Thursday, September 18, 2014

Know Shit

A knock-on effect of the ethical challenges facing DeKalb County politicos has been a recent War of Word. And that word is: transparency.

One contender to the throne that until recently had been kept warm by Ms. Boyer is pledging an open checkbook register. OK. A sitting Councilman with a deserved reputation for informing citizens wherever possible felt compelled to re-iterate in a personal testimony. When ARE the next elections? A former City Councilman has suggested that if Dunwoody would only throw open the kimono the world would be delighted at how transparent this City really is. Really?

Perhaps not so much.

But to be fair there really isn't a great example for Dunwoody or it's citizens to learn by as opacity is the first tool all politicians use to manipulate whatever truths they are forced to concede. As a public service (as you well know, we at The Other Dunwoody are all about public service) let's look at things that would make Dunwoody an exemplar of transparency:

  • You MUST be proactive. This is not only the cornerstone of any transparent organization it is required to establish and maintain trust with stakeholders.  This must become such a part of the City's DNA that it would never need to respond to FOI request because the information is already in the public domain. 
  • You MUST be prompt. Data and documents must be published within 24 hours of trigger event (e.g., signing a contract) or acquisition of data or documents.
  • Publish data in machine readable form. Alternative publications are fine, but when data are involved machine readable is table stakes. 
  • Publish "easy data" quickly and frequently. Easy data are readily acquired or delivered, usually electronically and require no curation or redaction. An example would be call detail records on all City land lines and cell phones. And of course this includes "the checkbook."
  • Publish curated data on a routine basis but as frequently as possible. These are data that require some level of redaction with a good example being traffic citations where it may not be appropriate to publish some of the offender information.
  • Publication of triggered event information sets must be comprehensive. A triggered event is something like a successful contract negation at which point all related information (memo's, meeting agenda/minutes, call records, etc.) are published as a package even if those data and documents that may have already been published.
  • Routine internal operational reports must be published at regular intervals which at the very least should be 7 calendar days before City Council meetings. These reports should include internal staff reports as well as work-related correspondence with vendors. 
This level (which TOD considers a minimum level) of transparency is not supported by existing government processes and information infrastructure and will require some upgrades in both areas. IT needs to put in place systems that automate the acquisition, process and publication of data such as Call Detail Records and email metadata (SMTP headers). They will also be required to archive emails (if they do not already--no IRS email kerfuffles allowed) and to maintain strict version control of all City documents. Activities must be managed as cohesive units with data and documents collected and published in full at the appropriate milestones. For example, when a grant proposal is submitted that proposal and all documents leading up to it (emails, meeting minutes, status reports, Call records, draft proposals, etc.) are published to the public as a single module.  Similarly, negotiations with current or future vendors would result in publication of all related data and documents the minute the deal is sealed. 

Because we can already hear the folks at City Hall gagging and sputtering something about "we wouldn't even know where to begin" as a part of this particular public service effort we'll get the ball rolling with just a few of our favorite items that should be in the public domain:
  • The ever-popular "Check Register"
  • All Call Detail Records
  • Traffic Citations
  • All radar sign speed records (mobile and fixed signs)
  • Grant proposals and all related documents associated with each individual grant effort
  • All records on unsolicited grants (the Lenco Bearcat leaps to mind)
  • All data and records between the City and subordinate groups including the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Citizen Committees
  • All data and records within the aforementioned subordinate groups
  • All internal status reports (and there should be quite a few)
  • All records of cold-call solicitations (who accepted the call, how did the effort progress)--a perfect example is the negotiations with Tree Top Quest, a poster child for opacity
Some folks (most likely at City Hall) will complain that this is just too much work--too costly. But frankly that is a lie. The fact is that most of these data and documents are created and managed electronically and the cost to implement processes supporting transparency are quite small. But it does beg the question: if transparency is such an important thing that politicians will run on it or stand by it then isn't this small cost acceptable? Or maybe they'd just prefer that we don't know shit.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Expensive Words

It may have been a cut-and-paste by the ubiquitous Staff and it may have seemed expedient at the time but these words and their (ab)use is likely to cost Dunwoody taxpayers a pretty penny:
The purpose and intent of the City Council in establishing the R-100 (Single-family Residential) District is as follows:
(a) To provide for the protection of neighborhoods within the City where lots have a minimum area of fifteen thousand (15,000) square feet;
(b) To provide for infill development in neighborhoods having fifteen thousand (15,000) square foot lots in a manner compatible with existing development
(c) To assure that the uses and structures authorized in the R-100 (Single-family Residential) District are those uses and structures designed to serve the housing, recreational, educational, religious, and social needs of the neighborhood. 
This comes from the Dunwoody Zoning Ordinance and is the statement of purpose and intent for R-100 zoning which covers residential lots under one acre (by implication of the other R-x00 codes) but over 15,000 square feet. Generally in law a legislative statement of purpose and intent is used during court proceedings to clarify gaps or vagueness in situations where the letter of the actual law (or code as in this case) does not clearly apply or convey the legislative intent.

In the situation with the Dunwoody Club Forest decision which is political at best and wrong at the very least a judge will most likely be called on to asses whether the Dunwoody City Council followed their own intent.  They have not. Council have stated, in the code, that their intent is to provide for, not deny, infill development. The winners of the debate as it stands today invoke the "in a manner compatible with existing development" clause, but the reality is that two very nice homes on generous, over 15,000 square foot lots, is not incompatible with surrounding nice, but older homes on similarly sized lots.

And the judge may consider whether the Dunwoody City Council has been consistent. They have not. If their intended use of this clause is to prevent "incompatible development" what say they to the development going on right now at the pipe farm? These appear incompatible with existing development as all of the neighboring, existing developments are apartments. In this case "consistent development" would be apartments as had been planned before the real estate bubble burst but which are instead, thru direct City interference, being replaced with single family residences.  Not compatible. Not consistent. Not likely a judge will look the other way.

The fact is the Dunwoody City Council has (ab)used zoning language they approved to do what they want, when they want and in a punitive fashion. We should all be concerned about the costs of these actions. Not just in dollars, but in integrity.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Corrupting Farce

Much has been said of Boyer's recent career implosion but a common thread seems to be "the system itself is fundamentally broken" and that as it stands it is a powerful corrupting system that would defeat the best of us. A lot of folks believe this and further believe that Boyer's slide into the abyss is proof positive.

Clearly folks in daVille are not buying any of this. How say? Well, if you really did believe this would you take one of your finest, your most highly regarded local luminaries and push them through this ethical meat grinder? And if you did would you not expect the same putrid sausage we always get coming out the other end?

The only way to make any sense of this is to conclude either that quite a few folks do not believe the system is all corrupting or they have found the one candidate immune to the corrosive agents running thru DeKalb politics like ebola in Africa. THEY have found the Saint George fitted out to slay our dragons. Really? Isn't that pretty much what all supporters say of  THEIR candidate? And is it not true that without fail we have caught these white knights wallowing in their own mud?

You do not put a prime cut thru the sausage grinder and profit well from it. It seems like smart people (and we are smart, aren't we?) would fix the real problem instead of using this failed system to destroy our best and brightest.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Where's Waldo?

Can you tell this guy

 from this guy?




Don't feel bad.


Neither could these two guys.




Thursday, September 4, 2014

Forced March To Citihood

A couple of thugs down at the Gold Dome have started flexing their muscle by giving an ultimatum to the Lakeside, Briarcliff and Tucker citihood teams:
Set your city borders by date certain or we will
We will skip over the arrogance of the ultimatum as arrogance is one of the main ingredients of any ultimatum and cut to chase. Why is it considered a fait accompli that there must be any new city at all, or that any even if desired by someone other than politicos, any of them would be viable? Of course none of that matters as the powerful and politically connected will have their way no matter who must pay.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Fitting Tribute To City Founders

We need one of these located at the entrance to City Hall as a fitting memorial to what got this City started* and remind everyone what they are about to encounter as they enter this Smart City Hall.


And as the region's upcoming City wannabes start their zombie-like drive to citihood the more normal citizens should ponder just what kind of people are about to control their lives.




* Notice the bird atop the back right neck and appreciate the symbolism.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Old Hickory House Collapses

Financially that is.

Juxtapose this with one certain County Commissioner's office staunching the flow of P-Card money and you have to wonder if this is a coincidence. Will others establishments soon fall?

Monday, August 25, 2014

CADtastrophe

Unless you're new to this blog you're pretty aware of the ongoing Dunwoody quagmire known as the "CAD-to-CAD Interface." If you are new this blog you really, Really, REALLY want to click here now. And if you went to the latest City Council meeting you were treated to our local elected thespians putting on another episode of As The Stomach Churns.

The theme of this episode was "Why We Will Sign A New Contract When CAD-to-CAD Remains Broken." Our original multimillion dollar contract is up and the new multiyear multimillion dollar contract is recommended by Staff for approval. Some on Council suggested using this opportunity for leverage over (at least one of) the CAD operators. Staff would have none of that and instead offered a rusty knife that others on Council used to figuratively hack off their scrotum and deliver their balls on a silver platter. Too good an offer to pass up they say. Too good indeed.

But to whom do they offer this City's finest mountain oysters? That is an interesting study in modern political organizational structure. Chattcomm is a totally opaque organization that seems to serve little purpose but to provide jobs for City Managers' friends and family as it is these folks, from shareholding Cities, who appoint the Chattcomm directors. It is worthy of note that the directors are not listed on the Chattcomm website and being a pass-thru corporation they skim whatever they want off the top as they watch our dollars go by.

But that's OK because outside of cash-flow skimming and friends and family opportunities Chattcomm is little more that a front for IXP, the company that actually provides the service. But Chattcomm does provide that one degree of separation that insulates corporate cronies from the ire of the citizenry who pay their bonuses. Of course that is a service to IXP and not to us.

While IXP is supposedly retained on a service-based contract the recent CAD-to-CAD disaster has demonstrated changing vendors is not even as simple as moving from Microsoft Word to LibreOffice. Mayor and Council have seconded that emotion by declaring that we dare not threaten to continue with the existing contract's continuance clause lest Chattcomm dump us. "Then where would we be? We can't go back to DeKalb." At this point the knife had been wielded.

Instead what was suggested was that we sign on for another five years and then we can use the "six month notice exit clause" to buy time for "contingency planning." WTF? This City's Staff and Elected Officials have had damn near two years for "contingency planning" some they are either incapable of or willfully intend not to do.

But is this really nothing more than simple cronyism? Or is there more in play? Perhaps Mayor and Council may be building a case for buying a stake in Chattcomm. If that is based on the notion that ownership will somehow address the CADtastrophe that contradicts their current excuse that Chattcomm cannot fix the problem as it lies with the other CAD vendor.  Or perhaps they are building a case for a Dunwoody Fire Department which would eliminate the need for CAD-to-CAD altogether. Only problem with that is there is at least one city in DeKalb that uses Chattcomm but has found no existing need for CAD-to-CAD and they do not have their own Fire Department either. One of them is right and one is wrong and it is hard to side with the Smart Team that has pissed away so much money on something that still doesn't work.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

War With Drugs

It was recently reported that some Amtrak employees were acting as confidential informants for the DEA funneling passenger information to our government's drug overlords on the sly. Upon learning of this executives at Amtrak were furious. Just not for the reasons you might think.

Amtrak has always been a Jekyll-Hyde organization claiming to be either an independent business operation or a government bureaucracy whenever the situation best suits their agenda. In this case they wanted to be more government and less business. That's because what incensed them about the CI's on their payroll wasn't that it compromised passenger privacy and in so doing impugned the organization's reputation and damaged its brand--oh no--what had them upset was that the DEA did not come to them with an IGA--inter governmental agreement. Why is that such a big deal? Because had the DEA entered into an IGA that would have given Amtrak a portion of the money from DEA assets confiscated from Amtrak passengers.

What we have done in this country is allowed the government, at all levels and in all areas, to declare a made-up war on a social calamity, create criminals where there were none before and create a revenue stream that would make Mexican Cartels jealous. Government confiscation of Americans' assets has become big business and as everyone in business knows business must either grow or die. This one is growing like a cancer.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Setting Expectations

While there is the theory of unmet expectations and the injustice of low expectations what we are witnessing in Missouri is people meeting expectations. Just not the expectations we would hope for.

By militarizing thieir police forces governments, large and small, are clearly setting the expectation that mere citizens are untrusted combatants. We are the[ir] enemy. It is not surprising to find that mere citizens react like combatants when treated like combatants yet these police statists use that behaviour for a post-facto justification of their inciteful tactics and policies.

There is some hope.

The ongoing tragedy in Missouri is peppered with such gross missteps by the local LEOs that is becoming clear that we should no more be giving these folks this kind of fire power than we should ISIS. And it is by no means certain which group intends to do the average American more harm. This has been so blatant that it has gotten the attention of politicians across the country and on both sides of the aisle. Perhaps now someone will investigate this ill conceived plan to militarize U.S. police forces and pull the plug on this insanity.