May 2009

Thoughtful reading

There was an excellent op-ed piece in the New York Times yesterday: “The  case for working with your hands.”  It begins with the demise of things like shop programs in public schools, shifting students to preparation for working in a knowledge economy.

It’s a long, thoughtful piece that makes for excellent reading on a day when many have a day off.

There has been some discussion of this phenomenon even in Oak Ridge, where an overwhelming majority of our graduates do go on to college.  Although we have five career academies at the high school (preparing students either to continue studies in college, or to begin working in the field right out of high school), there is a sense in the community that we don’t do enough for the non-college bound.

Reading “The case for working with your hands,” a couple of things struck me: one, he’s right.  There is a level of satisfaction,  challenge, and use of intellect in working with one’s hands, whether creating something, or fixing something.  It’s why I like to sew, or to take things apart and repair them.  But the second point that stuck with me was, the author’s attainment of a PhD and subsequent studies enabled him to sample a variety of professions, including high school teacher, executive director of a policy organization in DC, and a writer of abstracts of academic journal articles before settling on his life’s calling in motorcycle repair.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not suggesting that one must get a PhD to be successful in motorcycle repair (or any other such field that is typically thought not to require any college degree).  But to be good at it requires critical thinking skills that are honed through education.  And quite possibly, he derives greater satisfaction from his work because he has other things to compare it to.

The plumber I most often use once told me that he enrolled in medical school, but dropped out after realizing that’s not what he wanted to spend his life doing.   He likes being a plumber; he solves problems, and gets a feeling of having accomplished something tangible each day.

This meandering train of thought continued as I spent the afternoon playing mechanic’s assistant (we’re still working on it).  What I want for the kids graduating from our high school is to be sufficiently prepared to have options after graduation:  the option to work doing something meaningful and fulfilling, the option to pursue higher education, the option to succeed in a technical school, which might lead to either work or more  education.  Or both.

A satisfying life is one where learning never stops, even after the end of formal schooling.

Attitude Adjustment

This time two years ago, I spent most days standing in the sun outside of early voting (then, at the mall), trying to secure whatever margin I could in the school board election.  One day, an elderly fellow came by, yelling at the half-dozen or so of us there.

A City Council candidate smiled and waved politely, then murmured quietly to the rest of us there, “weaned on a pickle.”  That pretty much captures it.

I went to vote this morning, and having arrived a few minutes early, took a seat and listened to a book on my iPod.  Two older gentlemen were hovering nearby, talking loudly enough to be clearly heard above the recording in my headphones.  One was telling the other to vote against every incumbent — because of the red light cameras, because they didn’t get a new senior center, because the world’s gone to hell in a handbasket and it’s all the politicians’ fault.

I sat quietly, pretending not to hear.  I didn’t want to hear, as I don’t make a habit of eavesdropping on others’ conversations.  But some folks don’t recognize that they’re talking loudly enough to be heard all the way out in the parking lot…

We’ve gone two years now without a tax increase in Oak Ridge, in challenging times.  We’ve seen an increase in new home construction, and have made progress in beginning to tidy up our older neighborhood.   There is work yet to be done, for sure, but this old codger had a seriously bad attitude.

I turned up the volume on my iPod, gritted my teeth, and waited my turn.  I can’t wait until this election is over.

Disclaimer

Twice this week, I’ve live-blogged the League of Women Voters’ candidate forums — City Council candidates on Tuesday, and School Board candidates on Thursday.

Although I have tried to capture the essence of every answer, please know that these posts do not represent a verbatim transcript.  If you see something here that would cause you to change your vote, please either watch the replay on BBB Channel 12, or call the candidate to ask your question personally.

I’ve posted links to the candidate websites that I’m aware of, but if you know of a candidate site that isn’t linked here, please send me the link.

UPDATE: The links have been updated (hat tip to Ellen Smith for these).

School Board Candidate Forum

The five candidates for three seats on the school board are all present, as the rules are explained to the audience.  Each candidate is permitted a three-minute opening statement, followed by questions from the local media, then quesitons from the audience.

Opening Remarks:

Dan DiGregorio – Dan arrived in Oak Ridge in 1969, knows the Oak Ridge Schools from many different viewpoints: teacher, coach, parent, grandparent.  Some of the recent events, the departure of our principal and coaches, have highlighted one of our challenges.  The average tenure of a superintendent in Tennessee Oak Ridge is five years; our current superintendent has been here for seven.  You should elect someone who can best represent you in the duty of selecting a superintendent.  Our three main foci are planning, policy, and promotion.  With regard to policy, we need to do a better job; some of our policies are ancient, and what was appliicable then may not be applicable now.  I’ll push harder to get our five-year plan current.

Bob Eby – has served twice before on the board, including service as Chairman in the 1990s.  His wife, Jean, has taught for many years at Linden Elementary.  Bob is the technology director for USEC, and is actively involved in many community boards.  He is an Eagle Scout, a professional engineer, and a certified instructor of problem solving.  

Brenda Fellner – Moved here ten years ago following an article in Money Magazine about the quality of the schools here, so that both of her sons could be educated here.  She has taught in several states and systems, including Oak Ridge.  She has a lot of experience with changing demographic populations.  Wants to make use of our senior population, as they could be a valuable resource as tutors in the schools.  We need to educate the public, much like the Council Night Out.  Not all of our parents have access to newspapers and the internet, so we need to find other ways to reach them.

Jenny Richter – Grew up in Oak Ridge, left for 12 years, then returned so that her children could attend school here as she did.  Jenny has served two terms on the Board, both with Ann McNees, and with John Smith, who has decided not to run this time.  Many things have happened in the last eight years, with the capstone being the completion of the high school renovation.  But, we can’t remain static — we must respond to change in a thoughtful, deliberate manner.  We face serious curriculum changes, and budget challenges  I understand the pressures, and look forward to addressng the solutions.

John Soldano — a dentist here, as long as a long-time resident.  His whole family are graduates of ORHS (youngest daughter graduating in June).  He presents the opportunity to vote for a candidate with a wealth of business experience.  

Media Questions:

Q) How would you suggest that ORS resolve their budget problems:

DiGregorio: How do we get more money?  From Tuesday’s forum, bring in more families, more recreational activities, more retail.  We need young families.  We must promote the school system, and build the tax base.

Eby: Obtaining the budget that the school desires can only occur through open dialogue with City Council.  All citizens must be cognizant of what the funds are used for.  School Board goes through the entire budget line by line, and it’s up to the citizens to participate.  The only source for additional revenue is from the City.

Fellner: We do need to work hand-in-hand with the city, to find out what parents think needs to be done differently.  One area that we could look at is the communications budget, which increased sharply this year.  There are some things that we do that could be tailored back, such as ordering supplies through the central office rather than at each school.  We must work with the City; it’s very difficult to get any extra funds from the County.

Richter: If you look at the budget, you’ll see that the great majority of funds is used for instruction, and that means people.  To cut the budget, you almost must cut people — people in the classroom who instruct children.  The one item that has the greatest impact on the education of a child is the quality teacher.  I am absolutely FOR maintaining the quality of our instructional personnel.

Soldano: I read the 142 pages of the school budget.  As a business person, I would review the budget to determine whether each expenditure is indeed legitimate.  Only after reviewing the entire budget to look for savings, should the school board go to Council for more money.

Q) What personal strengths do you bring to the table.

Eby: Engineering and business education; personal experience in technology and management; community involvement.  All of these things are great assets to the school system

Fellner: The diverse background in education that I have, serving alongside board members in other schools to improve services in other systems.  I’ve served on building and system leadership teams that evaluated schools for SACS accreditation, as well as for school improvement.  I’ve taught teachers in best practices.  I have the ability to communicate with all parents, all children, and adults in the system.

Richter: I could listen to a wall.  You have to be prepared to walk slowly through Kroger, because people in the community are comfortable in talking in informal settings.  I’ve learned a great deal through listening.  In my work at UT, higher ed is very much like K-12, just bumping up the age group.  I’m constantly lobbying for UT’s new hires to come to Oak Ridge.  

Soldano: I bring 4 things: business experience, experience as a former student, as a parent understanding the issues that confront students today, and I bring my listening skills.

DiGregorio: I’m just great.  I’ve got 38 years with Oak Ridge Schools, from many different viewpoints.  I believe that I’ve answered every single e-mail that has been sent to me.

Q) How can Oak Ridge attract quality teachers in the coming years?

Fellner – We need to look at the teacher training programs, and actively recruit the best and brightest.  We need to utilize the internship program at UT, where we get at 6-12 week preview of what these teachers would be like in the classroom.  Senior teachers could mentor the new teachers, meeting several times per year to mentor.

Richter – While it’s impossible to replace people, but we can send out ambassadors to recruit, pushing the qualities of Oak Ridge, making Oak Ridge an attractive place to teach.  Our teachers should know when they go into a classroom, that they will have the tools necessary to be successful.

Soldano – The easy answer is more money, but that’s not always the right way.   Hands down, most teaching graduates said that support of their principals, relevant inservice training, and recognition for their education and performance would be key.

DiGregorio – The Board and administration must behave professionally, to treat the teachers with the respect they deserve.  If we don’t have good teachers, we won’t have good students.  We do need to have a competitive salary and benefits package.  Teachers also need the opportunity to grow, to keep up with the current trends.

Eby – Oak Ridge has a history of outstanding teachers.  When they leave, how do we replace them?  There are several factors besides the facility; community support and involvement are also important.  Secondly, teachers need to be involved in the critical decision making.  Let teachers advise on curriculum matters; provide highly competitive pay and benefits.  Provide state of the art tools and quality teacher development.

Q) Appointed or elected school superintendent?

Richter – We’ve always had an appointed superintendent, so that he/she can be selected on the basis of qualifications and experience.  We have certain, expected minimums for every staff member.

Soldano – I also support selected, rather than elected, superintendents.  With an election, it’s possible to get a charismatic individual without the necessary skills.

DiGregorio – No (that’s my short answer).  Heck no (that’s my long answer).  I was an educator, and have no confidence  in an elected superintendent.

Eby – selected, not elected.  First and foremost, you want an educator.  You want the best person you can get from all over the country.  Elections preclude the widest range of choices.

Fellner – I’ve taught with both methods in place, and a selected superintendent is far, far better.  We get a lot of community involvement in the selection, and that’s one of the best reasons to have selected.

Q) What is the biggest problem right now?

Soldano – It seems like every year, we come down to this issue of funding, but that’s not to overlook issues like drugs.  Making sure that we have the proper funding and materials is the biggest issue now.

DiGregorio – I think our biggest problem is going to be how to educate all students to all the new standards that take effect this year.  Whether or not we agree, we must comply.  I don’t think we can continue to teach the way we have always taught; there have to be changes in the way children are taught.  Giving a child a zero for not doing their homework is counterproductive; somehow, we have to get the kid to do the work.  That decreases failing grades, increases the graduation rate.

Eby – There are many problems facing ORS today, and it is difficult to choose the biggest one.  Changing demographics is a big one.  Ensuring student safety, new graduation requirements, and lack of resources to address these problems.  Meeting all the needs of ALL children is the biggest challenge.

Fellner – to motivate and educate all the students in Oak Ridge.  We must educate ALL children, not just the college bound students.  We should work with labor unions, with the ROTC, and other resources that we need to tap into in order to accomplish this.

Richter- The greatest short-term challenge will be to implement and educate people about the new curriculum standards that are now in place.  Ultimately, we hope it will raise the standards for all children around the state.  We will have students being funneled into programs wth requirements that they have not faced before.  Students will now have to take courses that are not of their own choosing.  

Q)  Do you support providing transportation to all students?

DiGregorio – Yes.  Transport them all.  We don’t have a very walk-friendly community.

Eby – We ought to provide transportation opportunity to all schools.  Safety is an important factor.  However, we have to do it within the bounds of working with the City for crossing guards, sidewalks, and the funding to support transporting students.

Fellner – I agree that we need to transport all students.  The 20-mph school zones are a bit of an inconvenience, but we must ensure safe transportation for all students and help the city to provide safe avenues for students to do choose to walk.

Richter – it’s a harder question than it seems.  Children have different methods of getting to school, and we must recognize that not all students will ride the bus even if it is offered.  However, unformed officers make a tremendous difference in traffic safety, as not all children will ride the bus.

Soldano – if all students are required to attend school, then we should provide safe transportation to and from school.

Q) Are gifted students treated better, and is that right?

Eby – No.  The goal of public education is to offer challenging opportunities to all students.  We offer a very broad curriculum, have teachers who can teach at all levels.  We offer a range of classes that encourage all students to reach academically.

Fellner – Maybe not treated better, but there are disproportionate opportunities for gifted students, such as many more AP or honors classes than remedial classes at the high school.  If we do a better job in the elementary school, we won’t need as much remediation in the high school.

Richter – No, I don’t belive that we treat our gifted students better.  All courses are open to all students.  We encourage students to attempt material that they haven’t taken before.

Soldano – The gifted program reflects the population that we live amongst.  The national trend is 28-30% AP courses, so at 34%, we’re in line with the rest of the country.

DiGregorio – I don’t know, but it’s disturbing to me that it’s still being asked.  Whether it’s real or imagined, it’s a problem.  We must get rid of that perception.  We provide a good and complete education for all students, without prejudice.

Q) The administrators are interviewing candidates for the next ORHS principal.  What qualities do you want to see?

Fellner- a broad educational background, who knows about our diverse demographics.  I want someone who cares for all students, who supports all teachers, who can keep a clear line for all budget issues, and is on top of technology.

Richter – we need someone who lives, eats, and breathes high school issues.  I would be looking for someone who is highly educated, understands the 9-12 system, and who understands the demands that will be placed on the person leading this high school.  They must understand the value of the teaching force that we have here, and rely on them for key decisions.

Soldano – You need a good leader who supports the staff, understands the students and the mandates.

DiGregorio – I am sorry to see Chuck Carringer go.  I want a new principal who likes kids, is a good educator, and who is involved in the community.

Eby – I agree with the others’ statements.  When I think of an outstanding principal, it is someone who will listen closely to the staff and lead quietly.

Q) What policies may need to be changed?

Richter – there are several that we have been trying to plow through and change, but I can’t think of one that warrants particular focus at this moment.  A few years ago we changed our cell phone policy somewhat, and there are a few things like that that change as time goes on.

Soldano – has anyone tried to pick up a document from the administration lately?  There’s a five-day waiting period.  Zero tolerance probably needs to be re-evaluated.  I understand the reason for rules, but sometimes it can be cumbersome.

DiGregorio – staff residency and school trips are two that come to mind.  

Eby – the travel policy is one; if we have a policy, we need to ensure consistent execution.

Fellner – There’s no one policy that stands out, but consistency is of utmost importance.  That goes back to communication with the public.

Q) Teachers and staff have not received a salary increase.  How would you propose giving staff a raise next year?

Soldano – You can get so far behind that you’re trying to play catch-up.  In my business, we try to at least do a cost of living increase each year.  We have to ask the City for the money.

DiGregorio – I am not in favor of cutting staff positions to give a raise; with that, there is no other alternative except to ask the City for additional funds.

Eby- There’s only a finite amount of money.  If we do get the money, we should look at several different options.  For the last two years, the teachers with the most longevity got nothing.  Two possible methods would be to add a step at year 25, or to add a longevity bonus as the City did for City staff.

Fellner – If there’s no money, there’s no money.  We are falling behind, but if we’re no longer competitive, we’re no longer going to get the best and the brightest.

Richter – We may end up receiving some additional funding, so we may be able to provide a small raise.  Every percent raise costs us $350k – $380k, and this needs to be recurring funding because that cost will recur each year.  We are hoping to get additional information on the longevity bonus.

Audience Questions:

Q) Could cost be reduced by sharing resources with the City government, like offices or cars?

Soldano – Yes.  Duplication of costs; sharing will reduce the cost.  However, it’s likely to be an unequal division.

Q) How would you feel about members of the administration home-schooling their own children?

Fellner – If you’re making decisions about our students, those decisions should apply to your own children.

Q) The school sytem is trying to increase the graduation rate.  Are there any programs for people who have already dropped out, and should the school sytem be involved?

Eby – the alternative school is for students who cannot progress, or who have been expelled, or cannot learn in a traditional environment.  There are also GED programs, and the school sytem should absolutely be involved.  Some people elect to be in the alternative program.

Q) What would be the top 3 elements of a 5-year plan that you would support?

Richter – 1) re-examine the curriculum in light of the new standards, making sure our curriculum is properly aligned, both vertically and horizontally.  2) Prioritize and find a way to work with the City or County to return having police officers present in our middle school program (school resource officers).  It was a true safety element.  (ran out of time)

Q) the curriculum is under pressure, that is squeezing out some subjects.  How can we get PE, music, and art back into the classroom?

DiGregorio – those things still are in our classrooms, but the question is whether we can continue with the new standards, and the two additional credits required.   Now, our students are being asked to major and minor in something.

Q) What impact will the new graduation requirements have on the vocational program?

Richter – the new requirements will affect everything.  The new grad requirement is ONE PATH, and that is the college prep path.  A student must use all of their three electives to select a career path now.

Q) Over the last 10 years, overall enrollment has gone down, while spending and staffing has increased.  The school sytem has asked for additional money from the City.  Do you feel this is a sound fiscal practice?

DiGregorio – In the last two years, we have not requested anything from the city except what is in the financial model.  Enrollment going up and down is just a reality, and yes, costs do go up.

Q) Where do you rank the preschool facility in terms of need?

Eby – I would add the preschool/school administration building to Ms. Richter’s list of priorities; the preschool program has proven itself to be valuable, and we have to give them a better facility.

Q) What is your position on proposed merit pay for teachers?

Fellner – Teachers who go the extra mile deserve to be rewarded.  Going back to the GED programs, the requirements come from the State, not from the Board.  Some systems have night school classes, and one of those are GED classes.  We could do that, even with a modest tuition.

Q) According to the current rankings, OR now ranks 929 out of 1,300.  Why do you think our rankings have dropped, and how do we get back on top?

Soldano – Oak Ridge’s graduation rate is 4th among comparable schools nearby.  We have to decide if we want to stay basic, or if we want to go a cut above?

Q) How should the community be more actively engaged with the school board?

Fellner – We need to do a School Board night out, particularly in areas where the parents are less likely to come to board meetings.   We need to be available for communication, to go out into the community and work hand-in-hand with the public.  

Q) How would you characterize the current relationship between school board and city council, and what one action would you take to improve it?

DiGregorio – I think we’re working better now than we were four years ago.  The one item for improvement would be communication.  Going back to test scores, the ranking may rest entirely on the number of students taking the AP test.  If more take it, we rank higher; if fewer take it, we score lower.

Q) How much input should the school board have in regard to administrative decisions, and how do you hold them accountable for their decisions.  

Eby – there is a very clear delineation of responsibility, set out in the city charter, in state law, and in federal law.  The board must hold the superintendent accountable for adhering to policy.  With regard to the relationship with City Council, we used to have a 10-year plan.  We need a strategic plan that lays out where we’re going, and how we’re going to get there.

Q) Should alternatives to evolution be taught in the Oak Ridge Schools?

Soldano – Yes.  Education is a process of looking at all viewpoints.

Q) What do you feel is the greatest need, facility-wise?  Why, and do you have a course of action.

Richter – My #3 on the priorities list is the preschool.  If you have not been there, I encourage you to go see it.  I went to school there as an elementary student, and it was old then.  The preschool has been a high priority for perhaps 20 years; we need to come up with a creative way to fund it, like we did with the high school.

Closing statements:

Soldano: ORS was ranked in the top 100 schools in the country when the current administration took office.  Now, we’re 929.  If you’re satisfied, re-elect the incumbents.  If you’re not, then I ask for your vote.

Richter – I look around this audience, and see so many who helped guide my life through supporting the schools.  On Tuesday, how many of the candidates said that they moved here for the schools?  You can look at measures or matrices, but what I ask you to do is take a look at the product that our schools provide.

Fellner:  I have had a passion for education since I was 3 or 4 years old, and wish to continue my service through election to the school board.  We need to manage our budget to get the most bang for the buck.

Eby – Why would I want to be on the school board?  For a love of the town, a love of the schools, and to help the children.

DiGregorio – It’s not for money or power, but to follow the lead my dad gave me.  I want to support the next generations.  It is all of our responsibility to provide for the next generation.

Council Candidate Forum

The format of tonight’s forum will be that each question will be answered by two candidates, then they’ll go on to the next question, and next two candidates answering.  With ten candidates in the running, it should be answering.

Tom Beehan opens with a brief biography.  He has been on City Council for eight years.  We’re beginning to address the issue of crime in our neighborhoods with increased patrols; we’ve begun to address housing and our older neighborhoods.  Lastly, we’re improving retail, particularly in working with some of the small retail neighborhoods like Jackson Square.

Jimmy Bouchard is introduced next; he doesn’t think that experience should be measured for this office, as he comes from the “best high school in America.”  The high school senior will turn 18 on May 22, qualifying him for office.  He says that he will not vote his own convictions, but those expressed by the people.  He plans to major in nuclear engineering at UTK next year.  He’d like to diversify the city’s economy by supporting small businesses; he’d like to go ahead and build the new senior center that was promised.

Anne Garcia Garland follows, citing that she no longer has any ties to special interests like DOE and their contractors.  She’s not entirely happy with the way things have gone recently, with a Council who claims to know what is best.  “Oak Ridgers need to decide who we’re going to be when we grow up.”  We need to take care of the existing retail we have, in order to encourage others to come.

John Alex Groff works at ORNL, at the SNS.  Vision for Oak Ridge: the population today is the same as it was when he was born.  Growing the population depends on growing the industrial base.  Why haven’t we tried to entice some of the off-road industry to Oak Ridge, with more than 700 miles of off road trails nearby?  

Rick Hasbrouck notes the lack of retail, and that improving retail would ease the property tax burden.  We need to add police officers rather than relying on overtime.  Says that he is new to Oak Ridge.

Martin McBride: undergraduate degree in physics from the University of Delaware, married 35 years.   Got his graduate degree in bionucleonics.  Worked the cleanup at Three Mile Island, then moved to oak Ridge to work for DOE.

Jane Miller has been an Oak Ridger since the age of three; she works in PR for BWXT.  She is disappointed in the last couple of years, but thinks that we’ve gone overboard with citizen input to the point of not being able to accomplish anything.  We need to be more flexible, more business-friendly, and need to treat our citizens as our customers.  Small, one-issue groups should not be able to halt progress; public input is important, but Council must make the hard decisions.  We need that can-do, Manhattan Project attitude that we’ve always had.

David Mosby, trusted for the last eight years on Council, is “ready to continue the work that we have started.”  Property tax revenue has been increased about $1M from the new, privately-owned DOE buildings.  Supports new initiatives like the recycling plan, the sustainability plan, and the acquisition of hybrid vehicles for the City.  We have to find better and more effective ways to combat crime and drugs.  We need to pay attention to our seniors, and to keep the pressure off of our property taxes.

Eric Tobler, an Oak Ridge native (1983 graduate), worked for Bechtel then Y-12.  Following a boating accident, he started Tobler Enterprises, which is both a landscaping and development enterprise.  Owns residential and retail property in Oak Ridge — if OakRidge fails, he will fail.

Tony Turner is a West Point graduate.  Followng his military retirement, he settled in Oak Ridge — his first hometown.  He is the program manager for Homeland Security at ORNL.  The City needs leadership now, vision + action.

(End of the introductory speeches)

Stan Mitchell asks: what does the City need to do to get citizen support for projects?

David Mosby responds that citizens have ample opportunity for input, and that they exercise those opportunities.

Tobler: Council needs to share what their goals are; we’re not sure what the goals and vision are.  If Council would show their plan to the citizens, then people would understand where we’re going.  It seems like all the talk is about taxes.

Q) What do you think the City could do to attract more young families, and what will happen if we don’t?

McBride: The City has a problem due to certain constraints.  We have, for so long, allowed people at ORNL and Y-12 to drift away from Oak Ridge, so when someone new comes in, they’re surrounded by people who live in Farragut instead of here.  First, we have to get them interested in coming here.

Garland: We need a different approach.  We need to concentrate in attracting the kind of families who would want to live here; for people who want to escape big city life and rat races elsewhere.  We should advertise to specific target audiences.  If we can make the town feel friendly to small business, that’s who takes the risk.

Q) What would you do to enhance revenues for the City:

Beehan: Because of a different relationship with DOE, we didn’t have to raise property taxes.  Some of the innovations like the private buildings are really helping.  The stimulus and cleanup programs have insulated us from the woes that other cities are facing.  DOE is the 900-lb gorilla in town, and the best way to deal with it is to work with them.

Groff: Growth is the answer.  We can grow through industry, retail, or commerical, but we have to grow.  We have to market ourselves to these businesses.  We have to work with City staff to help them understand we must bend over backward to make business welcome.  Voted against Crestpoint, but now realizes his error.

Q) Is there anything specifically that we could do as a City to attract more retailers?

Bouchard: Retailers look at many different aspects, such as demand and demographics.  It’s hard for a city our size to attract them, unless we show that we can attract more people to live and shop here.  A tax abatement would show that we are committed to helping them.

Hasbrouck: Need to work closely with the Chamber of Commerce; we need to advertise to let others know that Oak Ridge is open for business.  The realtor that was bringing Target, is no longer interested in working within Oak Ridge.

Q) What do you think should be the City’s #1 priority?

Miller: Jobs, housing, and retail.  We’re fine on jobs, we’re improving on housing, but our main problem is retail — one of the two only ways to get money into the City.  We can’t address other things until we fix that problem.

Turner: Crime is our most pressing issue.  We have a higher crime rate than most of the rest of Tennessee.  Most of our crime is driven by the drug trade.   Anderson County is the only county in our region that is not affiliated with the High Intensity Drug Trafficing Area effort.

Q) After a string of home invasions, has the additional overtime patrols and neighborhood watch been effective?

Hasbrouck: I haven’t seen the stats to know if we’re making progress or not.  Instead of overtime, we need to expand the police force.  Police and landlords can solve the problem.

Groff: I think these measures have been effective.  Criminals are getting caught, but they’re getting smarter.  They’re carrying smaller amounts of drugs, not carrying weapons, so they get less time.  We have eighty-some people in the police department, but only half of those on patrol.  We have eighty-some personnel in parks and recreation.  Overtime is not the answer.  We can’t afford to have someone out there who’s been working 16 hours straight.

Q) Roane State is trying to raise $5M; do you support the City contribution of $500k.

Mosby: I’m concerned about the repayment method, but appreciate the benefit that Roane State brings and think it will pay dividends in the long run.

McBride: I fully support that.  Where is the money coming from?  I would reduce the City’s lobbyist contract to find (part of) the money.  Our schools need continued funding increases, along with police and fire.  We must prioritize, and we take money from things at the bottom of the list.

Q) How does the City move forward, while preserving our historic areas?

Tobler: We cannot hold on to dilapidated buildings; if somehting must be preserved, could we use volunteer effort to do so?  Sometimes, volunteers are chastized for their efforts.

Garland: If we’re going to move forard, we have to know what direction “forward” is.  Am not necessarily a proponent of growth for the sake of growth.  I support any and all historical projects that do not require the City borrowing money.

Q) What is your take on the marina redevelopment?

Miller: I am in favor of the redevelopment.  I don’t want to harm the natural beauty, but think that we should have appropriate restaurants, restroom facilities, human-powered sports businesses.  But, we have to work with the developer, because the City does not have the money to fund it.  Does not want motorized boats there.

Bouchard: development of the marina is crucial.  The development shows that Oak Ridge cares about the options and opportunities, but we’ve done very little to promote the second-best rowing venue in the whole country.

Q) What is your position on red light and speed enforcement cameras in Oak Ridge?

Turner: I’m against the cameras, because of the very emotional reaction generated amongst the citizens.  I did not find a competting reason that justified installation against the will of the citizens.

Beehan: The cameras are part of an overall program to protect the children in this community.  The red light cameras are the same kind of technology as radar was a few years ago.  We have new school zones, we have crossing guards, and we’ve gotten a safe schools grant.  The cameras are not about revenue, they’re about safety.

Q) The majority of people at the DOE facilities live outside Oak Ridge.  Why do you think that is?

Groff: One of the reasons is because that’s where their co-workers live.  Once people get in the hands of Knoxville realtors, they’re lost to us.  We need a relocation specialist.  We have so much that Knoxville doesn’t have, but people don’t know that.

Hasbrouck: It’s not just DOE, it’s a lot of our employers.  A lot of it is that the Knoxville realtors get to them first.  Part of the problem is that our property tax rate is so high.  Red light cameras won’t help, either.

Q) Do we need a new senior center, and how do we fund it?

Miller: I think we’d all love to see a new senior center, but until we have more revenue, we cannot address these new issues (like police, Roane State, etc.).

Beehan: I’d love to have a new senior center, but we’re in a 5-year contract with the current building.  The building is only a place — we also need to look at the services offered, and those may be located elsewhere.  Back to police, no one is working 18 hours.  We are applying for five new officers under the stimulus funding.  The best way to address the problem NOW is to reward our officers with overtime.

Q) If you’re elected, how would you operate as a leader?

Bouchard: If elected, I promise that my seat will be a seat for the people.  No small group should hold up anything, but public opinion matters a great deal.  I will bring enthusiasm, a new viewpoint.  We need to target the 18-35 age group.

Turner: Leadership is the ability to influence people.  I have the ability to follow through.

Q) Share your opinions on west end development?

McBride: One of our significant challenges is that we’re a long, thin city.  The west end looks like a golden opportunity to develop retail centers, which turn out to be quite important.  One of our largest new developments is on the extreme west end, and we’ve invested a great deal in the infrastructure to get there.  We are in competition, and we have to develop the entire city.

Garland: Ditto.  If we can continue to encourage people to love their neighborhoods, we should do just fine there.

Q) The City has a tax abatement policy, awarding levels of support depending on the level of investment.  Do you support it, and why or why not?

Mosby: I support an abatement policy.  The abatement doesn’t make the deal, but is considered as something factored into the business plan.  It needs to be flexible, but structured enough so that there’s a reasonable assurance of a return on investment.  I would like to see it change to address the under-utilized properties, and try to help us grow the west end.

Tobler: Tax abatements can be a good thing, but need to be considered individually.  Big businesses push for them the hardest, but the small businesses usually need them the most.  We need to be ready to negotiate, so that more money can come back to the city once they’re on their feet.

AUDIENCE QUESTIONS: (Selected in random order)

Q) Why can’t we encourage all city employees to live here:

Turner: I have no idea why they would not.   We need to talk to the new employees and tell them the positive things about Oak Ridge.

Q) The percentage of economically disadvantaged kids in the school system is reaching new highs.  what would you propose to do?

Tobler: Get with the school board and empower them to do what needs to be done.

Q) Will you support a property tax increase to finance the city’s needs?

Mosby: it depends.  I ama proponent for trying to hold back on tax increases by finding new revenue sources, such as by the new alternative financed DOE buildings.  We’re trying to become more efficient.

Q) What are your plans for the waterfront, and have we asked for input from our rowing customers?

Miller: The city has been involved with rowing, and have an ongoing good relationship with the rowing community.  I’m not sure if we can measure the return on investment, but it’s a quality of life issue, and I don’t want to see it go away.

Q) How do you feel about fees, tolls, wheel tax on non-resident workers?

McBride: Memphis has struggled with this, having the highest property tax rate in the state.  I don’t favor that kind of option, because we might damage the relationship with those kinds of tactics.  I prefer a congressional investment, due to the service we provide for the nation.

Q) Should Oak Ridge focus on manufacturing business on the west end, being closest to the interstate?

Hasbrouck: We need to focus on business everywhere in the city.

Q) What steps will you take to improve housing, through incentives to homeowners?

Groff: There are several programs at the lab that deal directly with residential energy efficiency.  Unfortunately, none of those are in Oak Ridge.  Why not?

Q) Should the City use eminent domain to acquire the Alexander Inn for renovation?

Garland: I don’t really know the parameters.  I would reserve eminent domain for only the most critical community projects.  Taking property is pretty un-American.  We should have codes to prevent property owners from allowing their property to deteriorate.  We can condemn, but we cannot just take.

Q) How will you ensure that a developer who commits to a major project, will follow through and complete the project?

Bouchard: I would carefully consider the project at the outset, before it is started.  Follow through should be ensured before the developer begins.

Q) How can we encourage more business on Illinois, and keep Woodland homeowners happy?

Beehan: I don’t know.  We did a corridor study which now establishes guidelines as to how far you can go into a neighborhood, so now developers know what they can do, and homeowners know what they can do.  We’ve done good studies on the marina, and on sustainability; we could build consensus on other subjects as well.

Q) Is there too much cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce?

Turner: Since we have a contract, the relationship really should be client-customer.  But it needs to be more than that; it should be cooperative.  The Chamber does what it is called to do in its contract.  The relocation specialist is a tremendous opportunity.  The City could listen more to the chamber, particularly in removing the obstacles to new businesses coming in.

Q) What do you recommend to change the image of becoming old, to becoming younger and more vibrant.

Tobler: promote the lake and the schools.  bring people from Knoxville to events in Oak Ridge — concerts, etc.  We need to create places for people to have fun.

Q) If you could only accomplish one thing, what would it be?

Mosby: I would like to see the community figure out that it is a special place, and develop into something that is attractive, so it’s not hard to entice people and businesses to come here.

Q) Do you support capping property taxes for seniors, based upon economic need?

Miller: I think we need to study that, and we need to do that.

Q) What action plan to you have for a serious effort to develop the Oak Ridge Mall?

McBride: The mall occupies a very central place in our city.  No meaningful progress has occurred in the last 7 years.  We need to take initiative on the mall covenants; Wal-Mart has an incredible amount of influence over the rest of the property.  We need to approach Wal-Mart and ask for a break on the restrictions.

Q) How can a city like Maryville/Alcoa have extensive retail, when Oak Ridge doesn’t?

Hasbrouck: I don’t know.  There is opportunity in this city.  All of the anchors have stipulations in place at the mall; maybe that’s where we need to consider eminent domain.

Q) Where do the schools fall in your budget priorities?

Groff: I have two kids in school.  Education is #1 priority.  We have to focus on increasing education.  I’d like to see the vo-tech programs come back.

Q) What would you do to help the older retail centers?

Garland: We need to make adjustments to our sign ordinances, with signs on the turnpike for these business areas, directing traffic to these off-turnpike shopping centers.  Advocates forming a “small business” chamber of commerce, to strengthen their influence.

Q) What are your suggestions for older housing?

Bouchard: I am a proponent for reinforcing our residential neighborhoods.  We could extend incentives to homeowners to improve their buildings; the City could do something with the properties that have fallen under par.  The City could revise one portion of the city to like-new 1940s condition.  

Q) What would you propose to reduce crime in Oak Ridge?

Beehan: I would call a meeting of the police chief, sheriff, and district attorney, to establish cooperation and run the drug dealers out of town.  We need to bring on the five new police officers.  The neighborhood watch program is very successful, and I’m very proud of them.  It’s incredible the things that are happening.

Q) When consensus cannot be achieved, how to proceed?

Turner: on Council, the majority wins.  That doesn’t necessarily work with the citizens.  But at some point, you have to lead — vote your vision.

Tobler: you’re never going to make everybody happy, so you have to make the best decision for the city.

Mosby: A lot of times, we bail out before consensus can be reached.

Miller: Just the people at the microphone doesn’t necessarily represent the majority — phone callls and e-mails also factor in.

McBride: the high school project was the best example of building consensus.  The more that Council can do that, the more successful we’re going to be.

Hasbrouck: Consensus is a difficult thing among seven people, much less 27,000.  That said, more surveys would be a useful thing.

Groff: Dissent gives you the opportunity to explore the reasons for differing opinions.  You want everyone to walk away feeling like they got a good deal.

Garland: I don’t think the citizens expect consensus, but they expect an opportunity to be heard and considered.

Bouchard: Communication goes hand-in-hand with consensus.

Beehan: Consensus is good and I wish we could do it on every issue, but that’s not possible.  We do get a lot of communication, especially via e-mail.  There are issues where we do need to communicate better.  Ultimately, our job is to make the best decision we can based on the information we have.  It’s like sausage — you like the end product, but making it is not pretty.

The forum will air on BBB (channel 12).  Air times will be posted on www.bbbtv12.com.

Virus Panic

No, not the H1N1 piggy flu… although there’s a rational discussion on that subject over at ACT.  This virus, or viruses, is of the variety that infects machines.  

Specifically, Delta’s laptop.  I’m not sure what happened; she was running McAfee, but some little nasty slipped by and disabled the antivirus software.  I loaded a copy of AVG Free and ran several scans, eliminating nearly 200 threats, but the problems quickly returned (even though I’d disabled System Restore).  Following advice from techie boards, I ran a few scans with ComboFix in safe mode.

We’re now on about day five of fighting for a cure; if it were the real flu, the patient would be getting over it by now.   My next attempt is to run a full scan with Trend Micro, as I’ve had good luck with that in the past.

How many hours is a 6 year old laptop worth?  Well, the only reason it’s survived this long is that there’s one program on it that I need about 5 times per year, for which I no longer have the install CD.  But, when I need it, I REALLY need it.  So, considering that a new copy of PageMaker would set me back about the cost of a new (kid-edition) laptop, I’m willing to try a little longer.

Once this is fixed, HWTFM’s old laptop is scheduled for open-heart surgery on the kitchen table.  He’s already got a new one, so this one can be redirected to Gamma (who now despises being locked to a desktop).  Just a few months out of warranty, it suffered a spill when the cat knocked over a glass of water.

With woes like these, swine flu looks like just another bug in the wild.  HWTFM is on a plane for the west coast as I write, and Beta is at a music festival in Memphis.  I told them to wash their hands, and sent them on their way.

So now the house is mostly empty, and I can tend to the wounded electronics in peace.