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Saturday, December 31, 2005

Closing the Doors

Dear friends and supporters:

I wanted to share with you what happened yesterday at 5:30 pm – 30 minutes before we closed our doors at Generations Together's preschool campus.

Our doorbell rang and I found standing at the door, a tall pleasant looking gentleman who introduced himself as Pastor Rudy Bond. We sat down in my office as the last minutes of the day and our hopes for keeping GT open ticked away.

We talked about many things. He listened to me describe out 2 ½ year struggle to find a home and find funding. We talked about ministries and doing the right thing because its right, not because its easy.

He encouraged me not to lose hope and added that God does things in his own way and for his own reasons. We shared experiences in working with ministries and organizations and people and I found a kindred spirit in Bishop Bond. He was a great comfort to me and as the clock struck six, Pastor Bond led several of us in a prayer for courage and guidance. As he left, he gave me his cell phone number and told me to call him when he got back on Monday or Tuesday and things had settled.

I really didn’t realize what had happened nor had it register what he’d been saying to me until this morning as I was sitting in church. I think I may have had a visitation from the very angel I’d been praying for all week and typically, I didn't recognize it. Last night I was miserable and in despair.

Today I have renewed hope. There’s no sense to it by any standard known to the sensible world, but I do have hope…

We were worried about whether or not we’d be able to get all our things out of the Cornerstone property in time. Their treasure had threatened to padlock the place on the first. Everybody’s sick. I have the flu. Paula our bookkeeper is recovering from surgery and may have pneumonia. Sherry, our child care director's father died Saturday. I didn’t think we could do it. No one from the owner group would return my calls. Dianna Wilkerson, however, called them up and by some miracle, they extended our time to get our things out by a week. So Tuesday we’ll start shutting everything down, but till then everyone can rest and recoup. That was a blessing I didn’t think we’d get. (It also buys us a little more time – but I’m not going to think about that right now…).

Till then, we’ll do a shutdown and reorganization plan. We might just be able to keep the program going for a while if we can find space somewhere. If we can figure out a way to run with a positive cash flow, we can start paying off our creditors at least. Our nursery is shutting down over the next few weeks. It’s very hard to find infant care, so everyone’s struggling and OSLC is letting our babies stay long enough to find them new day care. God bless them for that.

We might have to become Generation Alone, but that may be what we have to do for now.

Friday, I received a call from a gentleman who offered to give us $5000. I drove up to his place to get it and couldn’t find them. The company has a huge yellow sign right beside the North Loop. I’ve seen it dozens of times, but for some reason I kept driving past it without seeing it. I called them twice and passed by the place about 6 times. By the time I got there, this lovely gentleman had decided to add another $1000 to the check. Maybe God was stalling me – I don’t know. It was one of the stranger things that has happened to me this week and that's saying something.

The money, while not enough to make an offer to Cornerstone, will help us reorganize the adult program and maybe keep that going a bit longer and pay some bills we absolutely have to pay.

I have to tell you, our parents have been so supportive. I’m supposed to call about half of them this weekend if we’re able to stay open. Teachers too! Of course, we can’t (barring something really HUGE), but most have said they’ll be back if we reopen. All of my teachers will come back in a heartbeat if we call them and tell them we’re reopening.

The telling thing to me was when I went into their rooms at the end of the day on Friday. Every room was neat and clean as though it would be open again next week. I’ve seen organizations shut down and time and again I see bitter and angry staff just trash the place, carry off the equipment and basically loot the organization. There has not been a hint of that. Every one of them has been encouraging and really lifted me up when I was down. I stand in awe of them. Instead of being angry at losing their jobs, they were worrying about me. Instead of trying to get every nickel they could out of us, they came to work like it was a regular week, knowing we probably wouldn’t be able to pay them any time soon.

God works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform. I’ll keep you posted as we discover what wonders he has for us next.

Thank you all for your prayers and for your constant support.

Tom King
www.generationstogether.com
www.charitygolftournament.net
www.twayneking.blogspot.com

Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt the
person doing it. - Chinese proverb

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A George Bailey Moment

It is Christmas and I'm having my George Bailey at the bridge moment.

As most of you that read regularly know, I'm director of an intergenerational day care center called Generations Together . It's a wonderful place. We have the best teachers we've ever had, our children and seniors are happy and well-cared for. We've been asked to be a part of a new barrier-free housing initiative. A new transit initiative we were part of has kicked off and is going great guns. We just received a major pledge toward our building campaign and have hope of another large contribution in January. We have a group of investors forming to purchase the building for us that we need to move into. We were going to triple our child care space, quadruple our infant care space and more than double our senior program space.

But we've run out of time. There will be a meeting on Saturday to decide our fate. We may very well be forced to close our doors. It will mean that many of our seniors will no longer be able to live at home, but be forced to go to nursing homes. It means that Tyler's most respected nursery program will close (we have people call us to reserve a spot when they are just thinking about becoming pregnant). It means our extensive advocacy work for seniors, people with disabilities and low income families will end. It means 20 teachers will be put out of work at Christmas. It means the 80 families on our waiting list for placement in our nursing program will not have a place to put their babies.

I ask for your prayers right now that the owners of our building will give us just 60 more days to get our investor group together and to purchase the building.

As someone wise told me yesterday, "....GOD is in the deal.... No one knows why it took so long to get to this place with this exact set of people involved, but it did and it’s all part of the plan."

Thank you all for your support and for your prayers and good wishes.

Looking for a Christmas miracle!

Tom

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Devil and the Holistic Encyclopedia


There was a brief controversy over the past couple of days about an article on the Internet-based Wikipedia on-line encyclopedia over an article that accused a prominent Democrat and journalist of being involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Apparently the article was part of some sort of office practical joke. The folks at Wikipedia didn't catch it and left it up for several months to the horror of the journalist in question. The author of the prank fessed up and lost his job over it. Wikipedia as a result of the incident has come under fire for allowing uncredited postings to be made to the encyclopedia's article database. The Wiki folks have, over the years, built up a carefully crafted community of information junkies who tirelessly scour the world for bits of information about anything and everything. Till now, the Wiki volunteers have policed themselves and there is, of course, some resistance to changing what has been an arguably successful method of collecting up to the minute data. Some of their articles are updated within minutes of a major event, the death of a public figure or the publication of some new bit of history, archeology or pop culture arcania. All in all it's been a successful experiment so far despite the misinformation that's bedeviled the site more often than the Wiki's would like to talk about. The concept has proved itself by creating a massive co-op information library that deserves full marks for innovation.

THAT SAID -- I think Wikipedia has reached the critical mass necessary to make the database useful. It’s time to shove in the control rods now. Articles should have authors listed. Everyone who contributed should be included and their credentials (if they have any). In using Wikipedia, it would be infinitely useful to me to be able to see whether the article was written by an imminent nuclear scientist or a 35 year old devotee of the Warhammer Universe who is currently living in his mother’s garage and drawing disability due to his tragic addiction to Ding-dongs and moon pies. Authors should have to pony up a little information about themselves – establish their bona-fides so to speak. If Wikipedia wants to continue to be viewed as a legitimate source of knowledge, they should be willing to put some practices in place that give researchers some idea of where an article comes from. Certainly, for many controversial articles there would be a long list of authors and contributors, but multiple authors have never limited the usefulness of, say, medical journal articles or scientific papers on physics. It should be simple enough to prohibit anonymous authors from having the right to post an article or revision unless a verified author is willing to put his or her name on the article to cover the same information that the anonymous shy person has put forward. If the information is good, it shouldn’t be hard to find someone to take credit for it if the original author doesn’t want to.

Anonymity is great if you’re debating in a chat room or on a list serve or bulletin board, where the argument is the thing but when you’re writing an encyclopedia which is supposed to be factual in nature, information shouldn’t be included if it is uncredited, unsupported or just plain made up. While Wikipedia may be a holistic and evolutionary process (which is admittedly a pretty cool way to do this sort of thing), part of any natural selection process has to be selecting positive traits and rejecting unhelpful ones, that is if the evolution is going to lead to a successful outcome and not some Darwinian electronic dead end inhabited by unwashed post-adolescent pranksters and left-wing conspiracy theorists.

Just one man's opinion....

Tom King

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Arrogant and Ignorant

The picture at the left is my sister and my nephew in happier times. Driving in to work yesterday I was listening to a morning talk show. Host Roger Gray was interviewing the author of a book about psychiatry. The author launched into a diatribe about how psychiatry was a big fraud and there was no such thing as mental illness. The guy sounded like a Scientologist or something. It was the wrong day for that nonsense. I called the show and told the gentleman he was arrogant beyond belief and had no idea what he was talking about! The main was a trained real estate professional for crying out loud!

Roll back 8 hours - it's 2 am. The phone rings. A ringing phone at 2 am is never good news. It was my sister. She'd been crying. "Ben's dead," she sobbed. The sheriff had just left her house. My nephew's body was found face down in a ditch near White Settlement. He'd been missing for two weeks. He was identified by his fingerprints and a phone number in his backpack. We won't have a toxicology report for some time, but he was only briefly out of prison and had a history of substance abuse. He hadn't been able to find a job and apparently had a fight with the guy he was living with and grabbed his pack and left the house. That's the last anyone saw of him till they found him beside a road. We're not sure how long he'd been there, but we're having to cremate him. They wouldn't let my sister or mom see his body.

For years I've watched Ben struggle to find some sort of peace. My son suffers from bipolar disorder. He and Ben were very close and had very similar symptoms and often made the same mistakes in coping with them. It took years of working with psychiatrists, neurologists, psychologists and therapists to figure out what was happening to my son. In the meantime he lived on an emotional roller coster that constantly threatened to bring him down. He got to where he couldn't work, couldn't sleep, couldn't cope. We finally discovered a combination of medications that helped level him out emotionally without reducing him to a zombie. We had some failures and false starts, but now he's apparently doing well on his current drug therapy. We went canoeing together a couple of weeks ago and had a great time.

Ben went through therapists, treatment centers and psychiatrists, then drug abuse and prison trying to cope with his own mental demons. He pushed us all away. He was deeply angry and didn't know why. He had a tender heart that was always getting broken. His disease killed him as surely as if someone had pointed a gun at him and pulled the trigger. He left behind a young son who will have to cope with all this some day.

The two boys who grew up together. Ben lived with us for nearly two years while his mom got back into school and tried to sort her own life out. One boy found the right treatment for his very real illness. The other did not. One is alive. The other is not. To say that there is no such thing as mental illness is arrogant and ignorant beyond belief.

I've worked with people with mental illness for 20 years. When someone tries to tell me that mental illness doesn't exist, I have no patience with them. It is cruel to tell people struggling just to cope with the consequences of a brain that is wired up wrong that all they need to do is to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. The real tragedy is when these people actually do manage to convince unsuspecting families to give up searching for an effective treatment and do some goofy herbal treatment or willpower regime or get themselves "cleared" of the evil spirits that inhabit them (the author on the radio sounded like a Scientologist and what they believe would be laughed at if you made it into a comic book plot).

It's a shame that the amendment granting Free Speech protects predators, cultists and the criminally ignorant too. Ben's birthday was this week. He'd have been 31. He could have been alive and happy today if some of his friends hadn't told him the same sorts of things this crank on the radio was selling. When somebody tells you that psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and doctors don't know what they're doing or are perpetrating a fraud, they're trying to sell you something. In Ben's case, it was illegal drugs.

Please, if you have a loved one suffering mental illness, find some help for them. There are many places that can help you. Keep the following things in mind as you try to find help:

1. Find a good doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist. They can help guide you in the right direction.

2. If a treatment isn't working in the time that is should, TELL THE DOC!

3. Keep track of any symptoms or behaviors. Go with your loved one and TELL THE DOC WHAT YOU ARE SEEING! Scientists need information to make a diagnosis.

4. Be patient. Treatment is equal parts TREATMENT and TIME.

5. Love without conditions but be able to do the hard stuff too. Remember, they aren't trying to make you crazy. They're in pain and trying to cope!

6. Take care of yourself too. If you burn out, you won't be able to help your loved one anymore and that can be fatal.

7. Pray without ceasing. God who could give his own son, who could save a thief off a cross, will work everything out as it should.

I don't believe my nephew took his own life. The evidence at the scene doesn't indicate that. But even if he did, a merciful God is powerful enough to rescue a poor tormented soul even in the last moments of his life.

Please include my family in all of your prayers - my sister especially.

Tom

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What's Wrong with America - In Response to a "Survey"

GOT THIS IN MY E-MAIL

I'm taking a poll on what is wrong with America. If you would care to tell me what you find wrong with the country's moral dilemma, taxes, gun control, abortion, TV, the War in Iraq, or anything else. I promise I will keep names secret, but will send the results to you.

Susan


Here's what's wrong with America, Susan:

1. Freedom of Speech - You can't shut people up who disagree with you. How can you keep people from thinking things you don't want them to think unless you can keep other people from saying things that give them ideas? Adolph Hitler kicked his country's economy into high gear, boosted national pride and reduced crime virtually overnight. The first thing he did was shut down newspapers and radio stations that disagreed with the majority view - which also happened to be his view. Free speech promotes inefficiency, unrest and too much thinking. All that talking gets us into trouble all the time. All those peacenicks in the 30s made Hitler and Tojo think we were a pushover and led to the attack on Pearl Harbor. The soft-talking government we elected in the 70's made the Ayatollah think they could make hostages of our embassy staff to embarrass us on the world stage. If we could make everybody shut up, then the other Nations of the World would finally understand us because we'd be more like them. In most countries of the world, television and radio stations are controlled by the government. Surprisingly little gets through that is disagreeable. Now isn't that a more enlightened way to run things. Think how much happier we would all be if we didn't have to watch all that arguing and wrangling on the nightly news here in the States.

2. Freedom of Religion - Religion is the most powerful force known to man. If you can make all religious authorities say the same thing, it's easier to control people, easier to make them do what you think they "should" do, and easier to isolate and eliminate groups whose ideas you find repugnant. It would be easier that way to create one big religion that makes people be more moral or get rid of religion altogether since religions only serve to make people feel guilty for doing things they the way they want to do them.

3. The Right to Bear Arms - If all people can carry weapons, it's much harder for a government to enforce its will when the people do not agree with what the government is doing. If you can take away everyone's weapons, the rate of gun crime will go down because the government can more easily control the populace the media and the spread of information and ideas. The government would then be able to make people "feel" better by telling them the crime rate had gone down (even if it hadn't) because there would be little way for anyone to find out any different. Government leaders could more easily consolidate and retain power. That way really smart people (who ought to be running everything anyway) could force us not so smart people to behave ourselves, do what they want us to do and not gripe so much - a major cause of unrest in America.

4. Limits on Taxation - (If the smart people in government could take more of our money, then they could redistribute it more fairly and evenly so no people would ever be hungry (or fat), be anxious (or well-informed), be ignorant (or too smart for their own good) or be troublesome (if someone shoots up a school we won't have to fool with a pesky trial, national media attention or any of that upsetting stuff. We could just take the kids out and shoot them and cover it up in the press so nobody would know and be troubled by the incident and no other kids would be able to copy cat these violent acts.)

5. Free Trade - If the smart people in government could decide how trade should be conducted then other nations would finally understand Americans. If the smart people in the government could make it so everybody got the same amount of pay so no one would be upset because someone made more than them, then you wouldn’t have the problem of the ambitious, high performing, hard working types getting more than their share of the money. You'd never lose your job no matter how poorly you did it and only smart government people would live in big mansions instead of movie stars and corporate executives - government officials deserve a higher standard of living after all because they're so much smarter than we are. We haven't had a really well regulated economy since the fall of the Soviet Union. Remember how you never used to hear the Russians complaining about their economy.

6. Our republican style of government - By having so many elected officials and limiting elections to the rules in the Constitution, we're always having to mess around with electing a new government every few years. If we could go to mass "democratic" elections, then someone who was really a good talker might be able to get a 62% approval rating for what he was doing - say if the economy was good - and then he could get himself elected to a third or fourth term - maybe even for life - and then he could gradually get all his buddies elected too and then we wouldn't have to think about elections anymore because we could do away with them and keep this really cool guy in office that makes us all feel good about ourselves. Best of all, we'd never hear about dimpled chads or butterfly ballots any more. The smart guys in government could just recount elections until the will of the people was revealed. Wouldn't it be great if we had a nice stable government like Cuba or Libya.

These are some of the things I think are wrong with America. If you could just fix these things then we'd never have to worry our simple heads about the country's moral dilemma, taxes, gun control, abortion, TV, the War in Iraq or anything else.

Just One Man's Opinion....

Tom King

Monday, November 14, 2005

Regional Service Planning - Custom or Spec, what's it gonna be?

Once again, we're hearing rumblings complaining about Greater East Texas Transportation Assn. being one of the lead agencies. People are asking "Who is GETTA?" and "Why should GETTA be there?" "They don't know what it takes to be transportation provider." "They don't represent everybody." "They're divisive and are responsible for too much negative outflow."

There've even been a couple of attempts by the COG (that we know of) to get county commissioners and city officials to name ETCOG as the one, the only, the true leader of regional transportation service planning - and this happened weeks after transportation stakeholder groups had already spoken and named TXDOT, GETTA and ETCOG as co-leads.

And the COG can't figure out why we don't trust them....

Here's why GETTA should be one of the lead agencies.

-----------------------

WHO GETTA IS:

Greater East Texas Transportation Association is a coalition of East Texas transportation stakeholders, users and providers, funders and regulators organized for the following purpose:

  1. To create an open discussion process about transportation challenges faced by seniors, people with disabilities, low income workers and families, the homeless, commuters, tourists and transportation providers.
  2. To plan solutions to specific transportation problems and initiate projects that address specific community transportation needs.
  3. To recommend funding and service implementation strategies to the Texas Department of Transportation’s Public Transportation Department.
  4. To promote regional service planning and effective transportation coordination.

GETTA HISTORY:

GETTA began as a TxDOT Tyler District initiative to create an advisory committee for the DOT’s 5310 rural transit program. The group quickly identified issues beyond the 5310 program that needed the attention of some sort of community advisory group. Prior to the creation of GETTA, regional service planning existed only as an annual exercise by regional transit providers and the East Texas Council of Governments done to meet the requirements of federal and state funders and to address the planning needs of the transit providers.

In the 4 years GETTA has existed as an organization, the members of the group have obtained grants for studies of regional transportation resources, promoted new local projects, worked with one area transit provider to obtain a congressional earmark for funding for an important transit project and participated in the process of restructuring how regional service planning is done.

WHY GETTA SHOULD BE INVOLVED:

GETTA is an organization whose members represent transit users, transportation and human rights advocacy groups, nonprofit organizations, the business community, health and human services, consumers and transportation providers. The state legislature and the Texas Transportation Commission have mandated that regional transportation service planning WILL blend provider-based planning and consumer-based planning priorities. It is critical that consumers take their place at the table to watchdog the process. GETTA, because it is not a government agency, can ask questions and express concern that organizations dependent on federal and state funding cannot ask, will not ask or dare not ask. GETTA has the flexibility to change its structure, composition or membership makeup to adapt to its new role as co-lead agency with TxDOT and ETCOG in the regional service planning process.

Already it has been suggested that the membership of GETTA be changed to include representation from other districts in the region and to cover a larger geographical area. This is possible for GETTA, whereas ETCOG and TXDOT are what they are and cannot make such changes in structure. It has been suggested that, because of the role GETTA has been asked to play as one of the three lead agencies for regional service planning, that we ask TxDOT and ETCOG to resign as formal voting members of GETTA to address concerns about double voting and the threat that GETTA’s vote on key issues could be tainted as a result by the dual membership on GETTA of the other two members of the lead agency team – namely TxDOT and ETCOG.

The point is, because GETTA is what it is, it can do these kinds of things to insure that consumers are well-represented at the table. In bringing consumer based planning into the regional planning process the great danger is that we would fall back to the old ways of doing things in which plans are made out of sight of the public and then presented to the public for comment – essentially for an up or down vote. This is basically provider based planning in that providers attempt to guess what the public wants without the benefit of ever having the public in the room to tell planners what it is they want. Plans are always better when the people for whom you are planning are in the room to tell you what they want and to give you ideas about what might work best.

It’s the difference between a “spec” house and a custom house. Builders like to build spec houses. They get to build them the way they want to, they get to cut corners and they don’t get asked to do the difficult or impossible or to change things halfway through the construction. Of course, spec houses can be harder to sell because if you don’t get it exactly right you could wind up having to sit on an unsold house for a long time till the right buyer wanders in who happens to like what the builder did.

Builders hate custom houses because the owner wants what he wants and sometimes what he wants is hard to do or adds to the cost. Custom houses are harder to build, but then the advantage is that for all the headache for the builder, the house is already sold before you hammer in the first nail.

The big debate in this whole thing is between those who believe transportation planning should be done on “spec” and those who believe it should be a custom design. Apparently the legislature thinks it can be a combination of both approaches. Like a good custom house job, it can be done in a way that meets the needs of both the contractor and the buyer. After all, we’re building a system for the people who ride it, not for transit providers. At the same time, transit providers need to be able to function efficiently and well in order for their agencies to stay healthy and to be able to continue providing services so they need to be an integral part of the process.

The problem is the providers have never NOT been considered an integral part of the process. Providers have always been drivers of the process.

Till now, however, the consumers have never been considered integral to planning. Historically, our job as consumers has always been seen by COG leadership as (and I quote) “to make the transit provider happy in order to get a ride,” not to tell transit providers how to do their jobs.

So, now that has all been changed by legislative proclamation. So does that mean that magically, an entrenched bureaucracy is going to suddenly open its doors and let us tromp through the house with our muddy boots on? That’s not terribly likely.

Ideally what we’ll get to eventually is a good partnership between builder and buyer. Unfortunately, the head builder in this case apparently doesn’t trust the buyer and wants to make sure he “controls” how much the buyer gets to participate. Every concession transit users have got so far has been taken, not given; has been protested and resisted by the self-appointed leadership. This is a disturbing trend and does not bode well for the future. Repeatedly we’ve been told that we don’t know anything about transit so we should sit down and shut up and let the pros take care of this for us.

Well, we don’t buy it and neither does TxDOT or the legislature apparently. We’d rather we were freely invited and welcomed to participate at the table, but if that’s not going to be the case, then we’ll bring our own chairs if need be – especially since we keep having to check the legs of the chairs we’ve been provided so far to see if they’ve been sawn through or unscrewed.

Someone at ETCOG recently lamented, “I can see right now you guys will never be satisfied.”

That’s only true if ETCOG isn't going to do anything differently. We just aren’t satisfied yet and with what we’re seeing so far, we don’t have a lot of reason to feel satisfied (or secure) either.

Just one man's opinion....

Tom King

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Slouching towards Bethlehem

"What is this rough beast
slouching towards Bethlehem to be born?"
W.B. Yeats

I don’t know about the rest of the transportation stakeholders in East Texas, but I’m beginning to get tired of the weekly meetings that ETCOG keeps calling as it pushes forward the regional service planning process at a breakneck pace. It’s forcing the process along faster than unpaid volunteers can keep up.

Of course, that could well be the whole point.

Meetings are announced without checking to see who can attend. The last couple of meetings that they posted drew comments from key committee members who weren’t going to be able to come including the director of Tyler Transit and today we learned that the entire TxDOT delegation can’t come to the March 9 stakeholder meeting at which the steering committee will be chosen according to ETCOG’s Mark Sweeney.

It’s time to put on the brakes! If you’d like to see a change in how the lead agency team is structured, I recommend dropping an e-mail to TxDOT’s Shawna Russell, Commissioner Andrade’s staff member who has been bird-dogging the regional service planning process in East Texas. Here’s what I’m writing to her:

---------
TO: "Shawna Russell" SRUSSE1@dot.state.tx.us

Dear Shawna,

I am concerned that the regional service planning process in East Texas is not being well managed. My concerns are:

  1. East Texas Council of Governments has virtually assumed the chair of the lead agency team without any formal consensus by the other two entities elected by stakeholders to serve as an integral part of the lead agency team. I intend to propose tomorrow that TxDOT staff direct the lead agency team. We’ve never formally chosen a chair of the team. Mark Sweeney simply assumed the job and nobody has challenged that and election of a chair is unlikely to ever appear on the agenda.
  2. ETCOG has scheduled a rapid-fire series of regional stakeholder meetings and lead agency meetings designed to appoint a steering committee to oversee the lead agency. The meetings have been called almost weekly with relatively short notice and little consultation with other participants. The most recent meetings will be held without key members in attendance, including a large announced stakeholder meeting which TxDOT staff members are unable to attend due to prior commitments. I believe this places an undue burden on transportation stakeholders too, most of whom are either volunteers or work at full time jobs from which they cannot be absent on a weekly basis. The whole thing gives the appearance of an attempt to wear out the public and reduce attendance by non-providers. ETCOG staff can attend meetings as often as they like. They get paid to do just that and they get reimbursement for their mileage. Most of the rest of us do not.
  3. Consumer representatives at the most recent stakeholder meeting left the meeting early. Most had traveled to the meeting via Mini-Bus. If they left early in order to meet Mini-Bus’s schedule, I am concerned that this skews any votes taken later in the meeting after the large contingent of users left. Mini-Bus has, in the past, made it a practice to pickup passengers by 2 pm in order to get everyone delivered home before their offices close.
  4. I think it is important that TxDOT take a more directive role here in East Texas until a competent and well-trusted, community chosen leadership team can be formed. I believe TxDOT should force ETCOG to cancel and reschedule all further meetings until the lead agency team can meet with full representation of all members and, under TxDOT direction, choose a fair and balanced management structure.
  5. I believe that the local TxDOT districts should assume the lead at this point and use their Evergreen contracting ability to bring in an outside consultant to guide the regional service planning process forward to the point where stakeholders in East Texas are assured that we have a process that will truly balance consumer-based and provider-based planning requirements. This would remove the need for an extensive RFP process, remove the supervision and selection of the consultant out of the hands of the agency most likely to receive funds to administer planning dollars and take the process of creating a steering committee entirely out of the hands of the agencies that will be supervised by the committee, thereby increasing the likelihood that we have a representative committee at the end. I shall propose this at the next two meetings.

Please extend my thanks to Commissioner Andrade for her attention to East Texas’ regional service planning process and for deploying staff to monitor the meetings.
-----------

Note to ETJTA members and friends: If you wish to add your voice to mine, please feel free to cut and paste and copy and send your own version to the Commissioner’s office.


Tom King
Coordinator, East Texas Just Transportation Alliance

Friday, October 21, 2005

If you don't want to look shifty, don't dress like Snidely Whiplash!

Dear friends of ETJTA,

We finally received a copy of Mr. Sweeney's Powerpoint presentation to the TxDOT "Sharing Approaches" workshop on Wednesday - at 8:56 AM the day of the presentation. The workshop started at 9:30 AM. We were all driving to work or getting our day started. We had 36 minutes to react and respond and no time for them to fix it.

And they pleaded "lack of time" as expected...

There was an entire page in the Powerpoint on developing an RFP for a consultant and describing a "work methodology" (read "scope of work") for the consultant. This was something that we specified on Monday that should NOT be in the presentation, but be left for the steering committee to decide how and whether or not to do.

Fortunately, an angelic being must have intervened for the digital projector at the workshop malfunctioned and prevented the Powerpoint from being used. As a result, Mark scarcely mentioned the offending slide.

A couple of days later, the rumor mill in Tyler is reporting that ETCOG has approached the City of Tyler and Smith County Commissioners to create a resolution declaring ETCOG the lead agency for regional service planning in East Texas, in direct opposition to the carefully developed and implemented stakeholder process that appointed a three member lead agency management structure consisting of TxDOT, GETTA and ETCOG.

Someone has also been spreading around among good folks over in the Marshall area, the accusation that the "Tyler gang" (ETJTA, GETTA, TxDOT Tyler District) somehow deliberately left out folks from the 6 Eastern counties and the two other TxDOT districts for their own nefarious purposes.

Trouble is, it was Just Transportation Alliances and TxDOT and GETTA folks that did, in fact, invite folks from the Marshall, Jefferson area to both TxDOT stakeholder meetings. We wrote letters, made phone calls and sent e-mails to those we knew of in the eastern counties of the region. We did this while we were pushing hard for our own consumers in our neighborhood to be included in transit planning. We have since offered the Marshall area folks all the help that JTA and the rest of us can give them to organize a consumer-based initiative in their area.

It has always been our intent to include everyone we could find. Three years ago, we started collecting stakeholder data in all 14 counties, believing that broad participation makes for a stronger, smarter process. What weakens the process is deliberately setting about to pit stakeholders from one region against stakeholders from another region in what looks like an attempt to neutralize the consumer voices that have successfully infiltrated the regional service planning process and to seize control of the planning process. By manipulating a series of political "resolutions" out of trusting city and county officials you may get yourself appointed the Great And Powerful Oz and Ruler of All Things Transit, but in the process you will make yourself some powerful foes and really hack off the Texas Transportation Commission, TxDOT PTN and an assortment of powerful state, national and local advocacy groups.

In the interest of clarity, I want the Marshall folks to know that I am not criticising them for feeling left out. They were left out! What I want to make clear is that they may be blaming the wrong folks. Who, after all, claims to be the leader here? Who's been calling "planning" meetings since December 2004 without calling for actual participation by consumers in the process? Who objected to the planning meeting on August 12 because it was "premature"? Who should have been making the effort to bring together the far East Texas Counties from day 1? Who's been making the case that they have the resources to do it and the rest of us do not?

For five years I've been running all over East Texas talking to local transportation initiatives from Jefferson to Jacksonville to Mineola - listening to literally hundreds of people talk about their transportation problems. I've filled up my own gas tank, worn out my own tires, scrounged money from JTA's grants for plane fare and hotels, bought meals on the road, spent unpaid hours away from work that I had to make up and spent countless late night hours (check some of the posting time stamps on my past e-mails and blog posts), creating websites, writing e-mails, making phone calls and visiting politicians. ETCOG has me outnumbered. I admit it. They can do more than me.

So why then are we just now finding out that the "six counties" have been left out and suddenly realizing that we need to hold meetings in Marshall to choose the steering committee? Why all of a sudden have the folks in Marshall suddenly become upset, saying angrily that "Tyler" isn't the whole region? How did that come about? Who could have suggested the idea that somehow consumer groups in Tyler were to blame in the first place? Even more ludicrous is the suggestion that the Tyler District was leaving out Paris and Atlanta districts when it's common practice for the district with the most territory in a COG to take the lead on behalf of the other districts. Besides, who led the way in inviting consumers to the planning process in East Texas beginning more than 4 years ago? Four years ago, TxDOT Tyler District was the one that pulled out a chair for consumers at the table in the first place. Does anyone else think things are getting a little aromatic with all this sudden concern for those who haven't got local initiatives going and don't really know what's going on and so are still a little too trusting?

It would be well to remember that even though Richard Nixon said, "I'm not a crook," and Bill Clinton said, "I didn't have sex with that woman," it sure did look like it to most of us and both gentlemen suffered a lot of misery and humiliation for it even though they were the most powerful political figures in the country at the time.

It would also be well to remember that when citizens believe they have been disenfranchised, it is to the law that they turn for help.

Finally, it would be well to remember that even though your heart may be pure and your motives above reproach, if you dress up like Snidely Whiplash and twirl your long black moustache a lot, nobody's going to line up to buy a used car from you...

Just one man's opinion.

Tom King

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

They're at it again....

We had a meeting at East Texas Council of Governments on Monday. Things were discussed, decisions made, promises extended.

The most important promise was by ETCOG planner and the meeting's facilitator, Mark Sweeney. Mark promised we'd get a look at the Powerpoint he was going to present at Wednesday's regional service planning workshop in Austin. He promised to e-mail a draft for us to look over. It's Tuesday and it's after midnight. No draft!

No such file was e-mailed to me or anyone I know of. It will be presented unreviewed by members of the lead agency team other than possibly a few members of the COG staff that helped draft it. This presentation tells the DOT what we're doing about regional service planning in East Texas. It must represent what's actually happening and who's really doing what. It might and it might not. Without that draft, we do not know and sadly, we don't particularly trust the authors of the draft based on the last 5 years of experience with them.

After the meeting on Monday, a member of the COG staff asked me how they'd done. I want to change my answer. This one thing would have at least made it look like they really meant to do what we asked them to do. Instead, by not releasing the draft file BEFORE going to Austin, the COG only further demonstrated an inability to understand how important it is to show us the draft in advance of presenting it and in time to discuss any problems we might have with the structure of it.

So, here we go once again. I'm positive they'll downplay this as a technical difficulty and nothing intentional. Meanwhile, we don't have any idea what Mark is really presenting down there till it's too late. Meanwhile, consumers who have been shut out time and again by just this sort of bait and switch tactic, grow ever more tired of being marginalized by an ETCOG staff that are really failing in their struggle to make the paradigm shift from provider-based to consumer-based planning (or even a blending of the two). It doesn't matter if it was an honest mistake, it looks like what it looks like and it don't look good and if you want people to trust you, you've got to look trustworthy.

One man's opinion (leave yours below if you want).

Tom King

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Old Brummi and the She-Coon

As some of you may know, I rotated off the Public Transportation Advisory Committee this month. This caused a stir amongst those for whom I was a major thorn in their side on that committee. Suddenly, the members of the loyal opposition have come out of the woodwork to provide me with Job's comfort - gloating over my perceived demise and listing reasons why I was not reappointed.

These reasons included factors like my titanic ego, my unrepentant arrogance and my colossal ignorance. I fully expected to get an e-mail that starts, "Tom, you ignorant slut..." like the old Dan Ackroyd/Jane Curtain Point/Counterpoint bit on Saturday Night Live. Interestingly enough, E-mails from my critics included a particularly scathing "nanny, nanny boo-boo" letter from ETCOG's executive director* (which I understand got a lot of really big laughs down in Austin when I showed it to them).

To those of you who have supported the efforts of East Texas Just Transportation Alliance to bring some real consumer participation into regional transportation planning, I want you to know that everything is moving along as planned. I was replaced on PTAC by not one, but two new members; good people - one an advocate and the other a business person with strong ties to Commissioner Andrade who has been carrying the banner for regional service planning from the very beginning. I leave the PTAC in good hands.

As for me, personally, I have a huge capital campaign to run for Generations Together (taking cash donations, credit cards, pledges and unused bus tokens anytime - just call me) and I'm looking forward to some more really interesting fun with regional service planning in the near future (I can't talk about it just yet, but will let you all know as soon as I can). In contrast to the gloating of my opponents over my leaving the PTAC in disgrace as they suppose, I've also had a stack of thank you letters and expressions of appreciation from a wide range of people in TxDOT and the advocacy community. It's nice to hear from people who really do care about people who need a ride to work or the doctor or the grocery store. It's encouraging to know your work was appreciated and to be reassured that you weren't taken out by the forces of darkness, but that everything is part of the plan.

The whole thing reminds me of a Jerry Clower story about Uncle Versi's coon hound Old Brummi. Old Brummi had been after the She-coon of all time for years. Finally, one dark night Old Brummi treed her. Well she tried to jump clear on over to the next tree and escape, but she missed and landed right on top of Old Brummi. They commenced to fightin'.and scratchin' and bitiin' and clawin' up one side of the hill an down t'other.

Finally, they rolled down a little railroad cut and out onto the Union Pacific railroad tracks. Old Brummi and the She-coon was so intent on killin' one another that they weren't aware of where they were conductin' their fight and that great American train, The City of New Orleans run right over the top of them.

Uncle Versi ran over to the battered body of Old Brummi and dropped down on his knees and commenced to squallin'.

Clovis Ledbetter, his great good friend, caught up with him and knelt down beside him there on the tracks and tried his best to comfort Uncle Versi.

"It's a hard thing to lose a good coon hound," he commiserated with the old man.

"That ain't it," Uncle Versi shook his head sorrowfully. "Old Brummi had a good long life and did a lot of huntin' in his time and he had a quick death. He didn't suffer none neither. That's a mercy."

"Then why are you so upset?" Clovis asked puzzled.

"Well," sobbed Uncle Versi, "It's just that Old Brummi died thinkin' it was that coon what killed him!"

-----

For me, it's just nice to know it weren't the She Coon what killed me.

Thanks to all who wrote such nice things.

Old Tommy

*A full copy of the text of Glynn Knight's letter is posted in the "comments" section to this post.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Bad Dogs & Bicycles - Why I Care About Rural Transit

It has been suggested that my passion for rural transportation issues (particularly my opposition to ETCOG’s handling of regional service planning) has something to do with me hoping to get some money out of this deal. In answer to that charge, let me tell a story.

In 1981 I had ended my career as a parochial school teacher and temporarily taken up my father’s work as a construction hand at Brown & Root. New to the trick of working in the heavy construction industry, we miscalculated our finances the first time I moved from one job to another, and we found ourselves broke and homeless. Our old car broke down and had to be hauled away. We found a cheap farm hand’s house for rent in the middle of nowhere in Johnson County. I rode my bicycle to town 5 miles away to get groceries and rode back on narrow county roads balancing two large sacks of groceries on my handlebars dodging dogs and pickup trucks. My wife was pregnant and sick staying home in the heat of summer with no air conditioning and with two small boys. I’d been working for a week for Brown & Root at the Glen Rose nuclear power plant and it was an 85 mile round trip commute to work. We couldn’t even afford a phone.

My day went like this. At 4:30 AM I got on a bicycle and rode through the pitch dark on back roads and Farm to Market roads for 5 miles into Joshua – dodging several large vicious dogs who found it amusing to chase the fool in the hard hat and work boots rattling past their turf with the big clanky lunch box balanced on his handlebars. There were two Rottweiler's that got particularly pleasure by streaking across the yard in absolute silence and then leaping the fence with a roar in an attempt to startle me and knock me off the bike. I assume they viewed my early morning passage as an opportunity to snag a light early morning breakfast (I was much thinner then, what with all the healthy early morning cardio-vascular exercise I was getting). There were long stretches of road that were pitch black (you couldn't see the rattlesnakes that like to stretch out on the warm asphalt at night - those big squishy bumps you'd go over in the blackness were a particularly thrilling element of the old daily commute). It was a frightening, exhausting and humiliating trip. Passing farmers laughed and pointed. It took me an hour to pedal to town.

In Joshua I chained my bike to a light pole and boarded an old school bus some guy had. We paid him $20 a week to share a ride. We rode for another hour or so to get to Comanche Peak. At the end of long, exhausting day of hauling steel plates and huge metal struts from the storage yard to the containment building, I got back on the bus rode back to Joshua, got on the bike, set out cross country, dodged the dogs and pickup trucks and reached home to find my wife sitting in the front yard, holding the kids and crying because she’d been alone for 13 hours and was too sick to be able to fix the kids supper. She'd come outside to wait for me because she heard the dogs going nuts up the hill and knew I was almost home.

A few weeks later, she had the baby. I left the hospital at 3:00 AM, walked from South Fort Worth to Burleson, hitchhiked to Glen Rose (48 miles) and turned around and came back the same way to sit with her in the hospital. When she got home, I went back to riding the bicycle until someone stole it while I was at work. It took two hours to walk to Joshua and two hours to walk back home (the dogs were even more of an interesting challenge on foot). Finally I bought an aged Ford Maverick that lasted just long enough for us to get on our feet again. I went to work for a nonprofit organization the next year working in my field of expertise once again and have been working in the nonprofit/human service field ever since.

So, when I hear stories of little old ladies hitchhiking to Wal-Mart, colonia’s families handing over $80 worth of food stamp purchases to predatory van drivers for a trip to the grocery store and elderly couples being told they would have to build a circular drive in order to qualify to be picked up by rural transit I see a little red. When a small town council member tells me how desperately families in her town need rides to work and can’t get them and then a certain rural transit district manager tells me deviated fixed routes and commuter bus services are not practical/not doable and then I meet a provider in another region of East Texas who tells me they’ve been successfully doing deviated fixed routes for more than a year……

When a certain rural transit director stands up in a public meeting and says, “We don’t have to make our customers happy, they have to make us happy in order to get a ride!”.....

When we work for 5 years to get a JARC grant that a certain rural transit director told us would be useless and unusable and then, despite predictions, we actually get it and it’s usable after all and we realize we could have got a similar one for our rural counties with a little cooperation from that same rural transit district…

And when ETCOG spends 9 months working on a framework for regional service planning without inviting a single consumer side representative to the table effectively blowing a priceless opportunity to do regional service planning right, appoints itself lead agency without a general consensus, issues a premature self-serving RFP, and in the process endangers the brand new transit funding we all worked so hard to get for them by scoring zilch on their performance measures….

Well, I get just a teensy bit NUTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You can see why I have an interest in transit issues now!

It’s not because of any money I hope to get.

It's not about contracts.

It’s about those damned dogs!

Tom King

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Advocacy



Sometimes it’s time to stomp & swear
Sometimes it’s time to cry
Sometimes you must a lion be
And sometimes just a fly……

Tom King

Monday, October 03, 2005

Lawyers, Sweet Potatoes and Fuzzy Wuzzy's

All is not always as it appears.
I was threatened with a lawyer today for something I said. The person doing the threatening had missed my point entirely and assumed I was being critical of her. She assumed things about me that were not true based probably on her own experience of how things work out there in the "real world".

She's one of those folks who have managed to figure out the intricacies of one or more of the "good old boy" networks that are pervasive in Texas politics and local government. Membership in these networks is seductive and can lead you to believe that this is "the way things really are". I've seen the same thing happen to people who work in Austin and Washington. They get inside the corridors of power and make assumptions about "how things really are" based on their knowledge of the inside workings of what is, in essence, a closed society.

These systems are like tightly knit families. As sociologists will tell you, tightly knit families have advantages and disadvantages to those within them. First, those families create a paradigm or 'worldview' that is very powerful. Everyone is under pressure to see things the way everyone else does within the system and the system pressures its members to avoid doing anything to upset the system in any way. In exchange, the members of the group are well cared for and loved and protected. But they also give up some freedom of thought and independence of action as well in exchange.

I've been operating outside the "system" a lot lately - rattling the cages, saying things nobody's supposed to say (at least not out loud). There was the children's story about the "Emperor's New Clothes" in which a little child was the only one not so imprisoned by the mores of the empire's closed little society that only he, in his youth and ignorance of propriety, could point out that the king, was in fact, naked. The story points up the problem of how often the "way things are" isn't really the way things are at all, only how things are here because we let them be that way for our own purposes. It also points up how easily we are defrauded by people who use the system for their own purposes as the emperor was in the story.

A missionary once went to the land of the Fuzzy Wuzzy's (it's probably not politically correct to call it that anymore, but this is his story). He went to church one Sabbath with the Fuzzy Wuzzy children and to his consternation, found that the children had all apparently brought snacks to church, for each carried a sweet potato in his hands. He felt he should teach these heathen children that they should not snack in church as though it were a movie theater, so he posted himself at the back of the room and prepared to pounce on any child that attempted to break open his potato for a quick bite during the hymn singing.

But the children sat stone still throughout the singing. Then the story telling started and the missionary sharpened his watch upon the tiny worshipers, but still the children held tightly to their potatoes and no one even licked his fingers during the story. Then, the deacons were called forward for the offering. The missionary shoved his hands into his pockets and withdrew some bills and change and prepared to demonstrate to the gathered children the proper way to lay your offering in the collection plate.

Only the deacons didn't bring offering plates forward. They brought five gallon metal buckets. Mystified the missionary watched the buckets begin their journey down the aisle.

Thunk, thunk, thunk went the buckets as the children tossed their sweet potato offering in. What a marvelous drumming noise they made and the children sang softly in counterpoint to the bucket music. When one of the buckets finally came to the missionary, he looked confused and finally tossed in his dollars and his change. His offering made a pathetic little plunk and flutter. Several nearby children tittered as they noted his embarrassment.

The missionary remembered what he had learned and whenever he attended a Fuzzy Wuzzy service thereafter, he always remembered to bring his own sweet potato.

We see what we want to see and we hear what we want to hear most of the time. It's easier that way. Seeing what is truth and hearing what is really being said are difficult things to do. Sometimes to be heard we have to bring sweet potatoes to the table if we want our listeners to understand. At other times, we just have to shout it out loud that the emperor is naked. The trick is figuring out which way works best in any given situation.

It's tough being a missionary.....or a little boy!

Just one man's opinion....

Tom King

Monday, September 19, 2005

Peter, Paul and George

I watched a Peter, Paul & Mary documentary last night. I loved their music when I was young and still do now. My wife looked at me skeptically. “We have nothing in common with those people now,” she pointed out. “They’re are all Democrats.” Actually, even though I’m a hard down conservative (which is not the same thing as a Republican by the way), I do have a lot in common with that odd collection of befuddled old liberals on the tube last night, fervently singing their anti-war and protest songs.

- We agree that war is bad for children and other living things and should be avoided.
- We agree that racism is fundamentally wrong.
- We agree that people should not be hungry.
- We agree that children should be treated with care and respect.
- We agree that we should treat everyone the way we want to be treated.
- We agree that life should be fun.
- We agree that the past is important and there are many things we can learn from it.
- We agree that the future is in our hands to shape.

What we disagree on is the method for accomplishing that goal. I am an advocate. Most of my colleagues in advocacy are liberal Democrats (with a capital “D”). I am a conservative (with a small “c”). I often vote Republican. I listen to Rush Limbaugh AND PBS. An accountant friend of mine once said I should spontaneously combust from the sheer contradiction of my beliefs.

The problem is he does not understand my beliefs. He is in exactly the same state as the radical right wing Republicans he openly despises. He believes he understands his opponents. He assigns motives to them believing they must, in fact, be evil people since they have not all joined the Democratic party, ergo they evidently disagree with his fundamental beliefs since if you agreed with those beliefs, you would surely be a Democrat.

In working over the past 4 years to help make sure that East Texas seniors, people with disabilities and low income families have access to the transportation resources they need to live, work and play alongside the rest of us, I discovered that some of my best allies were elected conservative legislators, senators and congressmen. I also discovered that my liberal buddies often had no clue as to how to talk to these folks. To be fair, they could not fathom why anyone had elected conservatives to public office in the first place, so it’s likely they aren’t terribly invested in understanding people they believe were elected either accidentally or under false pretenses and who will surely be thrown out when the American people wise up.

Sadly, believing they are so far apart from the new majority party, they have become every bit as intolerant in their own view of conservatives as they have long claimed Republicans are intolerant toward them. The anger they bear toward the very people they are asking for support has gotten in the way of their attempts to accomplish what they want to in the state legislature and congress.

Ultimately, both liberals and conservatives really do want social justice however differently they view the proper path toward that justice. A popular quote that has been used a lot lately illustrates how we agree on the ends, but not on the process. An African proverb, widely quoted of late says that it takes a village to raise a child. Liberals assume that the village is either national or global in scope. Put enough money in the hands of a large government entity and very smart people are expected to figure out how to make everything okay for everybody. To a conservative, that proverb means literally that the raising of children should be decided at the village level. It doesn’t say it takes a congress to raise a child or a UN summit. Instead conservatives like me believe that local people getting up out of their chairs and going to work on local problems is the best way to solve those problems.

That’s where I come down. I’ve discovered that it is extremely difficult to tease a workable solution for a local problem out of the federal government. It’s difficult to get the state to allow sufficient flexibility in its programs to create solutions that work at the local level. Sure they throw fat grants at problems, but by the time they get to Flint, they’re hedged about with so many restrictions and paperwork requirements that many of us just leave the money on the table as not being worth the trouble it takes to get it.

Public Transportation in Texas is a prime example. East Texas has been short changed for decades on the funding we get for transit, largely because we’ve done a lousy job of articulating what we need here. We’ve lacked the expertise, the lobbyists, the organization needed to get what we needed back from the government we entrusted with our tax dollars in the first place. So we’ve just kept on sending our taxes out and they kept on sending the money on to someone else. What comes back to us is so hedged in by rules and regulations that we wind up with rules that only allow transit companies to take people to doctors appointments and force them to make a separate trip to take the same person to the grocery store because the funding wouldn’t allow us to do both things on the same trip.

That kind of stupidity results from trying to solve local problems from Washington, DC. You have to create such a rigid structure in order to make federal programs “fair” to everyone across the nation that you wind up making it impossible to create anything but cookie cutter solutions when the programs reach the communities they’re supposed to serve.

Then, there are the hideous bureaucracies you create when you run programs out of Washington. We send the feds a dollar for food programs but it’s unlikely we get even half of that money back. The rest goes somewhere else or gets eaten up in salaries for the entrenched layers of bureaucracies in between Washington and Tyler, Texas. It’s an absurd way of doing social programs.

I believe we’re in the middle of a paradigm shift in government and nobody’s talking about it except conservative ideologues like Limbaugh and Hannity. Few people even understand that it’s happening. There is a movement underway to reduce the size of government that began in earnest when Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. It confuses Republicans and Democrats alike, both of whom really do like big government when you get right down to it. What local communities don’t realize is that as federal and state taxes are successfully reduced, we are going to have to start taking over some important jobs like fighting local poverty and feeding the hungry and helping people find work at the local level. We can do it better here anyway!

My liberal friends don’t trust us to do it locally. It’s easier to fight the good fight in one place (Washington) than it is to fight it in hundreds of thousands of communities. Washington is a seductive place. All those statues and monuments and armies of young interns in black trench coats busily making connections and running government; all those huge granite buildings with all those heavy brass fixtures and wood paneling; all those statues – makes you think that somehow if you can just figure out how to work this town, you can do great things.

Those who have been seduced by the romance of working in Austin and Washington, would do well to remember that Martin Luther King started in the projects. Ghandi started in South African bodegas and Indian villages. The American Revolution wasn’t won in London!

I really believe that the successful activists of the future are going to be more and more conservative, more local in focus and each of them is going to increasingly have to become a lobbyist for his constituents and not for any specific party. Parties come and parties go, but as Jesus said, “The poor you have with you always.” Solutions for what we do about that should come from local government, faith-based communities and community based social service organizations that are based and funded as close to the village level as we can get them – shorter chains of bureaucracy that way.

The Democrats, unfortunately, haven’t figured that out yet. These arguably brilliant grass roots organizers ought to spend their time organizing local groups in solving local problems instead of busily busing them all to Washington DC. I tell you what - a mayor is a whole lot easier to intimidate than a president. When they figure that out, maybe the Democrats can once again become the party that it once was; a party that as Ronald Reagan pointed out, left most of us a long time ago to go off and play politics in Washington.

Tip O’Neill understood the point if not the application when he said, “All politics is local.”
Republicans are ahead of the game right now in figuring that out for the first time in history. I once did a fund-raiser in which I spoofed the upcoming presidential election by charging people to throw a pie at the candidate of their choice (or non-choice as suited the pie-thrower’s fancy). Volunteers wore Al Gore and George W. Bush masks and posed for cream pies. I asked representatives of both parties to volunteer. The Republicans got the joke! They brought a whole crew and ran the booth like carnival barkers. George W. Bush got 122 pie votes that afternoon.

When I approached the Democrats to help out in the booth, the county coordinator looked at me in horror and said, “You want to throw WHAT at the vice-president?” They refused to participate in such an undignified thing and as a result, Al Gore got creamed in our little pie poll. When a party loses its sense of good humor, it’s in BIG trouble. Don’t get me wrong, here; some of my closest friends are Democrats (big D). We’ve done a lot of good work together. But these guys need to lighten up a little. The caustic humor of Al Franken and Whoopi Goldberg is not serving them well. They’re getting creamed by guys like Rush Limbaugh and a growing number of new, more conservative humorists who have seized the public stage and are holding on to it by actually being funny rather than merely nasty.

When people accuse President Bush of being the most divisive president in history, they evidently haven’t come to my little village. As governor and then president, his policies and speeches actually united the folks in my neighborhood (except for one old crotchety guy from Massachusetts and none of us like him anyway and several of us have invited him to move if he really felt that way about the rest of us!). Just because liberals don’t like Bush and it makes them mad that he got elected TWICE, doesn’t make it true that he’s the most divisive in history. They said that about his two predecessors. Heck, I said that about Clinton! But, that’s kind of like when you were four years old, complaining that “Little Freddy made me mad!” because he got the last cookie. Hey, somebody had to get the last cookie! Get over it and figure out how to play nice.

...and I'm talking to myself too.

Just one man’s opinion….

Tom King

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Wait for Me I'm Your Leader - Part Dieux!

TYLER, TX: A message was sent to members of Greater East Texas Transportation Alliance (GETTA), a public transportation advisory group for TxDOT Tyler District. I am a member of that group and so received the letter.

East Texas Just Transportation Alliance’s draft response is highlighted in bold blue italic after each section of the letter. ETJTA members and anyone else who wants to should add any comments they have via the “comments” tab below. This will help us revise and extend our remarks for publication in other formats. In no way do these comments intend to suggest that anyone who wrote a letter of support or participated in the regional planning process as conducted by ETCOG is doing anything illegal, immoral or even fattening here. Signing a letter of support is something we all do. I've signed letters of support for competitors for a grant because I felt either would do a fine job of it. We merely feel that the process so far is flawed and needs to be done right or it will cost the whole region in dollars, efficiency and badly needed transportation resources for the future.
------------------------------------------------------------------------

From Roxanne:

WE have been hearing some things from throughout the State that I would like to clarify.

The first is that ETCOG has designated themselves as the Lead Agency for the Coordinated Transit Plan. This is clearly not true. ETCOG has received Letters of Support, from various agencies, indicating that they support ETCOG as the Lead Agency. Some of the agencies are the City of Tyler MPO, Tyler Transit, City of Longview Transportation, City of Longview MPO, Texas United Mounted Peace Officers Association, TxDOT Atlanta District Engineer.

This is not clearly true either. It’s murky as a New Orleans Mardi Gras fountain! The two MPO’s and their partner transit agencies were both invited to the planning process by ETCOG in December 2004. The Mounted Peace Officers received the benefits of a recent transportation project in their county and it would have been impolite to say no. The Atlanta District Engineer doesn’t have a clue that anyone objects to it, so she signed a letter of support. Not surprising.

All these letters were REQUESTED by ETCOG and those who signed them were a small group with one token human services provider included for show. For something this big and this important, ETCOG should have lots more folks than that signed on and not just through a letter of support request. Letters of support are often a “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” process anyway and prove little or nothing, especially if the signers are at all beholden to ETCOG in some way or other.

Also, Roxanne doesn't mention GETTA as one of the supporting entities, although in the letter to TxDOT's Tyler District they claim that GETTA supports their leadership. I’m on GETTA and I don’t remember that vote at all! She also doesn't mention that some at Tyler and Longview Transit have suggested retracting their letters of support on the grounds that such letters were "premature".


The ETCOG Executive Committee has passed and signed a Resolution supporting ETCOG as the Lead Agency. The Executive Committee is comprised of local elected officials from the entire 14 counties, all of which are offices we are to invite to the Coordination Planning Effort.

Roxanne does not mention that ETCOG's board and all other "supporters" were garnered in discussions completely controlled by ETCOG staff and conducted behind closed doors, i.e. no real discussion or community consensus building occurred.

ETCOG has been giving it’s Executive Committee the mushroom treatment for many years. Many of its members and former members are concerned that the information they are often given by the COG and upon which they have to make decisions may be incomplete or inadequate or even slanted to support ETCOG's position. If the presentation on Regional Service Planning at the regional transportation summit last month is any indication of how they presented it to their executive committee, then the execs certainly didn’t have a clear picture. A person without prior knowledge of what Regional Service Planning is actually supposed to be and who understood the potential consequences for screwing it up, would have assumed from what they were told in the breakout session that the state had anointed ETCOG as the lead agency based.

This is NOT true as I pointed out at the summit. The decision on lead agency should by made by a consensus of the community which it clearly was not. This "consensus" building process went more like “Whew, we got that vote done and they didn’t even ask too many questions!” (insert High Five here)

Also note the future tense of the last sentence. They ARE going to invite the 14 counties to the table. Eight months into the process and they haven’t done it yet. So, what’s wrong with this picture?

I've discussed this with TxDOT staff in Austin. I asked them what other agency in East Texas has stepped up the plate to take on the roll of Lead Agency. She mentioned maybe the local MPO's. That would be Longview or Tyler MPO, they have already stated they were not interested in being the planning agency for the 14 county region. We received a letter of support from each of these MPO's.

Roxanne mentions that she talked to TxDOT’s PTN staff, but doesn't mention that the Tyler District held its own meeting on regional service planning because they do not think the public has been involved and find that an unacceptable response to their commission's charge, nor does she mention that PTN refused to intervene on ETCOG's behalf when they complained about the meeting being held at all!

Is anyone out there aware of an agency that wants to be the Lead Agency? If so, we have not heard from them.

There’s a reason for that. As long as the only people you’ve had at the table were people you invited, who depend on funding from you in some way, either directly or indirectly, nobody is going to buck you if you make yourself captain of the football team - especially if you claim to own the football!

I can name several agencies that could lead including the Workforce Development Board, The Regional Mobility Authority, any one of a dozen large nonprofit agencies, The Economic Development Councils (could form an advisory board to lead out)….

The COG has worked on regional service planning for 8 months and all they’ve come up with so far is:


  1. We’re the lead agency and we’ll decide who gets what money (that’s essentially what the RFP process is for).
  2. We’re going to hire a consultant and decide what we want him or her to do
  3. TxDOT should pay for the consultant

Meanwhile, other COG’s have released draft regional service planning documents that include the work of 20-50 agencies and individuals who reached a consensus as to who should lead, who should plan, whether they wanted to hire a consultant, what they want the consultant to do and built a framework on which inclusive regional service planning could take place. All I can see that ETCOG has done is stewed for 8 months over how to do regional service planning without running the risk that the communities served could do something the COG didn’t want them to do.

If you don’t tell people what you’re up to, invite them to the table, include them in the discussions, who do you expect is going to be clairvoyant enough to call you up one day and suggest a lead agency? ETCOG HAS proclaimed itself lead agency (which is what the ETCOG resolution did and don’t give me any BS about the COG board being diverse – it’s not the same as having substantive discussions ahead of time with people who disagree with you actually in the room).

The second thing is that ETCOG is putting the plan together and not involving Local Stakeholders. I believe that this is coming from the fact that ETCOG, the City of Longview and Tyler have gotten together and are issuing a Request for Proposal. Someone is misconstruing this as a step in the Regional Coordination Plan. It is not. It is an Administrative Function that will bring a third party on board, a Consultant, to facilitate the Coordinated Planning process. The Consultant will also perform some other Scopes of Work that are identified by the ETCOG, Longview and Tyler.

Okay, first, let’s get the terms right. It’s a regional “service” plan. This includes coordination, but is more than that. It includes decisions about leadership, relationships and inclusion of communities in the planning process. We are not supposed to be producing another of those “Coordination” Plans that wind up being all about moving buses around more efficiently. It has to include elements that address how the system reacts to things like economic development, disasters, population boom or bust and public demand. If you only want to move buses around, you only invite transit people to the table and you write a scope of work for the “consultant” that gets what you want and only what you want. It seems very important to the COG to design the scope of work BEFORE they consult any non-transit providers. If they do that they can keep the consultant from meddling where they don’t want him to meddle (even though the community itself might well want a little meddling there).

The Solicitation process we must follow requires that ETCOG be accountable for all steps of the process and that persons involved in the process are knowledgeable of the rules we must follow. It is not that this RFP process is secret, but it is sensitive. An example of the sensitive nature of the information would be the Medicaid Transportation RFP that TxDOT is currently working on. Over the last couple months, at meetings I have attended, questions came up about the Medicaid Transportation Program and changes that might be made. TxDOT informed everyone that they were in the middle of putting an RFP out on the street and they could not discuss the Medicaid Transportation Program at all. We as operators were not offended by this, we are aware of the sensitivity of the process and we know that TxDOT cannot comment on or discuss the RFP.

ETCOG-speak for “This stuff is just way too complicated for you rubes, so you should just stay out of it and let the pro’s handle things for you.” I find that patronizing and offensive. There are lots of folks out there with pretty solid skills in community planning and transportation issues that they haven’t seen fit to include in the process. They’ve certainly never invited me and I represent rural East Texas on the state Public Transportation Advisory Committee.

ETCOG wants to create an RFP process that we may ultimately decide we don’t even need (if anyone else is ever allowed to comment on that subject). Other COG’s have done a great deal of the work using resources within their own communities and done some damned fine work in the process. When communities participate in the process, they invest in the process. If they don’t, they keep their dollars in their pockets. So far, only Tyler and Longview and Mini-Bus were invited to be a part of the process. If I were Marshall, Kilgore, Henderson, Rusk, Jacksonville, Athens, Canton, Mineola or any one of the dozens of other towns and communities in the 14 county region, I’d have to wonder why this has gone so far along and no one has talked to me. ETCOG has a couple of highly trained community development people on their staff. Why haven’t they been beating the streets and roads talking to local communities, hosting little public forums and fact finding meetings out there, trying to find out what they need and, more importantly, what resources these communities could contribute to the regional service planning process?

Roxanne does not mention that anyone and everyone that wishes to can have as much public involvement as they want in scoping a project prior to actually posting an RFP, but that this process is specifically designed to secure ETCOG's lead "status." She doesn't even mention that the money they are likely to use is funding that is supposed to be used for services, not planning.

Once ETCOG puts the RFP out on the street, unless people attend the Pre Bidders Conference, we will not be able to answer any questions about the RFP to anyone. This is to ensure that potential bidders/proposers are not given information that is not shared with every potential bidder/proposer.

AT LAST – BEHOLD THE FINE PRINT! To translate - once they get an RFP done, they won’t have to answer any uncomfortable questions – the famed “That train’s already left the station” Principle. This only looks more and more secretive and underhanded the more they “explain” it to us simpletons.

One other thing the RFP would do is confirm ETCOG in the role of lead agency. Could that explain the rush to get the RFP done?

There are other COG's who are going to hire Consultants to help them through this Regional Coordination Planning Process.

Ah, yes, the old "But Mom, everybody else is doing it!" argument. Well, in most cases, the decision to hire a consultant was made by a team of dozens of local participants from a wide range of backgrounds (not just transit providers) and it was made out in the open with everyone participating. Questions were not given the bum’s rush. Agenda’s were not tightly controlled by a lead agency that had every reason to “control” the process. Most of those COG’s were not transit providers themselves and could, therefore, be neutral since they didn’t have assets to protect. ETCOG’s extraordinarily tight relationship with Mini-Bus, essentially makes the COG the provider.

If anyone has any questions or concerns please call me.

Call soon and call often…

Roxanne McKinley,

CCTM Rural Transportation Manager - ETCOG

903-984-8641, ext 217

CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION: The information contained in this transmittal and accompanying documents is protected by both state and federal law. This information is intended only for the use of the individual or entity named above. If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any disclosure, copying, distribution or action taken in reliance on the contents of this transmittal is strictly prohibited. If you have received this transmittal in error, please notify the sender immediately to arrange for return or destruction of these documents.

The authorized recipient of this information is prohibited from disclosing this information to any other party except as may be permitted by law, and is required to destroy the information after its intended purpose has been fulfilled, unless otherwise permitted by law.

I’ve already discussed this puppy (see “If You Tell Anybody, I'm Gonna Sock You!”)


SOME FINAL QUESTIONS OF OUR OWN PROVIDED BY JTA DIRECTOR GLENN GADBOIS:


1. There is not a requirement to have a consultant in place by October, in fact most areas are waiting until they figure out where the money will come from and how much is available, so why the hurry in East Texas?

2. Where exactly is the money coming from to pay for the RFP and is it budgeted already? What happens if this money is not available for the RFP, will ETCOG cover the expense with its own funds?

3. Would ETCOG be willing to follow the Capital Area model (in which one entity funds the contractor, ETCOG in this case-the Austin District in their case; but a technical steering committee of stakeholders manages the development of an RFP, selection of a contractor, and management of work)?

3. What exactly was communicated to the ETCOG board, to the others, when they voted (please provide in writing)?

4. If there were another entity that could serve as lead and the preponderance of community interests in an open meeting chose the other entity to serve as lead, would ETCOG support the decision?

Thanks for wading through all this. Please put in your two cents worth. Your contribution to our strategy on this issue could be more important than you know.

Tom King
Coordinator, East Texas Just Transportation Alliance

Friday, September 02, 2005

Hand wringing won't help much.....

In the past 48 hours we've been treated to a spectacle of hand-wringing and misery, politicized to the point of being ridiculous. I've been watching the response of the communities that have been accepting refugees. Churches, private citizens, human service agencies and disaster relief services have been mobilizing as rapidly as possible. Here, where we're untouched by the horrific damage wreaked by Katrina, we have only to announce on the radio to "Bring money here!" and a pile of money is created by caring citizens. A shelter needs supplies and within the hour, they're saying, "Slow down, we can't take it all."

So why are people dying in New Orleans? Unless you've been to the site of a huge natural disaster, there is no way to appreciate how hard it is to mobilize relief. First of all there's the problem of distance. You have to collect supplies, plan travel, gather up vehicles and personnel. This can take a lot of time to do. Inevitably in a widespread disaster which affects tens of thousands of square miles, travel, services and order breaks down pretty rapidly. Relief workers and local cops are understandably reluctant to move into areas where roving bands of shooters are popping away at anything that rolls of flies. So we wait for the military to move in.

The military takes time to gather up equipment, pull together transport, clear the roads and airways and get to where they are going. The logistical problem is incredible, but the last thing you want to do is send in troops without enough equipment, food, supplies and ammunition unless your purpose is to get them killed. Even then, the military's first priority has been to use its rapid deployment troops in rescue efforts first. Yes there are bodies piling up, but the rescue guys have to decide between burying the dead and saving those who are still alive and clinging to trees and rooftops. It's not an easy decision, but an obvious one. Meanwhile, the newsies are filming the piles of bodies and wondering where the military is. I can tell you. They're hanging out of the doors of military helicopters dragging people off of rooftops.

There are two kinds of reactions to all of this that I see out there. One group stands beside the highway, usually in front of a camera and screams, "When is somebody going to do something about all of this?"

The other response is to pick up tools and go to work trying to help people. In this kind of massive disaster, we find out what kind of communities we live in. I hope that if something like this happened here in East Texas, that instead of asking "Who's in charge?" we'd find our own leadership standing right among us. I would hope we'd look around to see how we could help someone else. If the bodies were piling up, I would hope some of us would take pity on them and do what we could to place them someplace safe where their loved ones could find them. I know people are doing that in New Orleans. People who have lost everything are dragging out their fishing boats and rescueing their neighbors from flooded neighborhoods. Some cops in New Orleans didn't turn in their badges and didn't barricade themselves in their police stations. Some churches have thrown open their doors and sheltered the homeless as best they could. Schools have sent their buses, Truck drivers have risked being mobbed to bring donated supplies to anxious survivors.

Is relief happening as fast as we like? No, of course not. Is somebody to blame? Probably, but not necessarily the ones who will get excoriated in the media in the next few weeks for doing the best they could. Ultimately, the same people that are screaming "What are you going to do for me?" should have been reinforcing the levees they knew would not hold. The mayor who knew the deficiencies of his city's infrastructure should have cleared his city faster when he realized how powerful Katrina was. Instead of encouraging anger and rioting with his hystrionic blaming of everyone in sight, he should be trying to calm the city, reassure survivors and doing what Mayor Rudy did in the wake of 9/11.

And don't forget, the reason relief hit New York faster after 9/11 was that the infrastructure was still intact. You could drive into town. The ferries and buses still worked. Not as big an area was impacted and you didn't have authorities shutting down highways into the area because there wasn't enough fuel for all the cars, trucks and buses headed that way.

It's bad guys, no doubt about it, but we need to be focusing on what we are doing. Maybe it will give others some idea how to help. The federal government can do a lot to help in the long run, but for right now, it's our neighbors and ourselves that need to be out there in our boats and organizing ourselves into self-help groups to bring order to our own neighborhoods as well as possible. Help is coming as fast as we can get it there. Just don't shoot us when we do roll into town, okay?

Just one man's opinion....

Tom King

Thursday, August 25, 2005

At Least Someone's Getting It Right

Evidently, while we were having a regional transportation summit in East Texas, Texas Association of Regional Councils (TARC) was having a statewide meeting in Austin at which several of the COG’s presented their work on regional service planning. I was particularly impressed with Austin COG’s Plan for Regional Service Planning.

Note a few things:
  1. While the CAPCOG (Capital Area COG) serves as the financial administrator, they are, by no means, the decision-makers.... see the Steering Committee. The CAPCOG does not provide public transportation services, nor contract them.
  2. The tasks are not bundled together for any one or more consultant(s) to do, but to save money, they are "farmed" out to those existing agencies/staff with expertise so they can be done in-house with only those pieces that cannot be done with existing agencies proposed for contracting;
  3. The decision-making is in the hands of a number of interested parties, not solely vested in any single agency;
  4. The process of developing this plan has been open and public with TxDOT, providers, advocates, and others at the table from the very beginning. No less than 27 agencies, organizations and individuals helped to create the planning process.
  5. They already have a detailed 23 page document (which I would be happy to share with anyone who’d like to see how it can be done well) called "Strategy for Preparing a Regional Transportation Coordination Plan". It’s wonderfully done and a tribute to CAPCOG’s leadership and willingness to include everybody that ought to be there in the process. JTA’s own Glenn Gadbois was on the planning group as well a my good friend and sometime sparring partner, Dave Marsh of CARTS as well as folks from the whole spectrum of transportation stakeholders.

I’ve also got a copy of Jim Reed’s Powerpoint about regional service planning at TARC that had some really heartening things in it. Jim is from Central Texas COG and they’re also working along the same lines as CAPCOG and North Central Texas COG. I wish ETCOG’s regional service planning team could have been there!!

For those of you who heard the rumor following last week’s summit that I am interested in some sort of paid consulting role in ETCOG’s regional service planning process, I’d just like to assure everyone that it’s a danged lie! Neither JTA not ETJTA nor myself have any intention of accepting or seeking TxDOT or ETCOG funding for providing transportation or consulting in the planning of services. To do so would impair our ability to speak out when we believe the consumers of East Texas are not being well-served.

Also, I’d like to point out that I am not the only person or organization who is "disgruntled" by the way the regional service planning process has been handled thus far. I’ve been characterized as some sort of lone crank who can be safely marginalized because I’m mad that I’m not getting money out of this deal. It’s an old charge and has never been true. Other advocacy groups and non-transit providers have also noticed that their constituents have yet to be represented at the table, despite the fact that a scope of work for a hired consultant is already being written. Some also spoke out last Friday. Perhaps none as stridently as me, but if you look at just one aspect of the planning process it becomes very clear why I’m a little cranky. If you compare how many varied groups were represented in the CAPCOG planning process (27) with the number of members (all transit providers) in the ETCOG version (4) the issue becomes plain .

Because I have no financial interest or stake in the process (I pay for my own gas to go to meetings thank you very much), I can say what I want to without fear of reprisals. Which I did!

Yeah, I’m disgruntled. Anyone that’s gruntled just isn’t paying attention!

Tom King
www.generationstogether.com
www.charitygolftournament.net

"Arbitrary power is most easily established on the
ruins of liberty abused to licentiousness."
George Washington