Thursday, January 31, 2008

The American Economy is Screwed

How George Bush has destroyed the US dollar

Are there any amongst our Weber County Forum readers who believe the US economy is in more dire straights than the media has told us about? Has anyone noticed that the Fed lowered interest rates a record 1.25 points within the past month, thus ultimately further flaming US inflation? Has anyone here noticed that inflation is already running amuk in America, especially for those who've been buying gasoline and groceries lately?

We have a great article that's been floating around stock investor circles on the web for the past few days.

Your blogmeister decided to post it here, after it finally cropped up in one of his most favorite, conservative and reliable investment newsletters (the Russell Report) a couple of days ago:

How Bush Destroyed the Dollar -- The Profile of a Third World Country

Read it and weep, people.

Comments, anyone?

Yet Another Nod to Rep. Neil Hansen

HB114 stalls in House committee

By Curmudgeon

Yet another nod to Rep. Neil Hansen {D-Ogden). He's introduced a bill in the legislature to "to give annual cost of living increases to the state's lowest-paid workers - those making minimum wage.... Rep. Ben Ferry, R-Corinne, asked Hansen why he wanted to separate Utah from the federal system. "Several states have different minimum wages higher than the federal standard," Hansen replied. "In fairness to those making minimum wage - some are trying to provide for families - and inflation rises but the minimum wage does not."

Of course, in the Republican-controlled House Business and Labor Committee, Hansen's bill didn't have a chance. The Majority members took enough time away from attending Jazz games on free tickets provided by lobbiests, and from stuffing their craws at up-scale eateries, with businesses groups picking up the tab, to kill Hansen's bill in committee. What a surprise. Next time the boys are off on a golfing trip paid for by business lobbyists, they can all discuss how awful it is that those making minimum wage expect handouts like cost of living adjustments. Buncha damn commies, clearly. However, when the legislators consider yet another legislative pay raise, as they will, we will hear from them about how the cost of living keeps going up, so they need a boost in pay. The committee adjourned without acting on it, only two members objecting.

Good on Hansen, yet again. Tilting at windmills in the right-wing-nut dominated Republican Utah House, of course, but its worth making the effort and exposing their hypocrisies.

The story is in today's Salt Lake Trib.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

House Bill Would Allow One Favored Water Company to Ignore the Law

All income producing companies in Utah are "special;" -- Some however are of course more special than others

By: Gentle Curmudgeon

Ah, Utah...

A House committee has just approved a bill that would permit private companies to decide whether or not they will obey county-wide ordinances. From the Standard-Examiner's Mid-day Update:

Bill would help private company avoid flouride

HOLLADAY -- A House committee approved a bill that would let shareholders of a private company decide whether to comply with a local law that requires flouride in drinking water.

Salt Lake County voters approved a referendum in 2000 requiring flouride. But Holliday Water Co., a private company that serves 15,000 people, has declined to comply.

The Salt Lake Valley Health Department spoke against the bill, which was approved, 5-4, Tuesday. Officials see flouride as a matter of oral heath.

The county and Holliday Water are locked in litigation over the flouride issue.
Once again, the Republican majority's "the people be damned" philosophy comes to the fore. Wonder how many of them are investors in, or have enjoyed Jazz games and meals courtesy of, the Holliday Water Co.?

The Standard-Examiner Plays Catch-up

Our hometown newspaper's new motto: The news -- better late than never

The Standard-Examiner is johnny-on-the-spot this morning, with an Ace Reporter Schwebke article describing Adam Aircraft's stockholder warning letter, a story we broke here on Weber County Forum two days ago.

Rather than suffer the indignity of acknowledging lowly WCF as his source, however, Mr. Schwebke dredged up this Wichita Eagle article from January 22, 2008 instead.

Alas, the Std-Ex continues to pretend WCF doesn't even exist -- except on those rare occasions when our home town newspaper slings mud. Doesn't the Std-Ex realize that WCF truly wants to be its best buddy?

We don't mind being ignored, however. It's OK if we remain the Mr. Schwebke's secret behind the scenes scource. The important thing is that the Std-Ex has now informed its general readership that Adam Aircraft's financial circumstances are considerably more dire than the Std-Ex originally reported.

Adam Aircraft's next drop dead date? Tomorrow, the Std-Ex reports.

All kidding aside, our favorite Ace Reporter did some additional sleuthing on this story. We were relieved to learn, for instance, that the State of Utah has not yet advanced any money to the Adams Aircraft venture. And while we were not at all surprised that Emerald City Economic Development Department Head Honcho Dave Harmer remains entirely unflustered by the latest Adams Aircraft developments, we do wish Mr. Schwebke had found out what Mr. Harmer has been smoking, and told us how we can get our hands of some of that too.

All in all a well written story. We recommend that our readers give it a read.

Update 1/30/08 12:55 p.m. MT: Subsequent googling has revealed an article which seems to put a finger on Adam Aircraft's current problem. According to the online journal Jets' RU, the end of month deadline stems from the demands of senior lenders, who've demanded full payment of $30.5 million in loans by January 31. It seems obvious to us that Adam probably has some "wiggle room" time-wise, unless the debt instruments provide for immediate surrender of Adam's assets in the event of default. Time will tell, we suppose.

And to all of those who've accused Emerald City officials of failing to do due diligence with respect to this financially pressed aircraft manufacturer, the article supplies this interesting paragraph:

On Jan. 18, three days after Wolf sent a letter to company shareholders, Headline Industry News reported that Adam laid off more than a third of its workforce. Nine days earlier on Jan. 9, the company said it was focusing its resources on its VLJ, to obtain type certification. The company insisted it was on "target for certification of the A700 in 2008." The company never let on how dismal its financial situation was.
In all fairness, it's tough to properly vet a company when they're playing it so close to the vest.

Comments, anyone?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The House Votes to Ban Ticket Quotas

Next stop: The State Senate

We're pleased to report this morning that Representative Neil Hansen's anti-ticket quota bill (H.B. 264) cleared the House yesterday, in which connection we incorporate the lead paragraphs from this morning's Standard-Examiner story :

SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Neil Hansen’s ticket quota bill squeaked through a vote on the House floor Monday.

Representatives voted 36-31 with five absent for House Bill 264, sponsored by Hansen, D-Ogden. The bill, which prohibits law enforcement agencies from mandating ticket quotas, now goes to the Senate for further consideration.
Although it was indeed a relatively tight vote, it wasn't quite as close as the Std-Ex reports. The state legislature's website reports the vote was actually 39-31; and Rep. Hansen informed us this morning that the latter number is correct. We won't quibble over the Std-Ex's mal-reporting of the actual vote count however. A win is a win; and the important thing now is that the bill is now headed for the Senate.

We are also informed that the bill will be sponsored in the Senate by GOP Senator Howard Stephenson. Unlike last year, we anticipate this bill will receive bipartisan support during this legislative session; and with a warhorse Republican like Sen. Stephenson carrying this legislation, we believe we can expect a far more favorable result than last year, when the 2007 version of the bill was unceremoniously killed in committee.

We once again congratulate Rep. Hansen for his heretofore success and tenacity; and we further extend our best wishes for a similar favorable result in the Senate.

We also provide a link to the Utah Senate roster, for the convenience of those readers who would like to actively lobby their own Utah state senator, to urge the prompt passage of this citizen-friendly and long overdue legislation.

Monday, January 28, 2008

We're a Couple of Shaky Deals From Liquidation, Adam Aircraft Warns Its Stockholders

Boss Godfrey's Adam Aircraft puts out the tin cup to avoid liquidation

Cash flow crippled Adam Aircraft gives the bad news to its shareholders: "We're two deals away from liquidation," and Adam Aircraft investors might not get their investments back.

We hope Boss Godfrey and his cadre of empty suits can reassure the lumpencitizens about this.

For the time being, we of Emerald City and the State of Utah, who have pledged millions in monies to Adam Aircraft, for the construction of Adam Aircraft's possibly to be abandoned custom-designed manufacturing facility are, well...

Keeping our fingers crossed, shall we say...

Life in the People's Republic of Utah

Local lessons in Stalinist economics

By Curmudgeon

From Paul Rolly's column in today's SL Trib:

The Utah way: Wasatch Beers has just unleashed its new brew, "The Devastator," an 8 percent "Double Bock" beer "that will make Utah proud," according to the brewery.
But before Wasatch can sell the beer to its brew-pub customers, it must first sell the brew to the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, haul the beer over to the state warehouse, where it will be stored at warmer temperatures, and then buy it back from the state at an 85 percent markup.
I'm going to remember that the next time I hear Comrade Huntsman or Comrade Curtis or Comrade Bramble intone on about how the market works, and is the best possible regulator of supply and demand and price, and how we need to keep government from interfering with sound market mechanisms.

The Salt Lake Tribune Endorses Traffic Citation Quotas

The SLTRib jumps aboard the evil status quo bandwagon

With State Representative Hansen's anti-ticket quota bill barrelling through the legislature, we knew it was inevitable that we'd hear from somebody in the print media, parroting the talking points of the evil pro-ticket quota faction, and arguing for preservation of the status quo. That's exactly the editorial that we got this morning from -- of all newspapers -- The Salt Lake Tribune. We'll skip the lead paragraphs and cut to the chief arguments, reeling them off one by one, offering our own brief rebuttal as we move along:

1) The "deterrence argument." "Last year, 285 motorists died on Utah streets and highways, according to the Utah Department of Transportation. Can you guess what the leading cause of highway fatalities was? That's right, speeding. At least 72 deaths were attributed to speeding last year, 23 more than in 2006. And traffic citations are a proven deterrent to driving at unsafe speeds."

We've heard the "intuitive" deterrence argument before; but have never heard any proponent back it up with sound evidentiary facts. It's our perception however that there exists very little actual legitimate research data on the subject, and that what data does exist argues against the proposition that traffic citations are a proven deterrent to driving at unsafe speeds.

In that connection we link this 2007 study from the State of Maryland, following the behavior of 3,739,951 Maryland licensed drivers over a period of a year. The study reached the counter-intuitive conclusion that "drivers who receive speeding citations are at increased risk of receiving subsequent speeding citations, suggesting that speeding citations have limited effects on deterrence in the context of the current traffic enforcement system."

While we don't assert that this Maryland study is necessarily dispositive of the issue, we believe it illustrates that the unsupported notion that traffic citations by themselves are a significant deterrence to unsafe driving is highly suspect.

And if there exist other studies which support the ticket quota proponents' propoposition, we believe the burden is upon the proponents to produce their data.

2) The "management argument." "And why shouldn't a manager, whether it's a newspaper editor or a factory supervisor or a chief of police, require a certain level of production from an employee? A quota, especially when traffic patrols are conducted in danger zones, assures that officers are earning their pay, and the public is being protected. "

We submit that law enforcement agency management already has a broad array of criteria available to monitor and manage personnel, without imposing fixed quotas upon police officers. A few of these are set forth in Ogden City's own performance evaluation criteria, of which ticket quotas comprise only one factor. These same measurement criteria are likewise available to all law enforcement agencies in Utah. Enough is enough, we say.

As the SL Trib editors suggest in their lead paragraphs, ticket quotas are repugnant to motorists, traffic officers and virtually everyone but the city treasurer. To deprive law enforcement management of this single management "tool" would in practice deprive county sheriffs and police chiefs of very little, and would greatly reduce the public perception, we believe, that the system is rigged to shake down Utah drivers for government revenue.

3) The "local control" argument. "It's also a bit ironic that the Legislature, which rails against federal mandates on states, would try to tell local officials and law enforcement leaders how to run their affairs. Not to mention hypocritical. Lawmakers don't want police supervisors telling officers how to do their jobs, so they propose a law that, in effect, is telling police supervisors how to do their jobs."

This is the craziest argument of all, in our opinion. As part of our state government system of "checks and balances," it's the job of the legislature to curb excesses in local government. When local governments apply state law in a manner contrary to fundamental notions of fairness and equity, as in the case of ticket quotas, it's necessary and proper for the state legislature to intervene and set things right. The banishment of ticket quotas by the state legislature would not be the equivalent of acts of the federal government to alter state laws and policies with superceding law and unfunded mandates. It's an analogy that doesn't simply fit the facts, and an illustration of the desperation of local governments who are threatened with loss of their very lucrative "cash cow."

Representative Hansen has an interesting take on this argument too: By banning ticket quotas, and returning discretion to the "cop on the street," the legislature will have achieved the ultimate in "local control." Our sworn police officers are charged with the ultimate in discretion every day they start their shifts. They have the discretion to make life and death decisions. Surely they ought to have the ultimate discretion whether to ticket a little old lady, who accidentally did a "California stop."

And if that's not enough to get you all riled up, check this out: Traffic Tickets Are Big Business... or this.

And what say our ever-thoughtful gentle readers?

Isn't it time that Utah joined the ranks of the dozen or so other enlightened states in the US of A, and banished ticket quotas once and for all?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

What Stinkin' Ethics?

Sunday morning musings on a seeming oxymoron: ethics and morality in politics

By Ozboy

There are two articles in this morning's SL Tribune that deal with ethics and morality - or the lack thereof - in our less than esteemed State Legislature.

The first is about a scam centered on Charter Schools and the legislator/hustlers that are raking in big bucks at the tax payers expense. See it here: GOP scammers

And another great Rebecca Walsh piece on ethics, or lack thereof, in our Legislature. Check it out here:

What stinking ethics?

My favorite quote from the Walsh piece comes from our state's leading Democrat - Dimitrich - who for all the world comes across as a Utah Republican. When asked about his own $7,000 take of swag from favor seekers, good old - I never saw a bribe I didn't like Mike - says:

"I guess ethics belongs to the individual."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Best Utah County Story Ever

Former sanitizer of rental movies is accused of paying teens for sex

From this morning's Salt Lake Tribune:

Daniel D. Thompson's business catered to Utah residents offended by something as racy as a PG-13 movie. Now the former film sanitizer is accused of a crime by Orem police that is far more salacious than any date movie.

Thompson, 31, and Isaac R. Lifferth, 24, were arrested in Orem this week on suspicion of having sex with two 14-year-old girls. Orem police say the teenagers wanted to earn money to move out of their homes and offered sexual favors to men. [...]

Thompson formerly operated Clean Flix - a business in Orem that edited feature films to remove or alter conduct deemed inappropriate for children or discriminating movie-goers. The store closed in December after threats of legal action from Hollywood studios.
We swear noboby could make up a story like this. Truth once again proves itself stranger than fiction.

We'll leave it to our gentle readers to explain the meaning of all this... if any.

Comments, anyone?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Out of the Pool, Grandma

One Utah Blogger examines Rep. Craig Frank's HB-76

By Curmudgeon

Very interesting post over on Voice of Utah blog regarding a pending bill that would ban the state or its cities from providing any services that could be provided by a private company instead. The example VOU uses is closing down municipal senior centers aerobics and exercise classes for seniors because Gold's Gym could offer geriatric exercise classes to its members, even though it doesn't. Here's the opening graph:

You know that County rec facility or senior center where your Grandpa goes to keep his reflexes -- you know, like his driving skills -- sharp? Well, kiss that goodbye if Rep. Craig Frank gets his way. Gramps will have to drive down to a Gold's Gym somewhere and enjoy the shriek of bad '80s music with people half his age if he wants to try to stay healthy. So what if the Gold's doesn't offer senior-only classes? That's a small price to pay to insulate private businesses from competition, apparently.
Bye bye Mt. Ogden Golf Course. Bye bye Marshall White Community Center [all of whose services could be provided by private businesses, even though they aren't].

The whole piece is well worth a read.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What in the world has happened in Utah?

A plea to put a cattle-prod to Boss Godfrey

By Curmudgeon

What in this world has happened to Utah? The Salt Lake Tribune reports that a Utah Congressman today told the Utah legislature "to prepare for less oil flowing to the country." And he told the legislators "now is the time to apply for federal transit money -- before a critical mass of other states begins lining up to seek the funds.... "The competition is going to get more intense..." he said. "Utah is trying to accelerate its transit plan, and I would submit to you that now is the time to accelerate that process before a lot of people get in line."

And he spoke to the legislators about the sorry state of Utah's health care, and the need to muster state legislators and governors to overcome presidential vetoes to fix things:

Utah is 49th in per-capita health care coverage for its children [he said]. President Bush vetoed a bill that would expand coverage for children's health care, and the House was unable to muster the votes to override the veto.... "Lots of states are looking at different ways to approach the issue..." [and] "What it's going to take is governors of both parties coming back to Washington, saying 'We're ready...."

A congressman from Utah told the Utah legislature all that? Sacre blue! What is happening? Of course, the Congressman was Utah's only Democratic Congressman. But still.

The story can be found here. Will someone please send his or her comments on transit funds to the Mayor (Godfrey), who's blocking of Ogden's application for trolley or bus rapid transit funds is now beginning its third year, all to preserve his gondola dreams?

Hurry Up and Wait

The rush is on; oh waitaminute, now it's not

By Monotreme

Today's Standard-Examiner brings news that Ernest Health is delaying their purchase of Ogden River Project property.

The story is sourced, of course, to Emerald City Economic Development Department Director Dave Harmer, one of three people that Scott Schwebke has on his speed-dial.

Ernest Health claims to know nothing of it, and the incurious Mr. Schwebke merely repeats what Harmer has told him, without any independent source or confirmation of the information.

But the story is not completely useless! It gives Mr. Harmer, through his mouthpiece Mr. Schwebke, the opportunity to repeat the now-tired meme that a previous City Council "aggressively questioned" Ernest Health officials. I guess "due diligence" has little meaning for this administration.

The other thing that caught my eye was that the purchase of the property has now been discussed for two years, and the clock is still running.

Our blogmaster, or somebody else, may be able to pull from the archives a quote from Mr. Harmer that the deal has to be done immediately, and that the council (meeting as the RDA board) should not bother to thoroughly review the proposal. I don't have a specific recollection of Mr. Harmer's "IT HAS TO BE DONE TODAY" speech for the Ernest Health deal, but I bet someone can find it, because each and every proposal he's brought before the RDA board has a ticking clock attached to it.

Rep. Neil Hansen Wins the First Battle in His War Against Ticket Quotas

Bill to ban traffic citation quotas clears committee, and heads to the full house for a vote

It's no secret that Weber County Forum is strongly strongly opposed to the use by Utah law enforcement agencies of ticket citation quotas. As our regular long-time readers are painfully aware, we've been railing on this subject for several years. That's one reason we were particularly delighted to learn yesterday morning that Rep. Neil Hansen's (D-Ogden) HB-264, which would prohibit law enforcement agencies from requiring officers to issue a specific number of tickets, warnings or complaints within a specific time, yesterday cleared the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee by a 6-1 vote, paving the way for the bill to be presented to the House for a vote.

The Standard-Examiner's Loretta Park provides a front page story this morning on yesterday's committee hearing, including a fairly thorough summary of the witness testimony. Missing from this morning's story, however, is any discussion of the comments of committee member Rep. Carl Wimmer (R-South Jordan), who gently chastised some witnesses who testified against Hansen's proposed bill. As it turns out, Rep. Wimmer is himself a retired police officer, with personal experience with ticket quotas. As Rep. Wimmer commented, he himself had been admonished and denied promotions during his career in law enforcement, for failing to write three tickets a day; and he expressed his disappointment with individuals who refused to even admit the plain fact that ticket quotas exist at all. It would have been better, Rep. Wimmer commented, if advocates of ticket quotas were at least to concede that existing ticket quota systems are a useful law enforcement management tool, and argue from that position, rather than to mendaciously deny that such systems exist at all.

All in all however, reporter Parks provides a good writeup; and we were pleased to find this morning that the Standard-Examiner didn't bury this story somewhere on one of its back pages.

As an added bonus for those readers closely following this bill, we provide a link to the State Legislature's website, where a Real Player audio recording of yesterday's hearing is available. Our readers can fast forward to the last 35 minutes or so of the recording, for a sampling of the arguments, pro and con, which will be be no doubt re-argued as this bill progresses through the Utah Legislature.

We'd like to extend our congratulations this morning to Representative Hansen, along with our best wishes for success with this bill during this new legislative session.

And what say our gentle readers about all this?

Update 1/24/08 3:48 p.m. MT: The Salt Lake Tribune's most excellent Std-Ex veteran reporter Cathy McKitrick also has a story on this subject, published shortly after we published our main article, wherein Ms. McKitrick drills right down to Rep. Wimmer's comment, mentioned above:
Police agencies have long denied persistent rumors and complaints of traffic-ticket quotas, but a former cop now serving in the Legislature says they are real.

"I worked for a police department and had to write three tickets every day. That was a quota, and they exist," said Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, a former West Valley City and South Jordan officer.

Wimmer's revelation came during a legislative committee session Wednesday where lawmakers discussed Ogden Rep. Neil Hansen's HB 264, that would ban such mandates.
Hopefully Rep. Wimmer will make himself available for testimony in further legislative proceedings, especially any upcoming upcoming Senate committee hearings.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Best Snow Job on Earth?

Gentle Curmudgeon provides useful English translations for some hyperbolic marketing terminology

By Curmudgeon

Is it just me, or has the Standard-Examiner's coverage of the proposed high adventure indoor wading pool and hotel for downtown Ogden become a tad more conditional of late? New article about it all in this morning's Std-Ex.

Some interesting things therein. For example this:
The proposed $115 million water park that may be built on 1.6 acres at the northeast corner of 23rd Street and Washington Boulevard is viewed as a major component in the success of Midtown Village at The Junction, a luxury 14-story hotel that may be constructed across the street....A skywalk would connect the water park to Midtown Village at The Junction, which could have 300 rooms.
A hotel which may be constructed that could have 300 rooms? May implies may not, and could implies could not. I don't recall the first stories being quite this conditional.

And then there's this:
The year-round water park would feature a number of slides, a lazy river, a raft ride, spa area and a challenging flow rider that could complement the one that already exists inside the Salomon Center within The Junction, Kwiecinski said.
Would "complement" the flowrider at the Salomon Center? Would the English translation of that be "compete with" the Salomon Center's already publically subsidized flowrider? Would public funding for competition for a public-funded venue for which the city is already in hock be wise policy?

Finally, from this morning's story, we learn that the new High Adventure Wading Pool would be designed with a kind of Key West look and feel and ambiance. We've already been told, remember, that the Salomon Center flowrider provides better surfing than Maui. Key West, Hawaii in the high Utah desert and in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountains, which I've been told [and I believe it] offers "the best snow on earth." A perfect fit. A natural.

Let us hope the City Council does its homework before offering public funds to subsidize this High Adventure Indoor Wading Pool project, or Utah may become known as the place to go for the "best snow job on earth."

Curiouser and curiouser....

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Red Meat News that Tastes Like Chicken

Thank goodness American municipalities don't generally wind up in Bankruptcy Court

Okay, gentle readers. Some of you Emerald City citizens are wondering and grousing and emailing your blogmeister about why we haven't devoted ourselves to some of the semi-red meat news about Ogden in the past few days.

Grumble no more, Emerald City lumpencitizens. We have two stories to discuss this afternoon, one from this morning's Standard-Examiner, and one from yesterday's Std-Ex edition.

First, we'll highlight today's marvellous Std-Ex story, wherein it's reported that building a $1.6 million climbers' Ice Tower is one of the city council's "top priorities."

Your blogmeister has talked to several Emerald City council-people today. None of those we talked to agreed that "The Council" has ever set any such priorities as the Std-Ex suggests.

Cutting to the chase, we wonder whether a $1.6 million "ice tower" is the best use of Emerald City (taxpayer) money, especially with a world recession in the wings.

The gentle reader who persuaded us to post this article also provided this:

I dug up some old articles on the ice tower to see how the cost has escalated over time:

June 2005: $275,000
April 2007: $400,000
November 2007: "just more than $1 million"
January 2008: $1.6 million

And now they're asking for another $200k from RAMP. I see red flags all over the place on this one.

Food for thought, we think. We know real inflation is bad. Perhaps the City Council needs to snap up this deal immediately, before the price really goes to the moon! Gawd knows an Ice Tower will put Emerald City On THE MAP!! Our city council had better hurry up, before this essential project becomes even more expensive.

Next, we'll shine the spotlight on yesterday's Std-Ex story, wherein the supposedly well-heeled out of town investor guy, Larry Myler, is purportedly arriving in town to build a $100 million hotel, and a $20 million water park, from which he expects to make millions of bucks.

If this guy has the juice to put together such a project, we ask... Why does he need a $1 million dollar no interest loan, and a deferral of the property purchase price?

Just asking.

Time to hear from our gentle readers.

You asked for it; time to talk about it.

Greed-head Developer Leaps Into Sprint Mode

He's already told his Ogden Valley neighbors to "go to hell," and doesn't have a minute to lose

Powder Mountain owner/developer Mark Arnold has has now leaped into sprint mode in the Powder Mountain town incorporation matter, according to this morning's Standard-Examiner front page story. There's a suddenly-called meeting of hand-picked and prospective Powder Mountain Town residents scheduled for tonight, although not even Mr. Arnold (the meeting organizer) yet knew the venue as of last night. For our readers' amusement, we'll incorporate Marshall Thompson's unbelievable opening paragraphs below. We swear we are not making this up:

OGDEN — Resort developers plan to meet this evening with Weber County residents who fall within the proposed boundaries of the new Powder Mountain Town, but the location for the gathering is still up in the air.

Originally, the Powder Mountain owners, who petitioned to become an independent municipality Friday, wanted to hold the informational meeting at Pineview Lodge at Wolf Creek Resort.

Officials of both Powder Mountain and Wolf Creek Resort confirmed the change of venue, but would not give a reason.

The developers had not found a new location for the meeting as of Monday evening, said Lisa Davis James, a spokeswoman for Powder Mountain, but will inform residents as soon as possible, going door to door, if needed.
That's right... door to door... and the meeting is scheduled for tonight.

If the calendering of this meeting seems a mite half-assed haphazard and rushed, there's probably a reason:

Down south on Capitol Hill, Senator Stowell has already cleared committee and is headed to the senate floor for a vote with his SB-25, which would modify the provisions of last year's flawed HB-466. If Sen Stowell's bill sails through the legislature as anticipated and becomes law prior to Powder Mountain Town's formal incorporation, Mr. Arnold's devious plan to bypass Weber County in the planning process is "toast."

The race is on; and Mr. Arnold doesn't have a minute to lose.

Grab your popcorn and pull up your barca-loungers, gentle readers. This one will be interesting to watch.

And if you're the type who'd prefer to participate, rather than merely observe, Senator Stowell's contact information is available here.

Update 1/23/08 8:35 a.m. MT: The Std-Ex provides an article this morning describing last night's "town meeting," and reports that Leg. Dist. 8 Rep. Gage Froerer is planning to introduce his own remedial bill in the legislature.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The State Legislature Observes Martin Luther King Day... By Remaining in Session

Utah voters have the opportunity to fix this problem in November

Today is the day that most of our nation takes the day off to honor the great American Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King, Jr; so we thus spotlight an interesting MLK Day story appearing in this morning's Deseret Morning News. From the article:

Today marks the first day of the 2008 Utah Legislature and could be the last day that Utah lawmakers meet on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

It's a welcome potential change for many of Utah's minority leaders, who have long called for lawmakers to recess on the holiday.

Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, said the start date has given lawmakers "a great chance to honor Dr. King" with a ceremony at the Capitol.

However, last year, Valentine said he "wanted to honor the request of the minority community" when he was Senate sponsor of a resolution to amend the state's Constitution to change the start date. The measure passed with unanimous support, but because it is a constitutional change, it won't take effect unless voters approve it this November.

"It's a little bit bittersweet this year," Valentine said. "I hope voters do approve the [constitutional amendment ballot] measure."
A similar resolution failed in 2000. Better late than never, we guess. It will now be up to Utah voters to decide whether the legislature will recess for the MLK holiday in the future.

Historical factoids: In 2000, Utah was the very last state to recognize Martin Luther King Day by name, renaming its Human Rights Day state holiday.

This, curiously, was also the same year that South Carolina became the last state to make MLK Day a paid holiday for all state employees. Until then, South Carolina employees could choose between celebrating it or one of three Confederate-related holidays.

Now that's what we call progress.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Searching for Solutions to the Public-transit Scuffle

Weber County Forum enlists its readership to find solutions

Excellent and thoughtful Wasatch Rambler column in this morning's Standard-Examiner, in which Charles Trentelman examines the simmering public transportation problem which the Std-Ex editors last week labeled the"(UTA) Public-transit scuffle".

Trentelman digs right in and allocates blame among and between all entities responsible for this inelegant political log-jam, namely the State Legislature, the Utah Transit Authority, and the Davis and Weber County Commissions. Although Trentelman lays a glove on each of these entities, each in its turn, we particularly appreciated the following Trentelman broadside, mercilessly directed at the august Senators and House Reps on Utah's Capital Hill:

Start with the Legislature.

Last year it felt a need to cut taxes. Why it felt that need is anyone’s guess. There were huge demands for basic government services, teacher salaries, dental care for the poor, roads, mass transit, and more.

Ignoring massive opposition, the Legislature cut taxes.

One of the taxes it cut was the sales tax on some food. Part of that sales tax goes to UTA, which uses the money to pay for things like FrontRunner.

Would cutting UTA’s funds be a problem? The Legislature either didn’t think so or didn’t care. Either way, it said the counties could make up the difference for UTA by raising the sales tax again.

Get that? The Legislature cut taxes to make itself look good, but let someone else clean up the mess. Not exactly a profile in courage.
Further down the article, Trentelman does go on to lambaste the UTA and both county councils with equal vigor, as we said; but one thing remains clear after we get through with playing "the blame game," we think:

The UTA has set a January 31 deadline for somebody to get off the dime; and from that time forward, it will likely be "the little people," those who rely daily upon existing public transit, who may bear at least the short-term burden of this intra-agency quarrel, unless somebody involved in this ridiculous public standoff stands down.

And we'll highlight another element of this squabble where we think Trentelman gets it particularly "right": "So there you have them: The three groups we expect to make FrontRunner a success. Thousands of commuters, and every city hoping to revitalize because of mass transit, depend on their foresight, leadership and wisdom."

There are several proposed "solutions" floating about:

The Utah Rattler blog registered its "conservative" take on the issue a couple of days ago, i.e., that the quasi-public UTA should simply raise user fees. That's what real businesses do in the real world, after all; and subsidizing UTA operations with public tax revenue only benefits another special interest group, the Utah Rattler reminds us.

Others, we imagine, would argue the contrary -- that the Davis and Weber County councils should simply "bite the bullet," raise the sales tax a measly 0.05% and continue with UTA rider subsidies. We suppose some would strongly argue that such subsidies confer an over-riding general public benefit, such as urban revitalization, which Trentelman mentions above.

What your blogmeister would like to know is what out gentle readers think about this issue; and it's in that connection that we invite you to chime in and opine here. We'd be particularly interested in hearing alternative solutions to this dilemma, aside from raising more taxes or increasing transit fares. Who knows... perhaps our readers can come up with a proposed solution which will allow all of these warring public agencies to save face.

Hopefully the cat won't get your tongues.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Powder Mountain Executes a Crafty Regulatory End-run

Eager ski resort developer files a town incorporation petition to bypass the Weber County zoning process -- UPDATED

There's a blockbuster Marshall Thompson story in this morning's Standard-Examiner, revealing the latest development in the ongoing Powder Mountain rezone saga. Frustrated with the regulatory delays and hurdles that have been imposed by the Weber County rezoning process, Powder Mountain owner/developer Mark Arnold has suddenly decided to bypass the county regulatory process altogether, and to incorporate Powder Mountain as its own self-regulating municipality. We provide below the lead paragraphs of today's Std-Ex article:

OGDEN — Powder Mountain ski resort may soon become Powder Mountain Town — developers filed paperwork Friday with the Weber County clerk to incorporate as a municipality.

The action could allow resort developers to move ahead with plans to expand into a massive four-season resort in the Ogden Valley without going through the county planning commission.

Last month, after months of workshops and public hearings, the Ogden Valley Planning Commission voted in favor of the resort’s rezoning proposal, but attached almost 20 conditions that limited the density of the development and required secondary access roads.

Powder Mountain owner Mark Arnold told the Standard-Examiner that some of the requirements were unreasonable and would have destroyed his vision of the project.

“I just want to see our vision through, and the way things are going, this is what came to the surface to enable us to do that,” he said.

In taking this action, Mr. Arnold is attempting to avail himself of the provisions of HB466, a bill which was intended by the legislature to streamline the process of incorporation for small municipalities. HB466, (signed into law by the Governor in March of 2007) allows a town to incorporate if there are at least 100 residents and certain ownership and land value requirements are met. Unfortunately, the bill also takes the final authority for incorporation away from county government and gives it to Lt. Governor Gary Herbert. If 50 percent of the residents and landowners support the petition, the county can't stand in the way of incorporation. Subsequent events have revealed, we believe, that cutting county governments out of the approval loop was a big legislative mistake.

We've tangentially discussed the unintended ill effects of this bill on Weber County Forum before, in the context of a proposed ski resort development now pending in Wasatch County, wherein Arizona real estate developer Dean Sellers is attempting to develop his own 8,366-acre 4-season resort, and to bypass Wasatch County regulatory authority through application of the HB466 municipal incorporation process. For a robust summary of the Sellers case, we link a pertinent Voice of Deseret blog article here, together with a short series of subsequent VOD articles, nicely detailing some of the more recent developments in this loosely analogous Wasatch County case.

As it stands, HB466, originally intended to cut the red tape for the process of incorporating small Utah townships, has instead become an unintended mechanism allowing slick developers to thumb their noses at county zoning regulations. Such seems certainly the situation with respect to the now pending Powder Mountain municipal incorporation application, judging from the comments of Mr. Arnold in today's Std-Ex article. The defects of HB466 have also caught the attention of at least a few legislators, and the Utah Association of Counties has made it a high priority to steer this legislation back to the legislative floor for remedial modification, in order to cut Utah counties back into the municipal approval process.

Whether any "curative" 2008 legislation will affect Powder Mountain's now-pending town incorporation application is any one's guess. It's possible however that any new legislative requirements could be deemed by the courts to be ex post facto, and that Mr. Arnold's application might be necessarily "grandfathered", and processed under the rules then-existing at the time of his original petition.

And what say our gentle readers about all this?

Update 1/20/08 11:56 a.m. MT: We were delighted to discover that the Voice of Deseret blog, which we cited and linked above, has this morning published yet another excellent article, again dealing with the topic of developer abuse of the provisions of Utah HB466. This morning's article discusses the Powder Mountain story, provides a top-notch fact summary and analysis, and then segues into a discussion of the important underlying topic of rural gentrification. We believe this article is a must-read for those who are closely following the Powder Mountain development story. Read the latest VOD article here.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Adam Aircraft Update

Boundless optimism faces off with a tight credit market

Several more articles in this morning's news, concerning Adam Aircraft's financial travails, which we discussed at some length in yesterday's article.

First, The New Mexico Business Weekly reports that Adam has laid off 300 employees companywide (40% of Adams' workforce) "...due to lack of financing, forcing the company to seek additional capital to continue producing its carbon composite airplanes. "

And it isn't "chump change" the company is reportedly seeking:
We're looking [for] anywhere from $75 [million] to $100 million," said Shelly Simi, Adam Aircraft spokeswoman, noting that the Centennial-based company is working with Citibank to acquire funds.

Adam Aircraft President Duncan Koerbel issued a statement that said, "To provide for our future growth, we must be strategic in our focus by managing current cash expenditures to ensure adequate time to secure financing for the long term. We're off to a good start in this effort with assistance from our partner, Citibank, but we need to be able to provide them with sufficient time working with potential investors to secure long term financing."
Incidentally, the same article reports that Adam Aircraft has apparently run through very substantial amounts of investment capital since only August of 2006:
In August 2006, Adam Aircraft raised $93 million, led by Menlo Park, Calif.-based venture capital firm DMC. Also, Meisrow Financial, W Capital Partners, D.E. Shaw Laminar Portfolios LLC and Acadia Woods Partners helped raise that money.
What's more, the Rocky Mountain News reports Adam's cash flow problems aren't confined to Adam alone:
Adam's announcement comes just weeks after another Colorado startup aircraft manufacturer suspended development of its jets and laid off almost all of its workers because it was unable to secure financing.

That company, Arapahoe County-based Aviation Technology Group, has kept a skeleton staff aboard as it explores options, which could include selling the business or closing down completely.
Further, Adam's prospects of raising additional capital reportedly don't appear to be bright, according to aviation industry insiders:
A growing credit crunch nationwide likely is affecting both Adam Aircraft and Aviation Technology Group, observers say. Investors and lenders are becoming more cautious in the face of a possible recession, meaning less money is available. Adam Aircraft said it'll likely take longer to secure financing, so it must prepare for that by paring costs.

"Very few industries are going to be immune to the credit crunch," said Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst at Forrester Research. "You can bet that an industry whose foundations are based on transporting people using high-cost oil is likely to get a chilly response in the banking business."

Adding insult to injury, the RMN article also speaks of an additional 2007 cash investment, not mentioned in the NMBW article:
In June it (Adams) announced a $105 million infusion of cash from a group led by Morgan Stanley Senior Funding, coming on top of tens of millions more it landed in recent years.

Goldman Sachs and Hunt Growth Capital -- previous investors in Adam Aircraft -- participated in that funding.

Simi said none of the Adam Aircraft investors have halted financing.
What seems clear is that Adam Aircraft has been borrowing money hand over fist over the past two years, but that the company is once again on the verge of being fully "tapped out." And this is just speculation on our part, but we think that it's likely that most of Adam's earlier investors might be growing a mite worried about recovering their original investments.

Meanwhile, back in the "visionary" world of Boss Godfrey and his ever-optimistic henchmen on the ninth floor of the Emerald City Municipal Building, everything is business as usual, according to this morning's Standard-Examiner story, from which we incorporate the following text:
Dave Harmer, community and economic development director for Ogden, said he wasn't surprised to hear of Adam's temporary layoffs.

"They're going through another round of financing, and credit markets are very tight now," he said.

"I really expect this will be a short-term negative impact, and then they'll [be] back and everything will go forward as planned."
We suppose we'll have to wait until summer to find out whether boundless optimism trumps the reality of the sagging credit market.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Adam Aircraft Suspends Operations

Millions in corporate welfare are seemingly insufficient to keep Adam's Hinkley Field doors open

By Curmudgeon

I imagine the news this morning that Adam Aircraft has shut down manufacturing operations in Ogden and is laying off its workforce is going to produce a fair number of "we told you so" posts, and probably some downright crowing in these parts.

Before that starts, I think it's worth remembering that this is not good news for Ogden and that a significant number of our neighbors are now without income, or much. The company, what's left of it, is being very close-mouthed about the long-term implications of the move, though a company spokesperson does concede "this is not good." Let's hope the delayed FAA certification of their new model [which seems to be the reason for the shut-down, or so the company says] gets straightened out and operations can begin again some months down the road.

That said, the shut down does raise some questions about the business judgment of both Utah state and Ogden city development officials, who recently approved millions of dollars in financial incentives to lure Adam Aircraft into expanding its manufacturing operations in Ogden.

And what say our gentle readers about all this?

Update 1/17/08 11:24 a.m. MT: More on this story from the Denver Post. It appears that Adam's problems are even more serious than the Standard-Examiner reported.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"Special" Ski Demo Day

Gov. Huntsman bites his lip, and refrains from physically assaulting Boss Godfrey

Fascinating article in today's Standard-Examiner... fascinating that is, if you know a little bit about the winter sports marketing industry -- as your blogmeister does. What happened is that "somebody" scheduled a "special" ski equipment "demo day" at Snow Basin.

"Demo Days" are nothing unusual in the ski industry. Ski industry manufacturers routinely show up with their vans with samplings of their latest products ski at resorts all over the world. These events happen hundreds of time a year.

What's "special" about this... The Governor of Utah was in attendance, along with some sixty ski industry reps, including Roger Tolermo, the CEO of the Amer Sports, largest Ski Company On the Planet!

Those in the know realize that Governor Huntsman loses no love for Boss Godfrey, a so-called "Republican" whose chief advisor is the Democrat Ex-Senator, Ed Allen. And we doubt Huntsman and Godfrey ever "cleared the air" over the bogus endorsements.

Kudos for Huntsman for biting his lip.

A Weber County Forum Tip o' the Hat to governor Huntsman for his fortitude in supporting Ogden... Utah even... in promoting Ogden as the world's best winter vacation spot, and the place at which ski companies most like to locate in herds.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tuesday Morning News Roundup

Proposed election law reform; and a new owner for a classic downtown hotel

By Curmudgeon

Two interesting front page stories this morning in the Standard-Examiner. First, this:
SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Neil Hansen hopes to pass legislation that would allow Utah voters to register on Election Day, limit the power of poll challengers and increase transparency in the election auditing process. Hansen, D-Ogden, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah organized a meeting last week with county clerks, state election officials and outside experts to discuss the election reform measures.
The Election Day registration bill would allow unregistered voters to show up at the polls, provide identification and proof of residency, and then cast a regular ballot that can’t be thrown out later, Hansen said.... Weber County officials threw out more than 500 provisional ballots in November, some because poll workers filled out the forms incorrectly.
Marina Lowe, a staff attorney for the ACLU, said its investigation into voter complaints about the Weber elections was part of the impetus for the meeting Thursday. Weber County Clerk/Auditor Alan McEwan, who attended the meeting, said Election Day registration could help alleviate provisional ballot complications, which other counties in the state also experienced. “It could help, but it’s not problem-free either,” he said.
One of the concerns with same-day registration is the possibility of people using fake identification to commit voter fraud, Lowe said. However, she added, the states that use Election Day registration have not reported any fraud....
Hansen has another bill that would require poll checkers to register in advance and wear some identification so that voters don’t mistake them for election officials. He is also putting forward a bill to allow independent audits of election results.... McEwan said allowing for independent audits instead of state-run audits makes a lot of sense — if done correctly.
Several things worth noting. First, that the Weber County Clerk/Auditor, whose first response to the complaints about the polling place problems in the last election was to stonewall the press and public and ACLU and to deny, deny, deny, has now apparently awakened, smelled the coffee and is attending meetings with Hansen and the ACLU to look for ways to improve things. My my my. Imagine that.

Second, worth noting that the ACLU and Hansen have done their homework, apparently, and done what simple common sense would suggest: ask states that have done the reforms Hansen is proposing how they've worked out, whether the predictions of massive vote fraud [the Republican's favorite tactic for stopping election reform] have in fact developed from the reforms. Turns out, they haven't. Imagine that.

Kudos to Rep. Hansen and the ACLU [full disclosure: I am a proud card-carrying ACLU member] for their looking into the Weber mess in the last election and for working to propose reforms to make sure things are handled better in the future. And belated kudoes to Clerk/Auditor McEwan for, finally, emerging into the light of public scrutiny and dropping the stonewalling. Took a while, but nice that it finally happened.

Second item is this:
OGDEN — The Ben Lomond Hotel has been sold to a Nevada company, paving the way for a long-anticipated $50 million renovation project, according to the new owner.
UIG Resorts, based in Las Vegas, has purchased the 81-year-old hotel from Dan Tabish and his partner, Jeff Van Dyke. Tabish declined to disclose the sale price of the hotel, 2510 Washington Blvd. He said he and Van Dyke sold the Ben Lomond because they are unable to undertake renovations to restore the hotel to its original grandeur. “We ran out of capital to bring the project to fruition.
Work to renovate the Ben Lomond’s lobby will begin next month, and an upscale restaurant named Capone’s is expected to open in about three months in the hotel’s Oak Room, Dixon said. Plans also call for the conversion of some commercial space at the hotel into 147 condominiums, Dixon said, adding that UIG also plans to eventually seek approval from the city to build a 200-room tower near the hotel’s parking garage.
Once renovations are complete, the Ben Lomond would operate under the flag of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, he said.
Again, a couple of points worth mentioning. First, the Std-Ex ran a long and enthusiastic piece about the renovations to the Ben Lomond sometime last year. Much enthusiasm about the return of the grand hotel. But the owners ran out of money to finish the project. Just a cautionary tale regarding grand plans and projects: many a slip twixt cup and lip. Wishin' an' hopin' an' dreamin' do not necessarily mean they'll all come true.

Glad new owners with [it is to be hoped] sufficient capital to see the project through have been found. But again, it would be wise, while wishing them all the best, to restrain the jubilation and celebration until the newly restored Wyndam Grand Ben Lomand actually opens its doors. Ditto for the planned new tower block of 200 rooms.

The mix seems to be the same as is planned for the mega-hotel at the mall redevelopment site. Condos plus hotel rooms plus "upscale" eatery. That's an awful lot of capacity coming on line in Ogden more of less simultaneously. Hope they've done their homework regarding the potential market. Be wonderful if it all succeeds as planned. But again, we'll have to wait an see. And hope the developers don't want public money to do what they plan.

Finally, let me encourage the new owners to look into refurbishing and reopening the old roof top restaurant/bar at the Ben Lomond. One of Ogden's great assets is its magnificent view of the mountains, and very nearly none of the city's eateries or drinkeries take advantage of it. Hard to see how a "Top of the Ben" wouldn't have a lot going for it as a place to meet friends, and business associates for a dram or two. [Mrs. Curmudgeon and I would be happy to provide a review of a rooftop lounge at the Ben Lomand as part of our continuing research on "Rooftop Bars of the Mountain West." It's a book, we think, crying to be written. We plan the definitive work, though much research remains. We know, we know, it's a grueling job, but somebody has to do it.]

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Wal-Mart - An Odd Fit for a Town Bent on "Upscale" Revival

By Curmudgeon

I don't shop at Wal-Mart much. It's such a royal pain in the butt to negotiate the traffic over the viaduct on Riverdale Road that I generally avoid all of the stores there if I can. Not to mention Wal-Mart's militant anti-unionism and generally poor treatment of many who work for it.

Others here seem to have other reasons that, I guess, can be summed up as "who invited all these tacky people?" Most days, I could ask the same, if I was given to thinking that way, about the general crowd at the Mall as well. That's what big box stores, and mega-malls, do. They draw in people, generally from nearly all across the socio-economic spectrum.

But the question the Council and I guess we ought to be discussing is this: "Would a downtown Wal-Mart be a wise addition to the shopping mix in downtown Ogden?" Would it enhance and encourage the kind of development, look-and-feel, and business and residential climate the City seems to want to develop as part of the downtown resurgence or would it not?

The emphasis the city administration has been encouraging, seems to me, is downtown Ogden as a unique somewhat up-scale residential [condo/apartment] community, walking distance from Frontrunner, with a good selection of dining and entertainment options. That certainly as been the target image of the River Project developments, and today we learn from the Standard-Examiner that the proposed 300 room Art-Deco hotel will actually offer only 150 traditional convention hotel rooms, and 150 residential condo units. Wal-Mart does not seem to me to fit into that mix well.

But if the goal is to build up a critical mass of middle class and upper middle class residents downtown, and businesses that cater to them, seems to me that stand-alone merchants of various types scattered around [walking distance] the downtown area would be a far better idea than a big-box Wal-Mart. To be sustainable as a "walking urban community" downtown Ogden needs for openers a food market. Something like "Whole Foods" might fit the mix well. It needs a hardware store. It needs... desperately now... a bookshop. It needs one or two specialty shops like a Tony Caputo's. It has some good Mexican-American groceries, but they tend to be on the periphery, just out of comfortable strolling distance.

What puzzles me about the downtown Wal-Mart idea is that it seems so out of sync with the kind of development the administration has been urging for the area. Forgive the inelegant image, but a Wal-Mart thrown into the mix there now and planned, seems pretty much like tossing a turd in the punch bowl.

I realize there are arguments to be made against the Administration plan to up-scale [if you don't like the plan, to "yuppify"] downtown. And they are not by any means trivial arguments. We heard many of them here and in the letters column of the Std-Ex and in Charles Trentelman's column as well when the now, it seems, defunct Administration plan to move the St. Anne's Center way out by the Nature Center was first floated. [Another variation on "Who invited all these tacky people?"]

But my point is this: if the goal is to yuppify downtown Ogden, to turn its residential demographic up significantly, then the Wal-Mart idea seems way out of line with that vision and that plan. And I've yet to hear anyone from the Administration gaggle explain how it would fit in with the Fern Bar and Condo plans for the River Project, or the Up Scale Hotels, Condos, Restaurants and Shoppes Plan for closer in downtown.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Democrat State Legislator Caught with the Her Hypocrisies Showing

Gentle Curmudgeon takes a fellow Democrat to task

By Curmudgeon

Since the topic of poor government is a near constant on Weber County Forum, the Standard-Examiner has a story today that fits.

Here's the lede:
SALT LAKE CITY — A state lawmaker who once called for a ban on gifts from lobbyists received Billy Joel concert tickets worth $388. Sen. Patricia Jones, D-Holladay, accepted four tickets to the November concert given to her by Regence Blue Cross and Blue Shield lobbyist Jennifer Cannaday, according to disclosure reports.
In 2006, when Jones was a House member, she sponsored a bill that would have outlawed gifts from lobbyists worth more than $5.
So why the contradiction?
“Good question,” Jones said Friday.
Damn right, it's a good question. And how does Sen. Jones answer it? Here's how:
“Typically, what I do is reimburse them — and I will be doing that.”
Not good enough, Sen. Jones. Not by a long shot. Not for a delegate from my party. That kind of sophistry may play well in the party of "fiscal conservative" George Bush who has doubled the national debt in his seven years in office; it may work in the offices of the Republican wing-nut troika in Utah [Curtis, Bramble and Buttars]. But it is sophistry and, being a Democrat, Sen. Jones knows it. Or should.

Even if she has [without being outed by the press] reimbursed lobbyists for such "gifts" [aka bribes] in the past, and does again this time, that still won't do it. If the concert for example was sold out, the "gift" --- even if she reimbursed the giver --- includes access to the tickets at all. And I'm betting Sen. Jones didn't have her fanny planted in the cheap nosebleed seats when the curtain went up.

Her taking the tickets involved a truly Republican level of hypocrisy. Listen to what she had to say when she was oh-so-righteously campaigning for a gift ban:
“Name one good reason why elected officials should receive gifts,” Jones said during House debate in 2006. “And what public good does giving gifts to elected officials serve? That’s the ultimate question....”
On Friday, Jones, a member of the Senate’s Democratic leadership team, said she still believes a gift ban is necessary. “We definitely need to look at ethics — sometimes things slip by,” she said. “If it were the same for everyone, it would certainly make it easier for everyone. … It’s difficult to keep track of, to be honest.”
Oh, give me a break. Sen. Jones, that last bit is a steaming pile of bull. And you know it. Or should. It's not at all "difficult to keep track of" if you just say "no" when the lobbyists offer you tickets, or dinners, or golf trips or whatever. Just say no and there is nothing to keep track of at all. This "Oh, my, it's just so confusing, I didn't even notice I took the tickets and went to the concert. Oh, I'm so confused! Won't my colleagues help me and ban such gifts so I don't become confused and take them again?" is nonsense.

If Sen. Jones is not embarrassed by that, she damn well should be. And if she truly means, as she seems to, that she can't be relied upon to act ethically in office with a law to prevent her doing otherwise, she should resign, change parties and run for her seat as a Republican.

I expect this kind of sophistry from Republicans, Sen. Jones. But I won't tolerate it from Democrats. Ever. Nor should the Utah Democratic Party. And no, it doesn't matter to me in the least that of the five legislators who took the tickets, three [a majority] were Republicans. From Democrats, I expect... I demand... better conduct in office.

How should Sen. Jones and the other Democrat who took the baksheesh have handled it? Here's how:
I took the tickets. I screwed up. It was a mistake. I'm going to pay the company back for the tickets I took, but that won't make what I did OK. It was wrong and I should have said no. I apologize to my constituents for the lapse, and I can guarantee them that from this point forward, I will accept no gifts from any lobbyists for any reason. Not so much as a cup of coffee. Again, my apologies to my constituents, and my promise that nothing like this will happen again.
Everybody makes mistakes. When you do, you fess up, apologize and make sure you don't do it again. What really rankles in re: Sen. Jones is her attempting to dodge responsibility with that "oh, the rules are just so confusing" crap.

You're a Democrat, Sen. Jones. From you, because you are a Democrat, I expect better. Much much better.

Update 1/13/08 1:44 p.m. MT: The Deseret Morning News published story about a new poll on the general topic of legislative gifts on Saturday. We accordingly link it here for our readers' attention. The article also includes a link to a pdf file listing lobbyist gifts to Utah legislators in 2007.

Update 1/13/08 3:35 p.m. MT: Great editorial and companion story, each from the Salt Lake Tribune. We thank gentle reader Ozboy for these submissions.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Prospective Hotel Developer Turns Out to be a Major Godfrey Campaign Donor

Taking a closer look at the proposed Midtown Development transaction

In yesterday's article we highlighted this Scott Schwebke story, announcing the percipient plan of Larry Myler, an Orem real estate developer, to contruct a $100 million highrise hotel on the downtown Junction property. Among the reported terms of the proposed transaction are a zero interest loan and a deferred purchase price payment, all favoring Mr. Myler. Whether tax increment financing would also be part of this deal... Boss Godfrey and his minions aren't yet saying.

Being the curious type, we did a quick google, and came up with some interesting information about Mr. Myler, contained within an earlier Standard-Examiner story. As it turns out, Mr. Myler was a major donor to Boss Godfrey's 2007 re-election campaign, according to this October 30, 2007 Ace Reporter Schwebke report. And from this report, we incorporate the following text:

"Much of Godfrey’s recent campaign contributions came from individuals. Some of his largest donors include Larry Myler, an Orem developer, who gave $9,000... ."

Whether this 2007 campaign donation is evidence of a quid pro quo we do not know; however , we believe the sequence and timing of the donation and post-election announcement could reasonably suggest that.

And what say our gentle readers about this? Is this campaign donation on the up and up -- or are there more sinister forces afoot? Any way you cut it, we'll volunteer, it certainly smells "fishy" to us.

The cyber-world awaits our readers' ever-savvy comments.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Lawn Sign Wars Criminal Case Developments

Godfrey henchman's trial date set for February 28, 2008

For those following the latest developments in Lift Ogden chairman Bob Geiger's pending criminal case, we link this morning's Salt Lake Tribune story, in which Kristen Moulton reports that the matter has been set for trial on February 28, on two misdemeanor criminal charges.

Update 1/10/08 2:57 p.m. MT: Sharp-eyed and most gentle reader Curmudgeon informs us in the below comments section that Ace reporter Schwebke has not been asleep at the wheel re this story (except during the past three months). Thanks to Curmudgeon, you can find Mr. Schwebke's story here.

Loved the Bernie Allen quote, wherein the famous local Godfreyite defense attorney reiterates the usual criminal defense attorney refrain: "All my clients are innocent; and all criminal charges are "silly."

New Highrise Hotel Planned for Ogden

Added bonus: retail, restaurants and aerial contraptions (?)

Emerald City residents found this interesting Scott Schwebke story at the bottom of the front page of the Standard Examiner this morning, under the headline: "Plans for a 14-story hotel has downtown Ogden looking up". We have no doubt that this story will serve as uplifting news for the several existing Ogden hotels already struggling keep their doors open in Ogden, such as the Ogden Marriott (formerly the Ogden Hilton) and the Ogden Hampton Inn (formerly 3 other hotel chains who couldn't keep financially afloat in the Ogden hotel market). Now that Emerald City is poised to become the high-adventure recreational capitol of the world of course, we're sure no hotelier in town will ever worry about vacancy rates again.

We incorporate here the lead paragraphs from Ace Reporter Schwebke's story:
OGDEN — An Orem company plans to begin construction later this year on a $100 million hotel at The Junction downtown development.
Midtown Village at The Junction, would be located on the northwest corner of 23rd Street and Washington Boulevard, Larry Myler, president of Midtown Development, said in a phone interview Wednesday. The hotel could have as many as 14 stories and 300 rooms and be completed in about two years, he said.
Construction is projected to cost about $100 million, said Dave Harmer, the city’s community and economic development director.
The city has negotiated a development agreement with Myler, Harmer said. The agreement is scheduled for discussion by the city’s Redevelopment Agency board, made up of city council members, during a Jan. 22 work session. The RDA board may vote on the agreement Feb. 5.
The agreement calls for Midtown Development to purchase property at The Junction from the city for the appraised value of $1.7 million, Harmer said. Payment for the land would be deferred until the company receives a certificate of occupancy for the hotel.
In addition, the city would provide Midtown Development a $1.2 million, interest-free loan to help cover construction costs. That loan would be repaid after the occupancy certificate is issued, Harmer said.
In our lead paragraph we mentioned that we found this story interesting. Here's why:
The agreement also grants Midtown Development exclusive rights to a potential urban gondola stop serving The Junction, Harmer said.
The city won’t be involved in funding the gondola, Mayor Matthew Godfrey said.
Construction of Midtown Village at The Junction isn’t contingent on an urban gondola system being built, Myler said.
Still, Myler said he would like to see an urban gondola downtown to “enhance the vibrancy” of Ogden.
“Talk of the gondola was certainly the thing that got us looking at Ogden in the first place,” he said. “If there is something we can do to help the gondola, we would be interested in exploring the possibility.”
There it is again, gentle readers -- the "G" word -- mentioned this time in conjunction with a snazzy downtown hotel, just as it's been mentioned before.

Boss Godfrey warned us that "nothing has changed" since the November election.

We'll definitely be keeping our eyes on this one. "Madness in great ones must not unwatch’d go" - Shakespeare.

Don't let the cat get your tongues.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A $6.3 Million Write-off Invokes a Few Questions

Delving into a discussion of the true nature of Emerald City's RDA debt

On December 22 one of our gentle readers lodged a comment in one of our lower comments sections which raised fundamental questions about the nature of Ogden City RDA debt, and the relationship of Ogden City with respect to such liabilities. Specifically, gentle reader Ogden Resident zeroed-in the contents of Ogden City's newly-released Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), which, among other things, revealed that Ogden City was in the process of "writing off" some $6.3 million in accounts receivable, representing current account balances owed by the Ogden RDA, for loans "advanced" from the Ogden City General Fund, toward three Ogden City RDA projects at some unspecified times in the past.

Coming on the heels of our recently completed Emerald City municipal election, this appeared to be red meat news indeed for our gentle readers, inasmuch as the relationship of RDA debt to Ogden City was a key issue in the election. Whereas Boss Godfrey had continuously maintained throughout the election campaign that Ogden City WAS NOT generally responsible for the debt of its own RDA (on the theory that Ogden City and the Ogden RDA were two separate and distinct entities), his opponents had unsuccessfully argued the contrary (on the theory that the Ogden RDA was either an Ogden City sub-entity or alter-ego).

Our readers naturally latched onto the information contained in the CAFR, assuming that the information contained therein constituted "blanket proof" that Ogden City is generally responsible for ALL debt of the Ogden City RDA.

Somewhere along the line, the Standard-Examiner picked up on this story; and we were thus treated yesterday to this Ace Reporter Schwebke article, fleshing out the facts, with a series of he said/she said interviews. In a nutshell, these are the essential facts, as reported by our favorite Standard-Examiner reporter:

OGDEN — The Ogden Redevelopment Agency will likely be unable to repay the city about $6.3 million remaining from loans received in the 1970s and 1980s to form three business districts that underperformed, according to the city’s recently released 2007 financial audit. [...]

However, Richard McConkie, the city’s deputy director of community and economic development, said a 7 percent interest rate on two of the loans has made it impossible to repay the debt.

“Without the interest rates, the loans would have been retired by now,” he said, adding the city administration has repeatedly recommended to the city council that the interest rates be reduced to zero.

John Arrington, the city’s finance manager, estimated the RDA has paid several hundred thousand dollars in interest alone most years on the two loans.

The city council has known for years that loans to establish the RDA’s Central Business, 25th Street and Washington Boulevard districts likely wouldn’t be repaid in full, McConkie said.

However, due to new reporting requirements the anticipated default was made public in the city’s 2007 financial audit released last month. The default is listed because, in the past, it hasn’t been the city’s practice to forgive interfund advances or declare them uncollectible.

The Washington Boulevard District will expire in 2008, followed by the Central Business District (2014) and 25th Street District (2015), all ending before they generate enough tax revenues to fully repay the loans, Arrington said. The loans total about $9 million, according to the audit, and about $2.7 million is expected to be repaid by the time the districts expire.
Enlightening though Mr. Schwebke's article is, we believe it leaves a series of unanswered questions. We'll reel off those which seem of foremost importance to us, just off the top of our head:

1) Is it proper for Ogden City to now "write off" the Ogden RDA's entire $6.3 million loan balance, because these three projects will have "expired" within the next seven years?

Our suggested answer to this is a resounding No! Even though these projects are set to expire, the entire loan balance remains an obligation of the RDA itself. Assuming for sake of argument that the RDA is a distinct entity, separate and apart from Ogden City, (as Mayor Godfrey argued throughout the municipal election campaign), the taxpayers of Ogden ought not bear the burden of the RDA's earlier poor judgment, in overestimating the tax increment which would ultimately flow from these projects. The Ogden RDA has received, and continues to receive substantial flows of cash as it disposes of RDA properties, and is certainly NOT insolvent. Although these monies have in the past been routinely diverted to uses other than the reduction of the RDA's debt to Ogden City, we believe the RDA Board should adopt new policy applying these revenues to its debt to the taxpayers of Ogden City. As set forth in Mr. Schwebke's report, Ogden City has historically observed a policy of not forgiving debt. We believe there is no reason to deviate now from such sound and prudent policy.

2) Does Ogden City's expressed intention to "write off" this debt by itself constitute "proof" that Ogden City is generally responsible for ALL RDA debt?

Once again, our suggested answer is No. Unlike a circumstance where Ogden City might be hypothetically called upon to satisfy an obligation founded upon a defaulted RDA-issued bond, the instant situation involves straight loan debt. Ogden City is peculiarly an actual creditor in this situation.

3) Do the facts as reported in Mr. Schwebke's article, taken as a whole, support Mayor Godfrey's contention that the Ogden RDA is in fact an entity separate and distinct from Ogden City?

Our suggested answer is an emphatic NO. And we think Ogden CAO John Arrington says it best, with this possibly inadvertant admission:

The default won’t affect Ogden’s financial picture since the loans are regarded as an interagency transfer from the city’s general fund, Arrington said. The net effect is a reduction in the city’s current year fund balance and an increase in the RDA’s current year fund balance.

“In reporting the combined activities on the loans, it’s a financial wash,” Arrington said, adding if the money had been fully repaid there would have been more capital for other city and RDA projects.
That's right, folks, Ogden City's own Chief Bean Counter considers the Ogden City RDA to be just another Ogden City sub-agency, involved in a mere "interagency transfer." Shuffling money back and forth between Ogden City and its purportedly distinct and separate Ogden RDA is no big deal, to people like John Arrington; and if the Ogden City taxpayers get stuck holding the bag now and then... so what?

We'll apologize in advance for the extended length of this article. This is a highly complex story, not easily expressed in brief form.

And it's in that connection that we invite our readers to now join in on the discussion. Although our readers have already discussed this story in the lower comments section at some length themselves in lower comments sections, we have a funny feeling they're not yet "tapped out."

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Emerald City Special Event

Universe City presents: Art as a Vehicle for Social Commentary

Starting tonight, Universe City will be holding a special exhibit, focusing on that part of the Basin and Range province that provides the beauty of our own backyard - or front yard, depending on which way your front door faces. The exhibit will include, among others: photography by Steph B. Parke, Dayle Record, Tom Szalay and Charles Trentleman; paintings by LeRoy Jennings and Roberta Glidden; ceramics by Suzanne Storer and poetry by Rob Carney and Ken Brewer.

Tonight's exhibit will also feature a special presentation by Sierra Club volunteer Dan Schroeder (also a WCF reader and frequent contributor), entitled “Ogden Wilderness: The Time is Now,” taking up the discussion of how much of our local mountains we want to preserve as wilderness.

Click this link for dates, times and other pertinent details.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

More Good Ink for Ogden This Morning

The Emerald City "high adventure" meme catches on with the local and national recreation-oriented press

By Curmudgeon

Some good ink for Ogden in the papers this morning. First, the Standard-Examiner reports that the January issue of Sunset Magazine lists Ogden as one of the “Top 10 Places you’ve gotta go.".

From the story:
Calling Ogden “one of the West’s hottest adventure spots,” and labeling it a place for adrenaline junkies, Sunset lists the area’s plentiful snow and outdoor recreation opportunities as the main reasons to visit. “Jackson, Wyoming, or Boulder, Colorado, might boast similar activities, but the prices and laid-back vibe in burgeoning Ogden can’t be beat,” the article says.
Laid back vibe? Ogden? Now, I'll concede Ogden is much less laced up than, say, Morgan or Provo, but laid back? Would that it were so....

The story reports that upcoming issues of Ski and Ski Magazine will be touting Ogden as a happening place to be as well. All this is good.

Naturally, the article quotes Mayor Godfrey on Ogden's success marketing itself as a a kind of high adventure base camp:
Part of the new interest in Ogden is a revitalized downtown, Godfrey said, with restaurants, movie theaters and the Salomon Center. “If downtown is a cool, fun, vibrant place, then people will want to stay there,” he said, “and ski at our incredible resorts.”
Somehow, the Mayor managed to restrain himself from explaining how a downtown Wal-Mart will increase the excitement and multiply the opportunities for adventure in Our Fair City. Admirable restraint on his part, I thought.

The other item is an article in the SL Trib, which touts the Flowrider particularly, pronouncing it better than Hawaii for true surfing fans. [No. I'm not kidding. It really does say that.]

The article goes on to talk about the Salomon Center and its other attractions, proclaiming them to be successful in drawing travelers from all over the world to Ogden. And it talks of Ogden's kayak parks, rivers and the coming ice tower and other attractions like bird sanctuaries and Ft. Buenaventura.

And all of this attention without a gondola. The closing graphs of the article:
The future of a proposed gondola on the east side of Ogden is up in the air. Mayor Godfrey said he was waiting for developer Chris Peterson, who could build a ski resort in the area, to bring forward a proposal.

Even without the gondola, city leaders are proudly pointing to Ogden as one of the West's newest major outdoor-recreation destinations.
The future of the gondola is "up in the air." God, I love reporters with a sense of humor....

So, overall, lots of good ink for Ogden appearing these days and worth the reading, both pieces.

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