Monday, January 31, 2005

Meet Paul Wheatley, NA's new economic development director

In today's ‘Bune, Amany Ali profiles New Albany’s freshly hired economic development director, 24-year-old Paul Wheatley.

As noted already by Volunteer Hoosier, Wheatley provides an interesting sound bite with this:

"Certainly, the city of New Albany needs a bit of revitalization. We need your anchor-type stores, which would attract other stores."

A “bit”?

Ali adds:

“Wheatley said Scribner Place will eventually be an anchor project, as would such businesses as book stores.”

Geez, looks like Randy’s already plucked him.

New development director looks to future, by Amany Ali, Tribune City Editor

Our Sunday walk down Pearl Street

NA Confidential joined Volunteer Hoosier’s downtown mapping foray on Sunday, as described in:

Taking a walk.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Johnny Carson ’s dead … long live Floyd R. Turbo, American

knee-jerk
Function: adjective: readily predictable
: AUTOMATIC <knee-jerk reactions>; also : reacting in a readily predictable way <knee-jerk conservatives>

Today in the New Albany Tribune, Managing Editor Chris Morris hands over the editorial slot to the renowned former 9th District congressman Lee Hamilton and moves to Amany Ali’s usual place in the center of the page for a column of his own, entitled “Reading this could lead to termination.”

Boy, should it, but almost certainly not in the way the ‘Bune’s resident sportsman intends as he selects what he perceives as a likely cream puff of a slo-pitch softball from last week’s wire service reports, gives it his best Ruthian uppercut … and pops out weakly to the catcher.

Take it away, Chris.

“How would you like to work for a company that has the right to tell you how to live? They could dictate what you eat, whether or not you could smoke, and if you can have an occasional beer?

“Well, that company already exists.

“Last week, a Michigan health care company fired four of its employees for refusing to take a test to determine whether they smoke cigarettes. The company enacted a new policy this month allowing workers to be fired if they smoke, even if that smoking takes place after hours or at home.”


That’s just the beginning.

It gets far, far worse.

Anyone who ever watched Jerry Springer, listened to Rush Limbaugh, voted for the tickets of George Wallace and Ross Perot, drank Bud Light at Hugh E. Bir’s in the company of an ash tray piled so high with butts that the whiskey bottles on the back bar have completely disappeared, looked furtively at the headlines of the check-out line tabloids, enjoyed 3-for-1 Big Bufords for lunch and dinner after a breakfast of Big Red and Tostitos, drove to the foot of the 50-yard-long driveway to get the mail, shook his or her fist in impotent fury at the way those book-smart pointy-headed elites dump all over the common folk … or, became by an accident of geography a member of that most unfortunate of species, the Tribune subscriber, knows what sort of “reasoning” that Chris will use to attack Weyco Inc., the straw man in this lamentable exercise in non-journalism.

Back to Chris for a medley of gems.

“Since when did smoking a cigarette at home, on your own time, become so terrible that it can get you fired? … (it’s) an attack on one’s freedoms … I thought Saddam Hussein was in prison … free people (should be) allowed to do legal activities … the reason for the Gestapo tactics is to help the company save money on insurance claims … all we can do is wait, and hope a court will tell this business owner that we are not living in Nazi Germany.”

Chris, what about Al-Qaida, or did mentioning Saddam imply the presence of Osama bin Laden in the Bushian sense?

Or worse yet, could it be Archie Bunker’s pinko faggots?

Have we already forgotten about the Communist Threat?

Flouride in the drinking water?

There are times when living in this town makes one want to scream, and this is one of them.

But before tackling these and other meaningless questions, NA Confidential proposes a revolutionary act of breathtaking simplicity.

Unlike the New Albany Tribune, we’ll provide you with another side to the story. It’s as easy as traveling to the web site of the company in question, consulting it, and weighing the options for yourself.

After doing so, you may well conclude that Chris’s viewpoint is the one for you, that he is correct, and that there is no excuse for such tyranny on the part of dastardly bosses.

Conversely, you may also decide that the issues involved are complex and deserving of reflection, not hyperbole, and that there’s more to all of it than inflammatory references to freedom, bogey men and the sort of “thinking by spit ball” that is practiced by junior high school students and other sufferers from excessive hormones.

The point is this: By doing so, you will have exercised your brain.

And, you will not have assumed that all New Albanians who read the Tribune are imbeciles and should be told only what they want to hear and are capable of understanding.

So, go to Weyco, and make sure to read the text of the company’s “Drug, Alcohol, and Tobacco-Free Workplace Policy”.

Back with us?

Frankly, NA Confidential is troubled that Chris Morris, who at heart is a good person, a frequent advocate of educational issues and a consistent supporter of learning when it comes to our city’s schools, shows so little recognition for these concepts in his column.

We have a right to expect a higher standard from someone who occupies a position of authority.

Sure, it’s a feel-good sort of venting to carelessly throw terms like “Nazi” and “Gestapo” and “Communist” and “Terrorist” around in the same way that the proverbial drunken sailor tosses barroom furniture onto the street.

But it’s also pandering to the lowest common denominator in human discourse, which is the intellectually lazy desire to eschew rationality and blame an enemy.

Any enemy’s fine, just so long as righteous indignation is allowed to outweigh the distinctive human ability to think the problem through to a solution.

It remains that progress in human affairs occurs through the exercise of the brain, not the emptying of the spleen.

Furthermore, Chris’s choice of comparative bogeymen is both disproportionate given the target of his rant, and insulting to the memory of the victims of real-life Nazism and the Gestapo.

Simply stated, as yet there are no deep, dark, Nazi-level fundamental human rights violations to be found in the decision of a private health care company to formulate rules for employment that differ very little from rules that employees have been observing for centuries … that is, observing if they wish to keep their jobs.

Chris might explore the many questions that arise from Weyco’s policy rather than attack all of them based on just one having to do with smoking.

For example, to what extent is employment in America a “right”? Is that in the Bill of Rights? Is it written anywhere at all?

In America, there are laws prohibiting employment discrimination on ethnic and religious grounds. Do these pertain to regulating the playing field with respect to seeking employment, or do they imply that we have an inalienable right to permanent employment under our own terms?

Actually, our society has not mandated the individual’s right to specific employment at a specific company to perform a specific job. Instead, we recognize a regulated variant of unfettered capitalism whereby these matters are resolved contractually between employer and employee.

As a side note, NA Confidential can’t help but speculate as to the nature of Chris’s views on labor unionism. There are those who would suggest that the presence of strong unions might reduce the incidence of employer tyranny.

Obviously, to unthinkingly use words like “Nazi” and “Gestapo” as character references in the context of Chris’s screed manages only to cheapen and trivialize their significance within the framework of history.

For proof of this, Chris might consider perusing an article in yesterday's Courier-Journal on the topic of Auschwitz.

Chris, the systematic and violent deprivation of human rights by state-sanctioned, jack-booted thugs is what the Gestapo symbolizes, not the imposition of a non-smoking rule in an air-conditioned workplace.

Chris, the calculated slaughter of millions of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and “undesirables” of all ages and sexes is what Nazism symbolizes, not a private company’s desire to help its employees be healthier while saving money on insurance premiums in the process.

Chris, living in New Albany should not imply the meek acceptance of lowest common denominators, ignorance and mediocrity. Genuine community leadership should challenge and seek to uplift, not pander and permit to dumb down.

How do Chris Morris and his superiors at the Tribune vote on this issue? The proof’s in the newspaper, and it’s as sad a commentary as Chris’s column is today.

Doesn't anyone hear believe in getting better?

The C-J's Dale Moss visits wireless Scottsburg

"We felt it important to have broadband as a utility -- almost like water and power and everything else."

The Scottsburg, Indiana business owner quoted by the Courier-Journal’s tireless columnist Dale Moss is one of 600 subscribers to the town’s high-speed wireless Internet service, installed at a cost of $385,000.

Why has tiny Scottsburg, with a population of 6,000, chosen to act? According to Mayor Bill Graham, “The one thing I do know is change is coming so quickly."

Town spins a wireless Web so businesses won't escape, by Dale Moss

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Historic Shrader Stable Buildings Stabilization and Rehabilitation Project?

From Friday, here’s one we missed. Reader input is welcomed.

According to John Gilkey of the Evening News, both Utica (in Clark County) and New Albany “will benefit from an action this week by the Kentuckiana Regional Planning and Development Agency's Transportation Policy Committee … The panel agreed to make improvements to Utica's Fourth Street and New Albany's Shrader Stable eligible for transportation enhancement funds.”

Gilkey writes that New Albany’s “grant states, ‘The Historic Shrader Stable Buildings Stabilization and Rehabilitation Project will preserve an extremely rare historic transportation structure that is one of just two known stable structures remaining in an urban environment. The project will be an important element in the major downtown New Albany redevelopment project known as Scribner Place, which includes the development of a YMCA and a municipal natatorium, as well as private redevelopment initiatives.’"

And: “The stable buildings are located in downtown New Albany, west of the intersection of State Street and West Main.”

I can't place these buildings in the mind's eye ... are they the dark green ones next to the funky storefront tabernacle opposite the doomed tire center?

The article goes on to say that these “restoration funds will be used to stabilize the building and are not enough to fund the building's renovation,” and that once restored, Mayor Garner indicates an intention to sell the buildings for use as offices.

Do any of you know about this?

I googled “Shrader Stables” and came up with an old photo in the funeral home’s web site.

Utica, New Albany projects get green light from KIPDA, by John L. Gilkey, Senior Editor

End-of-week-reading from fellow New Albanian bloggers Volunteer Hoosier and NA Renewal

If you haven’t seen the latest postings at Volunteer Hoosier, consider taking a look.

Here are the three most recent, each broaching a matter of importance not otherwise referenced in NA Confidential.

What have you heard?
"Have you written your legislators about House Bill No. 1148?"

Skittishness in "Mayberry"
"The Charlestown City Council tabled its motion to join in and issue bonds for a universal wireless broadband public-private partnership."

A correction?
"A conversation with city operations director Anthony B. Toran last evening indicates that Mr. Cory Earl is still on duty."

Over at New Albany Renewal, there are three new postings.

"New Albany Renewal is intended to serve as a repository for ideas relevant to preserving and restoring historic buildings, cleaning up neighboorhoods, revitalizing downtown, and improving the quality of life in New Albany, Indiana."

Develop New Albany Debuts Website
"Develop New Albany is a non-profit organization that supports historic preservation and economic development of the downtown district."

Museums Bring Tourists
"The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which opened in August, honors a part of history that is both important to the Cincinnati area where it is located and has a wider audience."

Build It and They Will Come?
A business partnership built the Newport Aquarium in Newport, KY.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Blevins, Laduke and Toran appear before the East Spring Street Neighborhood Association

Last evening, members of the East Spring Street Neighborhood Association became something approximating a “test audience.”

The result was a very informative meeting.

Republican Steve Laduke, a member both of the Building Commission and the Board of Public Works & Safety, and Democrat Tony Toran, City Operations Director and President of the BPWS, have resolved to go “on the road” to meet with neighborhood and civic organizations.

It is their intention to remain non-partisan while not shying away from politics (at least on Steve's part), to answer questions lost in the confusion of City Council meetings, and most importantly, to provide information to the public about the best way to solve problems and get things done.

As an added bonus, Councilman at Large Donnie Blevins opened the meeting by commenting in an earnest and forthright manner on methods of, and difficulties with, garbage collection in New Albany.

He explained the nature of problems with the garbage trucks leased during the Overton administration, adding that in his role as councilman, he will ask for money to purchase two back-loading trucks.

Then, returning to the topic of public speaking time at City Council meetings, Steve and Tony endeavored to establish the roles and responsibilities of various components of city government and its departments, stressing that much of the congestion at City Council meetings would be relieved by citizens taking their concerns about services to the weekly Tuesday morning Board of Public Works meetings, where mechanisms exist for resolution.

Furthermore, it was pointedly noted that concerns relayed by citizens to their elected council representatives also should be presented before the BPWS. To illustrate this point, Steve produced complete minutes from 2004 BPWS meetings that showed which council members had taken constituent problems to the board.

According to the minutes, only Bill Schmidt (numerous times), Larry Kochert and Donnie Blevins did so in 2004.

The message was clear, to the point, and buttressed by the presence of Donnie, who agreed that City Council members may or may not know correct procedures, and may or may not play by the rules when they do, for what might be political reasons – or, as Steve answered when asked by an audience member, for the sake of "power."

Before Steve is attacked for his candor, let it be known that he is not the first observer of political science to note that the fundamental objective of politics is determining the nature of power and who shall wield it.

In fact, by some definitions, New Albany may arrive as a player only when the power sought by politicians rises above that of the penny-ante into the realm of genuine megalomania.

The logic goes something like this: If a City Council member knows that complaints about snow removal are best taken to the BPWS, whether by a constituent or by the council member on behalf of the constituent, and then knows that to voice such concerns at a City Council meeting is in effect to address the wrong forum with the least effectiveness, then why continue to listen to such complaints without making an effort to inform the constituent that his or her precious time is better spent at the BPWS meetings, or, better yet, volunteering to be the conduit for transmission of the complaint?

Why continue to pose as an arbiter during the wrong session?

Answer: Certain council members wish to have more control over the city’s affairs than currently is mandated, therefore to cynically encourage the notion that council meetings are the proper forum for complaints is to artfully deflect blame for subsequent inaction toward the Mayor’s office – without accepting responsibility for actually seeking solutions, or acknowledging their own obligation to relay the complaint to the appropriate authority.

It's one theory.

None of this is meant to suggest that citizens not appear before the City Council and take their opportunity to address the members on broader issues of importance.

None of this is to suggest that Mayor Garner not consider periodic public forums to take his office to the people in the manner that Steve and Tony took theirs to Muir Manor last evening.

None of this is to deny that Steve and Tony occasionally were caught making an almost too unified case designed to volley public scrutiny back toward the City Council.

However, it is to suggest that finally, an effort has been made to relay the “right” information to the public. The best way to find out whether Steve's and Tony's information is "right" is to test it by utilizing the BPWS and seeing what actually happens.

NA Confidential detected one interesting side note to the proceedings.

Entirely inadvertently, and with absolutely no visible axe to grind, Tony Toran may have made too good a case as to his own utility in the current chain of command.

He spoke thoughtfully and persuasively of the role played by the Board of Public Works, and observed with sincerity that his board presidency and his job as City Operations chief combine to provide wonderful opportunities for him to play his favored role of non-partisan problem solver, which he was able to extend to the City Council on a recent occasion when Mayor Garner was absent, with tangible and optimistic results.

So, uh, hmm ... will the real Mayor of New Albany please stand up? Indeed, 2007 draws ever closer.

For the record: The Board of Public Works and Safety meets each Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. in the third-floor assembly room of the City-County Building. City department heads are required to be in attendance. Everyone involved with the board understands that it is difficult for working citizens to attend, so you are encouraged to transmit concerns to Tony Toran as well as to your council member.

Making It happen: A symbolic Groucho Marx quote for Friday

From the movie "A Day at the Races" comes this gem:

Man: Are you a man or a mouse?

Groucho: Put a piece of cheese on the floor and you'll find out.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

We begin the task of collecting contact information for the city officials

As has been remarked numerous times of late, the city of New Albany’s web site leaves much to be desired compared with those maintained by cities of comparable size.

Fortunately, one of the most important sections, that of City Clerk Marcey Wisman, is complete and certainly will assist citizens in the navigation of her office’s myriad duties.

The remainder of the web site is inconsequential, at best.

Late last year, the topic of the city’s site was raised at a meeting of the East Spring Street Neighborhood Association. The evening’s guest speaker, the estimable City Operations chief Anthony “Tony” Toran, noted that the site admittedly would require much further development, but that it was far less expensive than the far more comprehensive one favored by the previous discredited Republican administration.

(As a sidebar, useful features on the abandoned site of the Overton administration included a direct link to city ordinances and yearly salaries of city officials and employees*.)

As sales pitches go, “New Albany: Cheap But Inadequate,” is not something most organizations would wholeheartedly embrace. Sadly, it seems perfectly suited to the banana republic mentality prevailing hereabouts.

“Comfortable in Our Squalor” and “My Kid Beat Up Your Honor Role Student” also leap to mind.

NA Confidential noticed that around Christmas, 2004, Tony Toran’s e-mail contact information disappeared from the city’s web site**. We retained a cached version:

City Operations - Anthony B. Toran: ttoran@cityofnewalbany.com

A brief Google session reveals the following contact information for City Council members (except Larry Kochert), courtesy of a Louisville Courier-Journal election preview from Sunday, November 2, 2003.

1st District: Dan Coffey 949-1262; 797-8347
2nd District: Bill Schmidt 945-7386
3rd District: Steve Price 941-9032
5th District: Beverly Crump 948-2603
6th District: Jeff M. Gahan 542-0889, GAN2020@aol.com

At Large: Donnie Blevins 944-4856; 727-0516; 944-9654
At Large: Jack Messer 949-9638, jackgeorgemesser@aol.com
At Large: Mark Seabrook 944-9644, 944-6455

According to the Southern Indiana Economic Development Council, Mayor James Garner can be reached at this e-mail address:
newalbanyed@aol.com

A helpful correspondent has further suggested that the Mayor’s official e-mail address is:

mayor@cityofnewalbany.com

And, finally, the phone number of the city switchboard is:
948-5333

We’ll continue to build this data base of information in the hope that it will assist the cause of communication … and continue to regret the necessity of doing so.

References:

* Ordinances remain available on-line, but are not linked to the city's web site as they were previously

** The city says “contact us,” but the information’s not here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Biking, walking and other blatant attacks on the New Albanian way of life

For the second consecutive temperate January day, NA Confidential will be bicycling to work. Of course, it is essential to use the side streets, as New Albany's major thoroughfares are too dangerous and lack not only bike lanes, but ridiculously often, the bare minimum of sidewalks for pedestrian use.

Fittingly (in more ways than one), today's Louisville Eccentric Observer (LEO) and staffer Rochelle Renford return to last month's report by the Surface Transportation Policy Project, "which names Metro Louisville the 23rd most dangerous place for pedestrians among 50 similar-sized regions."

Referring to sociologist Richard Florida's assertion that the presence of bicycle lanes is one amenity (of many) needed to attract the creative class, Renford bluntly adds that "in Metro Louisville, bike lanes and the ability to avoid the automobile are still just dreams, although there are downtown lofts and a very hip skate park.."

Renford surveys recent efforts in Louisville to improve this abysmal ranking. Coming up in February is the Metro Louisville Bicycle Summit, where longtime public advocates like the CART organization will join with other attendees for a public forum hosted by Mayor Jerry Abramson.

A public forum? Chaired by the Mayor? Son, that's Louisville, not New Albany. Besides, it's funny enough trying to imagine any current City Council members riding a bike, much less expressing support for the same.

Here are the relevant links:

Walk This Way: A pedestrian-friendly community is a livable community, by Rochelle Renford in LEO

Louisville Metro Mayor Jerry Abramson hosts the Metro Louisville Bicycle Summit, February 7-8, 2005

CART: Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Wanted: Volunteers to inventory downtown New Albany, and other topical stories

Were he with us today, might Oscar Wilde amend his famous utterance to read, “Work is the curse of the Blogging class?”

Today and tomorrow, NA Confidential finds it necessary to tend to the dram shop, and respectfully, the reader is directed to examine the entries that follow, as published in the Blog of a fellow New Albanian and frequent contributor to this page.

Go to Volunteer Hoosier and look for:
http://volunteerhoosier.blogspot.com/

C'town ascendant
Charlestown’s approval of a public-private venture designed to bring high speed Internet access to the town reminds us that some entities aren’t so keen on the idea. See other recent VH postings discussing Indiana House Bill 1148.

Call for volunteers
To catalog the properties making up downtown New Albany will require the work of volunteers. What are you doing on January 30?

Who's zooming who?
More on the conclusion to last week’s City Council meeting, and the most recent communications breakdown between the Mayor and the City Council over appointments to the Building Commission.

All entries are linked to media sources and are a must-read. Enjoy!

Books we don't want to see ... but after all, this is New Albany

"No Slum Lord Left Behind: How New Albany Aims to Earn Respect by Remaining the Sub-Standard Rental Property Capital of Indiana," by “G.”

Review:
The author argues that New Albany’s branded destination “niche” within the dynamic, diversifying, knowledge-driven metropolitan Louisville area should be determined solely by unscientific methods that don’t cost too much to design or implement and don’t cause the brains of local politicians to hurt like hell because it’s all so hard to understand, recommending as the easiest possible path continued reliance on the socially irresponsible but time-tested methods of absentee property ownership, vacant commercial properties, a passive governmental role, rampant payola, general indifference to the value of education, and the lowest common denominator as Golden Rule.

Availability:
This book is available from selected community pillars. Regular purchase price is $10.00, except during election campaigns, when “market” pricing is in effect.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Like Louisville, New Albany "must get smarter if it wants to get richer"

Tonight’s late night reading is provided by the Louisville Courier-Journal of Sunday, January 23.

Since its inception, NA Confidential has considered New Albany as it is, but more importantly, as it might be.

It is for the sake of the city’s future that we scrutinize the present, firm in our belief that amid the reigning chaos and visionless chicanery engendered by business-as-usual clique of white-bread politicos, staid community stalwarts, socially corrosive slum lords and assorted anti-progressive killjoys, there exists the diverse and creative preconditions of a renaissance.

To be sure, New Albany cannot be compared to Louisville, but the following articles espouse themes of critical importance to our city, including the importance of education, the vitality of downtown districts, and the benefits of economic equity within strong neighborhoods.

Annoyingly, far too many of these intensely relevant themes provide answers for questions that the moribund political leadership of New Albany not only won’t ask, but too often seems unaware even exist.

NA Confidential has no interest in political gamesmanship, both within and between the local Democratic and Republican parties. Rather, we ask their intellectually suspect representatives to read the following and indicate some measure of comprehension with respect to the themes presented therein.

'Distinctive, equitable, competitive': Setting an agenda beyond merger, by Bruce Katz and Mark Muro

Editorial: “A competitive city”

Which local mayor sees broadband as key to his city's growth?

Here's a fun quiz for Monday.

Which local mayor recently said the following:

"Broadband Internet access is essential to support quality of life issues like education and training and health care and safety for our citizens. It has also become necessary for economic development and growth."

Find the answer in Greg Gapsis's article today in the Evening News.

Mayor sees broadband vote as key to city's growth


NA Confidential challenges both the Mayor and the City Council to improve communications with the people of this city

At last week’s City Council meeting, a citizen speaker asked how many of the eight council members present for duty (Bill Schmidt was ill) had visited the city’s web site lately.

One member raised his hand. There was a half-hearted nod from another. Some looked down at the floor, while others eyed the ceiling. Dan Coffey stated publicly that he hadn’t looked at the web site for a couple of years. All members present looked uncomfortable at having been put on the spot.

The citizen continued. Shouldn’t there be some way to visit the city’s web site and find complete contact information for all city officials – not just phone numbers, but e-mail addresses? Of the dozens of New Albany municipal officials, only City Clerk Marcey Wisman provides a comprehensive description on the site of her office’s functions, and complete contact information.

Again, there was a nod or two, several obvious expressions of boredom, and the imminent threat of President Gahan’s ubiquitous staccato gavel.

What was that we were saying yesterday about respect? Did we mention that it’s a two-way street?

Lest it be said that NA Confidential has eyes only for the bizarrely stunted public relations skills of Mayor James Garner, it should be remarked that he is not the only elected official who has failed to grasp the obligation of communicating with the citizens of the city of New Albany.

Of course, Mayor Garner would like for you to know that you can come see him any time in the privacy of his office. Councilman Coffey, and presumably most of his cohorts on the Council, will give you a telephone number and invite you to call for a chat.

In other words, these elected officials will be more than happy to speak with you one-on-one so long as they remain on their turf – behind a closed door, at the other end of a phone line, or with a gavel in hand.

Perhaps NA Confidential is overly demanding, but we believe that a public official’s obligation to communicate with the citizenry goes further than five-minute increments grudgingly offered once a fortnight by the City Council, or by a mayor who has so little regard for the views of citizens that he remains ensconced in the corridor as they speak.

The calendar indicates 2005, and all elected officials should make e-mail addresses available to the public. If the city is unable to provide suitable e-mail service (if so, it’s yet another shameful indictment of City Hall’s organizational skills), then there are numerous personal avenues via Yahoo! or Hotmail. These should be posted on the city’s web site, along with telephone numbers. It is entirely reasonable to expect that a city the size of New Albany can offer a bare minimum of telephone extensions and voice mail to officeholders … or pay for a cellular network.

To repeat: It is 2005.

Perhaps the City-County building uses a different calendar.

Na Confidential suggests that both our Mayor and the City Council be prepared not just to respond promptly and in sufficiently literate fashion to electronic and telephone queries, but also to step out from their respective comfort zones and present themselves to the community.

Currently our mayor and council representatives, abetted by commentators like the Tribune’s Amany Ali, see only “theatrics” when citizen speakers use their precious time allotment to address the city’s leaders … and unfortunately, the city’s leaders feel threatened by it.

Instead, the city’s leaders should be seeing “opportunities,” and be challenged by those citizens who are showing a willingness to participate.

If in fact current formats are unwieldy, it is only because New Albany’s concerned citizens have so few chances to address the city’s leaders as a group. Ten minutes a month isn’t enough.

The obvious solution is for leaders to lead by seizing the public relations initiative and take themselves to the people in the form of regularly scheduled forums throughout the city.

Now is the time for New Albany’s elected officials to listen and to lead.

For a variety of reasons, perhaps sensing that New Albany stands at a crossroad with respect to its future, city residents are expressing interest in possibilities, in their quality of life, and in what ways they can be part of the future.

Why are more and more people reading NA Confidential?

There are as many reasons as there are readers, but prime among them is that the mere presence of this admittedly imperfect Internet forum (and others like it) provides validation for many concerned New Albanians whose needs have not been met by communications-challenged public officials and underachieving local newspapers.

Accountability is the goal, and although there are numerous paths toward its realization, the best and least expensive place to start is by bettering the lines of communication between citizen and elected leader.

NA Confidential already has challenged Mayor Garner to face the public. It now challenges the City Council to initiate a process for doing the same.

If City Clerk Marcey Wisman can do it …

Two other vital New Albany web logs:
Volunteer Hoosier
New Albany Renewal

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Respect: Neither a synonym for silence, nor an excuse to muzzle dissent

If "respect" is New Albany's Zeitgeist, should we all raise our hands before speaking?

In September, 2004, Mayor James Garner of New Albany took offense to an editorial in the Louisville Courier-Journal that broached the topic of escalating chaos in New Albany’s building department.

Mayor Garner was so incensed that he took pen in hand and responded to the Courier’s editorialist, and less than a year into Mayor Garner’s term, we were provided with an invaluable glimpse into his psyche.

The Mayor's eye-opening letter would have brought to mind an old Groucho Marx line, as dispensed to the author of a comic novel: "From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it."

Except that I did read it, and wanted not to laugh but to cry ... with frustration.

Not once, not twice, but six times in two opening paragraphs, Mayor Garner decried the newspaper’s lack of "respect" for his person. He proceeded to disregard the accepted meaning in the English language of words like demotion, reduction and termination, and then finally, New Albany’s democratically elected mayor made an absolutely breathtaking assertion:

“The chief executive of a government entity is not the same as in private business, but you do not write editorials about private businesses when they reduce an individual to part-time status, and you should not for the government sector either.”

Logic having been skewered beyond recognition, Garner closed his letter by stretching credulity to the breaking point:

“I request that you give me a personal apology and a public apology for your rude and disrespectful comments. Your organization should be a friend to the community and not burn bridges with government officials with your personal comments.”

Needless to say, an apology was not forthcoming from the Courier-Journal, primarily because the newspaper’s alleged “disrespect” existed solely in the mind of Mayor James Garner.

Quite simply, public officials at all levels must accept enhanced scrutiny by journalists and ordinary citizens as a necessary part of their job descriptions, furthermore understanding that deference and esteem – the essential components of respect – are qualities earned as part of the process, not aspects of entitlement owed the office holder out of fawning gratitude that he or she has agreed to serve.

Which brings us to a column authored by the Tribune’s City Editor, Amany Ali. It appears in today’s Tribune under the banner, “Elected officials deserve respect.”*

In many respects, this is one of Amany best analytical efforts. She has chosen an important and timely local topic, not lobbed potshots at tabloid headlines.

Her arguments are cogent, and she makes them with passion. Gone are the titters and self-aggrandizing giggles that accompany her usual forays into the frivolous, with beneficial results for the quality of her prose. She must have worked hard on this piece, and although I can’t completely agree with her, her effort deserves ... well, it deserves respect.

Why? Because Amany has earned it, and not because it is “deserved” owing to the title of City Editor, her family lineage, or any other extraneous factor beyond pure merit.

In her column, Amany echoes Mayor Garner’s comments during last week’s City Council meeting.

Too many people are “using the forum of City Council meetings to throw as many daggers at Garner as possible … I’m all for freedom of speech. But there is a difference between expressing your concern, and lambasting the leader of our city and giving an entirely new meaning to being disrespectful.”

She eventually concludes, “I believe it is the job of the public to keep up with city, state and national officials to make sure their leaders are doing their job. However, I think there is a civilized and dignified way of accomplishing that mission. And publicly berating a public official … is not the way to get the job done.”

And: “The point is that public officials deserve a certain level of respect.”

If by this she means respect in the sense of “willingness to show consideration,” then the point is well taken, as it addresses the civility of the dialogue or forum.

It is true that any public discussion, whether undertaken in the chambers of the City Council or on the street corner by Little Chef, is prone to frayed tempers or outbursts, depending on the emotion, frustration or even desperation of the participants.

Hence Council President Jeff Gahan’s well-intentioned efforts, within the context of the occasion last Thursday, to limit the time of speakers.

However, I attended the same City Council as Amany Ali and listened to the same citizens’ comments she did, and what I heard were mostly solid points, one after another, and on a wide range of important topics, some having to do with Mayor Garner and others not.

Opinions were expressed on ordinance enforcement, garbage delivery, rates of taxation, the tolerance of gaming machines by some local clubs (prompting the only real theatrics of the evening), the dismissal of a city employee, the city’s web site, contractor licensing and others too numerous to mention.

Which opinions were invalid?

Given that Mayor Garner has indicated publicly that newspapers should be little better than cheerleading lapdogs that do not question his personnel decisions, and with no other opportunity beyond City Council meetings for the public to meet the Council and the Mayor for something approximating a discussion of those issues that concern to individual citizens, exactly when are there other chances to exercise participatory democracy between election campaigns?

Would we be discussing any of this if those members of the public choosing to speak at City Council meetings each agreed with the Mayor?

In the end, isn’t it true that most politicians, a group that includes our current mayor, define “disrespect” as those times when people disagree with them, and isn’t this why journalist and citizen alike must continue asking questions?

The advent of NA Confidential can be traced to that day last September when I read Mayor Garner’s letter to the Courier-Journal and cringed in embarrassment. How could someone so obsessed with the concept of respect fail so miserably to show respect for democratic ideals such as a free press and governmental disclosure?

In fact, speaking of respect, isn’t running roughshod over such democratic principles the ultimate exercise in disrespect for me as a citizen?

Or is it merely cultural illiteracy, the persistent curse of New Albany's leadership class?

Either way, it doesn’t change the fact that we are fully justified in questioning our leaders, challenging our leaders, reminding our leaders that their job is to lead and to do so in such a fashion that does not cause us to feel ashamed, and expecting competence and accountability from our leaders.

We are fully justified in being involved.

It is this principle, and not the peculiarities or weaknesses of a particular person, that serves as the raison d’etre for the existence of NA Confidential, which persists in believing that it is never too late for anyone – be it mayor, journalist, citizen speaker or blogger – to learn, to improve and to grow.

* Amany Ali’s column in the New Albany Tribune (January 23, 2005) will not be archived on-line.

Original sources are as follows:

The Louisville Courier-Journal editorial on Mayor Garner (Sept. 16, 2004)

Mayor Garner replies to the C-J: Gimme some R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Garner's C-J letter an embarrassment to all New Albanians

Sunday Tribune asks: New City-County Building in the cards for Scribner Place?

Today, Kyle Lowry, the New Albany Tribune’s County Reporter, contributes a front-page overview of Floyd County Commissioner Randy Stumler’s proposal to fold a new City-County Building into the Scribner Place project.

Stumler suggests that a new facility on the riverfront might combine city and county offices currently divided between the existing City-County Building and the decaying office annex on Grant Line Road.

The Commissioner also foresees some county offices occupying currently vacant older commercial buildings downtown, and intends to meet, whoopee cushion in hand, with Develop New Albany to discuss possibilities.

It is important to note that implicit in Stumler's proposal is a greater role for the county in the city's Scribner Place project. Consequently, according to Lowry, reaction to the embryonic relocation plan on the part of local officialdom has been favorable.

NA Confidential acknowledges all due concern for the looming presence of financial devils in the detail with respect to Stumler’s ideas, but wishes to credit Stumler for embracing the tenets of elementary political leadership by daring to think progressively with an eye toward future administrative needs.

Unlike so many others who are considered pillars of New Albany’s mover-shaker elite, Stumler seems comfortable with the notion of articulating his ideas and communicating them to the city’s and county’s citizens. City Hall might learn something from this novel approach, one that is rather refreshing, but has been attempted on very few occasions by the administration of Mayor James Garner.

In fairness, Lowry's article quotes Mayor Garner favorably, and he provides brief but solid guesstimates on cost.

Naturally, the traditions of jaundiced New Albanian inertia dictate that Randy watch his back.

Appropriately, Lowry’s article is accompanied by an oversized Kevin McGloshen photo of the current City-County Building, itself a bland and bureaucratic architectural abomination of the sort that once prevailed in the gray capitals of the East Bloc, and indicative of the errors in judgment made by a previous generation of mover-shaker “leadership.”

It has been suggested by some that the contrast between the beautiful old columns facing Spring Street and the prematurely aged socialist-realist cracker box behind them serves as an apt metaphor for New Albany’s peculiar illness.

It is to be hoped that if Stumler’s ideas take root, past mistakes aren’t repeated.

(Note: The Tribune’s web site is updated sporadically, and the link to Lowry’s story will be provided later)

Friday, January 21, 2005

City Council meeting unexpectedly interrupted by harmony, co-operation,role-reversal and an overly theatrical citizenry

Finally it can be stated without irony that a City Council meeting ended on a positive note.

For the record, mechanisms for ordinance enforcement and the position of enforcement officer were approved and signed; a full-time economic development director was hired; and the mayor’s choice for building commissioner was announced.

Our local newspaper reporters both provide excellent coverage of Thursday night’s meeting:

New Albany leaders agree on ordinance enforcer, by the Courier-Journal’s Ben Zion Hershberg

Positions approved during raucous council meeting, by the tribune’s Amany Ali
Here’s an excerpt from the Tribune article that explains Mayor Garner’s view of his constituents, as revealed from his usual secluded corridor vantage point:

“Garner said he believes some people address the council with legitimate concerns and hope to have their questions answered. He said others go before the council for other reasons.

“‘Some of them are here just for the theatrics,’ he said.”

In an accompanying article, NA Confidential discusses the Mayor’s own role-playing at the Circus Maximus.

What did you think of Thursday's meeting? Post here (with registration) or e-mail NA Confidential privately (address in the profile section).

Into the phone booth: The Cleaner’s brand new clothes

At 9:05 p.m. last night, sitting City Council President Jeff Gahan rested his weary gavel arm and announced that is was time for communications from Mayor James Garner.

Normally this is cause for great tittering among the faithful, as the possibility of the mayor actually communicating seems as remote as an Iranian mullah endorsing Anheuser-Busch’s latest alcoholic soda pop.

Lest you doubt it, such skepticism is indeed merited. Only on widely scattered occasions does Mayor Garner enter the meeting room during City Council functions. Naturally, by remaining at his chosen post in the hallway, he manages to conveniently miss hearing most of the concerns voiced by the citizens he purports to represent, insisting instead that people should come see him privately.

Quite simply, City Hall is uncomfortable with the notion of give and take that is exemplified by the “town hall” style forum, something we need desperately in New Albany if one is to judge by the sheer numbers of citizens who see City Council meetings as their sole opportunity to interact with elected officials.

From City Hall’s obvious distaste for meaningful dialogue, two important themes can be inferred.

First, there is an implicit recognition on the part of Mayor Garner’s advisors that style in politics does in fact matter, but owing to the mayor’s limited abilities in any extemporaneous setting, such settings must be carefully controlled to avoid missteps. Scripted and staged … that’s the rage.

Photo ops? Well, you can go back and reshoot the scene, can’t you?

Second, and potentially more serious, is an equally obvious determination on the part of City Hall to control the flow of information about what it is doing and what it plans to do.

While such control remains one tool in the arsenal of any organization, great or small, it must yield to escalating accountability with each step away from the private interest into that of the public.

In other words, in most cases an individual’s plans for the future may remain concealed with little potential impact on others, but an elected public official must accept an obligation of more complete disclosure with respect to work that impacts the body politic.

His bosses.

Against this backdrop, Mayor Garner greeted the City Council at 9:05 p.m., arranged his prepared text atop the lectern, and announced that heretofore, he would be making a quantum leap from dry cleaning to hardware: No longer James the Cleaner, but James … The Hammer.

Not in so many words, of course, but the strategy was crystal clear. Having already engaged in the necessary closed-door bartering with the Council to achieve satisfactory compromises on ordinance enforcement and the legislative body’s acceptance of his chosen candidate to become Economic Development Director, the Mayor chose his moment of one-sided communication to answer the critics without fear of further humiliation.

And, by the Mayor’s standards, it was quite an answer. Gone was the flighty breeziness, and purged was the whiny demeanor of previous appearances. Instead, there was a furrowed brow, angrily shuffled papers and a hard edge to Mayor Garner’s voice.

Not John Facenda, but presumably mad as hell, he proposed not to take it any more.

The Mayor began by returning to his most cherished of mantras with the allegation that there somehow remain people in the community who treat him disrespectfully, and broadly insinuating that the City Council’s lax management of its meetings, i.e., allowing critics to speak in such terms, actually encourages such disrespect.

President Gahan was spotted caressing his gavel.

Furthermore, in the finest tradition of conspiratorial theory, Mayor Garner noted that such critics seek only to destroy City Hall’s progress from within even as he attempts to serve all the citizens of New Albany irrespective of party affiliation.

Since Councilman Steve Price earlier had raised the specter of encroaching Nazism in response to citizen Huckleberry’s perfectly valid point about the tolerance of illegal gambling in local Legion halls (Price mistakenly thought Huckleberry said “tanning salons”), prompting a heated exchange, Gahan’s ubiquitous gavel and a quick appearance by the chief of police, one might guess that Communism were to blame for the vicious assaults on City Hall as perceived by the Mayor.

Fortunately, he didn’t go there. But make no mistake: Mayor Garner’s tone was suitably indignant, the chosen persona was loaded for bear, the message was non-partisan, and for once there was evidence of a pulse.

Subsequently, in a communal glow testifying to the genuine effectiveness of thoughtful stage management, Mayor Garner removed his iron-studded glove for long enough to sign ordinance enforcement into law, and youthful but experienced Paul Wheatley was approved as the new economic development czar.

Last evening’s competently choreographed public expression of annoyance, and the accompanying behind-the-scenes compromises with the City Council, were designed to show that City Hall is aware of the public relations beating it has absorbed and is seeking to stop bleeding.

That’s a start, but it goes without saying that these gestures are only a beginning, for they must be sustained and followed by bona fide changes in the way this administration both conceives and imparts what is likes to call “the right information.”

Conceptually, “the right information” must be expressed concretely in terms of ideas that take the form of accountable strategic goals in all aspects of the city’s operation, and what will be done to achieve them.

As an example of what is vague and unacceptable, the Tribune’s Amany Ali quotes Mayor Garner: “There are a lot of things that we want to do in economic growth.” (Tribune, Thursday, January 20, 2005).

In the sense of communications, City Hall must find a way to impart its version of “the right information” in timely and coherent way.

As one citizen noted last evening, the city’s web site is a shambles compared with other cities of comparable size, revealing a mayor and council alike that has yet to come to grips with computer literacy as a necessary precondition of the world we live in today.

More importantly, recent attendance at the twice-monthly City Council meetings has made it irrefutably clear that there must be other forums for public contact with our elected officials, the Mayor chief among them.

NA Confidential hereby challenges the Mayor to inaugurate a series of town hall meetings for the purpose of meeting and hearing the citizens of New Albany, and thus fostering a beneficial hands-on dialogue.

The frustrating and ultimately most damning indictment of the current administration is that such a fruitful idea, one involving frequent contact, dialogue and an exchange of ideas with the people of New Albany, openly and in public, and not behind closed doors, must come from outside City Hall rather than from within it.

Shouldn’t The Hammer want that?

Thursday, January 20, 2005

City Hall's "right information," and its refusal to share it with the rest of us

Our incumbent mayor has several problems, ones generally of his own making, but increasingly it is evident that prime among them is a completely unfathomable disregard for public relations – not in the sense of spin (although he could use some of that, too), but in the politically primal way of making his positions understood by the public, and projecting to the city’s residents that he cares to do so.

This ongoing detachment is beginning to look strange, indeed.

At the last City Council meeting, it was obvious that only grudgingly, and in the very limited public forum of the council meeting room, was Mayor Garner willing to reveal his procedural and territorial objections to a code enforcement ordinance, one that he continues to insist he supports in spite of his refusal to sign the City Council’s proposal.

One would imagine that appearance is everything to a successful dry cleaner, but thus far in the drive to put teeth into ordinance enforcement, Mayor Garner has been satisfied to appear as an enemy of order and cleanliness, making not the slightest effort to engage with the electorate, and seeking to ward off any criticism by deploying his favored mantra, which goes something like this:

You just don’t have the right information.

Perhaps someone – anyone – in City Hall would like to take on the task of providing the “right” information? To articulate a coherent platform of goals for the city, as Louisville’s and Jeffersonville’s mayors both have done in recent days? To counter the aura of arrogance and disengagement that is becoming firmly ingrained in the current administration’s attitude toward legitimate criticism?

To put the city in gear and use it for some constructive purpose?

We’re waiting. Anyone in the bunker listening?

"The Cleaner" vetoes code enforcement - next round at the City Council meeting tonight

The following comes from the East Spring Neighborhood Association, but it applies to any and all New Albanians:

"Mayor Garner did not sign the Code Enforcement Ordinance, so therefore it was automatically vetoed. Tonight (1/20/05) @ 7:30 p.m. on third floor of the City/County Building, the council is considering a new version (1st reading) of a new Code Enforcement Ordinance! We need to be there and come willing to speak! WE NEED TO SHOW UP IN A LARGE NUMBER and tell the council we want something enacted to clean up our city! "

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

NA Renewal: A new Blog weighs in

Is Louisville's Operation Brightside a model for New Albany?

Can New Albany become a "new city?"

For explanations and possible answers to these questions, and more pieces to the puzzle that is New Albany's renewal, go here:

NA Renewal


Not so fast, Nick Cortolillo: Branding downtown New Albany

NA Confidential returns to the sentiment voiced in Sunday’s Tribune by longtime downtown New Albany business owner Don Preston:

“Let’s stop kidding ourselves – there’s no reason for general, multi-purpose shopping downtown; it’s mostly for specialty stores.”

Quite obviously, Preston Arts Center is one such specialty store. It has survived by realistically surveying the marketplace, targeting a niche therein, and being very good at serving it.

By doing so, Preston Arts Center has become a branded destination for those consumers who choose to eschew the lowest price, opting instead for the most knowledgeable service, and willing to go a bit out of the exurb to find it.

NA Confidential believes that the same niche/destination principles that work for Preston Arts Center and others will work for New Albany’s downtown retail district as a whole.

Downtown New Albany itself must be transformed into a brand, which is defined as “the proprietary visual, emotional, rational and cultural image that you associate with a company or product.” In this instance, instead of a specific product or company, the brand will refer to the area itself.

The overall strategic object of city government, its Develop New Albany ancillary and the revived Downtown Merchant’s Association should be to work toward organizing the actual physical space of downtown New Albany to best encourage its branding and reconstruction along the lines of niche and destination retail – shops, eateries, pubs, galleries and the like.

Tactical corollaries of this strategic design should include matters like instigating downtown’s beautification and greening, the addition of municipal surface parking, and a savvy public relations effort along the lines of the Labour Party’s “Cool Britannia.”

However, the single most important task is one reserved to city government itself, because it and only it possesses the broad means to set the agenda and to persuade downtown property owners to use their buildings, not just to exploit the tax benefits of rotting lumber, but in such a manner that niche and destination retail start-ups have a level playing field upon which to participate.

Look no further than the precedent established by consecutive mayoral administrations. Municipal activism has been deemed fitting and proper when it comes to acquiring the land and properties needed for the construction of Scribner Place. Certainly the same logic is valid when it comes to dangling carrots and wielding sticks with the aim of restoring the infrastructure of downtown to use and usefulness, as these are goals firmly within the mandate of government to act in the public interest.

There will be those who protest that this has been tried already in various ways, among them the “business incubator” model like the White House, in the ongoing operation of DNA, and in success stories like our downtown antique malls, a smattering of under-appreciated eateries and existing specialty retails businesses.

NA Confidential agrees that much hard work has been proffered by diligent and dedicated people, but with all due respect, these ventures have met with only mixed success, failing to achieve the required critical mass and the establishment of downtown New Albany as a viable brand because there has never been a well-defined idea of the target consumer for downtown New Albany, and consequently, of the target type of business for downtown New Albany.

Furthermore, the reason why there has not been a well-defined idea of the target consumer for downtown New Albany is because traditional cadres of leadership have not possessed the fundamental conceptual ability to see beyond New Albany to the wider world outside.

Indeed, this is the essence of vision, and it is as common in New Albany’s leadership circles as snow in Miami – it happens occasionally, but don’t pack your mittens.

The development of vision is precisely the reason why minor considerations of education, diversity and multiculturalism really matter. Just as regular exercise leads to physical fitness, regular thinking leads to intellectual vigor, to an expanded outlook, to creativity, and to the vision necessary to see beyond karaoke, mashed potatoes and Budweiser to Thai spices, reggae and microbrewed ale.

Is this elitism? I think not, but even if so, it is a variant of elitism calibrated to encourage a broadening of human experience as the best way to achieve expanded opportunities for all segments of society. This is the meritocracy that should be, not the passivity that currently passes for a plan.

Undoubtedly, almost every person involved with the effort to revive downtown New Albany has traveled to some locale or another, in America or abroad, and witnessed successful examples of the sorts of branded, destination-driven retail development that is so very suitable for downtown New Albany.

They act as though returning to New Albany requires checking their observations at the city limits and promising not to remember.

For decades, passive amnesia has failed to resolve the decline of downtown New Albany. If for no other reason, the process of elimination ordains that activism be given a chance.

Is there anyone in City Hall or DNA capable of formulating an activist agenda that seeks to lure a precisely targeted business that draws a certain type of customer to spaces that will be available for use?

If so, please step forward.


Monday, January 17, 2005

It ain't the meat, it's the motion

I found this excellent quote lurking near the alley behind the cul de sac on the very fringe of the information super byway.

It was written by the Duc de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) .

"We should not judge of a man's merit by his good qualities, but by the use he can make of them."

And so, NA Confidential asks: Is there merit in the use we are making of our city?

Zaadz quotes

We note with pleasure that diplomatic recognition is a two-way street

In Sunday’s New Albany Tribune, Managing Editor Chris Morris gave himself a well-deserved pat on the back while surveying “Tribune land” and finding that the previous Sunday editorial concerning Mayor James Garner “sparked the interest of a few readers.”

Score points for Chris … two weeks running. His effort is noted and appreciated.

Along the way, Chris contributed a timely observation to the effect that a journalism teacher once told him that he’d be doing “his job right if readers couldn’t tell” if he were Republican or Democrat.

What followed caught me by surprise, because Chris proceeded to quote NA Confidential on the topic of his editorial, then alluded to our friendship, and finally added: “Unlike past editors of this paper, I believe Roger and I can dialogue, and disagree, without getting too personal. I appreciate the fact that he thinks enough of me that he will read my column.”

All I can say is right on, brother, and rest assured the same sentiment is offered in return. The newspaper and the Blog share a common interest in the city of New Albany, and dialogue between these entities as well as others of like mind can go far in defining who we are, where we’re going, and how we intend to get there.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Live from New Albany ... it's Sunday night!

( … so for quality when it counts, ask your doctor about Levitra, a medication for erectile dysfunction ... )

( ... da duh da duh – daaaah DUH! … applause ... )


Yes! All right! James Carter and the NA Confidential Founders Jazz Band! Take a bow, James, you're looking great – hey, was that a Bix riff there at the end?

(yeah, Rog, right out of “In a Mist”)

I thought so. Can’t fool an old timer like me.

(laughter)

Welcome back to NA Confidential. Our next guest is Amany Ali, City Editor of the New Albany Tribune in New Albany, Indiana.

Thanks to her popular nationally syndicated Sunday column, “It’s All About Me” – boy, she tells it like it is and like it should be – anyway, Amany has just landed her first talk show on the Springer Channel, and it’s called … well, what do YOU think it’s called?

(crickets chirping, cell phone beeps)

Oh, c’mon, doesn’t the studio audience have a pulse? Over here, espresso cart! What, the boys in the band don’t play loud enough to keep you awake?

(wah-wah-WAHHH; audience giggles)

All together now, after me … Amany’s cable show on the Springer Channel is … that’s right ...

IT’S ALL ABOUT ME!

(applause)

That’s more like it.

Okay, ladies and gentleman, please join me in welcoming Amany to NA Confidential. She’s going to be reading her latest release, and folks, this is the real thing – we’re a lip-synch-free zone, you know – so here she is, Amany Ali!

(curtain opens, enters to “Ride of the Valkries,” smiles and waves, and wild applause as she begins reading)

Nazi garb is never good … by Amany Ali, City Editor*

“Amany, you need to have your own show.

“You might be surprised how often I hear that statement. From my brothers and sisters to friends and acquaintances, I’m told more and more that my voice needs to be heard nationwide.

“I agree.

“I always have something to talk about. And I can talk to anybody. From the grocery store clerk, to the gas station attendant, to the people who change the oil in my car and even random people I meet while shopping. Most people are friendly when I break out into conversation; there are only a few people who look at me like I have a second head.

“I think the fact that I’m brutally honest, couple with the fact that I analyze topics to death, are what drive the need for my own show.

“My siblings, friends and co-workers are usually subject to my homespun rhetoric that is sometimes colored with words that could make some people blush.

“My most recent tirade came after reading a story and viewing photographs of England’s Prince Harry, who apparently left his brain at home when he decided to wear a Nazi uniform as a costume that was adorned with a swastika on the sleeve. Prince Harry wore the costume to a private party.

“According to the Associated Press, Prince Harry apologized for ‘a poor choice of costume.’

“Poor choice of costume?

“I don’t understand why the uniform was even available for purchase. And I don’t understand why anyone with half a brain and a shred of common sense would even look twice at such a costume, much less wear the thing.

“Dutches of York Sarah Ferguson defended Prince Harry, saying ‘I want someone to stand up for him and say he is a very good man, and I’m that person. Because I know what it is like to have a very bad press and to be continually criticized. It is very tiring and it is very unpleasant.’

“Prince Harry very well may be a ‘good man,’ but there’s no way that he can blame this most recent act of ridiculously bad judgment on bad press. The Prince simply made one of the worst, most inconsiderate decisions ever.

“Perhaps the Daily Telegraph’s Tom Utley said it best with: ‘All these excuses boil down to one: That Prince Harry is a stupid young man, who meant ho harm. That is what I would like very much to believe. But if it is true, then we are not talking about an average level of stupidity. We are talking about stupidity on an absolutely monumental scale.’

“According to CNN, Harry’s brother Prince William took part of the blame because he said he was present when his brother selected the costume at a shop in England. That’s amazing.

“According to the Associated Press, Jewish groups have encouraged Prince Harry to visit Auschwitz, where millions perished in gas chambers or died of starvation and disease.


“I suppose being educated is a start. But Prince Harry can do a couple things before making decisions: Think, and use the common sense that God gave him.”

* Amany Ali's column was transcribed verbatim from the Sunday Tribune, January 16, 2005.

Is the Monday edition of the Tribune headed for redundancy?

NA Confidential has learned that production workers for the Jeffersonville Evening News and New Albany Tribune recently were told that distribution changes for both newspapers are just around the corner.

These changes would involve dropping the Monday editions of both newspapers, which would publish on Saturday, with the Evening News adding a Sunday edition to the mix.

It has been obvious for some time that the Monday edition of the New Albany Tribune is largely composed the previous week, spiced with sports news and deemed microwavable for Monday delivery.

NA Confidential professes less day-to-day knowledge of the Evening News, preferring to monitor it via the joint website of the two newspapers, both of which are printed at the Evening News’s Jeffersonville plant.

What are the implications for the production people? Advertisers? Are Monday’s news dispatches about to become a niche market for NA Confidential?

We’ll see.

Whither downtown retail - the Tribune views the Downtown Merchant's Association

Today’s Sunday edition of the New Albany Tribune contains much of substance.

In “Merchants looking to improve downtown,” the Tribune’s Kyle Lowry describes the return of the Downtown Merchant’s Association, which a handful of downtown businessmen have revived on a volunteer basis in an effort to explore strategies for “getting people into their shops.”

Although you’d never know it by attending a City Council meeting, Lowry insists that the city of New Albany shows concern for “keeping downtown alive” through its support of the Develop New Albany non-profit organization, which in turn was set up by the Indiana Main Street Program.

According to DNA’s associate director, Jane Alcorn, the organization enhances design, promotes the downtown, retains and recruits businesses and provides economic restructuring.

This is interesting. In terms of the institutional lack of accountability that defines New Albany, it’s worth noting that when Smith’s Furniture and Appliance announced its imminent departure from downtown, a snoozing City Hall hastily tossed the hot potato into DNA’s hands, presumably so the non-profit organization could fall on its sword for failing to “retain” business.

But we digress. Before reminding Lowry that downtown’s decline is the fault of the late and lamented General Eisenhower’s interstate highway system (here’s another news flash: “Man lands on moon”), Alcorn describes DNA’s work as “a slow process … we have to figure out how to repackage downtown.”

The answer is provided by Don Preston, who elsewhere in the article bluntly asserts, “let’s stop kidding ourselves – there’s no reason for general, multi-purpose shopping downtown; it’s mostly for specialty stores.”

NA Confidential couldn’t agree more. Alcorn herself should know it, having manned the sign-in table at last year’s DNA seminar promoting hope for America’s neglected downtown business districts in the form of niche and destination businesses.

And what are these? Simply stated, “they must identify a product or service niche that they can dominate, and they must deliver that product or service better than their competitors.” The result is a business that a consumer will go out of his way to visit.

The entrepreneurs who possess the potential to operate these niche and destination businesses are out there, and in fact NA Confidential has seen them sniffing around downtown New Albany.

To be sure, DNA already hawks the standard package of incentives relating to the Urban Enterprise Zone, but when it comes right down to it, there’s only one activity worth considering when it comes to attracting these entrepreneurs.

City government – City Hall and City Council, planners and zoners, adjuncts like DNA – must publicly resolve that it is an absolute priority to place as many of these entrepreneurs and their destination businesses as possible in what are literally dozens of empty storefronts downtown, recognizing that those owners of downtown buildings who seem to regard it as their fiscal priority not to participate in downtown’s revitalization are in fact behaving in an inescapably anti-social manner, and that they will be dealt with by use of the carrot and the stick to play ball with the rest of us.

Firm in this resolve, city government then must address infrastructure needs, prime among them parking. In addition to the parking garage already in existence and the one planned for Scribner Place, municipal surface parking lots should be developed with the money that Councilman Coffey proposes throwing at New Albany DVD. Two locations exist on either side of Stein Glass, one at Third and Main and the other at Fourth and Main.

If City Hall is unable to contribute anything else to this process, perhaps it would be interested in devoting a share of political capital to something remotely approximating leadership. The idea is to organize different community interests so they’re lifting together, not separately.

Perhaps this wasn’t taught at the Dry Cleaning Academy.

Kyle Lowry’s Tribune article

A brief explanation of niche/destination business

Develop New Albany


Local journalism's circulatory problems continue; first the C-J, now the 'Bune

Our attention turns to this mysterious tip, as received via e-mail this morning:

"Dear NA Confidential,

"I know you open your local paper each Sunday in anticipation of something fine from the pen of Ms. Amany Ali. I know you truly expect to see change each week, but are more often than not disappointed.

"But the first six grafs of Sunday’s exercise are so rich in material that you simply must take your time in responding. We, your faithful readers, will understand if you deliberate. After all, it could be a tongue-in-cheek commentary."

Intrigued and ever eager to oblige, I stepped onto my porch and scanned the steps and sidewalk for the Sunday Tribune, but alas, the newspaper was nowhere to be found.

At 9:00 a.m., I reported this to a helpful woman at the 'Bune's circulation department. She advised me that my "route was down," which I took to be a tacit admission that the delivery boy sniffed way too much glue last evening, and added that a reserve carrier would have my paper delivered within the hour.

It's now almost noon, and ... perhaps echoing our Friday experience with the Louisville Courier-Journal, today's Tribune may well have been delivered to Oldham County.

Please check back later for another installment of "Circulation: Bane of the Elderly and Local Newspapers."

Friday, January 14, 2005

For the record: C-J Kentucky sections in Indiana newspapers

The Courier-Journal's Mike Huot responded promptly to my question:

"Sorry we couldn't deliver you an Indiana edition today. I made the call at 12:38 this morning to send Kentucky editions to your area. We had computer problems and couldn't get the Indiana pages to output. A fix seemed hours away. If we waited for the fix we would have been delivering newspapers late in the morning well after our subscribers left for work. As it was, we finished delivery 55 minutes late in some areas. Again, sorry for the error."

Good news for future Greenway patrons

Today the Louisville Courier-Journal’s Sheldon S. Shafer reports:

“The Kentucky Supreme Court has refused to hear a lawsuit challenging Louisville metro government's right take over the abandoned railroad bridge so it can be converted into a walkway across the Ohio River.”

The positive implications for walking, biking and recreation in general are clear, and when the conversion of the bridge comes to pass and the Greenway is completed, the enhancement of the quality of downtown residential life on both sides of the Ohio stands to provide another tool for neighborhood revitalization.

Ultimately, it is this more than anything else that the urban visionaries like Richard Florida seek to espouse: That people make cities, and where there are better opportunities for the enhancement and improvement of individual human lives, there are better neighborhoods, better economic choices, and better cities.

There are numerous building blocks to achieve progress, and we must look at each to determine its applicability to New Albany’s unique collection of credits and debits.

However, before any of this can be done, there must be a will to achieve, and a belief that we are as capable of good things as any other community.

If you are reading NA Confidential for the first time, be aware that our goal is a community unified in the belief that it can be the best in anything it chooses. Politics that advance this notion will be praised, while politics that remain confined by the discredited tenets of the status quo will be rejected.

NA Confidential is not about personal ambition, it is about collective success in the place we call home.

Read Sheldon Shafer’s full article

Coffey suggests the "Steinbrennering" of Adult DVD; Gulf fishermen ecstatic

City Councilman Dan Coffey has suggested that the city of New Albany negotiate to purchase the building owned and remodeled by Adult DVD, which was barred from opening for business last year by a series of “too little, too late” city maneuvers that were laughed out of court earlier this month.

Following the court decision allowing Adult DVD to open, it was disclosed that the city of New Albany really had chosen to tackle its ongoing sewer problems by throwing vast sums of money at them – in this case, flushing $69,000 down the commode in order to fight Adult DVD, which by all accounts had broken no laws in its quest to operate.

Coffey and others now propose to send hundreds of thousands more to a final resting place in the Gulf of Mexico by paying Adult DVD to go away rather than recognizing that this is one fight the city has lost, period, and that other strategies slightly more clever than spending them into oblivion will have to be devised and pursued if the greater public good is to be served.

If Coffey’s viewpoint prevails and the city buys the building, then a pattern for future extortion will have been established.

Besides, if the city seeks to enter the real estate game full time, perhaps a better use of the money would be buying old commercial buildings from their non-civic-minded owners and leasing space at reasonable terms to entrepreneurs whose activities would improve the overall value of New Albany’s neglected downtown and generate the sort of buzz that would make Adult DVD superfluous.

Yep, it’s the vision thing again … that, and New Albany’s cataracts.

Adult video site aims to open: New Albany looks at its legal options, by Ben Zion Hershberg

On not letting sleeping dogs lie

The nearest Courier-Journal newspaper box is located at 10th and Elm, a half block away from our house.

This morning Diana resolved to read the newspaper, half suspecting that a relevant item featuring her husband might be found in the Indiana section of the C-J.

Upon returning, it was obvious that something had shaken her.

On the route to the paper box, there is a small white rental house that in terms of upkeep leans toward the shabby. In this regard, there’s nothing unusual about it by New Albany’s traditional standards of non-accountability.

It’s largely true, but “New Albany: Absentee Slum Lord Capital of Southern Indiana” just doesn’t have the ring of “Land of 10,000 Lakes” or even “Particle Board Center of the Planet.”

Last year’s residents always kept two scrawny dogs tied to objects beneath a tree in the small front yard, which consequently was composed entirely of mud. The barking of these dogs was a recurring feature of a newspaper jaunt, leading to occasional reconsiderations of why it is that the most dilapidated houses generally have the loudest and most annoying guard dogs.

This particular set of residents disappeared last autumn, and someone new moved in. At first there wasn’t a dog, but according to Diana, now there is, because as she passed the house this morning, the dog began barking.

Returning with newspaper in hand, Diana was treated to the sight of the dog cowering in the presence of a small, sallowed woman who was screaming obscenities at the dog while her two young children looked on.

Disturbed but eager to see the Indiana section of the Courier-Journal, Diana leafed through the newspaper, paused, and announced that the Indiana section was missing.

Sure enough, instead of the Indiana section, which for those unaware of Courier protocol is the section specially composed for Indiana readers, we had received the Kentucky section. The Kentucky section is even less relevant to Indiana readers than the Metro section.

Without further ado, here’s the link to Dale Moss’s column today on the topic of NA Confidential:

New Albany man likes to stir things up: Web site devoted to debates on city, by Dale Moss

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The C-J on Smith's Furniture, more "Hope Dreams" from the 'Bune, and Mayor Garner's philosophy of loss

Yesterday the New Albany Tribune belatedly recognized that “Downtown streets need a boost,” and today the Louisville Courier-Journal’s Dick Kaukas picks up on the Smith’s Furniture’s imminent departure:

Smith's Furniture leaving downtown New Albany, by Dick Kaukas

Tribune editorials are not archived on-line, forcing NA Confidential to transcribe them, a task even harder on the untrained fingers when the prose is so consistently forgettable.

Kaukas entertains with this bit of self-evident profundity from James “The Cleaner” Garner, New Albany’s full-time mayor:

"Any business that you lose in your downtown is a loss, especially when you're starting a revitalization program like the Scribner Place project … so, it's a loss."

In order to stress City Hall’s ongoing institutional detachment from the issue, Garner predictably laterals responsibility to the non-profit organization Develop New Albany, which he says has undertaken to locate another furniture retailer for the Smith’s space, thus confirming that thinking outside the “furniture corner” box will not be tolerated at this or any other time.

Business (or in this case, non-business) as usual is perfectly acceptable to Louis Schmitt, president of Schmitt Furniture, who “understands” the decision of Smith’s to leave, but nonetheless is “sorry to see any business leave downtown.”

Schmitt was not asked why his family continues to squat idly while the old Reisz Furniture building on Main Street, which Schmitt owns and uses as a warehouse of sorts, deteriorates.

As for the Tribune editorial, the newspaper’s congenital inferiority complex once again precludes it from seeing any role for itself in downtown revitalization, so instead of cogent analysis, the ‘Bune’s editorialist stresses the forever elusive “hope” over hands-on involvement. It is a strange and contradictory exercise even by the newspaper’s normal standards.

(For more on the Tribune’s hopefulness, read “Hope Dreams,” a previous posting in NA Confidential).

The latest Tribune editorial begins by noting that with Smith’s and M. T. Dearing gone, there are two large vacancies in New Albany’s downtown, “and since the two businesses left because of space constraints and parking issues, city officials will have a hard time finding tenants for the large vacancies.”

With City Hall perpetually AWOL and the ball in DNA’s hands, there’s always Scribner Place: “The YMCA, along with other new development, may bring businesses to the downtown area. At least, that is the hope.”

So … there are new vacancies, but also “new” development? Which is … the Greenway Project? Third Century’s Box Tree bed and breakfast? Ermin’s and its scrumptiously microwavable executive lunch?

Alas, this unrevealed development remains firmly in the Tribune’s preferred comfort zone of “hope,” although as always, concrete plans remain optional, primarily because there are none.

Confusingly, the editorial goes on to concede that “the two buildings will likely remain vacant for some time.”

Having painted this depressingly bleak picture, the mood swings almost pharmaceutically back to optimism: “The downtown area has seen growth and rebirth over the past three years … hopefully, losing Smith’s Furniture will just be a temporary bump in the road.”

Garner, the Tribune, DNA, Louis Schmitt … all of them bring to mind Alice’s conversation with the Cheshire Cat.

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"

"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.

"I don't much care where - " said Alice.

"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.

" - so long as I get somewhere," Alice added as an explanation.

"Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Develop New Albany's statement to the Floyd County Council

Go immediately to the Destinations Booksellers blog for this scoop:

Develop New Albany's statement to the Floyd County Council

DNA considers Randy Stumler's recent proposal for city and county offices to be made part of the Scribner Place, and finds it promising.

Quid pro quo: Maybe Norfolk Southern won't show for the Greenway meeting in Atlanta

Last week NA Confidential reported on the combative scene at the year's first City Council meeting, focusing on Main Street innkeeper Valla Ann Bolovschak's ongoing campaign to quiet Norfolk Southern's inner city freight trains and her blistering denunciation of New Albany's Mayor James Garner for twice failing to attend meetings with an official of the railroad, who had been persuaded with some difficulty to come to New Albany at Valla Ann's specific request.

Garner's absence remains unexplained, but in colloquial terms, it's known as "standing someone up."

Today, the Louisville Courier-Journal headline reads "Delays in tunnel project could impede Ohio River Greenway plans," and reporter Ben Zion Hershberg reveals that the Norfolk Southern railroad (where have we heard that name?) has not been forthcoming in granting approval for two access tunnels to be constructed beneath the floodwall and under the rail line, thus casting doubt on the scheduled starting time for the proposed New Albany section of the Greenway.

Hershberg quotes Varoujan Hagopian, a Greenway designer: "For about three months we have been trying to get their (the Norfolk Southern's) attention," adding that officials from the railroad finally have agreed to meet Greenway planners next week ... in Atlanta.

A spokesman for the railroad then confides that he's heard something about plans for a Greenway, and hopes to find out what it's all about at the Atlanta meeting.

Coincidence? You be the judge.

Delays in tunnel project could impede Ohio River Greenway plans, by Ben Zion Hershberg


The teacher is captured by the (creative) class

The path we're riding at NA Confidential may first have appeared easily navigable, but like most other forms of human endeavor, seeming simplicity obscures a labyrinth of conjecture and possibility.

Inferring from no other source save my own experience, I insist on believing that an energy born of inner passion is the only necessary precondition for conquering a slice of the world, but at the same time, enthusiasm for the concept of driving a manual transmission does not immediately translate into success in diring the car.

I know this from first-hand experience, having finally learned to drive a stick at the tender age of 42.

A prime fundamental motivation for NA Confidential is an earnest desire to learn more about the tools with which we can transform New Albany, and learning this new, exotic language constitutes hard work, plain and simple.

Consequently, with the kind assistance of a friend who possesses a professional interest in the Louisville economic development community, here are links to a handful of articles on the topic, the first two connecting to the themes espoused by Richard Florida.

I've skimmed them all, and will sit dow to a detailed reading this evening.

THE GREAT CREATIVE CLASS DEBATE: Revenge of the Squelchers
by Richard Florida


THE GREAT CREATIVE CLASS DEBATE CONTINUES:
The Peabody Institute Forum
by Elizabeth Evitts with Introduction by Adam Gordon


Other articles about arts, the economy and innovation:

Arts about more than economy

Artists Good for Business

Getting schooled in innovation

The source for the preceding:
EDPro Weblog: Building communities for tomorrow's economy

Miller's "Air Ball" rims out, but entertaining nonetheless

Louisville attorney J. Bruce Miller has written and published a book entitled Air Ball, which purports to provide an “unvarnished” account of Louisville’s failure to acquire a National Basketball Association franchise and join the ranks of big league sports towns.

Miller believes that his efforts during 1999, 2001 and 2002 came to naught at the hands of Louisville’s ingrained, business-as-usual mentality, and he fears that the experience confirms a fear-laden preference for the lowest common denominator that dooms the city to a “grey twilight” of mediocrity.

Stripped of hyperbole and Miller’s unfortunate tendency to bracket the majority of his assertions with inspirational quotes lifted from the lives of famous, dead white men, his oft-repeated thesis is relatively simple: The presence of an NBA franchise in Louisville would be indicative of the city’s economic power, as well as a precursor to rapidly expanding economic influence, an enhanced quality of life, and a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage (H. Hoover, 1928).

Along the way, some of Miller’s observations curiously echo those of Richard Florida in his Rise of the Creative Class, but not at all because Florida shares Miller’s belief in the transformational economic power of professional basketball.

For instance, explaining why the presence of the University of Louisville’s high-powered NCAA basketball program does not provide a truly big-league option for the city’s new youthful professionals, Miller notes that the sports loyalties of these productive young business people, who are accustomed to moving from city to city, tend more towards the cosmopolitan NBA than to the regionally embedded rooting interests of university teams.

Certainly Florida would respond that the members of his “creative class” aren’t interested in being spectators and would prefer the availability of Louisville’s Extreme Sports park (itself brought about by one of Miller’s villains, former mayor Dave Armstrong).

While differences in perspective are a given coming from two figures who are poles apart in methodology and intent, it should be noted that both Miller and Florida are attempting to analyze the behavioral interests of a certain socio-economic demographic, with a goal of understanding what appeals to it, and further predicating that a city providing a quantifiable piece of that appeal stands to advance economically.

It's the money, stupid.

Apart from a handful of brief forays into such matters, Miller remains focused on money throughout Air Ball. He is especially fond of reminding the reader that the combined economic weight of the NBA’s member cities comprises the world’s second-largest economy.

Of course, the same might be said of cities hosting pro baseball or football teams, but Miller is forced to sidestep such comparisons by conceding the fatally close territorial proximity of the Cincinnati Reds (in baseball) and an analogous regional concentration of football teams in Cincinnati, Nashville and Indianapolis.

The fundamental reason for Miller’s exclusive focus on basketball as Louisville’s potential economic meta-generator is that it’s his longtime favorite sport, and the venerated, quasi-religious, obsessive gaming choice of Kentuckiana.

Therein lies the mythic applicability of basketball, but to Miller, the pre-basketball history of Kentucky sets the table for the subsequent role of basketball in the Commonwealth. Accordingly, he begins his story by delving into this history.

Enter the Baron.

We must recall that in Dino, Nick Tosches’s brilliant biography of Dean Martin, Tosches proposes to explain the whole of the 20th-century American experience through the tale of the fabled entertainer – and succeeds.

Likewise, but somewhat less successfully, Miller purports to discover all there is to know about Kentucky through the life and career of Adolph Rupp, the Baron, high priest of the basketball religion, who for better and worse defined the University of Kentucky’s basketball program for generations, and was lionized for his efforts by generations of rural squirrel brain eaters who lacked any better bet for a rooting interest in desperate, impoverished lives.

In Miller’s view, this adoration of Ruppian basketball prowess came to serve as the attainable substitute for mundane matters – better education, economic development and cultural advancement – that throughout Kentucky’s history have been neglected to the detriment of the state as a whole.

Significantly, the city of Louisville traditionally stood somewhat outside such futile trends by virtue of its position as a river port, as home to immigrants, and its subsequent industrialization patterns. Louisville became Kentucky’s economic, social and cultural engine – and, predictably, a favorite target for the state’s impoverished, disaffected rural cadres.

According to Miller, Adolph Rupp’s symbiotic identification with Kentucky’s anti-intellectual rural ethos forged a symbolic importance that came to extend far beyond basketball, manifesting the characteristics of an evangelical religion, with Rupp as avatar of a philosophy and worldview identified as Kentuckyism – one viewed by the born and bred Louisvillian Miller as a dangerous and detrimental malady.

It is an envious illness that espouses a spiteful predisposition to detest the city and all things urban, opting instead for a mystical appreciation of the “us against them” virtues of Ruppian struggle – contempt for the outside world, skepticism of education, reliance on one’s own Sisyphusian hard work, and the ceaseless repetition of the virtuous but largely meaningless mantras of sports.

Rupp and the yokels ruled for decades, but with the Baron growing older and the flood of the 1960’s-era social upheaval lapping against the boundaries of the Commonwealth, cracks in the fa├žade of anti-urban sentiment begin to appear, not least among them the racial integration of college sports in the Old South … and then, with Rupp’s carefully structured Old World Order springing leaks throughout, the unthinkable occurred.

Integrated pro basketball came to Louisville, not as member of the NBA, but in the form of the Kentucky Colonels of the insurgent American Basketball Association, formed to break the NBA’s monopoly on the professional game.

The arrival of the Colonels was made possible largely through the enthusiasm and hard work of an inaugural generation of young, wealthy, forward-thinking Louisvillians, including Miller himself, future governor John Y. Brown and the founders of what became the Humana health care empire.

Forcibly retired by the university, even Rupp briefly accepted employment with the Colonels as a front man of sorts (and, if we are to believe Miller, mellowing considerably prior to his death). By the attendance and fan support standards of the day, the ABA’s brand of pro basketball succeeded in Louisville, supposedly marking the city as ready for the NBA’s prime time, but when the league unraveled in 1976, a series of unfortunate circumstances conspired to deprive the Colonels of a rightful spot in the professional ranks.

Louisville’s exclusion from the “expansion” settlement set the stage for an inaugural, failed attempt in the late 1970’s to lure Buffalo’s team to Louisville, after which Miller bowed out of the NBA chase and concentrated on building his law firm, remarrying, and enjoying the obvious attributes of life in Louisville.

But he still felt the itch, and by virtue of his clients and friendships in the sporting world, closely followed events and trends.

A stopped clock again strikes.

By the late 1990’s, pro basketball was two decades dormant in Louisville, but the game in general and the NBA in particular had enjoyed transcendent success since the forgotten 1970’s milieu of the Colonels. Dr. Naismith’s game experienced an unprecedented growth spurt, gaining popularity second only to soccer throughout the world.

As the millennium approached, Kentucky-style basketball fervor gripped the planet, and having surveyed the local market and found it ready, Miller determined to act upon opportunities to transfer an existing NBA team to Louisville.

The contemporary odyssey thus began.

Miller located strategic allies in the political realm (the Governor and selected Aldermen) and the corridors of corporate Louisville – the natural habitat of a successful lawyer.

Tricon (now the atrociously re-named Yum! Brands) signed on for arena naming rights. Miller targeted a new, rising generation of progressive Louisvillians involved with mid-sized businesses (typified by Todd Blue), enlisted the editorial support of the Courier-Journal, and cast himself in the leadership role of elder statesman.

Over a three-year period, successive bids for the Houston Rockets, Vancouver Grizzlies and Charlotte Hornets were mounted by Miller’s “Pursuit Team.”

It seemed that momentum was gained with each effort, but in the end, all three failed. In Miller’s eyes, his quest was defeated by a coalition of anti-progressive Ruppians, the bizarrely apathetic and detached Mayor Dave, grandstanding small-pond politicos, the egotistical self-absorption of Tom Jurich, Rick Pitino and the University of Louisville, and unexpected poison-pen vitriol by the former Miller family confidant, sportswriter Billy Reed.

For Miller, the result was a colossal missed opportunity to elevate Louisville by providing a state-of-the-art downtown arena suitable not just for the NBA but also for concerts and conventions, and at favorable economic terms for the city; to implement the tax-base-expansive ripple effect of the NBA; and to reward the young business professionals who stood the most to benefit from Louisville’s place on a bigger stage.

Worst of all to Miller, the debacle brought unmitigated embarrassment to the city of Louisville, which yet again had flaunted its regressive dirty laundry for all the world to see and refused, kicking and screaming, to be dragged into the 21st century.

Making sense of Miller?

What are we to say about a book that chronicles the pursuit of an NBA franchise, yet is dedicated …

" … to the many who dared mighty things with no fear of the unknown, and were willing to embrace life’s inexorable change, all the while refusing to take rank with those timid souls who daily exist in the grey twilight, never experiencing either victory or defeat and who thrive in the warmth of mediocrity’s comfort zone that’s found in the middle of the herd. They are the Champions."

Alas, it is a limited sampling of champions, indeed.

Implicit in Air Ball is Miller’s assumption that his quest to bag an NBA franchise is gratefully supported by Louisville’s rank and file, and yet he fails to document any groundswell of support by the timid souls in the zone of mediocrity who quite frankly would be the ones expected to buy the majority of the seats to the tune of 15,000 paid attendance per home game.

The admittedly gripping tale of Miller’s “Pursuit Team” with its deadlines and sleepless nights seems tantamount to V. I. Lenin’s small, dedicated group of Bolshevik revolutionaries; neither Lenin nor Miller provides evidence of a mass movement, instead expressing confidence that they’re doing the right thing according to ineffable laws of economic determinism and a fast-paced running game.

The people will catch up later ... or else.

The reader is left with no doubt whatsoever that Miller knows everyone there is to know and dozens of others not worth the effort to meet, but his paeans to the otherworldly skills of fellow lawyers again point to a degree of detachment from real life on the ground.

Numerous times Miller remarks that an attorney or business chieftain would be as comfortable in a corner bar as a corporate boardroom, but none of them ever risk a trip back to Schnitzelburg for the working man’s beer. However, several corks are popped on bottles of Opus One wine, which is a brand you'll not find at Flabby's.

Is this leadership?

Miller thinks so, and it probably is in the limited sense that he works tirelessly within his socio-economic peer group to convince a sufficient number of fellow economic elites that they should spend a great deal of money to help another businessman come to town and seek major profits – and, to corral politicians to float bonds for an arena as part of the ride.

Certainly there would be a positive economic ripple effect from the presence of an NBA team, but the extent of this benefit has by no means been established by any study of which I’m aware. If it had, these opportunities would be as easy to diagram as a clean pick and roll. It hasn’t, so Miller sticks with the only play he has bothered to put on the chalkboard: Cities with NBA teams have strong economies, therefore, strong economies must have NBA teams.

Does Louisville need a state-of-the-art downtown arena? Absolutely. Perhaps the single most compelling statistic quoted by Miller in Air Ball is his reference to the outdated Freedom Hall’s abysmal ranking on the chart of top moneymaking arenas nationwide, which reflects the fact that major musical production (to name just one) do not come to Louisville. A downtown arena would boost convention traffic, host big-time shows, and serve as the lure for the NBA.

I commend Miller for his diagnosis of the Louisville area’s congenital backwardness, but in the end, his prescription of professional basketball as an economic cure-all simply doesn’t hold Gatorade.

I forgive Miller for erring because I appreciate his nobility of eccentricity, and because I understand that passion for things like basketball can do that to a man.

The Louisville metropolitan area needs many improvements, but as much as it hurts me to say it, NBA basketball isn’t one of them, at least not at this time, and I say this as a fervent fan of the league. The package of social, economic and cultural pre-conditions that interest us are bottom-up instigators of change, not top-down renderings of the Roman bread and circus.

Remember: J. Bruce Miller will be appearing at Destinations Booksellers on January 20.

Read Rick Bozich's story on Miller's book ...
http://www.courier-journal.com/cjsports/news2004/09/30/C1-boz0930-5413.html