Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Tale of Two Gurneys

Two murderers were recently executed in Georgia and Texas.
One murderer was white, the other black.
The white murderer killed a black man, the black murderer killed a white police officer.
The white murderer dragged his victim behind his truck killing him and scattering his corpse. The black murderer shot his victim at point blank range when he tried to intervene in the beating of a second victim.
There was significant physical evidence against the white murderer, but no witnesses except the victim and two conspirators. There was significant eye witness evidence brought against the black murderer but little physical evidence.
The execution of the white murderer went virtually unnoticed, while the execution of the black murderer elicited a media circus.
The question this juxtaposition raises regards the sincerity of those who claim so publicly to be opposed to the death penalty. Is it about the convict or the protestors' fifteen minutes in the spotlight? Does it really have anything to do with the moral and ethical issues surrounding the death penalty?

Those truly committed to abolishing the death penalty need to understand that low hanging fruit will not suffice. While their protests that may inspire tears over the plight of a Karla Faye Tucker they also create a dark little comic theater that does little but suggest that adorable murderers ought not be put to death simply because they're attractive.

To be effective, death penalty abolitionists need to reach higher where the strange fruit are harder to grasp. They must present a compelling argument for those convicted of even the most heinous crimes.

They must successfully argue that the likes of Ted Bundy, described as "the very definition of heartless evil" and "a sadistic sociopath who took pleasure from another human's pain and the control he had over his victims, to the point of death, and even after", should be rotting in jail rather than the grave.  If they can convince us all that a civilized society cannot morally apply the death penalty to such a force of evil, who is yet a human being, then there will never again be a need to grandstand and glad-hand over the likes of Troy Davis.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Too Big To Succeed

The DeKalb County School System is simply too big to succeed:
  • A huge budget allows significant graft to get lost in the fine print
  • It is so large, by any measure, that finding a superintendent from an equivalent system is nearly impossible
  • Based on their website they have seven administration positions from Principal to Superintendent, and this does not include the made-up position of "Assistant Superintendent" of which there are at least five
  • The system is divided into five regions each headed by one of these "Assistant Superintendents"
And there-in lies a solution: break DCSS into five separate school systems, each with its own school board and superintendent. Of course there are other structural and organizational changes to be made:
  • School board is limited to three members, with one being elected each year by elections held at each school on the last day of the school year
  • Board meetings are held at district High Schools, rotating with each meeting
  • All board members are "at-large" and subject to voter approval from across the district
  • Board chair is a rotating position held by the board member in their third year, falling to the next most senior in the unusual case of no third-year board member
  • All board decisions must result from a unanimous vote, with a quorum of three
  • Eliminate, even if by phasing out over a five year period, defined benefit retirement programs for all employees
That should take care of the school board.  Central office administration is next:
  • The superintendent's office is located in a trailer and rotates on an annual basis amongst the High Schools in the district
  • High School principals report directly to the superintendent
  • Middle School and Elementary School principals report to the HS principal whose school they feed
  • Curriculum is handled by a central office staff of one, directed to coordinate in-the-field curriculum assistants
  • Curriculum assistants are in each school
  • HR is handled by an outside organization, including stack-ranking personnel and dealing with outplacement and remediation plans
  • Currently in-sourced support services are outsourced, including fleet management and contract administration
Staying away from "just how (un)qualified are classroom teachers", there is still much to do at the school level.
  • Eliminate "School Resource Officers", they are cops by another name, so just call the cops--let them contact the parents
  • Contract for janitorial and facility management services
  • Contract for cafeteria services
  • In fact, contract for everything but teaching
These changes will result in smaller, more manageable and more transparent systems, and best of all...this will create four new positions for aspiring superintendents of failing one-high-school districts who want a promotion and a relo.

    Sunday, September 11, 2011


    Betty Lee Hinson was born on September 10, 1932 many miles from the nearest hospital. She was born prematurely and if family lore is to be believed began cooking the same way, stirring a pot as soon as she was old enough to stand on a chair at the stove. There began a lifetime of aromas, good food and nurishment for body and soul alike--Sunday meals were a weekly communion.

    She died on a Sunday--the day before her 69th birthday. Standing before his mother's casket her son said to those who came to pay their respects:
    Peace be with you.

    Most things in this life, especially our time in it, belong to a Higher Power and we enjoy them according to a greater, universal plan not of our own making. But we are entrusted with two gifts. We have the ability to tell right from wrong--our moral compass, and we have free will to choose a path that gives our life meaning and value within the context these universal truths.

    I learned these things from my mother by the way that she lived her life. When confronted with life's challenges she chose the path of tolerance, of forgiveness, and of self-sacrifice.

    She chose Peace.

    While her time in this life is over she lives on in the hearts of those she loved and who loved her. And so I say to those gathered here to celebrate such a life, so well lived,

    May my mother's Peace be with you all.
    That Tuesday morning in a small church in Dentsville, Betty Lee Hinson embraced the peace she longed for in life.

    Friday, September 2, 2011

    Park It

    Please quit with the "we need more green space" blather. It is unadulterated crap. And we probably don't even need the baseball fields we have let alone any more so let's just cut to the chase.

    The Mr. Hyde side of the City seems consumed by lust over other people's money and getting their chance to spend it. A city councilman was quoted in the AJC referring not only to the pre-committed purchase but others as well saying, "With $27 million left [...] we can go shopping." Wow! Did someone elect a pre-pubescent teenage girl to city council and does she think she's at the mall with daddy's credit card?

    Our version of Dr. Jekyll in the land grab debate argues this is a buyer's market, and we should act before the situation changes though it doesn't look like it will for some time. Acting soon doesn't mean you cannot or should not negotiate a better price nor does it mean that every bit of property is a good buy. And Bill Grant, who knows a thing or two about buying up Dunwoody property, has suggested that as the "only buyer" Dunwoody could negotiate a better price and shouldn't rush into anything. While he does have a vested interest in the availability of undeveloped property in Dunwoody, he also has a point. 

    But timing the market is not the real issue at hand. A high ranking city official was once quoted by one of his friends as saying "We formed the city too late. Too many apartments are already here." Well, maybe, and maybe not.

    Clearly the Pipe Farm purchase was to prevent the completion of an already in-progress apartment complex. The Shallowford Hospital property is most appropriate for high density housing rather than upscale dining, technology incubators, Rodeo Drive retail, or even parks. But god and voting taxpayers willing, Dunwoody will take that off the market as well.

    Now is a perfect time to put it to a vote. Homeowners, even in Dunwoody, cannot quickly turn their property and certainly not at the price they want. Imagine if they could. Wouldn't any sane homeowner sell, move out and up, to an area where prices have not held up, and get a bigger, newer home and better schools? Since they cannot or will not move, paying to build a moat, albeit a green space moat, is suddenly an attractive alternative, even given you would be instituting a tax that will never go away and eliminating other sources of revenue.

    So the referendum for purchasing property presents a simple question to folks in Dunwoody:
    "How much will you pay to keep those other people out"?