6/12/2006

 

Adventures in Government

There's an old adage that says you can't fight City Hall.

I say, not only had you damn well better fight City Hall, you better make it a tooth-and-nails, no-holds-barred, ask-no-quarter-and-give-none furball.

While on my way to work Tuesday morning, I read the paper on the bus* and noticed an article saying that, as part of their budget for next year, the City Council was considering cutting housing aid?! And mass transit for the disabled?!

Okay, I was officially awake. This required further investigation.

Turned out that one of the items up for the budget ax was something called the Nussbaum Fund, with was a 1.8 million dollar fund that, among other things, helped fund homeless shelters and affordable rental options. According to the article, the city was planning to eliminate that fund to help keep property taxes down. Specifically, to keep the owner of a $150,000 house from paying an extra $72 a year in property taxes.

Forgive me, but if you can afford a $150,000 home (and in Guilford County, that can be a lot of house) what's wrong with an extra $6 a month to ensure that no more children have to bed down in another homeless shelter?** Hell, those guys probably blow that much at Starbucks. Every other day.

To make matters worse, also on the chopping block was SCAT, a city program that helps the disabled (many of whom can't use the regular bus service) get to such things as doctor's appointments, the grocery store, and the pharmacies.

I got so upset reading that article that I actually contemplated calling in sick to work and going straight to this blog. I actually got so upset, the Beast opened one eye to see what was going on. Seeing that it didn't require his abililty to snack on my psyche, he went back to sleep.

Unfortunately, calling in sick wasn't an option. I needed the money too bad. So, seething about the injustice of it all, I reported for work, but spend a good bit of my brain's processing power (and believe me, there's not much to spare these days!) working out what I was going to say to the City Council at the public hearing scheduled for later that evening.

After work, I doubletimed it to the bus to make sure I got to the Council meeting in time. The Council Chambers are on the secod floor of City Hall, in a room designed to looko as though it's suspended in space. It's well appointed, with room for the Council and a goodly number of concerned citizens, perhaps 150.

People must've read that article and gotten as upset as I, because about 15 minutes after I sat down, it was standing room only.

The meeting started and was fairly routine until the hearings for the budget cuts. Then, everyone found out that over 30 people were signed up to speak, including Yours Truly. That's 3 times the usual amount of speakers that show up.

The people that spoke for preservation of the Nussbaum Fund (housing) were better prepared and more articulate than I. One guy had brought along a PowerPoint presentation that brought his central points home with sledgehammer power and arrow accuracy. One of the Councilmen was forced to clarify that the Nussbaum Fund wasn't actually up for elimination; that has been part of a "worst-case scenario" that they'd discussed regarding keeping property taxes down.

Right. And Godzilla only goes to Tokyo for the sushi.

Still, speaker after speaker lobbied on behalf of the Nussbaum Fund, preserving SCAT's service to the disabled, and for preserving library services (which were also due for cutting) and on behalf of a swim center. Everyone who spoke made their case with brilliance, eloquence or elan.

Then it was my turn to speak. Everything had been said that needed to be said and clarifications had been made. I had been afraid that I'd be the only one speaking out on behalf of those who might become homeless, but it turns out that article had stirred a hornet's nest of concern. Still, there was one thing that none of the other speakers covered.

I framed my comments as trying to get the Council to consider the Human Factor. They had discussed the budget and its financial and economic ramifications, yes, but they had not considered the human ramifications. They hadn't considered that homelessness would go up, and that others would go through what I had. They wouldn't see the anguish of those who either once had homes or who had homes within their grasp, only to see it all torn away. They wouldn't have to coach other through their depression and help them battle their Beasts.

Or at least, I tried to convey that general idea. I only had three minutes, and despite my time in my high school Drama Club, I had a bad case of stage fright. I'm not sure how well I made my case; only that no one came after me with pitchforks afterward, so I guess I did okay.

One of the councilwomen, one of the most influential in the black community, asked me if I had seen any direct help from the Nussbaum Fund while my family was homeless. I admitted to her that I had not, but that was simply because I wasn't sure if IHN relied on any of its money or not. But that was no reason for others not to benefit. I think she's read the blog, becuase she asked me if my story is documented anywhere. When I told her online at "View From the Sidewalk", she gave me a thumbs-up. I think she was waiting for me to make that plug.

Still, on my way to the bus depot, I breathed a sigh of relief. I and many others had persuaded the City Council to preserve most, if not all, of the housing funds and perhaps I've even gained a few new readers in the process.

And I didn't have to engage in a furball, after all.


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*As I am wont to do; I'm not much of a conversationalist, and I've already seen all the scenery.

**And before the I-hate-taxes and the You're-a-damn-socialist crowds start in on me, remember, even though I live below the federal poverty level, I too pay income and sales taxes. Whether I like it or not. And I don't. But I'll gladly pay double to keep another family from going through what mine went through.

Comments:
I saw you at the Council meeting, but when Tom Phillips said the "homeless" part of the Nussbaum Fund was safe, I left and went to another meeting. I'm sorry I didn't get to hear you speak! :(
 
I've been reading your blog since it's beginning.

You've provided insight into an a problem that millions don't fully understand until they directly experience it. My opinions of individuals who have become homeless has been changed for the better.

I am so happy to read of your progress. When I read the post where you announced you had public housing, I gave a mental "YESSS!" while at work.

Thanks for posting Michael.

Dan Bowles
http://danbowles.com
Rochester, NY
 
first message: you got that right. You cant fight a system set up to make people fat and keep others ignorant of that fact. No holds barred baby! Blow up the ship and send them back home on a dingy!
I dont think I have aproblem paying taxes. But I want to know that the money being usurped from me is going to something useful and accountable. I dont want to pay to pave a street and then have the city pave the SAME street 2 years later while other streets are falling in disrepair. I ve seen this in NYC and in Miami. Some neighborhoods have awful streets and then others get the same street paved over and over again. Thats why I hate paying taxes.
 
you've reminded me that i need to make an effort to be more involved in my local government. Thank you for that..
 
I stand applauding your activism. And even before that, obviously you'd been having an effect in the community, because the woman you mentioned obviously knew you through your valuable blog.

Your story is so far from over.
 
I saw a news story on chnl 2 about that and was hoping it wouldn't happen. Glad to see enought people concerned to make a difference.
 
Now that you've figured out that you CAN fight City Hall and WIN, I wanted to know when you've deceided to use that new found knowledge to enlighten the "powers-that-be" about the chaotic mess the Public Transportation System that plague you and your fellow citizens is and how you've devised a plan to make it more organized and efficent.

Elected officials are just like you were 6 months ago... If they aren't homeless and nobody tells them that they're homeless, then they don't know that there IS A HOMELESS PROBLEM. You realize that now, it seems, so keep on going with it!

Elected officials are just like you 6 months ago... If they don't need to take the bus to work because they can drive instead and nobody tells them that they can't drive to work NOR can they rely on Public Transportation to get them their on time if at all, then they don't know that there is a PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION PROBLEM!

4 or 5 months ago I said to you in a comment that the solution to your problem is YOU... Sound familiar? Remember what the general consensus was about me? I was arrogant, condacending and worst of all, the root cause of the ACTUAL PROBLEM! Do you still think that is still a fair and honest assessment of me? I'd ask the others who said the same thing, but they've abandoned you a long time ago... Their "advice" couldn't stand against the test of time, but mine sure did, didn't it?

"They hadn't considered that homelessness would go up, and that others would go through what I had. They wouldn't see the anguish of those who either once had homes or who had homes within their grasp, only to see it all torn away. They wouldn't have to coach other through their depression and help them battle their Beasts. Or at least, I tried to convey that general idea. I only had three minutes, and despite my time in my high school Drama Club, I had a bad case of stage fright. I'm not sure how well I made my case; only that no one came after me with pitchforks afterward, so I guess I did okay."

Yeah, you DID do okay... I had people come after me with pitchforks, and I'll tell you that it WASN'T okay. Lucky you...

Honestly, though... I hold no ill-will or animosity at all... It's my little why of having "fun". ;)
 
Ooops...

This:

"Elected officials are just like you were 6 months ago... If they aren't homeless and nobody tells them that they're homeless, then they don't know that there IS A HOMELESS PROBLEM."

Should be:

"Elected officials are just like you were 6 months ago... If they aren't homeless and nobody tells them that they are people who are homeless, then they don't know that there IS A HOMELESS PROBLEM."
 
Who the hell elects these morons??!!??!!
 
we elect them when we believe the short sighted nonsense they say as fact. Like Stephen Colbert says "Its full of Truthiness, but not actually true". I d run for office but it would never ge to what I could do right, it would be about what I d do wrong.
 
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