Live YouTube videos of city council meetings now available

Published May 31, 2017 by justicewg

The city council has begun a new chapter in responsiveness to Grandview Heights residents with live video posted to YT as the meetings are in progress. The council has recorded the last four council meetings, with variable quality, but the effort shown is a big step up in opening up meetings and improving responsiveness for the city.

Councilwoman Keeler, as chair of the Communications & Technology Committee, was most responsible for bringing the camera to the council meetings. According to her, the city did look into how some other cities use video to record meetings, but had no special request from the any visitor to the council meetings to start offering live meetings on YT.

The video feed has some rough recording issues, mostly with the audio. Some council members sit back and make it difficult to hear their voices. The worst problem is microphone “thump”, caused by council members shuffling papers or taping the desk, it is magnified by the desktop and gets really annoying when a low “boom” makes listening to quiet voices painful.

They could improve the quality of the sound by placing something soft, like a mouse pad, under each mike.

The video was in low quality 240P resolution for some of the first meetings, but now is at an acceptable 720P HD. The video could be improved by the use of two cameras so that the members with their backs to the camera could be seen better, but that would require a person to be operating a switch live, activating the camera that is pointing at the current speaker.

The real advantage for the residents of the city is to allow us to see how easy it is to get your voice heard before the council. The example above, from the May 15, 2017 Council Meeting, shows how the council spent a full 30 minutes listening to residents proposing a new law that required children to wear helmets while bike riding. The council was not enthusiastic about adding a new law that stacked more work on the city police, but the issue got a full hearing and will probably be under more discussion at future meetings. This level of attention to issues that residents bring before the council is not often seen in larger cities.

If you have not gone before the city council and voiced your concerns about problems on your street, you are missing out on a big part of what makes this a democracy.

Don’t expect video from the school board

Grandview is a city of contrasts, no where so much as the attitudes of the board when compared to the council. The board doesn’t want you to speak, is probably not going to give you answers, and will be sending pigs into space before they volunteer to make video recordings of their meetings.

Board president Jessie Truett has this to say when requested to make audio recordings:

“Today’s (special) meeting was not recorded and as in the past, we do not intend to record future work sessions. “ – Jessie Truett

I don’t think video recordings will be made at board meetings unless a real change happens in the next election.

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The push polling for building new schools has begun

Published May 7, 2017 by justicewg

I mentioned in the last post that I was told a PR firm was doing paid focus groups and polling on the schools here in Grandview, at which they are probably doing Push Polling, a standard method for political groups to influence public opinion. I don’t have proof this is happening with that PR firm.

I do have access to the online poll the school has created, and was a little surprised at the blatant push polling in that survey.

Out of all the options the board wants to build, the moving of the K to 3rd grade out of Stevenson and into a building on the present Middle school location seems to be mentioned the most. It is in the 3A, 3B, and 3C options. The master plan doesn’t say what will happen to the building. “Evaluate  future  use  of  Stevenson  Elementary” is what they say on the option list.

The online Poll that the school wants us to fill out has a very different thing to say about Stevenson school:

 “If Stevenson Elementary was converted to a community center for the city, would you favor or oppose moving the kindergarten through 3rd grade students into a new building on the high school/middle school campus?” – from the online poll.

Nobody from the city has said a word about using Stevenson as a “community center”. This is completely from the school board, used as a method of confusing the options on closing down Stevenson, a move that will be stridently opposed by all the parents on the east end of the city.

What kind of “community center” could even be built in that building? No way a Rec Center is going to fit into the many small classrooms. The auditorium is way too small for any adult ball courts or community swimming pool.

I’d like to hear one of the city council members comment on this – they have never said a word about it that I know, and I don’t think they would support closing down Stevenson (unless they are looking to get booted off the council by the voters).

(Edit – I confirmed with Council President Kearns, no one from the board has ever talked to them about a “community center” at Stevenson, no plans have been discussed by the council about any alternate use of the building.)

After some thought, I’m not sure if push polling is the correct label for what the board did. There was not even the slightest establishment of the possibility of the school building being turned into a community center. That makes it more a flat out lie from the school board, intentionally done to deceive the voters of Grandview

Keep an eye out for the push polling, I’m sure we will be exposed to all sorts of assertions in the polls that are just fantasy created by the board to manipulate public opinion on their plans. Read the rest of this entry →

School facilities options – first impressions

Published May 5, 2017 by justicewg

May Facility meeting with options3The school board has presented three major options for the school facilities (with seven sub-options). There is a lot of information to digest in the Master Plan Options but here are some quick first impressions.

Board doesn’t care about state borrowing limits

Six of the seven options are asking for more bonds that the state will allow by law.

How is it possible to borrow more than the state of Ohio allows? Some net research shows that it is possible to ask the state for a waiver of the rules, and if a general funds levy is set high enough (and passed by voters) to cover the difference in cost between the state bond limit and the construction cost, it is allowed.

Just like a homeowner might dig themselves into a deep hole by finagling a mortgage that he can’t really afford, and risks defaulting on the loan if the person is hit with a financial crisis, a district can dig itself into a hole that could cause catastrophic problems if a recession hits the economy. And what is the chances of that happening – who even remembers 2008?

Will the state allow Grandview to go over the legal bond limit? Remember, the state republican party, lead by Kasich, has singled out Grandview for the largest cuts in state funding. They want small schools to merge with larger ones, in order to be more efficient. What is stopping the state from saying “no, Grandview, you may not exceed the state limit”?

No mention of mills in report

The millions of dollars needed to build new schools (up to $70 million in the most expensive plan) has to be paid by the voters with increases in the property tax millage. There was no mention of mills – because the board knows that they would be calling the squad and wheeling homeowners out of the Glenn suffering from heart attacks.

The board didn’t make it easy to find information on mills needed to fund the facility plans, but there is some clues posted on the schools Facility FAQ page. According to this page, “a 5.52 mill levy today would generate enough to finance a project of approximately $33 million.” So if the board wants the $70 million to build a new “campus”, they would be asking for over 12 mills. Remember, the state is cutting their funding, and the number of administrators and their salaries continues to grow, so operating levies will be needed too. We might be looking at a 15+ mill request from the school board.

What is the history in Grandview for passing high millage levies? In May 2002, voters rejected a ridiculous 9.8 + 4 + 4 incremental school levy (the additional mills would be added in later years). It wasn’t even close, the voters rejected the high levy request with a 70% no vote.

Grandview Heights currently has the highest Total property tax rate (school plus city, etc.) in the county.

May 12 update – from a TVN story:

If the district were to pursue a project costing its current bond-borrowing capacity of $45.3 million, an 8.2-mill bond levy would be needed, Collier said.

There is no backup plan

Any serious, professional planner has an option ready for any contingency. The school board will be expected to push for one of the expensive, “no contact with reality” plans for massive new schools. It will fail to get the votes. They will then attempt one of the cheaper options (if you call $35 million cheap). Depending on the general economy, and the mood of the voters, that plan might also fail. What happens then?

I asked Culp if the board has a contingency plan ready if it can’t get the votes for the least expensive plan. I asked what the board would do about facility repair during the 2 or more years the school might ask for levies to pay for the expensive option. He replied with the usual bureaucratic non-answer.

The options in the master plan – ranging from a no contact with reality $70 million, to a near the limit allowed by law $35 million, are all of the plans the board has made. They are so sure they will charm us, and if needed threaten us, that they have no alternate to their expensive plans.

The board will “manifest” the money

I wrote a posts called What’s wrong with the School Board’s optimism?, I think it is the best explanation for what is happening on the board. Please read that post, and watch the Barbara Ehrenreich video.

The board has been in a self-reinforcing, protected from outside comments bunker mode for a long time. The carefully selected facility task force, segregated by board rules that prevented any visitor from attend their meetings, has reinforced the wall the board put up to keep reality out.

I think the board thinks that there is no reason that the expensive new campus options can’t be built. They are probably telling each other, “we can do it, we just need to say the right words, and we will manifest the money to build new buildings. It is just a matter of how much will power we have”.

We will have to endure multiple public meetings, at which the board will drone on endlessly about the numbers, then they will plead, then they will threaten. They will say that new building are the only moral choice, and those who oppose their plans are bad people who want to hurt children.

You didn’t vote for this

We haven’t gotten to the finger pointing section of the debate yet, so let me direct the first arrow.

Grandview didn’t vote to have buildings that need expensive maintenance. The only levy that has been rejected in the last 30 years was in 2002. All of the fault for the condition of the school buildings are on the school board. The priorities of the school board are clear in the spending they have done on a overloaded, high salary administration.

I’m sure that the present school board will claim they are heroic visionaries for proposing new school buildings. I think they are like the car dealer that notices a small patch of rust on your old car, and tries to convince you that the only solution that makes sense is to buy a $100K luxury car – because your kids deserve the best!

We do have an opportunity to vote for board members in the fall. Let’s send a clear message by rejecting all of the current members.

(Later) I should have added “spend a lot of money on experts in public relations” on my list of things the board is telling each other they need to do to get their new buildings. I have heard there is a PR firm that is paying Grandview residents to attend focus groups at which they are “asked about their opinions”. Push polling is a standard practice for PR firms, they slant the questions in ways that make doing what they want to be signaled as a virtuous act, and resistance is subtly associated with ignorance, close mindedness, and anti-social acts.

A message to the PR firm – Hi! I’m sure you are reading my blog, I have a offer for you. Want to get a look into the mind of a person who is going to be a vocal opponent of the construction of new schools? Pay me! Use the links in the About section to send me a message.  Lets make a deal!

City addresses long term plans for Goodale Blvd.

Published April 28, 2017 by justicewg

Brexton BldgConstruction of a five-story building on the former reTAGit site on Goodale, as well as street work and the nearing completion of the pool, has focused attention on the area. A TVN story gives the latest news on the city’s long term plans.

I think the parking and flooding issues are the main challenges the city must confront in developing the street. Although past work on the floodwalls has improved the classification of some of the area, there are still lots that might end up under water.

“Because the property sits in the flood plain, federal, state and city regulations limit the cost of renovation to being no more than 50 percent of the property value … The high cost of flood insurance also required the first floor (of the five story building) be used for covered parking rather than the retail or office use desired, Galvin said. “

Patrik Bowman, the city’s director of administration, recounted past efforts to work with the city of Columbus to build flood flap gates across the train tracks that would hold back flooding, but that never worked out. He mentioned a possibility of a re-calculation because of a lowering of the Olentangy River , but didn’t put much hope in that occurring.

The small size of the lots on Goodale makes any future tall buildings difficult to plan because of a lack of parking. The use of the first floor for parking is a serious strike on the profitability of any future construction, the utility of the first floor for retail businesses is a key to the income for most developers.

Bowman predicted that future re-development on Goodale would be limited to renovation of existing structures, rather than tall new buildings.

The newspaper article ended with a odd quote:

Galvin said he is concerned that property values on Goodale could lead some developers to seek approval of higher density, residential development along Goodale. He said he would rather see smaller development involving office or retail use.

The Galvin who is quoted in this part of the article is the CEO of Brexton, the developer of the five story building. I’m not sure why his wishes for the future are of importance for a story about the long term plans from the city of Grandview. (Edit) I was reminded that Galvin was a city council member from June 2014 – January 2016, but was not re-elected. His opinion on development for Goodale might be well informed, but he is no longer a office holder, so his wishes for the future of the city are not as important as the current council and city director of administration. The story would have been improved with their comments.

More Bozos on the bus

Grandview doesn’t need to look far to find examples of small towns that were overwhelmed by new housing. Powell, Ohio shows what can happen when too many residents turn the streets into gridlock and government services stretched too thin leads to unhappiness.

New residential housing on Goodale would cause the least disruption on inner street traffic for rush hours, out of any other location in Grandview. However, choke points like the intersection of Goodale and Grandview Ave. will become worse.

Allowing more development without careful city planning is a sure fire way to turn Grandview into Powell. Careful watch of the city council members is needed to prevent pro-development boosters taking the city the wrong direction.

Board to host open, ask anything meetings (A.F.)

Published March 31, 2017 by justicewg

truett-at-visioningThe announcement by school superintendent Culp about meetings to be held in the homes of Grandview residents has provoked a change of direction in the school board. Culp’s “ask me anything” home meetups is going to be done one better by the board.

“We remembered that the school board held meetings in the past for the community to ask questions about special topics, like the removal for the A+ grade, or the change in student drinking policy. We looked at our record and noticed it has been years since we have done anything like that.”

Board president Truett posted new policy for the board on the school website this week. “We will be hosting bi-monthly meetings at the school for the foreseeable future. There will be no limit in topic – anything goes. Do you wonder what the real deal was with the mysterious end of the contract with facilities consultant HPG? Come ask. Did we leave unanswered info about the sudden end to former super O’Reilly’s tenure? Ask us to come clean. There were questions about why the school pushed out band director Hennig, Lots of things happened there that we kept under wraps, it will be good to get them out. How about the lawsuit against the school, and the large payouts the school made to end those legal challenges to our treatment of a parent? We will be fully transparent.”

The school will be making video recordings of each questions and answer, and a detailed transcription of the questions and answers will be posted to the school website.

Truett commented, ”That thing I said during a meeting about how criticism and questioning the board is bad decorum? Yea, that was kind of a dumb thing to say. Any questions or comments are now going to be quickly and completely answered by the board.”

“Heck, I might even be answering questions about the real reason that I resigned from the principal position at the school, and turned in my teaching license. You can only hold that stuff in so long, before it makes a fellow a bit uncomfortable. It will be a good thing to tell the whole truth” said Jessie Truett.

(Later) Sorry, some times you need to be a little early on the April Fools to get “ahead” of the pack.

Culp is holding a “coffee”, and you are not invited

All of the preceding story about the board holding open, ask anything meetings is a joke, an April fools gag that was so far fetched that nobody could have thought it was true, like spaghetti growing on a tree. All of the questions that I listed are real questions that the board has never answered – click the links to read the stories behind the unanswered questions.

I had to go back in the archives of my old blog to find examples of the school board holding open meetings that were scheduled so that any community member could ask questions. There really was a meeting held so the board could answer questions about changes to the student drinking policy back in 2008, and another was held in 2006 to get parent comments on the removal of the A+ grade. I don’t think any public meetings to ask the board questions have been held since then. There was about a hundred parents that attended the school board meeting at which the band director was given the boot, but that was a regular board meeting, and the board did not answer any questions from the public. I think the board was so frightened by that meeting they are now refusing to ever get out of the bunker.

The announcement by school superintendent Culp about meetings to be held in the homes of Grandview residents – that is real, the link above to the TVN story explains it (there is also a Dispatch story). I asked Mr Culp for more detail about the format of these meetings – how would the homes be chosen, who is invited, is the meeting recorded? He responded that he would be the one making the choice, the homeowner would pick the attendees, and nothing would be recorded. I sent the following to him in response to that.

Since you are leaving the details of who will be invited to these meetings to the homeowner, and they will set the tone of acceptable questioning, I don’t foresee anything will occur at these home coffee meetings other than polite chatting that never asks the important, difficult questions. Why would a homeowner invite a superintendent into his home in order for him to be made uncomfortable?

Since you don’t intend to record these meetings, there will be no record of what was asked, or answered. Ephemeral meetings with no important content, and no trace left after. Possibly useful for someone who wanted to burnish a social standing in the community by bragging “I had the superintendent at my house”. (Maybe also parents who are looking to bank some influence with the school if their child were to get into trouble in the future.)

Do you really think there will be anything produced that would be of value for the people who have hard questions in this community? – JW

Big surprise – Culp didn’t answer my question! I guess he didn’t have enough coffee.

(Later) After reading the Dispatch story about the “Coffee Chat” meetings, I think I understand now what the real deal is. Jessie Truett, who will be running for re-election to the board in the fall, will be attending these meetings also. This allows him a way to get into people’s homes and do some early campaigning for his fall run. I think Grandview residents have woken up to the mistake they made in electing him, and the shame it brings to the school to have the guy as board president. I think Truett really needs the paycheck for the board gig, and is desperate to hold the job.

Kasich budget hits Grandview hard, treasurer Collier tries to dance around bad news

Published February 24, 2017 by justicewg
collier-cut-head

Collier had her head cut off in the TVN photo

It has to be tough working for the mostly republican school board in Grandview, you have to deal with constant cuts from the republican controlled Ohio government, while whistling a happy tune and pretending everything will be OK.

School Treasurer Collier had an article in the TVN about the cuts in state funding on the way for the district, she explained how Grandview lost the most annual funding on a per-pupil basis – $684 – among all Franklin County districts. She tried to explain the cuts as a result of funding formulas that she said were hard to understand, or as she says, “Complex, isn’t it?”

No, it isn’t complex. Kasich and his republicans want to force small schools to merge with larger schools, that’s why Grandview was hit the hardest. If you want to keep Grandview from being forced to merge with another district (probably U.A.), you should be speaking up, denouncing the Kasich plans, speaking the truth about what republican plans will do to our school in the long term. But since the board members don’t want to hear that, we will be listening to the whistling past the graveyard.

Deception on taxes

Collier tries to pull a fast on on us by specifying the school tax rate, and claiming it is “one of the lowest”. First, our school millage is second only to Bexley. Second, our total property tax rate (school plus city, etc.) is the highest in the county. If you are going by the effective rate, Grandview is not at the top, so that is what the school wants us to look at, and ignore the other parts of the tables. Effective rates are important, but the total rate is where we know how we stand as far as taxing ourselves. We have passed the most tax millage in the county – we have no reason to expect voters to push taxes even higher.

City Total prop. Tax rate Effective rate, 2016
Grandview Heights 143.37 77.89
Bexley 141.65 73.76
Upper Arlington 133.06 75.03
Reynoldsburg 121.42 92.91
Westerville 123.92 95.41
Columbus 106.29 74.71

(Addendum) You might ask, why not link to the school website, shouldn’t they have the above data posted somewhere? And yes, under past Treasurers, there were charts showing mills voted and effective rates for the major school districts in the county. Treasurer Collier wiped this info from the website, then refused my request to replace and update the information. Then she changed her mind, and sometime around Dec 2015 she re-posted some of  the data. But as you see from looking at the data now on the school website, that fiscal information has been sitting unchanged since 2015, left to rot.

More loony plans from the Gov.

There is a second article in the TVN that covers much of the same news about the budget proposed by Kasich, and in this one Collier is not so pollyannaish. She is quoted saying about the state funding “That will be a pretty significant dropoff”. Funny, the other article made it sound like it was no big deal.

Kasich is pushing for a program of requiring teachers to take“externship with a local business”. The article makes it sound like a mystery plan with no clear reason for starting, but all republican plans can be understood if you listen to their constant bleating to “run government like a business”. They think that forcing teachers to spend time in local businesses is going to imbue them in the entrepreneurial spirit. Even when it makes no sense to push teachers with no students who could be in those businesses (any teacher under HS level), the R’s want to waste teacher time with social engineering.

Even superintendent Culp is quoted saying “It’s the local school board who knows what’s best for the teachers in their home schools and community.” I expect him to be hearing strong criticism from his bosses on the board over that weak opposition to republican plans.

More on Kasich and budget cuts from 2015.

(Addendum) I’ve had some people saying “so what, a cut of  $684  per pupil is not much for a year.” The problem is that as the 2015 post linked above shows, this isn’t a short term problem. The state might make another cut next year, and the year after that, then change the rules,  until Grandview Heights has no choice but to merge with another school system. And our school board might not be able to do much about it, but at least they should stand up and say “This is wrong”.

(April update) The Ohio House is planning to make some changes to the school budget, but Grandview is still singled out for the same cuts that Kasich wanted. The Senate is unlikely to help us. At least the wacky “externship” plan from Kasich has been dumped. Still no public announcement from the Grandview school board that criticizes the GOP or asks for parent groups to protest the cuts.

Study projects little growth in schools

Published February 16, 2017 by justicewg

We all pretty much knew what the results of the study would be. A consultant group for the school delivered expected results – the only growth area in Grandview is the Yard, and the kind on people living in that area tend to be DINKs and young people with no kids.

Still, it needs to be noted for the future, the school board has gone public with the results, and they are not going to be able to use an increase in student numbers to push for new school buildings.

Culp is quoted in the TVN story saying that enrollment in Grandview has declined by 4 percent, or about 46 students, over the last decade. In truth, enrollment has been dropping since the 1960’s. The current student-teacher ratio, 16 to 1, is one of the better ratios in this county. The school expects to be able to absorb any increase in students without hiring new staff.