Thursday, July 27, 2006

Why We're Reluctqnt to Reprimand Other People's Children

“As a society, we have grown reluctant to reprimand kids, not just our own, but other people’s, too.” I quote from an article in today’s WSJ. In theory, we believe it takes a village to raise a kid. But the village now seems reluctant to say anything about their own kids misbehavior and certainly not about someone else’s little darling. “But the truth is today’s kids often welcome discipline by outsiders even if they roll their eyes.” The article continues “one woman says she was at a Starbucks, and a little girl kept opening sweetener packets and dumping them on the floor. Honey, should you be doing that?” the woman asked the girl. “I beg your pardon!” snapped the girl’s mother. “Don’t call my daughter “honey,” and what she is doing or done, is none of your business.” We have a society that believes more and more that children should never be addressed let alone be reminded of their misbehavior.

Those who read me know that I visit some schools every year in District #150. I have been pleased with what I see at many of the schools like Northmoor, Hines, Whittier, Columbia, Franklin and others. I observe changes both for better or worse, under new School Superintendents, principals and teachers. The first two times I visited Loucks, I was pleased with what I saw only to be disappointed next time. The reason seemed to be a change of principals. I have seen blatant disregard of a teachers authority on many an occasion. Some of the teachers say that they cannot discipline their classroom because if they send those out of control kids to the office, the principal often sends the kid back to the classroom where the same discipline problems continue. Or the next day the teacher gets a call from the parent demanding to know why the teacher is “picking on my kid”. I’m told that teachers who can’t handle the discipline problems by themselves, some in higher authority many times make them feel that the teacher is the problem.(In some cases, that’s true.)A few of the problems are brought on by those in authority who ignore the small stuff and wind up losing respect and the classroom and whole school suffers disruptions that distract from the learning ability of those wanting to learn.

Gurian Institute in Colorado Springs, Colo., is an educational training organization that compiles child-rearing research. They believe that problems such as anorexia, depression and chronic stress in children are exacerbated because kids today often live in communities where nobody but their nuclear families seem to care much about them. In Garrison Keillor’s novel “Wobegon Boy”, Mr. Keillor longs for the era when “you didn’t smart off to elders, and when a lady told you to blow your nose, you blew it.”

Victoria Juster of Long Grove, Illinois, serves on her local school board. One day while following a school bus, she observed misbehavior in the last row of the bus. When the bus stopped, Mrs. Juster asked the driver for permission to address the misbehaviors and did so. Parents of the mis-behaving students demanded that she resign from the school board. Fortunately, a school-district investigation cleared her and she remains on the board. She fondly recalls adults of a different era who felt it a duty to discipline. She recalls that when as a child visiting a friend’s home and when she misbehaved, she was made to sit in a corner. Today, she says, “I’m sure if I put someone’s kid in a corner of my house, the parent would never let her child visit again – or the parent might call their lawyer.”

Here is the “where and why” in at least many public school systems like District #150. Both teachers and school kids are in shrinking supply. The ITF defends teachers good or bad. One year in Illinois, out of 90,000 teachers represented by unions less than 6 teachers were dismissed for poor performance. And two of them filed costly lawsuits ($400,000.00 spent so far in one instance) The Superintendent and the board want every kid to stay in the classroom because lower head count means less government subsidies. Parents often can’t or won’t teach their kids any code of conduct. The kid pushes for all the concessions to his or her misbehavior they can get. They go to school or out in public and do the same thing. Small concessions often lead eventually to truancy, expulsion, drop-outs with hardly any education, then many juvenile court appearances with minor misdemeanors leading into felonies, followed by incarceration and/or death by violence

Disruption uncontrolled at home, public places and in the street, often leads young people down paths of self destruction of themselves and others, young boys impregnating younger girls, children bearing children, neither the father or the mother with much of an education, no family training and no job. As these kids these kids bear more kids they can’t handle, they create another layer of the same pattern growing larger in each generation.

Some of my readers with children now driving may want to call 1-866-5-MY-TEEN for bumper stickers that say “How’s My Teen Driving? and with your phone number on the sticker. Placing this sticker on your car may mortify your child but may save you lots of accident expense and maybe save some lives.

Kids pretend they are not looking for adult guidance including meaningful discipline. Don’t believe them; they are. As the father of three adults who were once kids, I know. Some have to stop being such sheltering parents and stop being just “buddies” with your kids. You are the adults who should know that kids are watching what you do and testing your tolerances. Many of us are failing or have failed. Fortunately, for this community and country there are far more successes in raising children than there are failures. But growing problems of community safety suggest that there are too many failures.

If you have access to the Wall Street Journal 7/27/06, I suggest reading the whole article from which much of the content of this blog was gathered.

Pleases do not be afraid to speak up or take lawful action when you observe behavior that could some day cause you or your family much personal harm and agony.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Breakdown of Codes of Conduct

In an earlier blog I wrote that when I was a “kid” riding in a wagon hauling shelled corn to the town elevator, I tossed a handful of shelled corn in the air just as it happened a car was passing. My dad was driving the tractor pulling the wagon I was riding in. To my surprise and terror, the driver of the car stopped my dad and told him what I had done. Dad said nothing except ask if I did it which I admitted. When we got back home, my dad wisely and justly changed my attitude towards misbehavior of that type with his razor strap. I’ve made many other stupid mistakes but I never made that mistake again. I treasure this razor strap as one of many unforgettable legacies passed on to me by my dad. Most of my age peers agree that we were fortunate to grow up in an era of which there were codes of conduct in almost every family and in the community as a whole.

When I became a head coach in the public school system, I had a written policy or code of conduct for my athletes and would be athletes. Each kid had to take this policy home and return it signed by someone that was responsible for him. Back then it was always parents. One part of the code was each athletic team participant agreed to no smoking or drinking during the season of the sport being played. To my ignorance, I did not know that some in the community were already using other drugs. The code was simple and all participants agreed to abide by this code of conduct. Anyone, star player or board members son, was dismissed for the season if caught smoking or drinking. In my first year at Heyworth, we looked forward to a great season with some experienced players. Unfortunately, one football player who played on the basketball team the year before I was hired to replace the football coach who also subbed as the basketball coach, did not come out for the team because he preferred to smoke and drink. That was his option. Also, my tallest player was dismissed without comment when I walked into the Heyworth American Legion one night and found this young man with liquor in one hand and a cigarette in the other. We exchanged greetings and Monday the player did not return for practice. Kids have their own priorities, all adults can do is offer guidance.

I was hired to get the best out of my players and win if we were capable. Despite starting out at 2 and 5 and absent two known smokers and drinkers, we ended the season at 17 wins and 9 losses. The community supported me with no question. Today, I would probably be fired my most schools who “look the other way” if their players use drink, smoke or use drugs.

It was with further dismay when I read that a Bradley basketball player caught with an illegal substance and disciplined by the NCAA is being strongly defended by Bradley University and the basketball head coach. What a shame. The President of Bradley University should be embarrassed but evidently isn’t because winning at all costs and by any means is now standard procedures for most university presidents, their board of trustees, the athletic director and coaches.

I agree that all people should be given second chances. In the case of athletes who agree to a code of conduct, they get a second chance next season. If a senior, they move on to the next step in their life. There will be many written and unwritten codes of conduct and they will get as many second chances as those in charge will permit.

We have for many years moved toward becoming a sometimes pathetic society. Permissiveness is standard operating procedure. Discipline is disregarded and often administered against the wrong participant. In the case of Bradley, the second string player is looked at by the University as a victim and now the Coach and Bradley Administration defends him because he broke the law. Now the NCAA has to defend their policies. Didn’t Coach Jim Les have a code of conduct that the players agreed to before they were given their scholarships?

All types of excuses are made to defend wrongdoers including the wrongs committed against young children by a permissive society. No one can be rightfully dismissed temporarily from some sectors of society without contributors or taxpayers paying for the legal actions. Defense attorneys are among the happiest well to do people in the United States. Cheaters abound like the ones who were involved in backdating their stock options so that they or their colleagues could make a bigger profit at the expense of their unsuspecting stockholders. The WSJ says these well paid attorneys representing these wealthy cheaters applaud and advertise for the extra lucrative business.

Some kids at almost any young age, kill, bully and beat up others, pitch objects at moving vehicles, steal and terrorize and are sometimes described by the JS and others as “these are just kids, what do you expect”? I have blogged before that I am a proponent of the “broken window” theory. Our jails and prisons are filled with many second chance young people who, when their entire records can be exposed, show that they had too many “second” chances. We should all know by now that our kids are constantly testing as too what society considers right or wrong or what they can get away with, to formulate their own lives. Our permissive society that appears to be heading for socialism and pacifism has created a situation where the disarray of many of our classrooms, neighborhoods and streets are in control of those who had too many “second chances”.

As one lady emailed me “As always, a man that has the courage to stand up and be counted.” My thanks to her and others for giving me the courage to write, speak and act hoping to make this community a better place to live.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Management Salaries in the Public Sector

I’ve have one critic who says you can’t run government like an efficient business. I disagree. An efficient business would not give a manager a 33% salary increase without giving this employee a formal performance evaluation. Nor would they award a five year contract based on past performance without putting in the contract performance improvements in the future. Monetary bonuses generally award past performance.

Most efficient businesses wouldn’t pay their managers based on what their competitors were paying their managers without knowing that they were making similar comparisons. They also would pay what they could afford to pay.

In this month’s issue of this Nations County News, the Classified Job Market lists the following administrative job openings:

A Parks and Recreation Department Director, Brevard County, Fl. Salary: $77,407 - $124,203 DOQ/DOE

A partial description of the job states that “The director manages a professional and administrative staff consisting of 458 permanent employees. The director manages a budget of $198,596,000 that includes operations, maintenance, land acquisition and capital construction.”

By comparison, Peoria Park District pays their administrator $130,000 plus. By further comparison, the administrator at PPD has a budget of $48,800,000 with approximately 150 permanent employees. Would you say the Peoria Park District is in line with Brevard County, Florida who has three times as many employees and four times the size of PPD’s budget?

It also lists County Administrator positions from $60,000 - $90, 000 in Wakulla County, Fl. and Orange County, North Carolina from $100,000 to $160,000.

I hope that the Peoria County Board and future boards realize that if salaries and benefits are based on the published job market offerings comparisons instead of affordability, job descriptions, benefits and performance, we perhaps should be paying our county administrator $160,000 or more. Money is always a factor in employee retention but it is only one of many criteria that an employee must evaluate before changing jobs and communities.

Yes, we can run our public bodies more like an efficient business in many ways. Efficient businesses do not and can not raise taxes when they spend more than they take in. Neither can they raise selling prices if the cost of their merchandise is more than the market will bear. They also have a payroll and benefits they must fund. Inefficient business go out of business, inefficient government creates more bureaucracies and raises taxes.

My experience with our administrator, Patrick Urich is that he accepts my business experience. I respect his efforts to get this county into a fiscally responsible position and I look forward to working with him on making Peoria County more effective and efficient for the next 4 1/2 years. I believe I was elected to use my experience to help make the Peoria County Board more fiscally responsible to the whole community and to make decisions based on facts as known.

However, by giving our County Administrator a guaranteed salary for the next five years, I believe the County Board has put him in a position to bargain more favorably with another county when and if he decides to move on. My recommendation was to boost him to $115,000 this year with a review and possible further raise for 2007. It was a majority decision of the board to stay with the $130,000. I hope it was the right decision and he is still aboard in 2011.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Pimiteoui Trail

With the permission of writer DeWayne Bartels I reprint a story he wrote and published recently. His story reads as follows:

Joshua Henry was in pursuit of adventure when he left home Jan. 7. The four-year-old found it, but now where he expected. Joshua and his father Todd left their home near Dunlap that warm Saturday headed to Peoria Heights Tower Park. Joshua wanted to ride the elevator to the top of the tower for a view. With the elevator closed, Todd headed to Grandview Drive to let the boy have a look around. It was there in the first turnabout on Grandview Drive the pair found their key to adventure.

A trail waits. The pair was completely unaware of the Pimiteoui Trail until they saw the sign near it. Quickly realizing it led into the woods they were looking over from Grandview Drive the pair headed in “Joshua saw the trail and said, ‘Lets follow it,” Todd said. The pair found themselves heading down a valley populated with tall bare trees and many fallen ones. They had to step carefully because the ground was muddy on the steep downward slope. On the valley floor they walked on a carpet of leaves.

The sun was at their back casting strange shadows in the incredibly quiet confines. Bluffs arose on both sides of them. It was all new to both but it evoked good memories for Todd. “When I was a kid I was in the woods all the time,” Todd said. I grew up in Mt. Zion. Il. My friends and I were in the woods as kids until the street lights came on.”

As they crossed a wooden bridge over a dry creek bed Joshua looked up into the trees that dwarfed him. Joshua was looking for something. “I’m looking for woodpeckers,” he said. His eyes widened, full of wonder, as he described having seen a Downy Woodpecker earlier. “He was pecking,” Joshua said, nodding his head, “He had red and white on him.” Todd smiled as his boy talked quickly about how much he liked the trail. “It’s beautiful here.” Todd said. “We’ll definitely be back.”

Mission accomplished. Mike Miller, chief naturalist for the PPD, chuckled as he heard the story about the Henry’s. Their story is typical. A lot of people go to Grandview to look at the view but they don’t get out of their car to look around, so they miss the trail,” Miller said. “Many of the people, who do find it, find it by accident. We find that when people do discover it though they’re frequent visitors.” Miller said the 1 ¼ mile trail one way is a favorite of his. It is Part of the Forest Park Nature Center trail network, but it’s entrance from Grandview Drive or across the street from the nature center if not nearly as well known as the trails behind the nature center. And even for those who are familiar with the trail hiking it in January is uncommon. But, Jan. 7, with temperatures jumping into the 50’s, beckoned people to the trail. “The nice thing about the (Pimiteoui) trail is that there is enough room for people to spread out and seldom cross path’s,” Miller said. “People get the idea it’s their private retreat because there is such solitude there, that’s good. That means people are taking ownership of the trail.” On warm winter days the trail is a treat, Miller said. The demeanor of the trail and its surroundings are different, much more stark in winter. On the ascent to the summit of the trail with less tall prairie grass, huge boulders left by a glacier that retreated from this area 10,000 years ago are visible. If one keeps a sharp eye there is even a boulder to be seen protruding from the bottom of a large tree that grew over the boulder.

The crowning aspect of the trail, according to Miller is the summit of the trail that rises between the two valleys. In the winter with the sun lower in the southern sky at the summit one can look into the valley to the south and find it well-lit, inviting looking. But, a turn of the head looking into the northern valley with less sunlight reveals a foreboding atmosphere.

Miller said one of the “neat” things about the trail is that it offers one a look at several different native habitats dating back eons. He also likes the fact that this section of Mother Nature’s handiwork is not static. “There’s a dramatic difference in the trail in summer and winter. The more you expose yourself to the trail the more you notice the differences even between a cloudy and a sunny day,” Miller said. “This place is different every day.”

But one thing is the same as it was ages ago- the prairie found at the trail’s summit. When the trail was opened in the early 80’s the architects of the trail had little to go on in terms of restoring the area to its original state. However, Miller said some clues emerged by listening to the woods. They found trades of native prairie grasses on the south slope of the summit. Those plants could only grow with a lot of sunlight. The young trees that were growing there were cleared out and the plants came back. Then a few years ago a postcard, dating back to the 1900’s showing the area from Grandview Drive showed the area as a prairie. “Those species of plants are there now are hard to find in wooded area’s,” Miller said. The plants and the trail, Miller added, provides a trip back in time.

“It’s a walk through all the different habitats that have existed there for a long time,” Miller said. “When you look at those plants on the summit you’re looking at our sequoias. Those things date back to the Paleo-Indians who hunted mammoths here 10,000 years ago…We are extremely lucky to have this.”

Because of this article I finally found and walked the Pimiteoui Trail. It was early summer and the walk was made in pure solitude and quietness. I suggest if you are older like myself, you might walk halfway and then walk back. Drive around to the other side and repeat as it is a 2 ½ mile round trip. Next time I’ll walk it on a pleasant winter day.

DeWayne, great article and the Peoria Park District and the community is fortunate to have Mike Miller, a true naturalist.

Peoria City/County Landfill

Most all of you know that the organic waste generated in the Peoria area is deposited in it’s original form in the City/County Landfill out near Edwards. This facility is operated and managed by Waste Management and has no connection between the Peoria Disposal Corporation operated by the local Royal Coulter family. Many years ago a contract was signed with a company out of the Chicago area called RTC to “mine” the methane gas generated by this facility and sell the gas locally.. All went well until RTC filed for bankruptcy a number of years ago. Since then the mining operation is badly broken and methane gas is escaping into the air. The City/County has ordered and will install a large flare to burn off this escaping gas. We are not permitted by the bankruptcy court to correct the problem until the bankruptcies involving many other landfills where RTC had contracted for mining rights is resolved.

Much litigation has been created by this mess and much of the cost will be borne by local taxpayers. Why bankruptcy courts allow situations like this to drag on for many years is beyond my scope of common sense. As a representative of Peoria County serving on the Landfill Committee I see first hand some of the flaws of our legal system.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a phone call from an IEPA executive stating that a “friendly” lawsuit is in the process of being filed against the City/County for violations to the environment occurring at this facility. It is the hope of those directly involved that this lawsuit is indeed friendly and will cause the bankruptcy courts to take action to allow the committee the right to enter into an agreement with another entity to take over the mining and selling of this methane gas and allow the City/County to realize an income from this operation as we have in the past. The past couple of years this situation has become an increasingly large time consuming and financial strain upon the committee and our attorneys.

It has been suggested by our county attorney that a new contract with a new operator could perhaps be better written to give us more rights in case of another financial failure.

Keep you posted.

PDC Application Rejection Appeal

The Peoria County Board has been informed by the States Attorney Office that probably all of the “no” voters will be required to give depositions by the attorneys representing PDC. Don’t expect to hear much in the news before the end of the year as almost a million documents are involved in this litigation. For more information on the original hearing and results go back to my April blogs (12) and scroll on my sidebar. Most interesting of these blogs are the testimony of Dr. Zwicky who claimed to represent 750 doctors and the correspondence between one of the leader of the opposition, Tom Edwards, and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Also read the sworn testimony of Dr. David Daniel, former Dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois and now President of Texas University whose testimony in my opinion was the most “expert”. Or visit for the over 2200 pages of testimony including the approximately 500 letters of support for this application including The Peoria Civic Federation, the Greater Peoria Chamber of Commerce, the Heartland Partnership and the Economic Development Council .

As the appeal progresses I will keep you updated on this site.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Peoria County Board Salaries

On 5/07/04 the Journal Star Editorial Board blasted the Peoria County Board with the headline “County Board Salary Increases Ill-Timed and Too High”. Now here it is July 9, 2006 and County Board members pay is only $200 a year higher than County Board pay in 1983. (Figures taken from a document filed at the County Court House signed by County Board Chairman E. Eugene Johnson along with eight other board members and Ad Hoc Compensation Committee Chairman Barton C. Rochman.) Over 23 years with a raise from $5200 a year to $5400 a year; this is what board members make today. In my position, that’s it, because I have neither pension nor insurance paid for by the taxpayer. No expenses paid to any board member unless you are required to attend an event or required to go out of town.

In small print, the JSEB 2004 article says that the “pay raise does not go into effect until December 2006”. An accompanying article by a JS writer plus a “letter to the editors” from members of the AFSCME stated that the union is “offended”. Scare headlines to the unsuspecting citizens are typical of too many of the media and some of our union representatives. Offended, where is the beef?? How many in the private sector get 33 paid days off after 2 years of employment? (11 holidays, 10 vacations days, 10 sick leave days, mostly used or compensated for later, and 2 or is it 3; personal days.) And a guaranteed pay raise every year? According to published information, less than 30% of private sector employees have a company partially funded pension plan and most companies do not give you 33 days of paid time off after two years of service.

Yes, County Board members who win their elections and those with another two years to serve will get a pay raise effective after the November election. I believe it is taxpayer money well spent. Some of the candidates now running for the board may state that they were just spectators during the landfill application hearings, the racetrack hearings, the adult use hearings, the new sub-division ordnance hearings and the new building code ordnances studies. They could say they never voted to give themselves a raise. Those coming off the board will have not received one dime of what the union and the media accused the board of voting themselves back in 2004. People like me who spend countless hours studying and sorting out fact from fiction earned more than we will ever get paid. Many thinking people I talk to said they would not like to be on the board when hard decisions have to be made.

It will always be a problem to get the best people to run for public office because the attacks by the media are difficult for family and friends to endure. One past prominent member of this community was said by his family to have taken his own life because of relentless attacks on him by the Journal Star. Some medias wait for someone who has a good reputation but who they personally dislike, to make what they conceive to be a major mistake. Then they pounce like the vultures many of them are, often with just enough half truths to persuade the reader of the unworthiness of their victim.

People struggle to make hard decisions especially when they are prone to attacks from and in the media. Reporting the facts without embellishing the story with half-truths most of believe is the job of the media. Sometimes board members may make the wrong decision because it is the “popular” decision, thereby, they believe, escaping criticism.

As I review my extensive files, I wonder why any sane person who has built a good reputation would ever want to stand for public office and be crucified by some media people who couldn’t hold a job in a competitive marketplace. But, occasionally I get a much appreciated letter, e-mail or phone call or a greeting on the street that makes it all worthwhile. I received an email recently from a person I may have met but don’t believe I know. The email simply stated; Mr. Widmer, As always a man that has the courage to stand up and be counted. Good Job!

These small acts of kindness and acknowledgements make all the wear and tear and public abuse worthwhile. And yes, I do plan to be on the Peoria County Board on January 1, 2007.

Thanks again to those of you who know me and support my efforts. You can remind me that the PPD and #150 boards don’t get any pay but pay attention to what is going on in the community. You might find some good arguments to pay board members responsible for running budgets from $50 million to $150 million.

Patrick Urich, Peoria County Administrator

On Thursday July 13, the Peoria County Board will vote to increase the salary of our Administrator, Patrick Urich, to $130,000.00 yearly for five years effective Jan. 1, 2006. While Mr. Urich’s salary is set at the discretion of the full board, the recommended raise came from the Management Services Committee headed by Mike Phelan. The contract was unanimously approved in Executive session on July 22. I suspect that the full board vote will be close to if not unanimous in accepting the Executive Committees recommendations.

Since Mr. Urich has theoretically been working without a contract since Jan. 1 and has not been negotiating a new contract, unlike some unions representing county employees who were working also without a contract but had been made offers they refused, the Executive Committee will recommend the contract be backdated to Jan. 1, 2006.

While I agree that comparatively Mr. Urich is a steal at $98,000 he is paid now, I would have preferred to have given him more incremental raises than a one time boost thru 2010. (Bonnie Noble, PPD, was boosted from $126,300.00 in 2004 to $130,600.00 in 2005 and Herschel Hannah and Cynthia Fischer Associate Administrators at Peoria School District #150 were boosted from the high nimieties to $130,000 recently. Some part timers in administration make as much as $218.00 per half day at #150.)

With the board’s guidance and Mr. Urich’s ability, Peoria County has made significant progress since 2001. It is the Executive Committees reasoning that we would be better off paying Mr. Urich close to “market price” than to lose him and start a search for someone as talented, experienced and hard working for perhaps a possibly lower salary.

It is my belief that Mr. Urich and his family enjoy working and living in Peoria, I believe the county and community will be fortunate to retain him at least thru 2010.

Recently, I was quoted in a local newspaper that mounting benefits granted employees in the public sector will haunt future generations. I also stated that it is difficult to run government like an efficient private entity. Mr. Urich and present and future boards will be under greater pressure to keep Peoria County fiscally responsible. If we are to pay public employees larger salaries, benefits and pensions, these public servants must generate greater efficiency and productivity. It is the board’s responsibility to carefully guide and then evaluate the performance of the one administrator reporting directly to them. It is not in the public’s interest to build more bureaucracy into our existing systems.

With the voters help, I will continue to work with and give my business experience guidance to Mr. Urich and the board over the next few years.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Need Your help

When I receive an unidentified email, I do not open it due to the volume of attempts being made to infect my computer. If I have not returned your emails and you are a friend or friendly acquaintance, I suggest you call me so I can get you on my safe list. Some of you send me emails with attachments that I cannot open up because my computer asks for more information as to source of the attachment and if I can’t identify, my computer blocks the message. Or send me an email explaining how to open the document after identifying yourself. To Jim Irwin, I have not been able to reach you at your site. Nicholas and Jim E., I often can’t open your attachments. Mary Alice, my screen often times says you have signed in but I can find no message.

I do return all emails I can identify. Keep writing.