Framing the Question
Comments from a political newcomer
Framing the Questions

What Triggers the Trigger Finger?

The story coming out of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT cannot help but affect us all. 

 

Those of us with small children gave them an extra hug when we saw them and probably hovered over them all evening and weekend.  Those of us with grandchildren checked in with the kids for no apparent reason—you know, just checking in and taking some time to talk to the grandkids.

 

At a time of year when we are singing “O Holy Night” or “Jingle Bells” or, for some of us, “Ma’Oz Tzur,” an event such as the massacre at the elementary school in Sandy Hook seems even more heinous.  For many of us, the images coming out of the school were just incomprehensible.

 

I thought I was handling the situation until two things happened: I got an email from my sister in Spain and I ran into a quote from a national news reporter.

 

From my sis in Spain:  Can you imagine being the mayor of a place where this happens? How do you cope?”

 

I don’t know, Sis.  I don’t know how you cope.  And I fervently hope that neither I, nor any other Springfield mayor, ever has to learn.

 

And the quote—passed on by a friend on FaceBook—was just wrenching:  “How do you write an obituary for a five-year-old? And, then, how do you write nineteen more?”

 

I just bawled.  I couldn’t deal with the awfulness of the senseless death of young children and the agony and loss that their families will feel forever.

 

Again, my mind simply can’t wrap itself around the horror of having to write twenty obituaries—for kids who will never reach double digits in age.  I truly hope that all the police officers, the investigators, the emergency techs, and the rest of the public safety team that was assembled for this tragedy get some sort of counseling.  This is a tragedy that will affect people for years.

 

Predictably, there are numerous and immediate calls for the banning of guns and ammunition, as if this action would prevent any such occurrence again.  I agree with our Police Chief when he said that gun control is not the answer.  Bad people will always find guns. Bad people will always find a way to be bad—and when you’re chasing creativity with regulations, regulations will always lose out.

 

Just look at airport security.  Some idiot tried to sneak a bomb onto a plane in his shoes.  Now we all have to take off our shoes—even if we’re wearing flip-flops on the way to the beach.  Some moron had a fire-starter in his underwear so we all now stand with our hands up in the air—like we’re being robbed—so we can be “scanned” and examined through our clothes and underwear.

 

So, the calls for gun control leave me a bit cold.  Not only was there a Second Amendment deliberately written into the Constitution, but if you follow the gun control logic, you have to also ban automobiles, airplanes, trains, fertilizer, gasoline, dynamite, and any other thing or substance that has resulted in mass human death.  Just remember—in the horrible explosion in Oklahoma City, Timothy McVey did not use a gun.  He used fertilizer and oil—two very common ingredients.

 

What we should do and need to do is take a good strong look at how we have changed our system of dealing with mental illness over the years.  We need to review this concept of medication and “mainstreaming” that puts very sick individuals out on the streets with access to automobiles, fertilizer, gasoline, dynamite, and—yes—guns.  And we need to get over our reticence in reporting irrational behavior.  And when we report it, something needs to be done.

 

I saw a statement by a person who has worked in the mental health field for years. It was succinct:  bring back mental hospitals.  I don’t know if that’s the answer, but what we—as a society—have been doing for the last fifty years isn’t stopping the mass murders, the carnage, the horror.  Maybe it’s time we had a conversation about the rights of society, the rights of the majority of us, and even the lost rights of the Sandy Hook children who will now never be old enough to vote.

 

Let us all cry for the children of Sandy Hook.  Let us mourn with their families. Let us acknowledge the heroism of the teachers, the principal, and other staff members.  Let us salute the work of the police, the firefighters, the EMTs, the coroners, and the other folks who are paid to deal with things that no human being should ever have to look on.

 

But, in the flurry of activities during the holidays, and in the parties and hubbub of the new year, let us not forget that we need to begin a conversation about mental illness—not gun control, but mental illness.  That’s where these deaths began—and I daresay, in most cases, many deaths could have been prevented.  It’s possible that the children of Sandy Hook could still be alive if we, as a society, handled mental illness differently.  We need to find out what triggers the trigger finger.

Criticize, Yes; But Temper It With Appreciation

Here are my comments about recall threats that were delivered at the City Council meeting, August 27:

Before we go any further, I’d like to say something to those individuals who sent emails and letters and made phone calls threatening Council members with recall petitions.

  • I am proud of this Council..
  • On my left and right are good people who have put in countless hours for several years dealing with the most difficult issues to ever come before this Council.
  • They get up every day and work to make Springfield a better place in the face of constant and unrelenting harping and criticism as well as a stunning silence from our friends and supporters.
  • The recall threat rings pretty hollow for most of us on this dais because we had to be convinced to run for election to serve this City.  Most of us had plenty of other things to do.
  • But that’s what being on City Council is—serving the City--the entire City.
  • To threaten these individuals with recall or election defeat is not only narrow-minded and shallow, but does a great disservice to the Springfield community.
  • It’s difficult enough to get good people to run for Council, but it would be especially so in the face of threats of recall and the spiteful rhetoric we’ve heard lately.
  • I am proud to stand with this Council at any time, but to stand with them now is an absolute honor.

Thank you.


The Tip of the Iceberg

The upcoming Council meeting promises to be the most contentious and possibly the longest in the past few years.

Two topics—the decriminalization of misdemeanor marijuana possession and the addition of sexual orientation/gender identity to a list of protected classes for employment, housing, and public accommodations—have generated a huge number of emails and phone calls to City Council members during the past month.  And, as of noon Friday before the Monday night meeting, we have had over 40 individuals sign up to speak.

In the past year, we have dealt with a petition regarding undocumented workers and e-Verify, two smoking petitions, and this coming week, Council will deal with the two topics mentioned above.

There are two common denominators in each of these cases:  first, all are social issues that should be dealt with at a national level.  It’s ludicrous, as an example, for certain municipalities to ban cigarettes while, at the very same time, the federal government is subsidizing tobacco growers.

The second common denominator in each of these issues is that of emotion.  Each one of these topics generates a huge amount of emotion, both pro and con.  And topics that generate emotion are controversial.  The media love them because they generate interest and thus advertising sales. 

However, the reason that there has been an increase in these social issues at the local level—not only in Springfield, but in municipalities around the country—is that the partisan battles being waged at the national and state levels are resulting in legislative gridlock.  Quite simply, nothing gets done in Washington and precious little gets accomplished in Jefferson City—especially in an election year.

Therefore, proponents and opponents for these controversial, emotional social issues are forced to local venues.  As I’ve said, many of these topics should be handled at either the national or state levels, but—because of those legislatures’ inability to compromise and achieve some balanced approach—the issues are forced onto local agendas.

And because of the high levels of emotion generated by smoking, immigration, sexual orientation, and illegal drugs, these topics threaten to tear apart our local community.  Let's not let that happen.  The time for hate, spite, fear, and mistrust is past. Let's meet in the center.

You Can Call 1-800-Crybaby

Recently I was notified that I had been nominated for the Springfield Business Journal’s “Men of the Year” award and was asked to complete a form for the judges.

Given some of those who had been honored previously, this nomination was quite an honor. Therefore, this blog posting is an apology to whoever nominated me because I returned the application with the following message:


“Thank you for your letter regarding my nomination for Springfield Business Journal Men of the Year Class. Because of Mr. Olsen’s recent editorial regarding former Mayor Jim O’Neal, I have no desire to have my name affiliated with the Springfield Business Journal.         

Therefore, I am returning the application to you and asking that  myname be removed from consideration.”

 

In a recent editorial, Editor Eric Olson whimpered that Jim O’Neal, in a 30-minute interview with SBJ reporter Brian Brown, did not reveal that he was planning to sign papers initiating a Chapter 11 filing.

Now, by Mr. Olson’s own admission, he states, “I’m not saying O’Neal was obligated to tell Brown anything more than he did in the interview, and I’m not saying Brown asked all the right leading questions to arrive at a bankruptcy possibility.”

Olson also states, “He (O’Neal) was candid with Brown about the overall financial picture and pointed mostly to reasons outside his control—a week economy slowing the shipment of goods, evolving and costly federal regulations and driver-recruitment challenges.”

My position is this:  once Mayor O’Neal resigned, he became a private citizen once more.  He was agreeing to the interview as a courtesy to the Springfield Business Journal, even though the topic was something I’m sure he’d rather not discuss publicly.

To be excoriated because he didn’t write the story for the Journal, did not ask the questions that the Journal perhaps should have, or chose not to volunteer the information regarding the partnership with Prime, Inc., is simply sour grapes on the part of Editor Olson.

Further, we don’t know if Mr. O’Neal had informed his employees yet.  As an honorable business owner, he would certainly want them to hear the news from him, rather than from the SBJ.

Let’s face it.  SBJ got scooped.

OzarksFirst.com was first on the bankruptcy story.  That’s what this is all about.  Pure and simple.  And instead of saying “Mea culpa,” the Springfield Business Journal chose to editorially attack a good man while he’s down.

Tacky, tacky, tacky.

"I Am Not a Vulcan!"

It's been a hectic week, but interspersed with moments of humor.  Those moments of humor are what get us through the daily stress and grind of municipal politics.

One such moment occurred Wednesday morning following Jim O'Neal's resignation from City Council on Monday night.  A photo of my swearing-in as Mayor came out in the Springfield News-Leader Wednesday morning.  Immediately, FaceBook lit up with a discussion of whether I was truly a Vulcan (from the Star Trek series) because of the way my hand was shown during the ceremony.

At the risk of disappointing my Trekkie fans, my hand was being held that way because I used to play a lot of baseball as a kid and I was a catcher.  Both hands are fairly beat up from the foul tips that would come off the bats of opposing batters. 

I've had broken fingers on both hands along with what I suspect was a broken knuckle, although I never had it x-rayed.  Because of that knuckle on my right hand, it's difficult to get my third and fourth fingers together.  Hence the Vulcan rumor.

Of course, because I was a bit overdue for a haircut, folks were commenting that my hair hid the pointy ears of a true Vulcan.  And one even pointed to the fact that I have been known for rational and logical comments as further evidence of my Vulcan forebears.

The News-Leader even got into the act on FaceBook by reprinting my wife's tweet explaining the hand.  Just having fun--what can I say?  How about, "Live Long and Prosper."

Structure Airlines for Profit

On our recent trip to Denver, I had a chance to observe an airline in action.  Frontier Airlines, which has either just emerged from bankruptcy or else just entered bankruptcy protection, was contracted to deliver my wife and me from Kansas City to Denver and back.

The first thing I noticed was the new fee for any bags that you check.  I had a small bag that held my clothes for three days (I could do laundry in between trips and wear them again) and my shaving kit.  My bag cost $20 to check through to Denver International Airport.

The bag my wife had was about double in size and hers was dwarfed by some of the huge bags I saw being checked while I was in line.  Her cost and presumably theirs:  $20.00 per bag.  So, I think the next time we fly, we’ll pack our clothes in one super-duper rolling wardrobe and only pay one $20.00 fee.

Once I had entered the plane, we stood in the aisle for about 15 minutes while all those passengers carried on their one allowed bag tried to cram them into the overhead compartments.  There was even one passenger who had to remove some items from the bag and put it in the bag to go under the seat, so the first bag would go in the overhead.  So much for those little white lines that bags are supposed to fit in before you carry them on.

And, finally, upon our arrival—both in Denver and in Kansas City—folks jumped up as soon as they could.  Of course, everyone who was not in an aisle seat resembled that stereotypical “little old lady with a dowager hump.”  Why? Because once they stood up, the overhead compartments hung so low that they couldn’t stand upright.

So, why did I entitle this “Not Structured for Profit?”  Simply put, airlines make money when they are moving people from Point A to Point B.  They do not make money while the planes are sitting on the ground.  They do not make money in the runway checking multiple bags that should have been checked earlier. They do not make money while passengers are fighting with the luggage compartments.  They do not make money while the flight attendants are working to get all the overhead compartment doors closed prior to take-off.

Any General Business 101 text will tell you there are three basic ways to increase profit:

1)   Price the service higher, assuming costs are the same;

2)   Reduce costs and keep price the same;

3)   A combination of 1 and 2.

So here’s my idea:  airlines should continue to charge for the bags.  Airlines should eliminate that “runway baggage check” that clogs up the space right before you step on the plane.  Make passengers check those items at the beginning. They should then remove the overhead bins and compartments for storage, leaving only those little lights that say “no smoking” and the “restroom is occupied.”  The airlines should—and here’s the biggie—change the rule to allow only one carry-on bag, period.  If it’s a purse, fine.  If it’s a briefcase, fine. If it’s a backpack, fine. But they all have to fit under the seat, period.

This will greatly reduce the loading time of the plane—thus facilitating the plane’s getting in the air—where it makes money for its shareholders.  It will reduce the unloading time, therefore allowing the next loading to occur quicker and get the plane back in the air.  Passengers with only a purse or briefcase will not have to wait for multiple passengers to search out their bags and then wrestle them down. Oh, and perhaps the number of bags whacking passengers in the head will be reduced—thus reducing or eliminating that liability for airlines.

Also, without the overhead compartments, passengers can stand up straighter and be able to deplane more quickly, even after a rather lengthy flight.  Bending over the seat in front of you is conducive only to meeting people you’ll never see again or folks you have no desire to meet anyway.

Now, lest you think the airline is getting all the good stuff here—not so.  The airlines need to structure themselves that if a human arrives at the airport with one bag of luggage or even multiple bags, then that human and that (those) bag(s) should get on the same plane at the same time. And that human and bag should arrive at the same location at the same time.

Anytime there is a lost bag, there should be compensation paid to the owner of the bag.  Nothing improves performance like the possibility of consequences for erroneous actions.  While this may be a draconian, West-Point-theory of management, it does work in the short term.  And if it works for the short term, pretty soon the employees will understand that a “new normal” has arrived.

That’s pretty much it.  Sure, there’ll be some adjustment period, but if airlines would focus more on customer service—true customer service—things could improve in a hurry.  Things like on-time arrivals, quicker emplaning and de-planing, more comfortable flights (unless you’re in first class, the phrase “comfortable flight” is an oxymoron), and customer retention would become the norm.  Just structure an airline for profit—it can get there.

Stepping Up in the Ozarks

This is what I love about living in Springfield and Greene County:  when it comes down to the crunch time, folks step up.

Today’s results in the Law Enforcement tax vote speak volumes about the kind of people we are.  We may fuss; we may fight; we may argue passionately about different issues, but when there’s a real problem, we lay all that aside and do the right thing.

Just look three years back.  The Springfield Police/Fire Pension deficit was threatening to tip the city into bankruptcy like a number of other cities around the country.  However, voters educated themselves, believed the new Council, and voted to tax themselves for a period of time to get the pension plan back into solvency.  Since that vote, Springfield has been able to fill the frozen positions in the police and fire ranks and restore a level of public safety that had been missing for about four years.

A year ago, our neighboring city to the west was devastated by a Force 5 tornado. Joplin’s first call was to Springfield and it was a simple message:  “We need help.” Springfield responded with firefighters, police, and public works.  And then the citizens weighed in.  By the thousands, we volunteered for clean up, for food preparation, and for donating water.  We delivered food to Ozarks Food Harvest; we put together ration packages at the Rainbow Network. We repaired houses; we built houses; we planted trees.

And tonight, faced with another type of significant need in the other side of public safety, voters in Springfield and Greene County stepped up again and voted in favor of a 1/8-cent tax for law enforcement officers, for prosecutors, and for jail improvements.

The new revenue will allow the Sheriff’s department to add deputies—thus reducing the response time on 911 calls, which are now approaching 15 minutes—if there is a deputy available.  In addition, additional jailers can be hired, providing more security for County employees as well as prisoners, and reducing the possibility of federal officials closing the jail.

Also, the Prosecutor’s office will be able to process more cases more quickly with additional assistant prosecutors.  Part of the jail overcrowding is caused by the bottleneck of cases that can’t move very rapidly through the legal system.  Voters have said it’s worth 1/8-cent per dollar expenditure to have better law enforcement and to feel more secure.

As I’ve said before, the southwest Missouri economy is driving our state economy and Springfield is driving the southwest Missouri economy.  Voters are feeling a bit more positive about the economy and their governments—city and county—and are expressing that feeling at the ballot box.  A big thank you to voters in Springfield and Greene County.

Too Little, Too Late

This past week, members of City Council received a letter signed jointly by the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, the One Air Alliance, and the American Heart Association.

In this letter, the organizations indicated, “This is our final attempt to compromise on this issue.”  I want to point out that this is the first communication from these organizations that they have initiated with me since the election. They may have talked to one or two other Council members, but this is the first communication I’ve received.

The letter was signed by Stephen Hall, Jace Smith, Leah Wiggs, and Melissa Snodgrass who, I believe, was the lady who sat on camera the entire Council meeting vigorously chewing her gum.  Some of us wondered if she needed a cigarette!

The groups offered the following:

  • The removal of current language pertaining to e-cigarettes, which also allows theater groups additional options for on-stage performances.
  • A new exemption for private clubs, when not open to the public, and that have no employees present. (Please see the attached definition language.)
  • A new exemption for retail tobacco shops with a minimum of 70% of tobacco-related sales. (Please see the attached definition language.)

So, in essence, the three compromises they offered are actually a non-offer. They made them conditional on LiveFree Springfie;d’s withdrawing its petition.  However, per the Springfield Charter, once the petitions are certified by the City Clerk (as these have been), they take on a life of their own and they cannot be recalled or withdrawn.

So, the so-called offer to compromise is apparently just a publicity stunt.  Meanwhile, we on Council will meet later this week in a workshop session to see if we can craft some type of middle position that honors the vote of Springfieldians, while at the same time, doesn’t require businesses or patrons to relocate or go out of town.

It won’t be easy but it’s something we have to try.

Proud of my Minister . . .

Check out the link here"

https://philsnider.wordpress.com/2012/02/04/my-comments-from-clergy-e-verify-press-conference/

Behind the Scenes with e-Verify

In two days, a small percentage of Springfieldians will go to the polls to pass judgment on what is being called the “e-Verify ordinance.”  This ordinance purports to establish local prohibitions against the hiring of illegal and undocumented workers.

         Below is simply a series of glimpses and random thoughts about this topic that I have had from a position both behind the scenes and in front of the cameras.

 

  1. One of the things that has struck me very strongly is the effort by supporters on both sides of this issue to remain calm and to keep the conversation at a civil level.  This is a topic that can prove to be very contentious and lends itself to strong emotions.  Both sides of the argument should be complimented on how they have handled themselves during this time.
  2. People on both sides of the issue were convinced that people on the other side were ignorant ____________.  (You fill in the blank.)
  3. I am continually amazed how folks think complicated issues can be reduced to 10-second sound bytes or a bumper-sticker philosophy. 
  4. Where has been the faith community?  Where are the ministers of the churches—large and small?  We pride ourselves on being a religious community—why the thundering silence on this issue from the churches?
  5. This is a human issue.  Why did it break along the traditionally political lines of liberal versus conservative instead of more philosophical lines?
  6. We apparently have forgotten our national history and narrative. 
  7. The more I heard the “debates,” the more I realized that this really was about race and not about jobs.  One spokesman for the Ozarks Minutemen, at the League of Women Voters forum, said everything Tuesday evening except, “Beware the Brown Wave.”
  8. We have over 106,000 registered voters.  Yet I will be shocked if more than 10% will actually vote.  The rest of us will be content to allow barely 10,000 people—roughly the population of West Plains—to determine what kind of reputation this city will carry into the future.
  9. This election will make the national news.
  10. The petition language, and therefore the ballot issue, are seriously flawed.
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