913, Webster’s Dictionary:
Applicant, n; One who applies for something; one who makes a request; a petitioner.
Dictionary.com

Applicant, noun, a person who appliesfor or requests something; a candidate: an applicant for a position.

Exhaustive research shows that the meaning of the word “applicant” has remained fairly constant. It hasn’t changed significantly since the most recent election in Montesano, anyway. After the most recent city council gathering, it seemed appropriate to point that out.
The words “fair,” and “reasonable,” haven’t changed much in that amount of time, either. Most of the job filling that’s done in the world at least pretends to be fair and reasonable. Making it clear that there is not only a preferred candidate, that hasn’t even actually submitted any form of application for a job that has not been formally posted as open, but that the the job description is not even written yet, doesn’t pass the smell test for “fair,” or “reasonable.”
Ladies and gentlemen, we’re in Montesano, Washington. Everybody who wants to knows what everybody else is doing. If you’re in city government, you’re in the fishbowl. Everybody sees everything you’re doing. The higher you are in the city government hierarchy, the bigger you are in comparison to the other fish. The mayor and the city council have zero chance of doing anything that isn’t visible and obvious.
Arguing for almost a half an hour over the meaning of the word “applicant” is not the way to engender the confidence of the gathered public that there is a lick of common sense on the dais. Also, for some folks, that might make it seem like somebody is trying to run a gadget play instead of being straightforward in the process of filling the public works position left open by a forced resignation.
Generate a job description, post it, and then allow a normal process for finding a suitable candidate. That would be fair and reasonable. Heck, there might be a suitable candidate out there who’s never been fired by the city.
Just a thought.
A city council position that opened in February isn’t being filled until May. That seems like a long time. Is there a published reason or rule for that gap?
Wondering.

Roundabout/Rest Area

Hey! Who remembers Free WiFi? I do. Every time I go to Pick Rite I try to find it and log on to it. The results are not stellar. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Hey, it’s free right? I have a few questions, though:

Who makes sure the Free WiFi is always on, accessible, and useful?

Who maintains it at this degree of excellent operability and usefulness?

Who pays their wages?

Who buys the parts to fix it when it fails?

Who pays for the upgrades as the technology moves forward?

Who owns the tools and the vehicles that the maintenance crews use?

Who buys the gas for those vehicles?

Does the WiFi equipment need electricity? How much? At what cost? Who buys that?

How much money is coming into businesses of Montesano because of the free WiFi?

I have similar questions about the proposed roundabout and rest area projects.

I want to know what additional costs the city will incur as a result of committing to these projects. I also want to know what financial benefit the city will realize as a result of completing these projects.

I don’t want those answers in a private meeting. I want those answers published in a way that everyone can look them over. I want garbage collectors and CPAs and doctors and beauticians to be able to look at the numbers and assess their validity. I want lawyers and grocery clerks, and shingle sawyers to have them presented to them in a way that they can find without having to search for them, and in terms they can understand. This is 2017. Pretty much everybody has the internet in their pocket. Keeping things a secret is for surprise birthday parties, and wrapping presents. Secrets have no place in city government.