Wednesday, July 30, 2008

No Cowboys

A few years back Bingham Township was busy making headlines, and they weren't the sort of headlines anyone wants to see. Bingham Township's supervisor was the subject of a scathing editorial in the Traverse City Record-Eagle:

Once again, a township supervisor — this time Bingham Township's Robert Foster — seems to have gotten it into his head that he is a law unto himself. And taxpayers will probably pay to set him straight.

Foster has thumbed his nose at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, exposing the township to possible litigation and liability; claimed a beach grooming permit he didn't have; accused the township clerk of being the subject of a nonexistent mail fraud investigation; and allegedly pushed an elected official out of office (though his wife, Patricia, is credited with the actual physical contact), again exposing the township to litigation and liability.

Not bad for less than two years in office.

My friends in Bingham were so mortified and disgusted by the spectacle that I made it a point to thank my Leland Township supervisor, Harry Larkin, for doing whatever it was he did to keep us low profile and out of the headlines. Harry was philosophical about the compliment, saying, "I figure that my job is to call the meetings and make sure that everyone follows the law."

It was a simple statement, but it was the seed of my decision to run for township trustee. Government on all levels seems to be a deafening competition between personalities and interest groups, where if one side is right, the other must be wrong. It's easy to forget that we are a nation of laws, and that we share a lot of common interests, that most of us are pretty nice people who are neither always right or always wrong, and that we have a good deal to learn from each other.

Foster's antics only mirrored the national scene, elected officials who see themselves as above the law, and who see the basic procedures of government -- the Freedom of Information Act, the Open Meetings laws, everything from the Bill of Rights to beach grooming laws -- as annoyances, not disciplines.

When I thought about serving as an elected official as a matter of trying to be on the popular side of large number of issues, it seemed like the worst job in the world. But when I thought about serving on the town board as working for the common good, within the constraints of laws and procedures, well, this was a job I could do. I work in the casino, in an industry that uses procedures to ensure and demonstrate honesty. I have spent the last 15 years as a 4-H volunteer teaching chess- a game that teaches how to win without gloating and lose without whining and how to think ahead about the future consequences of each action.

I've been thinking lately about 1998 and 1999, when I spent one or two nights a week for most of those years meeting with about 50 other volunteers on the Leland School Facilities Group, trying to make a monumental decision about the future of our school. We were asked to look at three alternatives: consolidating with another school, moving our school to a more rural location with room to expand, or expanding and renovating on our small, landlocked village location. Like a lot of others, I joined the group with a lot of preconceived ideas. We researched and argued and got to know each others' points of view. In the end, we made a good decision because we took our time, respected the learning process, and didn't rush to conclusions.

I was concerned when I saw news stories last year describing a breakdown of civility at Leland Town Board meetings:

During board member comment at the end of the three-hour meeting, Keen said she is concerned the level of vitriol that is displayed at all township meetings is giving the township a bad image. She referred to a joint meeting held last month with the township planning commission and sewer commission about future growth in the township. Keen said public comments leveled at former commission chairman Stephen Clem by Lake Leelanau resident Steve Mikowski were part of the reason Clem resigned from the commission. She alleged Mikowski used profanity during his comments, saying it was unnecessary. Mikowski denied using profanity, adding he has never used such language at any meeting during his comments.

Keen said the public’s perception of township government is not good.

“I ask people I think would be good people to have on our committees and commissions if they would be willing to serve, and they say ‘No way would I put myself through that,’” she said.

Both Keen and Plamondon said the use of loud voices at township board meetings by Lederle and Larkin often wear them out. Plamondon, who sits between Larkin and Lederle at board meetings, said he would like to see a change in the seating arrangements.

“When I leave here after a meeting, I’m usually going home with a headache,” he said.
Keen said she is unsure if she wants to continue serving.

“It frightens me where we are going to go in the future. We’re only going to get people who have an agenda to serve on our committees and commissions because no one else will be willing to serve,” she said.
When the township emergency response team started their own facilities study group last year, they found their work undermined by the same township trustee who is now challenging Larkin for the supervisor position.

I'm supporting Harry Larkin as the sort of person who is there to serve, not to advance any particular agenda. I suspect that if we each took one of those "Issues surveys" that are all the rage now we'd end up on opposite sides of each question, but that's OK, since he's there to serve the township and its system of government, not to force everyone to agree with his views.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Scenes from the Wedding

Chris Wendel and Janie McNabb

Brother Chris was married last Friday at Old Settlers Park in Glen Arbor. Here are a few pictures from the event, although I was more interested in enjoying the event that chronicling it.

The families came together from across the continent and beyond. The kids see each other only once every few years and they play hard to make up for it. The kids played What Time Is It, Mr Fox? every time they could, including this scene just moments after the "You may kiss the bride." The younger kids love to be caught and chased by the college kids.

On the way home from the rehearsal dinner, Anna and I saw a fox cross the road in front of the car. Anna said "What time is it?' and laughed.

Richard was The Guy Who Did Everything, including showing up in his suit and tie with a cordless drill to move the pulpit out of the gazebo and then putting it back after the ceremony. The cord was for Shelagh's keyboard, as she and Jordan provided music. I thought this photo of Richard looked like Tommy Lee Jones in "Men In Black".

And we were there with our daughters on a beautiful summer day. Now Janie and her daughter Sidney are part of our family, as well. Who could ask for more?

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Candidates Night

The place was packed. I could afford to be relaxed about the whole event because I'm unopposed in the primary. The date, unfortunately, conflicted with the rehearsal dinner for my brother Chris's wedding, so I was eager to get it done and go down to the dinner at Old Settlers Park. Each candidate was given two minutes to state their reasons for running, qualifications for the office, and their view of the challenges facing our township.

Two minutes was enough time to say that I wanted to serve to support the amazing group of volunteers that make our township run, and that the new zoning ordinance should do more to support "right sized" businesses in our township and that we needed to expand broad band internet to the entire township, and that I was writing about these issues on this blog. Each of the candidates gave their own two minute introduction; the rest of the event was devoted to written questions from the audience.

I had come prepared to talk broadband internet, but the audience's infrastructure questions were all about septic tanks and sewers. That was OK -- as the daughter of a civil engineer who made a career out of designing municipal sewer projects, I was comfortable talking about "after the flush" issues. It's easy to cut to the chase on those issues by pointing out that clean water is a basic requirement for public health.

Many of the questions for the supervisor candidates were centered around challenger Nick Lederle's criticism of what he termed "the runaway growth of township government." One question asked Nick specifically which functions of township government he'd like to get rid of; he answered that the things we were doing already were pretty much OK.

Later, at the rehearsal dinner, my uncle Bryan was not at all surprised that the evening had revolved around questions of basic government and sewers. "Way back when," he intoned in his Retired Park Ranger style, "our first governments were formed when people started living closer together and decided that they couldn't go on just throwing the slops in the streets everyday so they decided to do something about. it." Thinking on it, I realized that there were probably folks way back when who decided that a law against throwing slops in the street was too much government and went to live in a town where they kept throwing the slops in the streets. But those folks aren't our ancestors because they didn't survive the plagues.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Leland Township Economic Development

Preparing for next Thursday's Leland Township Candidate Night, I asked my brother, Chris Wendel, to give me some ideas on attracting and building "right sized" businesses in our township. I believe that doing so will be critical as gas prices make living here and commuting to Traverse City less and less appealing. I am cutting and pasting from his email so I can get myself off to work:

Attracting entrepreneurial businesses and employment is many times dependent on zoning. For example, the perception in the Traverse City economic development community is that Leland Township was too slow in accommodating needed zoning changes for One Up Web. They intended on expanding in Lake Leelanau but the process became bogged down even with patient deadlines from their owner and they moved on to Grelickville.

The township at last look has only one manufacturing zoned area; at the former sawmill facility where Baa Baa ZuZu is located. Any company that had aspirations of opening a light manufacturing business in Leland Township would quickly realize that the land available for light manufacturing is very limited and move on.

The recent advent of the internet presents tremendous opportunities for attracting “knowledge based” employment. They fall under the following categories:

1. Professionals that can work remotely from Leland Township for companies or corporations located outside the region. They can live here year-round, place children in the local schools, and not take up space on our roads with their “telecommuting”.
2. Self-employed people who discover a niche and open or operate internet based businesses that sell products or services to a worldwide internet audience.
3. Retail business that use the internet to sell their products to a wider audience outside the region, or develop a unique product line that can be sold to broad internet audience.
4. Value added agricultural products that are sold online or to a wider audience. IE. Kejara’s Bridge in Lake Leelanau has gone away from its walk in restaurant concept and sells is hummus and other food products on the internet and to Whole Foods grocery stores downstate. Wineries and existing roadside markets are other examples.

Overall, here are some possible considerations:

1. Collaborations with the owner of a commercial building and the township to set up a small business incubation center. This could be a small space at a centralized location that offers inexpensive office space, business resources, high speed internet, and regular business consulting from my group (SBTDC) and SCORE to encourage small business growth. These could also be businesses that people start on the side while keeping their regular or seasonal employment. If the business grows than the transition can be made into full time self-employment. SBTDC and SCORE services are free but go unnoticed and underutilized in Leland Township and Leelanau County. I would be quite interested in working with the township on this.
2. Leelanau County now has an Economic Development Fund for small businesses that show the potential to grow and add employees. Having an awareness of and presence with the Leelanau County EDC is important.
3. Increase awareness in the township that the 20-35 age group is growing in Leelanau County and will continue to grow steadily in the next 5-10 years.
4. Making accessible, affordable internet a priority for the township and county.
5. Collaboration with the two township schools (St. Mary’s and Leland) and MSU Extension to further encourage youth entrepreneurship in the township.
6. Use and celebrate the examples of other area businesses that have thrived with selling products and services in innovative ways.( Cherry Republic quickly comes to mind, $7 million in sales last year, half of which comes from mail-order and internet sales, 15% of their internet sales come from people who have never been to Leelanau County. Baa baa ZuZu has grown over 30% in one year and sells to over 200 galleries nationally out of the back door of their warehouse type facility).
7. Consider starting a business development authority, staffed by volunteer retirees, business people, and local economic development personnel. This group would work to improve the business climate and publicize the business opportunities (once they improve) in Leland Township.
8. The distribution channels of CSAs should be acknowledged as well. Agriculture in its ever evolving forms will be critical to the controlled growth and future economic success of the township.
9. Have the wherewithal to work past the naysayers and contrarians that don’t want anything to happen in Leland and the surrounding areas. Theses are many times retired people who don’t want and just don’t get progress.

The key is to create an environment that is friendly to these entrepreneurial pursuits and encouraging the collaboration from all community groups including the Leland Public School, St. Mary’s School, 4-H, MSU Extension, NMC, SBTDC, SCORE, Leelanau County Chamber, Leland Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan Land Use Institute an others. There are plenty of resources out there that are underutilized. The solution for the township will not be a larger company locating in the township but smaller businesses that can develop thrive and increase their employee bases as they go along.
Chris is Assistant Director of the Small Business and Technology Development Center in Traverse City.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Broadleaf Weeds

This is weed pulling season. Weed pulling season is soooo repetitive, as most of the weeds are of the same handful of species. I thought I'd try out the new camera on a few of the most populous weeds and identify the unknowns at MSU's interactive weed identifier.

This is lambs quarters. Chickens love it, and people can eat it too, if need be. It is always plentiful in July. I always tell myself that this is what I'll be eating when I'm too feeble to plant a garden.

Everybody knows ragweed, at least by reputation. This is the one that will be flowering in a few weeks and spreading so much of that yellow pollen. I don't think the chickens care for it much, but they will tample it down and kill it for me.

Few know purslane, even though it is quite edible and a good source of omega-3. I munch on this as I weed, trying to like the taste because it's reputed to be good for me. The chickens like it better than I do. Maybe I'll give Anna the job of determining which weeds are most preferred by the hens.

I didn't know the name of this one until I looked it up today. It is common mallow, and it has a small but nice flower. It starts out small but can really take over if you admire its white flowers too long.
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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Squash Bugs

Now that we're back home, life takes on the summer routine. I sleep late, work in the garden for an hour, feed the weeds to the chickens as I feed and water them, pick up eggs, ride down to the beach for a quick dip if there's time, nap for 20 minutes, and then head back to the casino to work my 10 or 12 hour shift. People are in town and it's time to "Make Hay While The Sun Shines." There's time for long thoughts but not much time for long blog posts.

The garden chores are weeding, watering, and bug picking. The squash bugs pictured above have been my nemesis for the last few years. They only have one breeding generation per year, so I ought to be able to pick them off as adults and eggs and break the cycle. In reality, they are too quick, too mobile, and too ubiquitous for me to find and drown every one, and the ones that escape produced enough young last year to pretty much wipe out my squash crop.

The eggs look like this, hiding under the leaves. My neighbors at Meadowlark Farm start their squash under Remay to keep the bugs off. I concentrated on clearing the ground of debris and staggering my planting times to give them less opportunity to overwinter and less to eat once spring came. But last time I hung laundry they were hanging out on the clothes waiting for my late crop of winter squash to germinate. Guess I'll be buying more Remay next year.
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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

More on Gas Mileage

To tell the truth, I felt a little foolish after I found out how much gas we saved by driving 60 instead of 70 on our recent trip. I had been thinking that 31 mpg was awesome mileage, and here we went and got 39 mpg on one tank and over 42 mpg on the other; all this is a 1996 Camry that needs some muffler work. I'm kicking myself thinking about how much money I could have saved had I slowed down maybe 5 years earlier.

My dad asked why we did better on the way home compared to the way there. On the way home Richard kept talking about having a tail wind, although I remember the flags pointing south, which would have been a crosswind. I suspect that he had not totally bought in to the "drive slower, increase your mileage" idea, but on the way home he was converted and thus kept to speed even while I slept. It helped that bragging about your miles per gallon has, these days, replaced bragging about what good time you made.

Mickey, my NASCAR loving co-worker, was not at all surprised that we were able to affect our mileage so much. "How you drive makes a HUGE difference," he said. "The best thing we could do to save everyone from higher fuel prices is just to put the speed limit back down to 60." I'd vote for 55, since everyone feels entitled to drive 5 miles over the limit.
I can't get behind the "just stay home" sentiment. I'd skip shopping any time, but you need to get out and see the world. Here's Anna contemplating the mighty Mississippi from Munsinger Garden in St Cloud.
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Friday, July 04, 2008

Photos from Minnesota

We took a quick week and drove to Minnesota for a family reunion. It was a good excuse to replace the old digital camera, and Anna and I spent a lot of time trying out our new gadget.

You no doubt need a new camera when you have Grandma Alice cradling her first great-grandchild. Baby Emma was one of our favorite attractions.

On the Sunday after the reunion, Richard and his siblings moved their folks into a senior citizen's apartment. Anna and I went to the Quarry Park, on the site of an old granite quarry. The water was cool and clear; the rock walls went straight down forever. It was quite a social scene, though. I was easily the oldest person swimming; Anna was probably the youngest. The daredevils jumping off the cliffs were making me nervous and bringing out my old lifeguard instincts. I was glad when Anna decided that we should go.

Aunt Brenda always has a litter of kittens in her garage. Anna spent a lot of time taming and naming them.

We drove though the Upper Peninsula both ways. We kept the cruise control topped out at 60 and tried to slow for the towns without braking. We were trying to save gas ($4.20 in Michigan, $3.99 in St Cloud) but we were surprised at how much a change in driving habits saved us. On the first tank of gas we got 39 miles per gallon, on the last tank we got 42.69. miles per gallon. the last time we drove to Chicago, where the speed limit is 70, we got 31 miles per gallon and thought that we had done well. On the radio on the way home, Governor Granholm was calling for lowering the state speed limit again. I wish they would; it's hard not to drive at wasteful speeds when everyone is riding close behind and passing like mad.
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