Archive for March, 2012
I sat with a few strangers the other day to work on the Mecklenburg County budget. We were told our ideas would be passed on to Mecklenburg County Commissioners as they work on the budget for FY13 in coming months.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
County employees from the budget department let us use a new tool they’re developing called “I can build a better budget.” Basically, you go line by line in the budget and decide if you want to increase or decrease the funding of services provided by Mecklenburg County. The majority of dollars that fund these services come from property tax and sales tax. So, for example, without a large projection of increased revenue from property or sales, increased funding of services like the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School system would most likely result in higher tax rates.
We worked with our neighbors, a sort of mock Board of County Commissioners. It was clear that the average person doesn’t know what their government is funding, or what the things being funded are responsible for. Yes, people should be responsible for educating themselves on these matters. But researching all this can be a full time job. It’s one reason we elect County Commissioners (who are considered part-time, by the way).
It was an interesting exercise in working with people you barely know who have different agendas. One guy at my table wanted to completely eliminate public schools. Well, that would certainly free up some capital, since about one-third of the current $1.38 billion budget is dedicated to CMS.
I was hoping to be able to add a quarter-cent sales tax dedicated to education, which I thought would generate about $20 million in revenue next fiscal year (fiscal years are from July 1 – June 30). But @BudgetBadger wouldn’t allow any meddling with the sales tax. He said he may incorporate it in the future. And a measure like an additional sales tax wouldn’t be on the books until after a general vote, which in this case wouldn’t be until November 6.
Another good idea would be to make the exercise more explicit, where you give users a few examples with clear consequences. Sort of like this one for the Federal budget:
All in all, the exercise is a great idea. I’d like to see it online with the ability to show the aggregate and collected averages of people who submit budgets. But the actual face-to-face exercise of sitting with your fellow citizens shows the great responsibility County Commissioners deal with in having to be well versed in the efficacy of every line item, every service, every outside organization they choose (or choose not) to fund.
Below, I’ve embedded spreadsheet budgets produced by the five different groups of people who attended the event.
The following awards were voted on by me. The participants, organizers and attendees of Ignite Charlotte 4 have nothing to do with this. I am grateful none of them asked me to leave when I was the only one wildly cheering after @danielroselli quoted President Washington’s farewell address (which, coincidentally, I’ve recently posted some of here) in his speech Web 3.0 – The Coming Death of Political Parties (sadly it didn’t win an award).
PARTICIPATION AWARD GOES TO: @TheWorldToliver
Speech title: Fat, Lazy and Awkward
This guy absolutely hates participation trophies. I love participation trophies. My mom has cardboard boxes full of my participation trophies. It didn’t give me any illusions that I was good at sports. I sucked at sports. I was awesome at sucking at sports. Where’s my trophy for that? Kids aren’t stupid. They might be getting fatter, but that’s dietary and circumstantial. Yes, there’s a childhood obesity epidemic. But it’s not because of the proliferation of gilded plastic trophies. Some parents create a bubble of confidence and overprotect their kids. It’s called support. As a show of solidarity with the fat kids he bullied, I hope this dude accepts this award so he may, too, know the joys of winning things undeservedly. (Note: None of the following photos have been photoshopped or edited in any way. True story.)
MOST LIKELY TO ALIENATE ALL THE MEN IN THE AUDIENCE AWARD GOES TO: @doctaj
Speech title: If You Hate Justin Bieber, Pariarchy Wins
Her main point: hate boy bands and women stay in the kitchen. Finally, I’m not ashamed to admit I had NKOTB scrapbooks and sticker collections.
PERSONAL FAVORITE/WHEN I SAY “DUDE NEXT TO ME” I MEAN ME AWARD GOES TO: @realsource
Speech title: Lessons from My Grandfather.
Great speech about the important relationship and wisdom this guy shared and learned from his gramps. Some “dude next to me” was crying like a baby child.
MOST LUNAR-FRIENDLY EMCEE AWARD GOES TO: @lawshaheenjr
Because he wasn’t afraid to admit that Gingrich’s moon bases are actually a REALLY FREAKING COOL IDEA.
GOOD ADVICE YOU JUST CAN’T TAKE AWARD GOES TO: @rockbot
Speech title: Engineering for the Masses
This is one of those great speeches that distills a very complicated thing, then gives you the inspiration to go home, disassemble your vacuum cleaner, reassemble it, then end up with a few extra “parts” and a vacuum shaped paper weight.
Congratulations to all the winners!
On May 8, Unaffiliates in North Carolina get to pick the party’s primary in which they’ll vote. Registered Democrats can only vote in Democrat primaries, and registered Republicans can only vote in Republican primaries.
It’s another reason you might want to update that political party pledge on your voter registration form.
You’ve got until Friday the 13th in April to change your party for the May 8 primary.
Who’s interested in organizing the Un-party in Mecklenburg County?
I smell a tweetup. March 26, 8pm.
Based on 2008 figures from the US Department of Labor, an American over the age of 18 reading this post has about a 0.003% chance of being an attorney (we’re assuming I have more than five readers, ok).
That’s because there are about 759,200 practicing lawyers in the US. However, if you’re one of the 535 members of the 112th Congress, the chances that you’ve got a law degree shoot up to a whopping 38%.
What would Thomas Jefferson, a lawyer himself, have said? This:
“If the present Congress errs in too much talking, how can it be otherwise in a body to which the people send one hundred and fifty lawyers, whose trade it is to question everything, yield nothing, and talk by the hour?”
Of course, times have changed. We now send 252 lawyers to Congress.
“You never ever trust anyone until you know their angle.”
~ Marty Kahn
Sweeping generalization alert: Professionals. They’re great at what they do. But they can get frustrated when people outside of their fields don’t understand the basic rules. It’s equally frustrating to be excluded, or not understand the fundamentals of a system.
For instance, when a kid gets frustrated when an adult isn’t good at playing video games with them. Or when the Greasers fight the Socs because they don’t understand each other. Or like when I was a server in a restaurant (long after my Greaser days), I saw it all the time. A guest would have a special request or act in a way that I and the rest of the staff just couldn’t believe. But we were the insiders in that situation, working everyday in a system that most might visit for one or two hours one or two times a month.
That’s what I think about when I approach politics and media. It’s more important, and easier than ever, for experts and professionals, especially in those two fields, to reach out and bring us outsiders up to speed with their systems. The processes of making news and shaping policy have become intrinsic to understanding news and policy. I can tell you from first hand experience that political and media professionals don’t proactively reach out and coordinate with people. And why would they? If you know as much as they do, you’d be qualified to do their job! I argue they could build better brands that way. Just having a comments section on your website or giving people three minutes to speak at a public meeting doesn’t cut it anymore.
The duty to educate others is equal to the duty of educating ourselves.
Most of us aren’t experts or insiders when it comes to politics and media. I’m interested in how easily average, everyday citizens, armed with a minimum of expertise in our political and media institutions, can get fully informed and start seriously participating in the legislation, dissemination and information that govern their lives. That’s why I jumped into blogging a few years ago. That’s why I wanted to run for public office this year. I went into both blind and foolish, but with purpose and will.
You don’t need a weatherman
To know which way the wind blows
Basically, I like asking stupid questions. And why go to the Internet or some school, when you can go to the source? I don’t indulge in conspiracy theories (although I’m pretty sure me being a Duke fan has something to do with the way local media types, with their tendency to graduate from UNC, treat me). I like being the dumbest person at the table. There’s no shame in putting yourself out there, being nosy, asking questions, rubbing elbows with people that actually know what’s going on or have access to places you don’t. Why? May it please the court, I humbly submit no one really knows what the hell is going on. Rather, there isn’t anyone in the world that can understand an issue better than anyone else in the world.
Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.
I love to sit and listen to people. It doesn’t matter whether they are smarter than me or more misinformed. In fact, my favorite conversations are the ones where me and the person have no idea what we are talking about. I learn something from everyone. In all honesty, I try to surround myself with people who know more than me. Maybe that’s why I feel like an idiot most of the time. I don’t have a big political party backing me. I don’t have have millions of dollars to spend on broadcasting the message. That basically means I have no credibility with the current experts in these systems.
For the past few years, I’ve learned my angle. I never want to forget the process of learning how to participate. I don’t want to become an expert insider. I don’t want the institutions I investigate to accept me. I have no fear of selling out or becoming corrupted. Although, it would be nice if they remembered my special days every once in a while. I mean, come on, if Red Lobser and TGI Friday’s can remember to send me a note on my birthday why not the state or federal Congress, too?
Too many systems are insular and closed. Too many systems have defined paths with constricting networks. I enjoy being the outsider in the margins, but I strive to understand government and media like an expert. I also want to be able to help others begin to understand their government and media. Such a mission requires a life lived in the margins, with each foot in a different world.
According to ATR.ORG, 46 North Carolina legislators have signed Grover Norquist’s taxpayer protection pledge. Robert (Bob) A. Rucho, who also lead recent redistricting efforts, is the only Mecklenburg County (see Distict 39 on map) official on the list as of Wednesday February 29, 2012.
19 Senators of 50
Philip Berger (S-26)
Harris Blake (S-22)
Andrew Brock (S-34)
Peter S. Brunstetter (S-31)
Debbie Ann Clary (S-46)
Warren Daniel (S-44)
Don East (S-30)
Kathy Harrington (S-43)
Fletcher L. Hartsell, Jr. (S-36)
Neal Hunt (S-15)
Wesley A. Meredith (S-19)
Louis M. Pate Jr. (S-5)
Jean Preston (S-2)
David Rouzer (S-12)
Robert A. Rucho (S-39)
Daniel F. Soucek (S-45)
Jerry W. Tillman (S-29)
W. Tommy Tucker (S-35)
James Forrester (S-41) [passed away last November]
27 House members of 150
John Marshall Blust (H-62)
Larry R. Brown (H-73)
Rayne Brown (H-81)
Justin P. Burr (H-67)
George Cleveland (H-14)
Jeffrey L. Collins (H-25)
Bill M. Cook, Jr. (H-6)
James Crawford, Jr. (H-32)
William Current (H-109)
Jerry C. Dockham (H-80)
Nelson Dollar (H-36)
Dale Folwell (H-74)
Phillip Frye (H-84)
Mitch Gillespie (H-85)
Kelly E. Hastings (H-110)
Mark Hilton (H-96)
Julia Craven Howard (H-79)
Dan W. Ingle (H-64)
Linda P. Johnson (H-83)
Grey Mills (H-95)
Tim Moore (H-111)
Shirley B. Randleman (H-94)
Efton Sager (H-11)
Edgar V. Starnes (H-87)
Fred F. Steen II (H-76)
Sarah Stevens (H-90)
Harry Warren (H-77)
A link to another story in the Trade & Tryon blog from Charlotte Magazine highlighted this quote:
“Some of the best Republicans we’ve ever had were Democrats.”
It reminded me of another time, back when I blogged as MiniFail on MinimumFailure.com (I’ve since deleted the blogand let the domain lapse). I decided to attend and live-tweet the NRA conference in May of 2010. The previously cited quote reminded me of what a current candidate for the GOP nomination for President said:
NOTE: Mobile viewers fast forward to the 4:56 mark for comment.
“The Americans, then, have not relied upon the nature of their country to counterpoise those dangers which originate in their Constitution and in their political laws. To evils which are common to all democratic peoples they have applied remedies which none but themselves had ever thought of before; and although they were the first to make the experiment, they have succeeded in it.”
- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
I want to run for public office as an Unaffiliated candidate. I’ve had more than one person derisively accuse me of attempting a social experiment. It didn’t offend me (a difficult chore). What better way for a person who believes and values certain principles, who shares them with others and wants to make the world a better place by exercising those beliefs, than by jumping in the political arena to gauge current sentiment? Every political campaign and every candidate embodies a social experiment. The United States of America was referred to in its early days by its very founders as an experiment!
“This I hope will be the age of experiments in government, and that their basis will be founded in principles of honesty, not of mere force.”
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, 1796
It didn’t take long to learn to some lessons about running for public office. I met with some professionals (campaign managers, elected officials, fundraisers) a couple weeks ago and got an informal crash course in Politics & Money 101. Barely any time had gone by at all after I mentioned an interest in running for office when people entrenched with the local political parties were researching me. A Commissioner emailed a friend about my potential candidacy (without ever reaching out to me directly), and someone who identified himself as a “lobbyist” contacted a family member asking questions about my personal history.
I’m willing to relinquish much of my private citizenship in order to help people. I think local government can do a better job to help people understand local government. Local government can do a better job to help people navigate services. Local government can do a better job communicating and engaging its citizenry. It’s never been easier to connect with people and disseminate messages quickly and directly. I think local government can do a better job of marketing itself and increasing participation. I want to help and I can help.
“The foundation of every government is some principle or passion in the minds of the people.”
- John Adams
But what have I done for Mecklenburg County? Not enough, I can tell you that. My father and his father before him served in the military. I’d like to continue that family tradition of public service by serving my fellow citizens as their best advocate in matters of local governance. I’ll do that by communicating with people more than any other representative has in the past because there are new tools in place that can make that happen. These tools are free, or very nearly free, to operate. There are services we can increase in Mecklenburg County that will not cost a dime.
I’m still going after those required number of signatures, but I’m also keeping an eye on the Electoral Freedom Act. And I’m keeping an eye on the issues and seats at stake in that May 8 primary.