Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Elections? Redistricting? Heavens sake, what a mess!

Have you ever wondered what has become of the principals of our democracy system in the United States? Well, OK, that is a deep subject and far beyond this article, but we will just slightly touch it anyway. There is an issue at all levels of government and political arenas. Believe me, it is not only one party. In The Woodlands, Texas, we are part of the issue and problem, even in local politics. The thinking that seems to go on in some people's heads is questionable. Let's explore a little of that.

First and foremost, who was the politician or group who manufactured district boundaries to favor their own party's position in elections? Or is that my imagination? Ask the DA. Well, then let's just remove those people from office. Something is dramatically wrong with some politicians' methodologies and thinking processes. Manipulating elections is about the same as fraud in my book. If we cannot have level ground democracy, with fairness in elections, why do we have a democracy at all? Of course every one involved has some reason why they are right.

Our system has been slowly decaying, but the root of the problem has been here from the start. It is called human nature, translated egotistical and/or self serving. Have you heard the complaints of those fed up with the system? "Let's get rid of all incumbents." Anyone listening? The Tea Party has emerged as a power house to counter the political mess we have and the overspending of government, but the mainstream politicians are joining it to stay in power, and they are making noise as if they are a part of the movement. I guess that may be OK if they embrace the principals behind it, like sticking to the principals of the constitution and having a government that is by the people and for the people.

Once, I thought whistle blowing was a good thing, but when I ran for office, I discovered those who are doing it are also power hungry with an agenda of their own and not necessarily embracing ethics as they pretend to do. They often focus on the most trivial things imaginable. Once one sees inside political circles, one easily gets a bad taste in one's mouth, and discovers it is simply indigestion. That is, it doesn't last long because there are simply too many other better things to do. However, it can go to the puke stage if you let it. Our system is lacking in every place I look and go. Does it seem that way to you also? Anxiety can be about family, friends, work, and yes Big Brother too.

Well, now we see unfair redistricting is about to defer our elections. Maybe until the summer! The courts are having to deal with the current situation brought on by the 2010 Census and the decisions in the legislature to realign precinct boundaries. I read today that April 17th for primaries is out of the question. And now the situation includes a case in Washington D.C, which will likely be used as a benchmark for other similar cases. Not to complain, because that is of course the role of the court system and part of our inherited governmental checks and balances system. Thank you forefathers for balancing our government with an arm that is not elected, because the other branches of government seem to have a hard time doing things right and for the right reason. And does a double wrong make a right?

Now how are we part of the problem? Last year, our local government decided for us to not conduct local Township elections as part of the November elections of 2012. This was made possible by a law passed in the last legislative session enabling local elections to be moved from the municipal or general election in May to the November election. There is wisdom in that law, but this particular decision makes me have doubts about the foundation of thought by our local politicians in office.

People complain everywhere about the frequency of balloting in the year of national elections. You get a primary in April, a general election in May and the final election. On top of that, you often have a runoff election in June. In the year 2010, we had people confused and disgruntled with the entire election schedule. "I am supposed to vote again? You've got to be kidding! Hey I got a life too you know." Boy do I empathize with that! Spring is the time to celebrate life, to enjoy nature. But politicians think we have to serve them instead, by studying their positions and the like.  Then we have to show up at the polls after work or on the weekend.  It is the same politicians who do not provide a computer election by which we can vote. How many times must a person go to the polls anyway to do his duty? The people making the decision not to have the Township election in November may not be thinking about their own influence being threatened and their power in the community, but I can't help but be suspicious about their motives. They will tell you they are interested only in the consistency of timing and the general routine expected by voters. Well, guess what? Only a small fraction of the voters show up at Township elections here in The Woodlands. The outcome of the voting has not been the clear decision of the stakeholders, only the voters. It has been only those who have the time and interest to vote. It is even worse than that, because the system encourages polarity and the good-old-boy form of government. You know, scratch my back, and I might scratch yours? Let me see your cute little baby, it is so precious. Can I hold it? Now did you say you would vote for me? Hey my name is Charlie, spelled with an E. Don't forget now...., with an E!

Believe me, there was not a consensus of opinion on the Board of Directors about the decision on moving the date of the election. One director in the Board Meeting discussion actually said that that the people who vote in the November election are not as informed as those voting in May and would not probably intelligently vote for local officials, if we held the election in November. Those going to the polls would feel compelled to vote on every position and many have no interest in local matters. They say we need "informed voters" voting for Township Directors, not those uninformed voters voting in the state and national election. That could translate to more like this: "We can better focus residents' eyes on the local elections in May than in November, so that we have more influence on the outcome." Pardon me ...? Yes, that is the name of the game, isn't it? Influence and power. You would hope it would be for the betterment of the community. But it is more likely, how to achieve personal agendas.

We need stakeholders at the polls to choose the best candidates for the job and need to do whatever we can do to legally get them there. If more residents show up at the polls, the better and more diversified the outcome will be. Do residents want the loud noise of traffic on the roads? Find a candidate with a realistic plan to do so (not the standard "I will try"). Do you want liqueur bars in this community? Night Clubs? Do you want to own boats on the Waterway and how about a skating rink or roller skate rink or maybe even a new theater under the stars? Is that where you want your money to go? There are a lot of questions. When I moved here - no bars, no nudity on cable, a quiet community, a haven away from the city. It was even quiet at night on the streets. Look where we are today? I thought when I moved here that we were getting away from Houston, but we are bringing it here and fast!

Now, we have drunks picked up on the street. We have drunk drivers on the road. But these are different issues than the subject matter, just the outcome of our system, being run by people who promote the business climate that has emerged. The basic issue here is that we need people at the polls to vote on candidates who will represent issues, represent the public, not represent business,and make life a better quality here. Business is important, but what says those who live here? The power is in our/their hands, but residents just do not exploit that privilege. Taxpayers here are not just residents, but residents are the ones allowed to influence what happens here. How about the two poor families in Georgia and Alabama who helped pay for the boats? And then the tourists who came here and have no idea they are paying for maintenance of the boats which they don't use. All of this makes perfect sense?

Let's assume for a moment that we had changed the date of the local election to November. What effects would that have had? Would there be uninformed voting in November? Sure there would be, just like there is now in the May election. People showed up at the polls and thought that would be a good time to start learning about the candidates. Oh well, vote for him because he seems to be savvy about things here. Oh, I remember her, she is the one with the big sign on Kuykendahl!

There are other issues, but surely they could be overcome. One example is the budget which would have to be set by those ending their incumbency, instead of beginning it. That is not so bad though. It preserves the momentum and allows for change to occur more gradually. And change we do need!

So now we wait to see when we can really have local elections - maybe June, July? Budget time is always right after the elections. Since our government's wisdom decided for us to not have the elections in November,  it may soon face the issue of having only three elected Board members, out of the seven in office, at the time of developing the budget. The May election could be deferred until June or maybe July after the runoff elections. Maybe we will see a local election in November after all? Maybe we will have a state runoff in July on the same day as our General election.

It would be so much better to have an internet site where a voter could cast his vote electronically. Fears of security should be abated. The technology to secure voting is available. How do you know a person is who he says he is? Let's get real and stop the insane contradiction of values. How is voting security and identity more important than banking security anyway? For heavens sake, we do not need to see bodies and photographs to prove identity. The voting process is ruled by the Czars of Insanity, the same ones who determine whether there should be a mounted rider on a horse in the parking lot of Walmart, simply because we are The Woodlands.

We need more rational people in our government, without their own agendas to protect, people who are regular citizens with moderate income, who deal with everyday issues, as the masses deal with issues. We need diversity (I plan to write on this subject in a separate article). By the way, have you seen a penguin lately? If not, go to a Township meeting and maybe you will understand what I am saying.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Red Light Cameras - Houston's Failure

Red-light cameras are here to stay but only if they are deployed intelligently for good reason. The Woodlands, Texas, practices good use of the cameras and is having success.  It is a successful program by Montgomery County, initially implemented by precinct #3 commissioner Ed Chance. However, cities have some issues with their deployments. For example, making sure an automobile comes to a complete stop before turning right at a red light is questionable. It is the law, so it is a valid use of the camera, but does that practice result is positive and desired results?

I get feedback sometimes about my enthusiasm for red-light cameras and receive comments like "You are the only person on earth who likes red light cameras." It is true that I like them, but I like them, because we have deployed them here intelligently. I am not the only person who endears the cameras.

If you are going to repeal anything, don't repeal the enforcement of the law. Enforcement is what the cameras are doing and doing so for less cost than hiring law enforcement officers. We have traffic laws for safety and for mobility. Houston just ended their contract, because of the activists in that city and their constant deluge of complaints to the media saying the practice of using technology to enforce the law presents safety hazards.

We need to be careful about the rationale of deploying law enforcement cameras. It is the way the traffic lights were deployed in Houston, and the purpose for which they were deployed, not the cameras themselves that were the problem. Many people do not understand how they work, so some united to fight the use of the cameras. We deployed them to keep traffic moving. We had too many people breaking the law and thereby affecting the movement of automobiles on our primary traffic arteries. The practice of intentionally running certain lights has been stopped due to their deployment. We could have put traffic cops at intersections, one to monitor and one to chase law breakers, but instead we use technology. If there is not a penalty for breaking the law, many people disregard the law and pass their own (mentally). "No need to stop before the light turns red! No need to stay within the determined safe speed of the roadway! No need to stop before turning right. No need to stop at stop signs. I can safely cheat a little." That makes for a lawless society. Let's get real folks. The law is clear. The cameras are not the problem. Much of the problem is simply with modern society. However, people do listen to reason and need to be educated on the rationale behind using technology for this purpose.

Houston has failed, but hopefully someone with sufficient intelligence on deployment strategies will come back for a future project and make their strategies work. This was a failed project, because Houston had the wrong reasons and wrong plan for deployment. To use the cameras for reducing the number of accidents was not the right approach. In any given project, one must define the purpose clearly and have measurements of the project's success afterward, and assess the risk of failure. Houston had measurements, but did not have a good exit strategy. Always plan for the best but provide for failure and a means to deal with operational issues. You must measure your goals in the operation phase of your project and if you cannot get the job done, an exit plan must be envisioned, if not detailed, ready to execute. That is the way business works, it should also be the way government works. An exit strategy should be supported by the contracts.  This was an example of not following excellent project management practices, including the education of the stakeholders - those on the road.

Here in The Woodlands,  we have the opportunity and need to use cameras for speeding, as well as for enforcement of traffic lights. However, we would have to be careful how to deploy them. People will momentarily speed up in an intersection to make sure they are out of the intersection as fast as possible when the light is changing. Therefore, you don't want to measure speed in an intersection. It is best measured on open roadway approaching a light. There is of course an issue in the legislature with enforcing speed limits with cameras. Enablement for the right reasons is something we must continue to pursue.