Monday, September 22, 2014
Artificial Turf versus Natural Grass: An artificial presentation
At the last Council meeting the Administration trotted out Jim Mallon to make its case for spending $1.2 million on artificial turf at Carey Field. Let's examine the issue in a fair and more complete way.
1) Please Mr. Mallon be complete and be fair. You state the grass needs to be replaced every other year at a cost of $90,000. Not true. The wear and tear on the grass is confined between the hash marks which are approximately 22 1/2 ft wide. Give us a ten year history of grass replacement. Under mayor Perrillo the city used to reseed between the hash marks or just sod. Consequently, I solicited Tuckahoe Turf Farms for a proposal for our field. The attached proposal from Tuckahoe Turf Farms addressed to Ocean City is $13,400 for between the hash marks (20,000 sq ft) and $40,200 for the whole field (60,000 sq ft). Even if you replaced the entire field ever year for ten years (which is unnecessary) it would still be 1/3 the cost of the $1.2 million before interest.
If artificial turf is more cost effective why was the small field at the corner of 6th and Bay sodded?
2) Councilman McClellan asked one of the few legitimate questions, "what is the maintenance cost of artificial turf? No answer. How about vacuuming? How about repair? How about the health concerns? The simple truth is artificial turf requires man hours of care. It is not maintenance free. How much?
3) where is CFO Donato's financial analysis comparing initial capital outlay and interest cost and maintenance of artificial turf versus the correct replacement of grass between the hash marks. You trot out Mr. Donato when you want to raise beach tags prices by explaining all the costs to operate clean and protected beaches, but you hide him otherwise. This is clearly a sign of people who are afraid of the facts.
Mr. Mallon cites washington township having 40 percent less injuries after installing the turf. Sample size? I'll go with the NFL where the outdoor stadiums have real grass. Levi Field, the newest stadium has real grass. Mr. Mallon artificial turf is "faster"than real grass. Higher velocity is more dangerous.
Mr. Mallon's answer reflected a lack of homework. Check how much we are charging the semi- pro soccer team for using the field - nothing. You can sit people on a grass field and have concerts and other events. When was the last time the field was used for that? We are being asked to believe in imaginary revenue.
If you plan on having soccer, lacrosse or field hockey games at Carey Field, that would be a mistake. Our teams get energy at their current fields from the Ocean City spectators. There is nothing worse than having an event where the venue is too big - you lose the energy and our home field advantage.
In sum, council and the Mayor have taken an initial first step with inadequate, incomplete and inaccurate information. Mr. Mallon at the Mayor's request is the administration's point guy. His performance and the Administration's is an embarrassment. For Council to vote on what was clearly incomplete information is astonishing. I know this is all part of our well thought capital planning. Hardly. The handling of the facts by the Administration in this matter is a sign of ineptitude and deceit. It took me one phone call - 15 minutes to defeat the cost justification of artificial turf. That is sad.
Friday, July 20, 2012
At last month's negotiating session between the school board and the teachers' union, as soon as the teachers presented their new 3 year proposal of 2% increase the 1st year, 3% the 2nd year, and 4% the 3rd year, Joe Clark, the leader of the school board negotiating team, stood up and started to walk out. He said, "as long as i see any numbers greater than 2, there's nothing to talk about."
The teachers have been without a contract for over 1 year, and the next negotiating meeting is set for the 2nd week in July.
Sunday, January 29, 2012
Does Ocean City Need an Ethics Board
I need help understanding the debate about the Ocean City Ethics Board. I understand the question: Is it a redundant waste of taxpayer dollars, or a community watchdog to hold elected legislators, administration officials, and city connected businesses accountable? No one disagrees with its purpose. But is it working? Mixed results may be a sign that it is, because if it’s doing its job right, someone will always end up being unhappy.
Councilman John Kemenosh expressed my wish that if the administration “corrected…ethics problems” there would be no need for an Ethics Board. However, Mayor Gillian pointed out that civil service procedures and union rules make it difficult and costly to do what’s right. The fact that we still have employees working for the City who have falsified records demonstrates just how impotent the office of Mayor can be. One can only sympathize because that must be extremely frustrating to a man who has spent his entire career in the private sector. If our Mayor can’t get rid of rotten wood, what chance does a more distant state Finance Board have?
Councilman Keith Hartzell put out a challenge that I hope will be taken on by someone. He advocated for some citizens’ mechanism to investigate wrongdoing by public officials which could then pass the case on to the appropriate enforcement body if there was sufficient evidence to justify doing so. Ocean City has an abundance of smart well-intentioned citizens. Why couldn’t the Chairperson of the Ethics Board and the City Solicitor sit down and craft a solution to present to our elected representatives? All it takes is one of them (and it doesn’t matter which one) to pick up the phone. The plan does not have to be perfect. But it would give us a place to start, and we might end up with something better instead of nothing at all.
Jim Tweed, Ocean City
Our Yellow Brick Road Without the Vision--A CALL TO ACTION
I can't wait any longer. I can't wait for the Mayor's 2012 budget. I can't wait for a sophisticated well thought out capital plan. I can't wait for Council to fill the leadership role the administration has yielded. Let me connect the dots - capital spending - the new causeway - the downtown - the recently purchased boardwalk lot - Hartzell/Ping and John Flood.
About a week ago the administration presented it's capital plan to Council. It's best feature is it's size again - substantially larger than the Perrillo years mainly due to the boardwalk construction of $1.8 Million due to start in 2012. With exception of how the top layer of the boardwalk might be constructed it fails to seize the moment and earmarks $750,000 (to be matched equally by the school board) to install artificial turf at the football field.
Aside from my usual comments of how a color coded map of the city 's roads that are done and roads that need to be done so you can see ward by ward what the status in fixing our roads is, this year's and last year's capital plan fails to take direct advantage of the completion of the new causeway, our yellow brick road. Due to the lack of government leadership and planning the downtown is unprepared to capitalize on this once in a lifetime opportunity. Instead the administration and I presume council and the school board want to replace natural grass with artificial turf. Scarce resources. What is more important to Ocean City today - a fixed up downtown or artificial turf? This comes on the heals of paying $600,000 more than the assessed value of the boardwalk parking lot this summer when property values in general continue to decline. Scare resources. I and others asked council and the Administration to not overpay for the boardwalk parking lot. The town did not rise and fall on 40 parking spaces this summer where we didn't even bother to put the ticket machine on the driver's side of the car. Read a$2.1 million horse with a defective saddle. And our Mayor has been taking tickets all his life - who is paying attention? Common sense? Go figure. I ask you, will 2012's ill- conceived capital choice be artificial turf over downtown improvements? As Winnie Perino said the other night at the "branding meeting for downtown," we need to fix up our downtown because we are about to be getting a second look. You usually get one second look and we are late. We are late because all we can do is spend $375,000 on the downtown of which $275,000 is for the annex building (which is a good idea) down from $600,000 on the annex building a month ago. Back of the napkin stuff? Why not introduced a year ago? Did we just discover the Ill conceived visitor center on the causeway has too small of a footprint last month?
If completion of the causeway wasn't enough think about the impact of a reconfigured first floor of Staintons - 40 tenants at $300 per month will give the landlord a more predictable rental stream to maintain and fix the building,and the excitement of 40 different retail venues meaning more vibrancy and interest in the downtown. Are we ready? The owner intends to start to construct the condos on the top floors this year and thereby doing away with the 20 parking spaces on the west avenue side of the building.
I propose to help,the perceived to some and real to others, parking problem downtown that on a trial basis for one year Asbury avenue be one way north from 9th to 6th and one way south from 9th to 11th. This will enable the downtown to have angled parking and hence doubling the parking spaces - quick, inexpensive and effective. I endorse the Marcia Shallcross memo to the Mayor which specifies particular improvements to the downtown.
This brings me to the Hartzell/Ping proposal and John Flood. Separately they tried to fill a void because the Mayor is not leading and at times the Council as a whole is not filling the vacuum. The Strength of the Hartzell/Ping proposal is an attempt to deliver the same or better service at a lower cost. There should be a Hartzell/ping proposal for all the departments. If the mayor can't do it, then council have your workshops. It is not enough for the Mayor to say the new labor contracts will reflect 2012 standards - the governor did that heavy lifting. The analogy for the Mayor: did it make sense for you to have a downtown store to sell tickets for Wonderland? No, you made a structural change to your business by closing your downtown store. You started out with Mr Deaney doing just that for your administration, but have since lost your way. Go for it. The administration has lost its initiative. That is precisely why there is a Hartzell/Ping proposal today and John Flood proposed the department head evaluation guidelines. Imagine, somebody else designed evaluation standards for department heads who work directly for the Mayor.
The downtown is about to get an unbelievable amount of attention. The city has lacked focus on this, knowing for years a once in a lifetime new causeway would be done soon. We are unprepared. Instead we overpaid and failed to manage properly the boardwalk parking lot and are about to choose artificial turf over substantial downtown improvements. Meanwhile with the exception of Hartzell/Ping we are not critically examining all departments. Elimination of Cell phones and V-8 engines are important but not enough. Scare resources. Not enough time. Not enough vision. Not enough focus and in some cases poor capital choices.
Mr Allegretto, months ago I asked you to use your good name to step up. I ask all of Council to step up. I ask the Mayor to reevaluate what he is doing and how he is doing it. The yellow brick road is almost complete and we are not ready. Let's sprint to do our best to get ready. Be bold. Be clever. Be quick. Turn on a dime and immediately fix downtown at the expense of artificial turf. I thought the shining moment for the administration in 2011 was admitting Haven Avenue curbs, sidewalks and drainage was initially done wrong, and then immediatedly fixing. No fanfare just good prompt work. Change course now for the betterment of the downtown. One measure of our capital spending is what will do the most good for the most people and our town at large. An attractive central commercial district fits that criteria.
Michael Hinchman, Ocean City
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
To the Editor:
I hate to talk shop about my own profession, but I love to listen to other people talk about theirs. It’s like being introduced to a new world. The Council workshop on the Fireman/EMT issue was fascinating because we heard various perspectives on a given set of facts. Our City Council did what the best legislative bodies under the Faulkner Act are supposed to do: oversight. Everyone understands Council does not have the authority to specify appropriations under the Faulkner Act. But if someone tries to tell you Council is violating the Act by fact-finding and conducting public workshops, know that person has simply misinterpreted the law. At best, they don’t know any better. At worst, they fear continuing the debate and are trying to stop it.
The Administration should also be commended for their acknowledgment of the facts presented. Where there was disagreement on conclusions, Council and Administration did so with mutual respect. We all love to hate politicians and government, but the only disrespect at this meeting came from some retired fireman and EMT in the audience.
We all agree that our public safety is second to none. But we have some choices to make. We have a boardwalk infrastructure that, whether it supports Ipe, plastic hardwood, or pine, is over 80 years old and will need to be replaced. Repairs are constantly being made on our roads and alleys, but not fast enough to stay ahead of deterioration. The need to replace our eroding beaches and check-valves on our bay will go on for as long as we’re here. We can neglect those problems but just remember this: with state budget caps in place, every dollar that goes towards increasing costs for our well-paid public safety is a dollar less invested in our future.
Sunday, December 25, 2011
Fireman Murphy--Letter to the Editor of the Ocean City Patch
To the editor:
Your story about the efforts of Ocean City Councilmen Keith Hartzell and Scott Ping’s proposal to save millions of taxpayer dollars over time without reducing any personnel while maintaining the same level of service was interesting on more than one level. First, it revealed that it is possible to do by assigning EMTs to do EMT jobs instead of Firemen. Significant savings would result by reducing firemen overtime while still maintaining three dual role EMT/firemen where needed to run the ambulances for all shifts.
It was also interesting on another level. Union President, John Murphy’s comment: “It’s hard to see how a paper salesman and a butcher can come up with a proposal without any further expertise.” However Councilman Hartzell had clearly put much time and effort in his study of the department, including information he obtained from Fire Chief Foglio. Besides being intelligent businessmen dedicated to serving their community, Hartzell and Ping appeared as if they were the only Councilpersons who were not intimidated by the Firemen in the back of the room mumbling occasional heckles. Not a single other Councilperson uttered a comment or question. Were they afraid? Uninterested? What?
Fireman Murphy’s comment seems to reveal an attitude that the elected people’s representatives should stay out of their business. I hope I am wrong. We appreciate the services our firemen provide. But it should be made clear that they are employed to serve the public, not the other way around.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
School Choice Program
The Ocean City school district was approved for the School Choice program this year and accepted 10 out of district students for the 9th and 10th grades. The school board then voted to accept 30 new students for next year's class. However, because of the large number of applications, at the December school board meeting, a total of 58 school choice students were approved for the 2012-2013 school year. the breakdown is as following:
1st grade - 2 students
2nd - 2
3rd - 4
4th - 2
5th - 3
6th - 3
7th - 3
8th - 4
9th - 30
10th - 3
11th - 2
Since a large number of the new students will be coming from Margate, it appears that Ocean City high school will soon become the de facto high school for Margate. Margate students currently attend Atlantic City high school and Holy Spirit high school.
Ocean City will receive $11,500 from the state for each student it accepts into the School Choice program. Ocean City will not be responsible for any transportation costs. The new students will occupy empty seats in the Ocean City school district, which has been suffering a decline in student population.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
An Update on Current Matters
As you'll recall the City spent $2.1 million for the boardwalk lot purchase in June over our strenuous objections that we were paying too much. Initially described as 40 to 50 parking spaces it turned out to be 40. The new boardwalk lot is adjacent to an existing Ocean City Parking lot. The fence was taken down between the two lots so the ticket machine could be used for both lots. Just one problem - the ticket machine is on the passenger side of the car when you enter the lot. Consequently, people park their car, then go back to pay for their ticket and put their ticket on their windshield. People park closest to the ticket machine (on the old lot) and hence the boardwalk lot which is closer to the boardwalk gets less use. One would think if you paid $2.1 for a parking lot you would spend $2000 for a properly located ticket machine. The purchase took place in June and the purchaser in August bought the Steel Pier in Atlantic City for $4 million. The purchaser previously was a tenant to the Trump bankruptcy which owned amongst other things the Steel Pier. The purchaser didn't wait for the bankruptcy court auction but purchased the Pier prior to the auction. In a large commercial purchase it is important to understand the dynamics in the transaction. Let's remember the boardwalk lot which had been approved for development was under appeal. The seller was stuck without being able to build on the property. As it turns out he used his sale of the boardwalk lot to Ocean City to help purchase the Steel Pier property. Rather than walking away with a $1.5 million offer for the boardwalk lot purchase the City bid it up because it didn't want to or didn't understand the dynamics of the seller. Ocean City got snookered and we as taxpayers overpaid.
The fire chief was given a graceful exit in October. The problem is many of the Lieutenants who are in line to replace him also were allegedly involved in putting in for overtime when they purchased goods and services with their overtime pay. City Council refuses to fund the Ethics Board to inquire.
With all union contracts expiring on December 31 Mayor Gillian recently announced the new contracts would have to reflect the realties of the economic climate of 2012. He didn't say that meant no increases or a 1% or 2% increase. The Mayor needs to look no further then some on Council are still getting free medical benefits. Part time public elected officials getting free medical benefits. Does that reflect 2012?
The hot topic of the day seems to be the discussion of replacing some firemen with EMT's who make substantially less. This is the Hartzell/Ping proposal. At the November FIT meeting we invited the Union leaders of the fire department to speak about the fire department. It was a good meeting. It was informative and polite communication.
We asked them to come back on Friday, January 6 to list the 10 most common calls and the manpower and equipment needed to properly address these public safety events.
In closing we have tried and I think succeeded in making our monthly meetings more interesting. With only a few exceptions, we have guest speakers every month. We find that asking the firemen for information, for example, and having them return for follow-up is like a workshop. We feel Council has been quite delinquent in their duties this year because they have had only 1 or 2 workshops the entire year. Quite frankly they are lazy. Our December 2 meeting will have Marcia Shallcross and Harry Bassford as our guests with the topic of the direction of Ocean City downtown. Harry is one of the owners of Stainton's which is changing the configuration of its street level to 30 to 40 small 300 sq ft tenants. Marcia, of course, is head of the downtown merchants.
I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and a very Merry and safe Christmas holiday.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Tea Party Has Been Successful, But...
Some people like to ridicule the Tea Party but I suspect their disdain conceals some envy. Except for the Know-Nothing movement of the 1850’s, no other populist movement has been as successful in electing supporters to all levels of government as the Tea Party was in 2010. After thirty years of “don’t tax but spend more” Republicanism, it was the Tea Party that restored the GOP to its core belief that debt does matter.
The Republican Party has a golden opportunity it seems to be missing. We now know the Wall Street bailout was successful at saving the largest investment banks in the country. Over $170 billion dollars went to bail out AIG. Much of that ultimately went to Goldman Sachs to cover bets Goldman made betting against triple A rated junk that Goldman was promoting to investors as safe. Yet not a single senior Goldman executive has been prosecuted for investment fraud. Instead, ex-Goldman executives serve as Secretary of the Treasury, Chief of Economic Advisors and head of the Commodities & Futures Trading Commission. To reward themselves for how smart they were, Goldman paid out $16 billion dollars in compensation and bonuses in 2009. The justification for the bailout – that these banks were “too big to fail”, left us with banks that were even bigger.
Yet Wall Street must have been smiling when newly elected Tea Party candidates opposed regulating them. Except for those receiving Social Security checks and are covered by Medicare, our experience with government is not a positive one. We’ve all been taxed, fined, zoned, regulated, paid fees, and maybe subpoenaed. Our natural aversion to government and regulation is being used against us.
But the most obvious lesson from the economic collapse is that the fundamentals haven’t changed – since the beginning of the Republic depressions have been caused by overleveraged assets. Without regulation speculators will always look for ways to leverage assets to make more money faster. How many bubbles have to burst before we learn? Those at the top who’s pain is to be forced to sell off a luxury yacht, or one of their vacation homes at San Moritz, already understand this game. But they don’t suffer a lost job the same way you do when they lose. After AIG lost $11 billion, the CEO was kept on as a consultant for one million dollars per MONTH. After running Merrill Lynch into the ground the CEO collected a $160 million severance package.
A populist party who truly advocated for the people would demand accountability. Everyone on Wall Street knows that accounting and securities fraud occurred on a massive scale. Not a single financial firm has been successfully prosecuted. The Tea Party is too obsessed with their fears of Socialism, Communism, and Aliens to notice. Democrats are too timid. Where are you Teddy Roosevelt? We need you now.
Monday, August 22, 2011
Interim Intermediate School Principal
The Ocean City Board of Education hired 61 year old, Ocean City resident, William Boyle, as the interim principal for the intermediate school. He has experience in the Cape May County, and State Dept of Special Education and also served as the director of special services for Ocean City school. He will serve until Jan 3 at a salary of $350 per day. If he got paid for every calender day of the year, he would make about $54,000.
If he only gets paid for days when school is in session, then he would only make about $38,500.
In either case he comes pretty cheap, if you consider that the average teacher in Ocean City makes about $550 per day.