Speak Out Loud NA

Saturday, February 25, 2006

EPA Letter and Our Opinions

We have obtained a copy of the official letter from the EPA to the City of New Albany dated Feb. 6th, 2006, which outlines the requirements of work that must still be completed before any sewer credits will be allotted.
The letter clearly states that although the upgrade of the Sewage Plant has increased capacity...:
"New Albany is still, however, experiencing significant overflows..."

The letter goes on to cite specific instances of concern such as a 94,000 gallon overflow on Nov. 15th, 2005, and another 38,000 gallon overflow on Nov. 28th, 2005, and there are 2 projects the City must complete in order to utilize the plant's increased capacity without experiencing overflows. They express concerns:
"The November 28 overflows are particularly troubling, as a 1.5 inch rain event is substantially smaller than storms the plant improvements were designed to endure without sanitary sewer overflows in the system."


The EPA letter further explains:
"...[T]here are two projects that the City must complete in order to routinely use the full capacity of the upgraded facility without experiencing these overflows, and [the EPA] has conditioned the award of approximately the first two thirds of the credits upon the completion of these two projects."

The two projects required are the installation of an upgraded bar screen, and upgrades to the Robert E. Lee lift station.
They note:
"As evidenced by my December 17, 2004 letter, we have been concerned with the delays in the bar screen upgrade process for several years, and failures at the bar screen have caused a significant number of bypasses and overflows. We will issue the final third of the credits one year after the completion of the upgrades to the Robert E. Lee lift station if these two projects have successfully eliminated overflows occurring due to these problem areas."

Folks, this portion of the letter acknowledges that Mayor Garner was directly made aware of the source of our sewer problems, and the repairs needed to resolve the matter, in December of 2004, his first year in office. After all, he did appoint himself Chair of the Sewer Board upon his election as Mayor.
This portion of the letter also explains that even once the 2 projects are completed, they will not issue the final third of the sewer credits until we pass a one year oversight period showing that overflows have been alleviated.

In 2002, when Garner was a sitting Council Member, the Council passed (9-0) a resolution (R-02-51) pledging $270K in annual EDIT funds for the purpose of Sewer Works maintenance and repairs in order to meet the EPA mandates. However, these designated funds have not been utilized for necessary repairs, per the resolution, since Garner took office, and nobody seems to know where the money went. They will only tell us it is gone.
When asked how they intend to replace this money, all we got was a shrug of the shoulders from our Mayor.

The letter concludes:
"The EPA is not currently issuing, nor including in the above schedule, additional credits for the excess flow basin (EFB). As I (Sally K. Swanson, Chief, Water Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Branch of the U.S. EPA) noted in my Oct. 6, 2004 letter granting 61,000 credits for the EFB, [the] EPA reserved issuance of an additional 61,000 credits because the City has been unable to fill the EFB. At the date of this letter [Feb.6, 2006], approximately 15 months later, the City has still not utilized the full capacity of the EFB.
EPA recognizes that the bar screen repairs at the headworks of the plant may allow full usage of the EFB, and will consider issuance of these credits in the future, if the City can fill the EFB to alleviate overflows.

Now, the time has come when the City is at a virtual standstill for any significant Economic Development growth due to the lack of allowable sewer credits.

Their plan for obtaining/replacing the money needed to meet the EPA mandates? Raising our sewer rates by as much as 50%!!! We are outraged, and feel that this is not only absurd, but unethical as well. We all antied up with a 49% rate increase in the last administration, giving them a whopping $44 million to "fix" the sewer problems. Only, they didn't fix them. They simply increased the holding capacity of the plant, but the mechanisms for getting the sewage into the nice new big beautiful plant are broken or lacking. They did not do the work that was mandated by the EPA, and we will refuse to pay for more of their mistakes out of our pockets.
We contend they should rescind the EDIT money pledged to the Scribner pool. We could sure use the annual $400K to get into compliance with the EPA without a rate increase to the citizens. The "Y" would still be built and have an opportunity to prove its ability to spawn downtown development. The pool can be built later.
Call your Council Representative and tell them what you think!

To sum it all up:

"This language will also be included in Exhibit 4 of the Amended Consent Decree as part of the forthcoming negotiated changes to that Decree:
The City shall not permit any new industrial, commercial, or residential developments that would have the effect of adding at any particular connection point flows equal to or exceeding 50 houses or 15,500 gpd at full buildout or in the aggregate unless the City first receives approval from EPA."

Friday, February 24, 2006


Please excuse my absence for the past few days as we have been working on some important issues, and there just doesn't seem to be enough time in the days. I'm sure most of you can relate.
I've also had some plumbing problems at the house (imagine that) that have just topped off a rather frenzied week.
The good news is, we have some recent information from the EPA that we are about to post, which will help frame the picture of things in New Albany right now as far as economic development and infrastructure issues.
We have also been working on another collaborative posting concerning the unsafe structures initiative, and the building commissioners position that has been standing on one leg since Jimmy took office. Who would have guessed this would be the hardest thing for him to accomplish?
Other issues will be revisited with updates and status reports.
So........ meanwhile feel free to bring up anything you would like to see addressed in the near future, or any concerns you may have.
Good news is always welcomed, if you can find some, and we'll gladly follow up with details and opinions.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

What Will They Try Next?

The following post is a compilation of ideas and conversations that occurred after the last Council Meeting which left a lot of us feeling as though the more they try to flex their power over the people, the more ridiculous they become.
Walking into last Thursday's Council Session was a bit disorienting for those of us who have attended with any regularity over time. The seating arrangements were completely askew, all for the purpose of controlling the public, and making sure that everyone knows who's in charge, and who's rules the public must abide by. Gahan has thrown down the gauntlet.

However, we beg to differ on this point of controlling order at the meetings, as the rules are not at the discretion of the sitting Council President. The rules are all spelled out in a little book known as Robert's Rules of Order.

There is a reason for these Robert’s Rules of Order and it has to do with carts and horses and prioritizing the people’s rights, not the administrations whims. It’s an arrangement that best protects the taxpayer, who should be able to control the city, not the other way around. Other systems and tools are in place for order during the meetings, but it takes a person who not only demands civility but practices it himself. Otherwise, he will never be respected and never have any power over any part of the room no matter what he does. The president can continue to be a little juvenile bully or learn how successful people manage by attending other council meetings, reading books, and learning. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to hold my breath for this guy. I think the future looks bleak.

Separating the public comments into two different agenda items is an oncoming train because there will be too much gray area. We will waste more time arguing about what is relevant to an agenda item to one person that may not be relevant to another person. And there will be all sorts of new interesting spins placed on how people get around to what they really want to talk about by tying it to the agenda items in some obscure and creative fashion. It is completely and utterly stupid. We are the citizens and what they are doing is denying us our rights, insulting our intelligence and making us more resolute in voting against them. We are the tax-payers. We represent our neighborhoods. We spread the word.

Take the example of the people on Martin Drive two council meetings ago. Who knew? Had they not shown up and spoken about this mess they unfairly have to deal with, find their councilman, be directed to the board of works, etc., where would they be? We all listened to those tax payers for the first time, explaining how their basement was now flooding and their property was being eroded away by the new hospital expansion, a hospital that is causing these people pain and suffering. The council served and directed these people in this new matter that faced them and that was good. And it wasn’t on the agenda.

May I ask, What about what we want? What about what is taking place all across America? Why does New Albany have to reinvent the wheel? Why do they have to “form a committee” for discovery into what sort of agenda we should follow? The key word in “Robert’s Rules of Order” is ORDER. Order means many things, but in the context of our situation, the definitions that apply would be “functioning,” “instruction,” “neatness,” “arrangement,” and “absence of crime.” Any deviation from these rules of order, by our council, can only be construed to be some antic to suppress our rights and a stand against the words in quotations listed. You heard the uproar and laughter when Gahan made the comment that he wants to make sure the citizens are heard and embraced or whatever poppycock he was spewing. This, on the night when they move the camera that has been watching them for a year and a half, from the front of the room to the back. Hello. We are not blind.

It really is astonishing how clearly we can see them and yet they do not seem to see us. They are sort of like a fish tank, I suppose, only entertaining in a very different way.

Many thanks go out to those who contributed so much to this posting. It couldn't have happened without you.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Problems With Housing Enforcement

In the interest of acknowledging that the housing problems exist all over the city, and have become so numerous that it is going to take a major effort to deal with them, and a lot of money to deal with them correctly, I am sharing some examples from the East side of the City.

I recently received a letter from a Main St. friend of mine who gave permission to post the following interpretation of the problems we are facing in our efforts to have sub-standard, unsafe, housing in the inner-city addressed.
There are certain issues raised that must be considered in the scope of the problem. Therefore, we submit the following:

"The reason the city doesn’t want rental inspections is because the houses will not pass inspection. You may recall when this was brought up at a council meeting and a certain person held up a stack of about 100 rental properties that are all owned by a hand full of slum lord’s that ALL show up on the mayor’s campaign finance report. This is why they are keeping a tight rein on Pam Badger who I really feel has the best intentions, I’ve heard nothing but good things about her, but hey, you do what you’re told or be fired for insubordination. Don’t we Steve?
You do NOT screw around with the money trees.
Were the slum lord’s forced to bring their properties up to code???? It would cost HUNDREDS of thousands of dollars. You know it. They’d have to increase their rent fees and probably then lose the current low rent renter. But no. They are content to charge what they charge and just let the buildings fall down around these people of questionable background who are just glad to have a place they can afford. And we get to live amongst low rent people who are trouble makers, thus the term, “Low rent,” a term used to describe scummy people, as in “You are a low rent son of a gun.”
And it’s not just the rent revenue they get that is the big money maker for them. It’s what they can get for the property on a loan. They buy the house for $5000 and maybe/maybe not fix it up a little, then have it appraised for $80,000 and cash out that money and invest it. Boom, they now have $75,000 cash. Invest that or use it buy 15 more $5000 houses and do the same thing and turn around and cash that out 15 X $75,000. Now we’re up to over a million dollars. So what if you have mortgages to pay on 15 houses, its chump change compared to what you are borrowing, investing and playing with. The interest off the money could pay the mortgages or the rent. However you want to work it, you still have a million dollars. And if you have 100 of said properties, which some do, you can do the math. I think the number will explode my calculator. Do you now understand why 49% of our cities in town properties are rentals? Because other cities won’t allow this. They have code enforcement. So, they are all here, in New Albany, because that’s where they can get away with it. That’s where they can grease palms like the greasy people they are known to be. Okay, not all of them, but enough to feed the kitty.
And even if you don’t get the appraisal that high (but you probably do because he’s your brother and you’re paying him to do what you tell him to do), it all adds up. You probably ship a couple of cases of Maker’s Mark to the bank president every Christmas and he’s looking the other way too. But then he might be your brother as well and actually know what you’re up to. But hey, who cares, the loans are always paid, so who cares if they got more for it than it was really worth? Who cares if the houses fall to disrepair? Put a little duct tape on it and keep on going.
See how this works? We should all be in the slum lord business. It’s the biggest business going in New Albany and by golly, we don’t want to upset the slum lords because we need to get re-elected, and when it comes down to it, you can’t count on your party, but you sure can count on people who owe you big time. People who have brought you garbage bags full of cash and have continued to every time you pocket veto the code enforcement officer or hire an idiot to be the building commissioner (current gentleman excluded as I don’t know him) or fire the building inspectors or what have you. This is ALL about money. Think of these houses as you drive by them as little money trees. Who knew?! It’s certainly a better vision than what you have to look at.
One of these slum lords could and probably will give Jimmy all the money he wants, but it’s too bad because there isn’t enough money in the world to save his rear after the stunts he has pulled. The voters know and they’re going to know even more thanks to you, thanks to Freedom of Speech, thanks to those who stand up at the council meetings and thanks be to God.
Think about it. Look around. It’s obvious if you think about it. ANYBODY can look at some of these houses and know it’s not right. You can see it and you can even sometimes smell it."
My opinion AND the facts.
Yes you have my permission to post this on your blog.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Thinking Stuff, Because I Can't Sleep...

O.K., I've fulfilled my end of the deal, I wonder if "anonymous- 12:20:04AM" has accomplished their end of the deal. I'm sure I'll never know.
I re-read a text-book I've actually been wanting to read for about a week now, but I kept getting distracted. It made its way around to every room in the house, and there it laid until I moved it on to the next, with never more than a few pages read.
I'm glad it waited until it felt a little more satisfying for having done it.
It not only satisfied a task completed, it's left me contemplative as well.
In a good way...
What are the larger issues and dynamics at work here with all the happenings of late? After all, it's vital that one fully understands something if one hopes to affect change on it.
For a sociologist, it's about taking into account every layer of what makes up a set of circumstances, that leads to a certain quality-of-life quotient, which must be identified and analyzed to be fully understood.
Then I caught this show.
It was all about reasoning, and a lot about the exact type of issues we have been dealing with on the blogs and in the community.
I'll tell you, I don't know how long it's been since I've caught an episode of 20/20, and I feel sure tonight was nothing short of 'divine intervention' (interpret that to whatever your beliefs mean to you). Therefore...
FYI, I have put up a link to the John Stossell, 20/20 Report: "Myths, Lies, and Nasty Behavior", which aired on 2/11/06 on the local CBS channel.
It came along at just the perfect time to help me put some things back into perspective, and to get back to the way I look at life and living it.
The article is certainly worth a qwick read, but a lot of consideration, of how and why things are the way they are in our society today (or at least as good a stab as I've seen taken at it in 3 or 4 pages lately anyway). The logic makes it easy to reduce some of the broader concepts down to the community level.
Actually, it could be more like a ton of rocks hitting you, depending on your particular stance and/or concepts of our community's current well-being.
Too bad this time the written version falls short in the depth of the televised version, but I'm sure what aired was way too much to throw on the Net in written words.
Still, take a look, and then think about what is happening behind the scenes of our everyday, busy-er (is that a word?) lives, that we are completely oblivious to.
It will make you stop and wonder if this community is ever going to truly succeed on any level that will be the most meaningful to the majority of the population of New Albany.
It might be worth purchasing this one.
It sure would start a very interesting and informative Town Hall meeting.
Let us know what it made you think about.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

What Are The Answers?

So the Mayor and a few of his hand-picked associates are going to fly to Chicago now (they decided to forget about Washington) and try to get the EPA to let up on the Sewer Credits lock-down. I just wonder what kind of reception they will get.
What will they answer with when they are asked if the projects they promised to fix are done? "..duh, no, not yet."
What will they answer when they are asked if we are still having overflows with less than 1" of rain? ".....duh, yeah, we think so, but there was sabatoge!" (wrong)
What will they answer when they are asked if the mandated $270K annual repairs have been done in the past 3 years? "....duh, no, we don't know where the money went."
What kind of answer do you think they will get from the EPA? Because the problems don't stop here, with just these few examples. There's much, much more.
What will they produce when the Utility Regulatory Commission asks to see the budgets, past and present, of the Sewer Department before they are granted permission for a rate increase? What about an audit for the past year of the Sewer Department operations? Answer: There isn't one. Couldn't be done.
Somehow they got it all mixed up with Sanitation, Drainage, Secretary salaries, loans to the General Fund, and God knows what else... but, they have no idea where the Sewer Fund actually stands on its own.
What are they going to say when asked how they have spent over $100 million over the last 15 years on a system that still doesn't work?
How are they going to explain all the fringe development that has occurred recently while we've been under a sewer credit freeze?
We're telling you, it just doesn't look too good, and that's a real shame. Because until this matter is resolved, to the satisfaction of the Federal authorities, New Albany will remain a ghost town and economic development will be impossible.
They have had more than enough time, more than enough money, but not enough smarts to do things the way they were told to do them by the EPA.
A responsible City government doesn't simply do as they please and think they don't owe anyone any explinations as this administration has done repeatedly.
Now, they are going to try to assess another sewer rate hike on us. Only, this time, they have a lot of explaining to do. We are tired, and broke, from paying for their mistakes. We want answers.
We must demand accountabilty, and we deserve to have a City Administration that has the best interests of New Albany at heart, and will do what it takes to get this City back on solid ground. Even if it means a spending freze.
Developing more fees and higher rates for the public is not an acceptable solution.
For more interesting information on the sewer issue we've been discussing for some time now, check out Maury Goldbergs blog: www.newalbanytoday.blogspot.com
Or, you can use the link on the front page of this blog.

Another interesting tidbit of information, in case you haven't already heard; The Mayor intends to bring sewer billing back in-house, and we are told this will be done using the money they will make off the stormwater fees. Word is our contract with Indiana-American expires soon (we can provide dates of Sewer Board minutes with discussions of where the billing office will be located).
However, none of this has been discussed with the City Council mmembers, except for those who sit on the sewer board.
We would like to see the reasoning behind this decision, and if or why they believe this will be a better way of doing things. Again, what are the answers?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Where Should We Begin?

There are a lot of issues that we feel need to be discussed, and we are working on a new posting that will encapsulate most of the recent happenings.
Meanwhile, we would like for you to submit to us any topics that you, the readers, feel should be addressed, and we will either include them in the new posting, or dedicate a new posting to the topic suggested in the near future.
Right now, between the broadcasting of Garner's politics on WNAS after trying for too long to get Council sessions aired, unsuccessfully, along with the Police promotions made prior to receiving an approved budget from the State, we are stammering a bit over what to make of the current situations in New Albany.
"Gaveling Gahan" and the changes occurring within, and among, the City Council are of serious interest, as is the issue of possible, much needed, Rental Property Inspections.
Then we have accusations made in the David Camm trial regarding the former Prosecutor that are disconcerting, and may be just the tip of an iceberg when it comes to how evidence was handled during the initial investigation.
There's the barge mishap and the subsequent announcement of orders to restrict access to the riverfront that were later denied by outside authorities that left us curious, as has the news of retaining a problem-plagued former Police Chief at considerable expense to the City.
Of course we still have questions and concerns regarding the Sewer problems and the EPA oversight, and how this will affect true economic growth for Downtown New Albany, and we have some serious problems still unresolved concerning the new Sanitation privatization.
Watching businesses pile up weeks worth of garbage around town is becoming a major sore spot, and the refusal to reveal the partners of the new business entity awarded the sanitation contract is unacceptable.
New fees, rate increases and City spending habits are impacting all of us, and the fiscal picture is uncertain without audit findings and budget approvals in hand.
These are just a sampling of the many issues we feel require further inquiry, and we have a lot of questions, as well as opinions, on these matters.
We look forward to investigating further, and getting the community's feedback on how and why New Albany has become mired in so many unresolved issues.
We want to look forward to a better future with more accountability from our elected officials, and a renewed commitment to a united effort to improve the quality of life in our community.
This will require rebuilding the public trust, making wise and informed decisions regarding economic development, as well as providing demonstrable evidence that efforts of improvements include considerations of the entire population of the City, not just a select portion of the citizenry.
With all this in mind, we are working on putting things together in an articulate and informational manner. Please feel free to add to our list, and we will consider each and every suggestion.