Friday, May 27, 2011

On This Memorial Day

The following is an excerpt from General Douglas MacArthur’s May 12, 1962 speech at West Point, entitled “Duty, Honor, Country.”

Notice how little has changed in the past fifty years.

Duty, Honor, Country.

The code which those words perpetuate embraces the highest moral laws and will stand the test of any ethics or philosophies ever promulgated for the uplift of mankind. Its requirements are for the things that are right, and its restraints are from the things that are wrong.

The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training -- sacrifice.

In battle and in the face of danger and death, he discloses those divine attributes which his Maker gave when he created man in his own image. No physical courage and no brute instinct can take the place of the Divine help which alone can sustain him.

However horrible the incidents of war may be, the soldier who is called upon to offer and to give his life for his country is the noblest development of mankind.

You now face a new world -- a world of change. The thrust into outer space of the satellite, spheres, and missiles mark the beginning of another epoch in the long story of mankind. In the five or more billions of years the scientists tell us it has taken to form the earth, in the three or more billion years of development of the human race, there has never been a more abrupt or staggering evolution. We deal now not with things of this world alone, but with the illimitable distances and as yet unfathomed mysteries of the universe. We are reaching out for a new and boundless frontier.

We speak in strange terms: of harnessing the cosmic energy; of making winds and tides work for us; of creating unheard synthetic materials to supplement or even replace our old standard basics; to purify sea water for our drink; of mining ocean floors for new fields of wealth and food; of disease preventatives to expand life into the hundreds of years; of controlling the weather for a more equitable distribution of heat and cold, of rain and shine; of space ships to the moon; of the primary target in war, no longer limited to the armed forces of an enemy, but instead to include his civil populations; of ultimate conflict between a united human race and the sinister forces of some other planetary galaxy; of such dreams and fantasies as to make life the most exciting of all time.

And through all this welter of change and development, your mission remains fixed, determined, inviolable: it is to win our wars.
God bless our fallen soldiers and their families. They sacrificed their lives so we may live free. God bless our military, our veterans, and their families, for their service and sacrifice. Our nation is in your debt. >>> Read more!

Staff is Policy

"Elections Shouldn't Matter as Much as They Do" – Nancy Pelosi

The real question is why don’t elections matter more. Since 2009, not a single Aberdeen representative on the town council or school board has sought reelection upon completing a full term. (On the school board, Demarest took a break and then ran again when an uncontested seat opened.) This January, Aberdeen will have its freshest crop of elected representatives in a decade. And, yet, the expectation for change is rather subdued.

In Washington, an old axiom declares, “Staff is policy”. A corollary is you can’t change policy without changing staff.

To give a couple examples, in 2007 the school administration maintained the budget had already been cut to the bone and that additional cuts would undermine critical areas. Then O’Malley was hired and the district miraculously discovered millions of dollars that could be cut without impacting the district’s core mission.

We were told controlling expenses for legal and special education was beyond our control. Then we hired a new attorney and new director of special services. Legal expenses dropped by over half and out-districting has dropped by ten percent.

Again and again, policy is driven by staff.

For years, it’s been frustrating to file OPRA requests to obtain copies of town ordinances. Regulations were posted but not ordinances. There was no legitimate reason to not post the ordinances (just as there’s no legitimate reason to not post minutes from the planning and zoning boards) but such was the township’s practice.

Recently, Ken Aitken requested the ordinances be posted. There was no objection from the interim town manager, the town council approved, and presto, they’re now posted. Having said that, some of what’s posted is truly disturbing and points, once again, to the need to change staff.


The title gives the strong impression that the bond is necessary to fund “road improvements” and “information technology equipment.” Not so. As detailed in the ordinance itself, the IT equipment only costs $7,000 and has an expected shelf life of five years; hardly the “capital improvement” you would bond for any more than a homeowner would refinance his mortgage to buy a new stereo system.

Why then did the township include the $7,000 purchase in the bond notice? Because everybody knows that “road improvements” is synonymous with CME Associates, the town engineer and underwriter for the town council’s upcoming election efforts.

These shenanigans will never end so long as the town council continues engaging in pay-to-play. Specifically, the township needs to hire a town manager untainted with the scent of corruption (as is the interim town manager), and replace the town attorney, town engineer, and town auditor. Until that’s done, no matter who’s elected, the townsfolk should expect more of the same.

The same holds true in the school district. Despite replacing nearly every administrator at the district level, educational gains have been modest and will continue to be restrained so long as the teachers are represented by a leadership faithful to former AFT President Albert Shanker’s dictum, “When school children start paying union dues, that 's when I'll start representing the interests of school children.”

Staff is policy and you can’t change policy without changing staff. Every elected representative hoping for change needs to understand this.
>>> Read more!

Reminder - Greater Aberdeen Garage Sale

It's that time of year again. The first Sunday in June is the Greater Aberdeen Garage Sale.

For those who have already registered, I apologize but must ask that you register again due to a glitch in the system. (My fault for not monitoring the system - it's designed/hosted by a third party.)

Registration is completely free and I will not share your email addresses with anybody. Also, you don't need to register to have a yard sale. Nor does Aberdeen require any permits or the like. If anybody in any of the neighboring towns wishes to participate, you're welcome to join us.

The key to success is traffic. Even if you're listed on the site, I strongly recommend you promote your spot with signs at major intersections.

The date is Sunday, June 5th, from 9AM to 4PM. Best of luck to everybody. >>> Read more!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Other Budget

Considering the resounding approval of the school district budget “despite” remarkably low turnout, it seems almost frivolous to dissect the much smaller township budget. However, for the few fiscal conservatives left in town and those on the town council driving towards a more prominent slice of the property tax, this review is for you.

Municipal Budget 15246563 15154052 0.61%
Municipal Tax Levey 9604371 9137212 5.11%
Police Salaries 3953719 3748020 5.49%
Health Insurance 1663000 1604000 3.68%
Police Pension 896988 692192 29.59%
Public Employees Pension 262417 195400 34.30%
Capital Improvement Fund 160000 100000 60.00%
Sewer Salaries 537388 483855 11.06%
Municipal Debt Service 1217902 1813703 -32.85%
Bond Principal 701112 1201111 -41.63%
Bond Anticipation 160000 75000 113.33%
Interest Bonds 276791 331068 -16.39%
Interest Notes 79999 206524 -61.26%
Water - Interest Bonds 2750 5404 -49.11%
Water - Interest Notes 41000 71645 -42.77%

As can be seen from the chart above, spending is flat but taxes will be popping another 5%, over triple the school district’s increase.

That increase doesn’t include the hike in sewer rates that appears to be sneaking into the general funds. Sheet 10 of the budget shows a $120,000 revenue item from sewer surplus funds. I guess that’s one way to increase revenue without “raising taxes”.

Police are getting another 5% raise. Hopefully, they’ll go easy on the residents during contract negotiations.

Pension payments are 30% higher, partly because the town council took a payment deferral and then marketed it as a “spending cut”.

Health insurance appears to be under control with costs “only” increasing another 3.7%. Makes you wonder how much money the township wasted during the prior years before getting it under control.

The big mystery to me is how did the township cut municipal debt payments by over 30%. Considering how quickly assets and surpluses are dropping and how fast costs are rising, it’s inconceivable we’ve cut our debt that quickly in a single year. Nor did we accelerate any of the debt payments last year.

One possible hint is the doubling in Bond Anticipation fees. The township may be refinancing its debt and stretching out the payments, which, given the likelihood of rising interest rates, isn’t necessarily a bad idea.

On a side note, any updates on the Cambridge Club? Always wondered if someone from Matawan understood what it took to build in Aberdeen.
>>> Read more!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Dead At Last

Compassion towards the wicked is cruelty to all beings.” – Maimonides, Guide to the Perplexed

Osama bin Laden died at the hands of U.S. Navy Seals.

Thanks to God. Thanks to our courageous and capable military. Thanks to our CIA. And thanks to our civilian leadership who had the backbone to make the hard calls.

A nation thanks you all. >>> Read more!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Congratulations, Ken Aitken

Ken Aitken has won the final year of my unexpired term with a resounding twenty votes.

No doubt the teachers union will be thrilled to see him back just in time for contract negotiations. Maybe they'll even pay him a home visit like last time, though I doubt it. They're far better at frightening children than adults.

Then again, I've been wrong before. Just look at the school budget. >>> Read more!

Greater Aberdeen Garage Sale

It's that time of year again. The first Sunday in June is the Greater Aberdeen Garage Sale.

This is the fourth year and we'll keep it going for as long as people continue to show real interest. (Note to township - The site costs me $77 per year to run. Would sure be nice if the township could take it off my hands.)

Registration is completely free and I will not share your email addresses with anybody. Also, you don't need to register to have a yard sale. Nor does Aberdeen require any permits or the like. If anybody in any of the neighboring towns wishes to participate, you're welcome to join us.

The date is Sunday, June 5th, from 9AM to 4PM. Best of luck to everybody. >>> Read more!