City Council: Reflections on Four Years
Election Day 2015 marks the end of my service over the past four years and three months on Charlotte City Council. Looking back, what I set out to do-protect core City services – police, fire and public works-in a challenging economic environment, has been accomplished. There are some lessons that learned in dealing with the issues that arose during my term. The first of these is consensus-building. I never saw myself having a monopoly on the truth and I began each debate on public policy by assuming that people who disagreed with me had good intentions.
The first test I faced was over the ‘Chicken Ordinance.’ If I had to vote on it without having had a debate or public debate, I would have voted ‘no.’ However, the young woman who favored the ordinance did her homework, as many of us on Council did in contacting communities with similar ordinances, overcame every objection I had. To craft a majority in support required safeguards to ensure that this should pose no threat or nuisance to neighbors. We ended up agreeing to a ‘sunset’ ordinance that had to be renewed after four years, a limited 10 licenses at any time, sign-off from every neighbor annual license renewal, a 25-foot setback to all property lines, enclosed cages, no roosters, a three chicken maximum, and no poultry processing as safeguards that would gain the support of a majority. I was the deciding vote, a decision I made while sitting in Council, after I concluded that there would be more to regret from saying ‘no’ than there was to fear from saying ‘yes.’
Oak Park presented a different problem. Young hooligans had taken the park over and were harassing homeowners and the patrons of an adjacent funeral home. After a neighborhood meeting where the principal complaints were aired – foul language, loitering in the gazebo, late-night disturbances and the like, Council adopted park rules that addressed these issues and the City posted them, making proactive enforcement easier. Now, on a sunny day, you can walk by Oak Park and see strollers – the surest sign that a public space is safe.
Not every issue can be resolved by compromise: Some are ‘either/or’ situations, such as the 4-3 vote (with me in the majority) to purchase the old National Guard armory and to use it for much-needed City storage. You can’t buy half a building, so, after a lengthy debate, building tour and much public discussion, one has to choose, knowing that reasonable people can disagree yet still work together in the future.
Sometimes, ‘either/or’ decisions go the other way, as looks to be the case with perhaps the final vote on an ordinance that I may cast: We approved, on a 6-1 vote (mine was the sole ‘no’ vote) to approve a ‘first reading’ of an ordinance allowing Sunday morning liquor sales. While I am not a prohibitionist by any means, I prefer to not further disestablish Sunday, and especially Sunday mornings, as being different from the rest of the week. While some of those who spoke in favor of the measure when it was first proposed stated that ‘you can’t legislate morality,’ I disagree, more strongly with the idea than with the proposed ordinance. Not acting in accordance with a moral code is still to act according to a moral code, namely, that which states that there are no moral guideposts. All legislation expresses morality; it cannot be otherwise. Nonetheless, I’ll walk away knowing that reasonable people can disagree on this, too, and that I agree with Voltaire’s statement: ‘I may disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ The Frenchman expressed what I grew up believing to be an essential part of the American Creed as well as anyone ever did, and I still base my actions in the political arena on that principle.
The lessons from these examples – find out the facts, do your own research, talk to the people involved, work to find common ground, and agree to disagree – served me well in dealing with other issues, such as our debates on enacting an ordinance mandating sidewalk snow removal. I hope that the benefit of my relating these experiences – and the lessons to be learned from them – serve the next Council in good stead as they deal with the issues that are sure to arise during their time in office. I wish them well and thank them in advance for their service.
-Lloyd A. Conway
If you have read enough world literature, from Victorian-era novels to the Arabian Nights and everything in between, you may have noticed that the way to success is often to marry a prince, find hidden treasure or to obtain the favor of the powerful. America is different. Here, the road to success lies in work. On Labor Day, we celebrate a uniquely American holiday, one that honors working people. It’s a day that brings my parents to mind. My father, after he came home from the Korean War, waked in factories, usually as a janitor. My mother, before she married, was a secretary. She waited to marry and have children until she’d waked 10 years so that she was eligible for Social Security – a benefit based on work. Even when we three boys had come along, she used to practice her typing and shorthand regularly in the evenings, because, she told me, if anything happened to our father, she might have to go back to work.
My father, meanwhile, worked swing shifts at the ITW Eclipse Counterbore plant in Ferndale, and for a while had a second job, to earn extra money for his family. He was always tired and his hands, years after he’d retired, were still as hard and rough as rawhide. After the plant closed in 1980 and he was out of work at age 50, when Detroit-area unemployment was over 20%, he found ways to make money, first by working under the table, later by walking seven miles each way to a job paying a third of his former wage. Serving overseas in the Army at this time, it was only later that I learned that Dad walked those seven miles to save on bus fare. Neither he nor Mother ever complained; they were children of the Depression and didn’t want anybody’s sympathy or a handout; they were also schooled in the old way – they never felt sorry for themselves or blamed ‘society’ or others for their situation. They made do and worked things out themselves, as best they could.
That’s what I think about on Labor Day: Work, not connections, luck or get-rich-quick schemes, is the American Way, or at least that’s what we were raised to believe back when everyone else wanted to be like us. This weekend, as we enjoy these days of summer and take time off for the holiday, let’s remember what it celebrates – and then do our best to ensure American again is a place where anyone who wants to work hard can make it on their own, and where the son of a janitor in an ITW plant can own stock in his Dad’s old company. Happy Labor Day to all of you who work for a living, whatever the job; you’re moving society and your families forward the American way, by creating wealth, instead of just wishing for it.
For much of my life my neighbors and many of my school teachers were World War Two veterans. I thought about them, and their fellow vets who touched my life in the classroom as another autumn approaches, because this September 2nd marks the 70th anniversary of V-J Day and the end of the Second World War. Seventy years is a lifetime and World War Two veterans are virtually all over 90 years old. My current next-door neighbor is probably the last of his generation I’ll live next to and the time will come when their memories, wisdom, grit, and basic commonsense humanity will be lost to us. Their example, however, can continue to instruct and inspire in a polarized age when nothing seems to get done and crises are allowed to fester, to say nothing of the example our current generation of celebrity ‘leaders’ is setting for our children.
Looking back, I remember Mr. Taylor, who lived next to us on the Ferndale street where we lived in the 1968s and 1970s, and Mr. Laurain, next door to the first house I ever owned, who’d shared some of his 82nd Airborne lore from time to time. Then there were the teachers: Mr. Rhode, a Battle of the Bulge grunt who told our sixth grade class about the cold and the fighting; Mr. Goralczyk, who enlivened his American History classes with stories from the Pacific Theater; and Mr. Brown, another history teacher who shared some of his Army Air Corps memories.
While my own military service came too late to be in the ranks with many of them, I did serve with one; J.D. joined the National Guard in 1945, at the tail end of hostilities, and when it was all over he stayed on until age 60, retiring in 1987 after having held just about every NCO billet in Company A of the Detroit Light Guard.
Those stories won’t be re-told many more times, as the ones who came home to tell them are mostly gone now and the few we have will follow their comrades in the passage of time. The 70th anniversary of the final victory that crowned their efforts is an appropriate time for one last thanks and maybe to hear a story or two, while they’re still here to share them. The right-hand picture below is the famous photo, taken 70 years ago, of how it ended, on the deck of the battleship U.S.S. Missouri, six years and a day after Hitler invaded Poland. The ceremony was solemn enough, but the joy it ignited is evident in the left-hand picture, that of the legendary ‘sailor kiss’ in Times Square. It must have been some celebration…
Independence Day is America’s time to remember why a ‘body politic’ came into being on our shores. Patriotism is unfashionable these days, and there is a long-running ideological hostility to the notion that anything is special about America, her history or institutions. Too often, the obvious and acknowledged flaws in the American story become the central narrative of the story, excluding or denying the undoubted good that grew, and continues to grow, out of the American experience.
The minority of the original colonists who decided that the ‘rights of Englishmen’ were worth fighting for were not the first to do so. The ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 had ended all arguments on British soil about ‘the divine right of kings,’ and the franchise was more widely held in its’ aftermath than virtually anywhere on Earth at that time. Before that, earlier generations had, after much struggle, preserved and passed on to their posterity the ancient freedom of the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Danes who emerged from the forests of Germania to settle in the ruins of Roman power in England. We recently celebrated the 800th anniversary of Magna Charta, the earliest written guarantee of those ‘ancient rights of Englishmen’ on record. Others, such as William Wallace, fought English tyranny to win freedom, and many of their descendants were found in the ranks of the Continental Army.
The march toward ‘a more perfect Union’ has been long and painful, marked by reverses, defeats and intense struggle, but it has inspired peoples around the world to emulate us, and to flee tyranny for our shores. That process continues today; unlike the Berlin Wall, which was designed to keep people from leaving the Communist Bloc, we have debates about how to deal with the flood of people who want to come here.
Our best Independence day tribute to America’s past and promise is to be active participants in public life, shunning apathy and negativity for strenuous efforts on behalf of the commonweal.
The Charlotte, Michigan ‘M-50 Committee’ met for the first time earlier this year to talk about ways to make M-50, also known as Cochran Avenue, more business- and pedestrian-friendly, as part of an effort, shared with several other citizens’ committees, to help revitalize Charlotte’s downtown. In beginning this effort, this writer stopped to reflect on, in the larger scheme of things, Charlotte, and so many other cities and towns in America, found their ‘Main Streets,’ once the center of urban life, neglected and in need of help to restore some of their former vitality.
You can still see what downtown – ‘Man Street, USA’ – used to be like at Disney World. Sadly, this is only a trip down Memory Lane in many locales, due to the unintended consequences of several developments since the heyday of the kind of thriving entrepreneurial environment that existed into the 1960s. If you have seen ‘Cars,’ you have seen a story built around the decline and rise of the main street of Radiator Springs. When Route 66, ‘Main Street’ in many of the cities and towns it passed through on its way from Chicago to Los Angeles, was supplanted by the interstate highway system, automobile traffic that used to flow through town now bypassed it, taking the customers who rode in those cars with it. The unintended consequences of a highway system that President Eisenhower championed, in part, because of his many troubles in moving men and equipment by road in preparation for the ‘Louisiana Maneuvers’ in 1940 and then seeing the Autobahn in Germany at the end of World War II, as a ‘national defense’ initiative, was that many Main Streets cost their vitality, sapping the downtowns they bisected in the process.
A darker chapter in the decline of Main Street stems from the urban planning craze that swept America after World War II. Pioneered by New York’s Robert Moses, a master builder and genius of political infighting who parlayed an unpaid position as state parks commissioner into a de facto infrastructure czar whose powers extended statewide, ‘urban renewal’ projects poured grandiose visions of how cities should look into concrete on a massive scale. Moses’ efforts led to the erection of such landmarks as Jones Beach and the Triborough Bridge, as well as numerous ‘parkways’ – freeways ostensibly built to connect the New York park system. The erection of so much infrastructure came at a price: Many poor neighborhoods (and the occasional wealthy one) were seized through the power of eminent domain and their residents were displaced to make way for the new roads. The result was that viable neighborhoods, filled with human networks of families, businesses and social institutions gave way before the bulldozer, with what remained on the periphery losing its vitality. Despite keen criticism from thinkers like Jane Jacobs, the urban renewal trend lasted for decades and spread from New York across America, remaking the fabric of every community it touched, often at the expense of the old, unplanned jumble of human habitations that supported Main Streets in favor of newer arrangements that could be reached by car: Suburbs and shopping malls. (An allusion to how this played out in California found its way into ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit,’ where the villain schemes to take over Toontown and then sell it to Cloverleaf Industries, who plan to dismantle the trolley car system of ca. 1947 to make way for freeways and the ‘exit’ enterprises – gas stations, tire stores, repair shops and the like – that support car culture.)
New Urbanism brings us full-circle: Restoring M-50 as a vital commercial and residential mixed-use corridor through the heart of Charlotte is precisely the kind of initiative that can help revitalize an entire community by redirecting energy and activity back to where it used to flow before freeways, shopping malls and ‘big box’ stores drained it away: Downtown.
As this and the other committees move forward from planning to action, public participation is both welcome and needed to ensure that all who want to have a voice as we work to rebuild our hometown. Please take the opportunity to attend a meeting, join a committee or to contact them with your hopes and ideas. They’ll be happy to hear from you. And if you’re not from Charlotte, why not see if you can find other people in your town who want to restore your Main Street and offer them a hand?
-Lloyd A. Conway
(For an in-depth look at the rise and fall of Robert Moses, see Robert Caro’s ‘The Power Broker.’ The classic work of his nemesis, Jane Jacobs, ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities,’ became the bible of the ‘New Urbanist’ movement, which seeks, among other things, to bring back Main Street as the locus of mixed-use urban life.)
Over the past few years this blog has been dedicated to a teaching mission aimed at connecting classroom learning to the real world. Social Studies are not just a group of ‘subjects’ to be examined separately and without connection to each other or our daily lives. In the course of both teaching and taking an active part in state and local government, the next step for this writer is to take the message of why it is important to take an active part in how we are governed to new media. The Charlotte Country Journal has graciously agreed to accept an occasional column from me on topics of local interest, and WLCM ‘Victory’ 1390 AM will also be airing five-minute public service announcements from me on politics and policy at the state and local level. As I tell my students, the President may make the headlines every day, but he isn’t the one picking up your trash, filling in potholes or setting local speed limits on your streets. Those and a myriad other decisions that affect our daily lives are made at a level of government within our reach, and that is why I want to reach out to more of our neighbors here in Mid-Michigan to encourage them to take part in how those decisions are made.
From time to time, as columns are published and radio broadcasts are made, links the content or postings of the transcripts will be re-published here. As always, your readership is appreciated, as is your active participation in making our world a better place to live.
Dr. Friedman is insightful in showing how the urge to reform a system of politics dominated by that old-timers used to call ‘honest graft’ with one supposedly more democratic has, in fact, produced one that is more money-driven, ideological and less democratic, in the larger meaning of the term. Is it time to reform the reforms of the 1968-1972 era?
The electoral process has strayed from the founders’ vision of the United States as a country with a dispassionate electorate.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 920 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 15 trips to carry that many people.
Long-time Washington Times columnist Rowan Scarborough recently revealed that the terrorist group known by the acronym ‘ISIS’ (or ‘ISIL’) is asking its supporters in the United States to target military service-members and their families. In response, the Pentagon Force Protection Agency’s ‘Security Advisory 14-01’ dated October 24, 2014 recommends a number of countermeasures (see excerpt below) aimed at making uniformed personnel assigned to the Pentagon less visible. The strategy is sensible from the aspect of reducing one’s chances of being identified by a terrorist as a target for a surprise attack. However, hoping not to be noticed is hardly morale-inspiring, and while the United States undertakes offensive action abroad and conducts counter-terrorism operations at home, being told to be less visible in the meantime leaves something to be desired. In a situation where the conflict may last for many years, asking people to volunteer and them to hide their service isn’t particularly likely to send the right message, either to the troops, their families, the American public or our enemies at home and abroad.
During World War II, when the Nazi overlords of occupied Denmark ordered Jews living there to affix the Star of David to their clothing, King Christian X is reported to have worn one himself and to have asked his countrymen to do likewise. Whether strictly true or not, very few of his Jewish subjects lost their lives in Nazi death camps. If Americans chose to display military-themed bumper stickers, clothing, et cetera, they would be undertaking some measure of risk of being targeted in what have been, to date, isolated ‘lone wolf’ attacks. However, would such an action, if carried out en masse, not offer our service-members the protection of blending into a crowd of visible supporters? At the least, it would be visible evidence of our solidarity.
Each of us must weigh the risks and decide what to do (or not do). For myself, I don’t believe in running scared and learned a long time ago that it is better to stand up to a bully than it is to try to hide had hope. I will continue to display military-themed items, such as the blue star in my car window in honor of my son (SSG, USAF). We can learn from history, and we should ponder how we in America will face the prospect of anonymous and often ‘lone-wolf’ attacks in our communities, workplaces and public spaces. How we choose to respond will say much about our character, individually and as a people.
-SFC (ret) Lloyd A. Conway
Excerpt from Security Advisory 14-01:
“Recommended Individual Protective Measures:
• DoD personnel are reminded to use OPSEC at work and at home
• Secure DoD affiliated credentials (CAC/Building passes) when in public
• Remove any DoD/military/law enforcement decals or identifiers from clothing and vehicles
• Vary your travel routes to and from work
• If You See Something, Say Something.
• Maintain situational awareness or avoid public venues where large gatherings of people congregate
• Educate your family members on basic security practices
• Be careful of information shared on social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
• Lock down your social media and change your passwords regularly
• Do not post anything on social media that affiliates you with DoD/the military or law enforcement
• Do not post anything on social media opposing terrorist groups or organizations”
The Saginaw County, Michigan Sheriff was in the news again with a seized vehicle that he has converted to departmental use. While the Honda Element he now drives, like the Lincoln Town Car and Ford Mustang that preceded it was taken from people arrested and convicted of crimes, the vehicle itself was seized without a judge or jury sentencing the defendant(s) to loss of their property after a fair trial as part of the ‘due process’ that the Anglo-American system of jurisprudence mandates. The loss of a car not taken as part of a just sentence imposed on a guilty defendant raises questions – or it should.
The good Sheriff is not alone in generating controversy; the Washington Post reports that a number of police departments – city, county and state – across the country are targeting drivers for stops, searches and seizures of cash – all without there necessarily being an arrest, trial or conviction. The money is seldom returned; a clear violation of the Constitution’s ‘due process‘ clause. While it may be argued that there is statistical evidence that drivers carrying large amounts of cash on certain roads who also share other characteristics (race, sex, age, and little things like having air fresheners in their cars, possibly to hide unlawful drug use) are likely engaged in criminal activity, our system protects the innocent by demanding that the accused get their day in court, that we be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt (the substance of the story told in ’12 Angry Men,’ which some readers may recall from their school days as a staple of civics classes for generations), and that another branch of government than the one doing the arresting – the courts (‘Judicial Branch’) preside over the administration of justice. Combining the power to arrest and to de facto punish (via forfeiture) in one agency is a grave temptation to abuse of power. Indeed, it would be remarkable if letting such combined powers reside in the same individual or agency did not produce abuse. That there is a monetary incentive to do so, and that the private contractor named in the Post story gets a cut of the money seized is enough to establish a strong probability that regular abuse is taking place. (However, those upon whom suspicion of such abuse is cast ought to get their ‘day in court,’ too, and they are guilty of nothing until proven otherwise.)
There will always be the temptation to seize power to do good, in this case, combat suspected drug trafficking. But like Gandalf explains to Frodo in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring,’ taking the Ring of Power might be done with the best of intentions, but the end results will be evil. Sometimes the lessons of the stories of our childhood are forgotten and ought to be revisited when we are older. Such is the case here, whether the lessons in question come from a story or from what we learned in civics class: Power, in the American system, is checked and balanced for a reason, and the efficiency of the government’s exercise of power, for whatever reason, is never an excuse for violating someone’s rights. We forget these lessons at the peril of that liberty our system of government is supposed to safeguard and which is supposed to be the hallmark of our way of life.