Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Demos Raise Dough in Utah County

Political resurgence... or "dead cat bounce?"

Interesting political story in this morning's Salt Lake Tribune, entitled "Demos raise cash in GOP heartland" (Utah County) As set forth in the headline, it's a real man bites dog story. We incorporate the pertinent paragraphs below:

Several Democratic legislative candidates in Utah County are outraising their incumbent Republican opponents for the first time in recent history.
Of the 12 races in Utah County for House and Senate seats, six Democrats have collected more than Republican incumbents and one is within a few hundred dollars.
"This is a sign of major disenchantment with the status quo," said Richard Davis, Utah County Democratic Party chairman. "Putting up money to support these challengers really shows people are willing to support who they believe in."
He can't recall a time when Democrats had such a strong start, but he knows there are several months to go before the Nov. 4 election.
"Even where there is a difference between the two, there's not necessarily a stark difference," Davis said.
However, some Republican incumbents have raised significantly more. Sen. Curt Bramble has about $70,000 in the bank compared with less than $300 raised by Democratic challenger Fred Desposorio.
Bramble said most Utah County Republicans will begin fundraising in earnest now that their convention is over.
"I'm confident all Republican candidates will have adequately funded campaigns," Bramble said. "I'm glad to see the Democratic Party fielding a qualified set of candidates."
No Utah County Democrat has held an elected partisan office for more than a decade - since Sen. Eldon Money, of Spanish Fork, left the Legislature in 1996.
Do the early fundraising figures reflect a genuine Democratic Party resurgence in Utah County, or merely what securities wonks (and some political pundits) refer to as a "dead cat bounce?"

And the foregoing inevitably raises the question, which we'll ask of our Democrat friends on this board: How's the Demo fundraising coming along in Weber County?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Powder Mountain Update: Next Stop -- Federal Court

Let the games begin, if necessary, we say

The Standard-Examiner provides the latest information on the simmering Powderville Town incorporation fiasco in this morning's edition. A group of Powderville incorporation opponents got some "face time" with Lt. Gary Herbert yesterday, according to this morning's Charles Trentelman story. For the benefit of those unfortunates who don't have a Std-Ex hard-copy readily at hand, here's the story lede:

SALT LAKE CITY — A group of Ogden Valley residents hoping to find a way to stop an independent township from being formed around Powder Mountain Ski Resort got little consolation Monday from Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert.
“This group of folks is clearly very passionate about this,” Herbert’s spokesman, Joe Demma, said after the meeting.
“They didn’t really ask Gary to do anything other than listen and understand their concerns and maybe help dialogue and conversation. “He did inform them there’s nothing he could do administratively to stop this action.” Finding some way to stop the proposed town is the goal of the residents of Ogden Valley.
Larry Zini, spokesman for the dozens of families that found themselves involuntarily included in the proposed Powder Mountain Town, said they are frustrated that nobody seems able to stop the township from being formed.
If worse comes to worse, Zini said Monday, “the next step for us is a federal lawsuit.”
Unfortunately for the folks of Powderville, Mr. Zini is entirely correct. Under the provisions of SB 466 as originally enacted, both the Weber County Commission and the Lieutenant Governor are deprived of any discretion in the matter. Language in the now-grandfathered statute contains the word "shall," which renders approval of a properly prepared township petition a mandatory "ministerial act" on their part. Provided the petitioners have dotted all their i's and crossed all their t's, Powderville Town will become a reality, unless judicial action is initiated in a timely manner.

There are many who are familiar with this case who believe SB466 is susceptible to an "equal protection" constitutional challenge under Article 14 of the U.S. Constitution, which provides in pertinent part: "no state shall… deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." The prospective citizens of Powder Mountain Town stand to be imminently stripped of their voting rights, rights which are otherwise enjoyed by all other similarly-situated citizens of Utah. There are other constitutional issues involved too, we have been told. The time is ripe, we think, to put these constitutional principles to the judicial test.

Although it's indeed unfortunate that our cowardly state legislature (the governmental body who created the problem in the first place) dropped the ball into the Ogden Valley Lumpencitizens' lap, we'll point out that this is sometime how it works out in America, a nation which operates under the rule of law. The benefits of citizenship sometimes impose upon aggrieved citizens the burden of asserting own rights against oppressive acts of their own government, often at their own expense.

As an aside, today's article mentions ongoing negotiations between the Powder Mountain petitioners and the Weber County Commission. While some observers still nurture hope that an informal resolution will emerge as a result of such discussions, we believe that our County Commissioners actually have very little leverage in this situation. As set forth in the subtitle to today's article, "Powder Mountain holds all the cards;" which is essentially true. The Powder Mountain principals have played hardball so far. Judging from past performance, we believe its unlikely they'll be amenable to any significant compromise, absent major concessions which would be unacceptable to the citizens of Ogden Valley.

As we've noted before, we believe the citizen-activists of Ogden Valley are an exceptionally committed and resourceful lot. They've already lawyered-up, according to our understanding. Let the games begin, if necessary, we say.

And what say our gentle readers about this?

Update 4/28/08 12:31 p.m. MT: It's just now come to our attention that Ogden Valley Forum, our comrade-in-arms in the ongoing battle for the right of the citizens of Weber County to have their say in the destinies of their own communities, has just published a new article, fleshing out details about yesterday's meeting with Lt. Governor Herbert, his staff, and one lawyer from the Attorney General's office. Be sure to check out OVF's new article here.

To the surprise of nobody with functioning grey matter (Gentle Reader Monotreme , the neuroscienist, is the board expert on grey matter, BTW... and he can give you all the minute details,) The Powder Mountain people responded to the County Commission's negotiation overtures, by upping the ante from the initially-proposed 3700 units at Powder Mountain to 9000 units. So much for "good faith bargaining," we snarkily observe.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Bully to the SLTrib for Saturday's Strong Editorial

Added bonus: A link to the state lobbyist freebie disclosure site

Strong editorial in Saturday's Salt Lake Tribune, calling for ethics reform in the 2009 legislature. The SLTrib editors start out by drawing a bead on Senate Majority Leader Curt Bramble, who's already in the lead in the State Legislative Perks Sweepstakes, with $1,500 already "pocketed" in 2008, according to this year's 1st quarter lobbyist disclosures, now on file in the Lieutenant governor's office. Fifteen-hundred bucks is of course chump-change compared to the $135 thousand in freebies his other legislative colleagues have collected and/or consumed since the beginning of the year. As the Trib editors point out, the current legislature is on a sound trajectory to "eclipse" last year's record of $279 thousand in legislative freebies and perks. The editorial then lets loose with this verbal volley:
Opinion polls indicate that nearly two-thirds of the public can no longer stomach a Legislature that eats, drinks and makes merry on the lobbyist dime, then too often does the bidding of the companies and organizations that underwrite these affairs. And it's safe to say the majority is sickened by a Legislature that cashes campaign contribution checks, from donors expecting big dividends. And a Legislature that repeatedly fails to investigate conflicts of interest by its members, then forces them to vote even when they admit a conflict exists.
The committee should recommend a complete ban on gifts of any sort to lawmakers and their families. Holding a public office entitles you to a salary, a per diem and the right to represent the people who elected you, nothing more.
It should recommend campaign finance reform, including a ban on corporate donations, strict limits on individual contributions, and an end to the shameful practice of allowing lawmakers to keep what's left of their funds when they resign, retire or lose an election.
And it should recommend formation of an independent ethics commission to investigate conflicts of interest and other cases of questionable conduct involving lawmakers, instead of leaving lawmakers to police themselves.
That would be the ethical thing to do.
Editorials such as this are of course a perpetual rite for Utah newspapers; yet Utah voters typically ignore all such editorial admonitions, and continue to vote for the same corrupt crowd, despite stirring pleas from editorial boards across the state. And lacking political vulnerabilty at the polls, the "same old crowd" naturally thumbs its nose at ethics reform, with each passing legislative session.

Being the curious type, we navigated to the Lieutenant Governor's site, to take a gander at the April 7, 2008 disclosures mentioned in Saturday's editorial. Finding the necessary information isn't easy. In order to track individual legislators who received lobbyist gifts and perks during the first quarter of 2008, an Utah citizen has to go to this page, initiate a search, and view the quarterly report of each individual lobbyist (499 of them in all) one by one. What the Lieutenant Governor's Office would do, if it sought to be in more than bare compliance with the Lobbyist Disclosure Law, would be to provide a means for individual citizens to cross-link lobbyist disclosure data by the names of their individual legislators. The Lieutenant Governor's Office doesn't do that, unfortunately, for reasons which are all too obvious to the cynical among us.

Bully to the Salt Lake Tribune for Saturday's strong editorial. We doubt however that the voters of Utah will ever turn out the crowd of trough-slurpers and gift-grabbers who presently occupy seats in the state legislature, until complete lists are generated, cross-linked and indexed (or made searchable) under each individual legislator's name. Until more easily digestible information is available to lumpenvoters, its likely that fine editorials like the one above will continue to fall upon deaf ears.

Before closing, we invite any readers with a little extra time on their hands to go to the above link, initiate a search and drill down. There's plenty of tantalizing information there, such as the 2/13/08 date, wherein lobbyist Rey Butcher dropped $700 in "dinners" on state legislators Valentine, Curtis, Bramble, D. Clark, Lockhart and Hickman at the Alta Club.

And be sure to check out the performance of Ogden City's lobbyist Robert Jolley. He's a Big Spender just like his boss - Boss Godfrey. According to his own self-submitted reports, he merrily greases the palms of dang near every important senator and representative in the legislature. Dinners seem to be his specialty; golf is evidently a sideline.

Tedious as this research source is -- it truly is an eye-opener. Try it.

Comments, anyone?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

ACLU Report: Godfreyite Misconduct "Marred" the 2007 Mayoral Election

To the disappointment of some, neither Godfrey nor any of his supporters will be frog-marched

Well the jury has come in... the American Civil Liberties Union jury that is... according to this morning's Standard-Examiner. Scott Schwebke apparently received the ACLU's 4/25/08 press release, and dutifully provides a short write-up, concerning the alleged shenanigans of Boss Godfrey and his Godfreyite lemmings during the 2007 municipal elections. We incorporate our favorite Ace Reporter's lead paragraphs below:
OGDEN — Errors by poll workers and inappropriate actions by supporters of Mayor Matthew Godfrey marred last year’s Ogden mayoral election, the ACLU said in a report released Friday.
The ACLU concluded that, while no laws were broken, the spirit of the election was violated by inappropriate actions, including unnecessary voter challenges and poll worker errors.
Godfrey, of course, considers it all to be a big joke:
Godfrey dismissed the report as ridiculous. “It’s laughable. The credibility of the report is lacking.”
Not only does Boss Godfrey get a good laugh at the lumpencitizens' expense, he turns the tables and dons the role of "the poor persecuted victim":
Godfrey said the family member the ACLU referred to is his brother. He said there is no allegation his brother did anything wrong, only that his mere presence made voters uncomfortable.
“I find it amazing that they can say my family members don’t have the right to be at the polls,” Godfrey said.
He also criticized another complaint in the report that alleged his posters and other election materials were present at polling locations and visible to voters.
“It’s a total fabrication,” he said. “It’s obvious to everyone at those locations that it’s untrue. It’s ridiculous to make such a claim.”
Godfrey seemed unconcerned during an interview that his actions or those of individuals associated with his campaign created even the appearance of impropriety, the ACLU said.
“Instead, he dismissed most of the complaints we brought to his attention as merely responses from people who bore him a grudge,” it said.
Nothing new here. When things go wrong, it's standard practice for Godfrey to clumsily claim to be the true victim. Godfrey plays the part of "Poor Pitiful Pearl" ad nauseum. So we'll move on. Needless to say, the ACLU views the matter quite differently.

Read Ace Reporter Schwebke's morning story here, wherein Mr. Schwebke provides a good fact summary.

For those detail-oriented readers among us, we recommend reading the ACLU's full 17-page report, straight from the Utah ACLU website.

And no. The ACLU will be filing neither a lawsuit nor a criminal complaint. As is usual in the course of mayoral misconduct, Boss Godfrey and his faithful supporters apparently operated in the "gray area" of the law, and thus none of them will suffer the indignity of a courthouse frog-march. Hopefully this report will draw some attention in the state legislature, however.

We're short of time for our own tedious analysis, and therefore suggest that our readers make the digestion of the ACLU report part of their day's activities. Who knows? Perhaps this material will provoke a flurry of WCF reader commentary.


Advice for One Ogden City Property Owner: Bring on the Bulldozers

Added bonus: a fine Standard-Examiner video editorial

This morning's Standard-Examiner presents a remarkable Don Porter editorial, hammering Riverfront Project developer Gadi Leshem about the dilapidated condition of his scores of boarded-up residential properties bordering the Ogden River. The editorial also contrasts the lax code enforcement by Ogden City officials with respect to these obviously blighted Leshem properties (Gadi is a Friend of Matt [FOM] after all), with the harsh and heavy-handed treatment of another home owner elsewhere in the city. Here's the setup, as provided in Don's lead paragraphs:
The vision thing. That’s what Ogden’s economic redevelopment gurus are hanging the city’s hat on: that Ogden can be something. A place to go. A place to live. A place to play. A place to succeed.
The city’s on its way. Good things are happening. But it’s a work in progress, and that forward motion won’t persist if obstacles remain in the way.
Some of those hurdles are invisible: the financial markets, the local, state and national economies, things like that.
Others are more obvious. They jump out at you, in fact. And the best example of that kind of economic impediment is along the Ogden River between Washington Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue. There are almost two blocks of mostly boardedup homes that scream: Stay away! Dead zone here!
These buildings, accord ing to Richard McConkie, Ogden’s community and economic development deputy director, are owned by California real estate developer Gadi Leshem, who has been buying up land and buildings in Ogden, and placing options to purchase on other pieces of real estate within the city, for two or three years now. McConkie says the city has contacted Leshem about bulldozing the properties, but without luck so far.
Here’s the problem, as we see it. The RiverFront Project — an effort to redevelop the banks of the Ogden River and for blocks beyond between Washington Boulevard and Wall Avenue — is an aggressive but necessary component of Ogden’s downtown-revitalization plans. Already, a new bicycle shop and popular sandwich shop are located in the budding development. But for prospective developers looking to relocate or give birth to new housing and/or businesses in the area, the blighted properties might as well be the setting for a documentary film titled “Urban Decay: The No-Way-Am-I-Investing-In-Ogden Story.”
Read the full Std-Ex Digital Edition editorial here.

And for a truly special added bonus, be sure to check out the video version of this editorial from the "Std-Ex Live" website. It which takes us on a seeing-is-believing cyber walk-through of Gadi's plainly blighted River Front neighborhood, along with a dramatic Don Porter voice-over, all to the delightful accompaniment of a Louisiana Bayou-style gee-tahr pickin' blues soundtrack. This video is a genuinely well-produced piece, in our not-so-humble opinion, demonstrating that the Standard-Examiner does have the potential to become the local web-based multimedia news source that it aspires to be. Trust us. This is a video piece you don't want to miss:

After you've checked it all out, don't forget to come back with your comments.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Standard-Examiner Expose: Weber County Teenagers Gone Wild

Spotlight on the top story in Thursday's Std-Ex

We didn't want the week to slip by without at least making note of this important story, which was the top front page story in Thurday's Standard-Examiner.

What sets this story apart from your average Wasatch Front "Teenagers gone wild" story (aside from the fact that this particular teenager dropped her "amateur" status and tried to turn "pro"), was the (shall we say) "robust" police response, as reported in this paragraph from the middle of the Sam Cooper story:

Police responded to the club in early April after they were tipped off that one of the dancers may be underage. “There were a ton of cops, sheriffs and highway patrolmen,” one employee said.
Tough duty we suppose, for the seeming hordes of "Utah's Finest" who were apparently dispatched by their various watch commanders to Ogden City's most prominent "Gentleman's Club," in order to apprehend a delinquent teenager.

We do hope none of these "cops, sheriffs and highway patrolmen" suffered any permanent "post-tramatic" stress; and we hope they all "put in" for hazardous duty pay.

Having said all this, we actually do not know what would have been an appropriate police response in a circumstance such as this. We confess that we have not been attending "crime conferences" for 35 years, unlike most experts in law enforcement. For all we know, law enforcement had every reason to anticipate a "dancer riot."

We also think the little gal's mom ought to administer her errant daughter a well-deserved spanking -- and that ought to be the end of it.

And what think our gentle readers?


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Powder Mountain Update: Ogden Valley Citizens Push for a Conflict of Interest Investigation

Meanwhile, Weber County Attorney Decaria considers planning commissioner Lythgoe's questionable conduct to be "moot"

This morning's Standard-Examiner provides an interesting Marshall Thompson story, regarding a still-simmering issue relative to the ongoing Powder Mountain town incorporation dispute. Specifically, residents of Ogden Valley remain steamed about the conduct of of Ogden Valley Planning Commission member Jamie Lythgoe, who continued to participate in Powder Mountain rezoning discussions and deliberations, even as she was quietly preparing to join in as a Powder Mountain town incorporation petitioner, and notwithstanding the existence of personal interests which arguably smacked of direct conflict with her role as a commissioner.

This morning's Std-Ex article, which reports that County Attorney DeCaria now regards Ms. Lythgoe's planning commission activities as moot, provoked the inevitable response from our friends at Ogden Valley Forum. In the interest of keeping our Weber County Forum readers informed of "Powderville" developments, we incorporate the lead paragraphs from this morning's scathing OVF article below:

Where is our County leadership?

In today's Examiner, Mark De Caria remarks leave us dumbfounded. He says the issue on the Lythgoe conflict of interest is a moot point. I guess that he doesn't realize the incorporation is not an accomplished fact as of this date and Lythgoe is still sitting on the OVPC after her disingenuous duplicity regarding the Powder Mountain incorporation petition. If in fact it is a moot point, you would think that our elected County Attorney would still want to examine the recent activities of Lythoge because of the obvious public facts that have surfaced about her actions.

It is clear the County Commissioners do not want to face the music on Lythgoe's conflict of interest actions, since they are the people that appointed her. Her actions of participating with the other OVPC commissioners on the conditions for the Powder Mountain rezone and at the same time being involved with the clandestine preparation of the incorporation petition for a Powder Mountain town is an obvious example of conflict of interest by an appointee in the County. Add to that mix, that she and her family stand to benefit by any large development at Powder Mountain, makes it obvious that this was the intent by Lythgoe from the start. [...].
Read the full OVF article here.

We'll resist adding our further editorial comment, except to note that once again, as we lumpencitizens of Emerald City have observed in the recent past, County Attorney DeCaria demonstrates a remarkable propensity to tip-toe around any and all legal disputes which have political implications. For the sole Democrat occupying elective office in all of Weber County government, discretion becomes the better part of valor -- we suppose.

Alternate Reality Department: Ace Reporter Schwebke Reports on Tuesday's Work Session

The element of cognitive dissonance is added to the raging ice tower funding debate
Ace Reporter Schwebke provides a story in this morning's Standard-Examiner, regarding Tuesday night's council work session, which was thoroughly reported yesterday in Curmudgeon's early morning report. The article headline pretty much sums up the tone of this morning's story: "Funds request not warmly welcomed." Indeed, it's our strong impression that the idea of dropping $200 thousand in taxpayer money on Boss Godfrey's Ice-tower Obsession has gotten zero traction with our sane and prudent Emerald City Council -- Councilman Stephenson excepted -- of course.

Mr. Schwebke's story did however have one element that left us scratching our head. This, from this morning's story:

The city has already received $200,000 in Weber County RAMP tax funds and a pledge for an equal amount of money that would be raised by Jeff Lowe, a renowned ice climber and executive director of Ogden Climbing Parks, which would manage, operate and maintain the tower, John Patterson, the city’s chief administrative officer, said during the work session. [Emphasis added].
Up until now, we had been led to believe that the committees in charge of doling out RAMP funds had denied RAMP moneys for this patently goofball project; and we confess we are now experiencing some cognitive dissonance. We've even carefully examined the 2008 RAMP recommendations, and ice tower money seemed noticeably absent.

Did Mr. Patterson simply mis-speak; or does our Emerald City chief administrative officer have information to which we have not yet been made privy?

We heard privately that the RAMP selection committee had unceremoniously laughed the ice tower funding proposal out of the committee room, by the way.

So many questions... so few answers.

Perhaps our well connected Weber County Forum readership can help us out on this.

Legislative Ethics Reform Coming in 2009?

We're hopeful... but not betting the farm

Just to get the discussion started this morning we'll spotlight a thoughtful editorial appearing in today's Standard-Examiner, harping once again on the sorry condition of ethics reform in the Utah legislature. Today's editorial falls close on the heels of Tuesday's editorial, which put the focus on lobbyist reporting. The Std-Ex is on a roll on the topic of ethics reform. We'll add that we agree with the Std-Ex editors 100% on this issue. From this morning's editorial:
They may be bluffing again, but the possibility exists — unlikely as it may be — that Utah lawmakers are getting themselves into the mood for meaningful ethics reform.
We know: This is familiar territory. Between annual legislative sessions, or in the early days of the actual sessions themselves, one or two optimistic lawmakers will talk about lowering the dollar limits on gift reporting, banning the freebies outright or placing some sensible restrictions on the expenditure of campaign contributions. But it almost always comes to naught.
Take the 2008 session, for example. Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, sponsored Senate Bill 273, titled “Regulation of Gifts.” The bill aimed to, among other things, require “that gifts of food or beverage be reported by” a public official’s “name if the expenditure exceeds $15, rather than the current $50 threshold” and would have required “that gifts totaling $30 within a calendar day be reported by” a public official’s name, “rather than the current $50 threshold.”
All pretty reasonable, but it’s fate, according to the Legislature’s own Web site, was to fail to even get a hearing in committee — the most preliminary step a bill must take if it is to have a shot at being heard by the entire Senate.
For reasons like these, we rarely are confident that lawmakers will do the right thing when it comes to revealing what freebies they are getting from lobbyists. But hope is a good thing to have in your heart — it crowds out the cynicism — and we’re experiencing a smidgen of renewed hope as the result of last week’s Government Operations Interim Committee meeting.
As the Std-Ex editors observe, even the best-intended ethics reform legislation faces an uphill fight in our legislature under its present mode of operation, whereby the gatekeepers of the status quo, legislative leadership, exerts tight control over unfavored bills, especially at the committee level.

It seems to us that the only way we'll ever clear out the current bottleneck is to replace current leadership with opposition candidates who are more responsive to the will of the electorate. And what are the chances of that, we ask?

Being the curious type, we navigated to the State Elections website this morning and looked at the 2008 election contenders in the races involving the four top legislative leaders. We list below the opposition posture in those four races:

State Senate
John Valentine (Dist. 14 - Orem) - Senate President - Unopposed
Curt Bramble (Dist. 16 - Provo) - Majority Leader - Two challengers (Republican & Democrat)

Bramble, it seems, faces a GOP opponent at the May 10, 2008 GOP State convention.

State House
Greg Curtis (Dist. 49 - SLC) - Speaker of House - Two Challengers (Constitution & Democrat)
David Clark (Dist. 74 - Santa Clara) - Majority Leader - One challenger (Demograt)

Yeah, we know that this data is somewhat rudimentary, and that much depends on the quality of legislators who are elected in 2008 who will not occupy top legislative leadership spots. Nevertheless, we believe the above information provides something of a springboard for the beginning of a WCF discussion on this topic.

And we'll throw in our own two cents: assuming that a change in legislative leadership will trigger a more enthusiastic legislative response to proposed ethics reform legislation, we're with the Standard-Examiner -- hopeful.

But we're certainly not going to bet the farm that there will be substantial leadership changes on Capitol Hill.

And what say our gentle readers about all this? What are the odds that any of the three opposed GOP legislative leaders will be knocked off?

Update 4/24/08 8:28 a.m. MT: One of our favorite Utah blogs, The Sidetrack, provides some fresh and interesting information regarding Senator Bramble's intra-party challenger, Jacque deGaston, who has created much political heat for the incumbent Senate Majority Leader, in connection with the hotly contested Senate Dist. 16 race.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

City Council Work Session 22 April 2008

Budget Matters

By Curmudgeon

[This work session with the Mayor was requested by the Council to have the Administration discuss mostly budget matters involving expenditures from general fund surpluses, RAMP funds and BDO revenues.]

The budget discussion began with Mr. Bill Cook, of the Council staff, summarizing the issues the Council wanted the Mayor to discuss. First up was the surplus in the General Fund... about $4 million. The city is required to keep $2.7 million of that as a reserve fund, leaving $1.2 million available to appropriate at this time. The Administration requests that the $1.2 million be spent as follows: $800K to cover a shortfall in anticipated sales taxes [attributed to the general decline in the overall economy], and $450K to be spent on various capital improvement projects [road projects, Union station repair, etc.]

The city also received $375K in RAMP Funds, allocated to the Ogden Canyon trail project [bridge and overpass], the existing Ogden River Kayak Park [$78 K] and Paddlefest [$13K].

Mr. Patterson reported that the City’s 50% share of BDO revenues came to $2,745,000, which was about $800K more than had been expected. A sign, he said, that things are going very well at BDO. There followed a long involved discussion of several ordinances the city has adopted regarding spending of BDO funds, amendments thereto, all of which ended up this way: half of the BDO money can be used for any purpose, the other half must be used for capital improvement projects --- unless the money is needed for paying interest and principle on the construction bonds issued for The Junction. And, Mr. Patterson noted, the money is needed for that purpose this year, since tax revenues from The Junction have not come in as expected due to construction delays, slowness of Weber County to add finished elements of the project to the tax rolls, etc. So the city must pay, this year, $1,568,850, which is about twice what it anticipated paying.

Read Curmudgeon's full article here.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Boss Godfrey Prepares to Go on Another Spending Spree

$3 million in expenditures calendered for tonight's work session agenda

This morning's Ace Reporter Schwebke story serves as a reminder of tonight's Emerald City Council work session, in which Boss Godfrey will unveil his laundry list of proposed expenditures, designed to empty Ogden City's $2.9 million dollar "carryover money"account, and fulfill Godfrey's latest "pet projects."

Among the items newly revealed in this morning's story is a $1.5 million allocation to The Junction's debt service:
Included in the proposal is a $1.5 million allocation, double the amount anticipated in the fiscal 2008 budget, to make an annual debt service payment for The Junction retail, residential and entertainment complex downtown.
The funds are needed because construction delays at The Junction have prevented the generation of anticipated tax increment.
The foregoing will surely come as a shock for the faithful lemmings in the Godfrey camp, who actually believed Boss Godfrey's 2005 sales pitch, to the effect that The Junction would carry its own weight, and not become a burden upon the taxpayers of Emerald City.

Our own sources also reveal that Godfrey will be pitching a funds allocation toward a special Godfrey "slush fund," intended to lure more ski companies to our high-adventure town.

It also appears that the Godfrey administration has felt the political heat, and accordingly softened it posture on the $200 thousand proposed allocation toward the "Ice Tower" project. In spite of the evidence, administration officials now deny that they intend to hold Emerald City public transit funds hostage, under a Godfrey demand for a matching ice tower appropriation:
Mark Johnson, the city’s management services director, said Monday the administration isn’t seeking a “horse trade” through its recommendation and is merely attempting to provide a strategy to fund both the transit study and ice tower.
“It’s not a political statement,” he said regarding the recommendation. “That’s not how it was meant to be presented.” [...]
"... a March 27 memo from Ogden Finance Manager John Arrington to the city council is less direct in describing the administration’s intentions.
The memo states the administration has suggested the use of $200,000 in UTA funds for the transit analysis and the reappropriation of that money as “additional city funding” for the ice tower.
Council Director Bill Cook is nevertheless sticking to his guns. According to this morning's story, it remains Cook's belief that the public transit and ice tower funds were tied together as a quid pro quo, under terms of the administration's original presentation.

We suppose we'll have to see what happens at tonight's meeting. If all goes according to plan, we'll have our own Weber County Forum reporter sitting in on tonight's work session, notebook in hand, to report whether Godfrey is willing to independently release, without conditions, the $231,250 in Federal Transit Administration funds which remain languishing in a UTA account. Hopefully we'll be able to publish a report within a reasonable time after tonight's session.

While we're on the subject, we're linking our council contact information web page here, for those readers who'd like to actively lobby city council members regarding tonight's work session agenda. We updated the page yesterday, with what we believe to be each council member's preferred email address. In that connection, we would appreciate those readers who make use of this Weber County Forum resource to alert us by email, in the event of any technical glitches.

Take it away, gentle readers.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Boss Godfrey: "Green" or not?

Boss Godfrey adopts 21st century computer technology to turn off wasteful Emerald City sprinklers -- at last!

By Curmudgeon

Since questions about the Ogden City administration's commitment to "green" has come up as a topic on Weber County Forum, thought I'd mention a story posted on the Standard-Examiner website this afternoon.

From the story:
OGDEN -- When it's raining and city parks' sprinklers are on, it can take all day for three plumbers to turn off the water lines in 42 separate parks....

That's why Ogden City has been trying to implement the Maxicom Central Control Systems to help save water, which becomes especially important with recent drought restrictions...

The new system will save an estimated 92 million gallons of water a year, more than half of the amount used now on parks lawns and fields. That will translate into the city saving tens of thousands of dollars each year. [Link added]
Sounds like a good idea to me, both environmentally and financially.

Editor's addendum: So, gentle readers... what about it? Does this latest effort on Godfrey's part to draw favorable headlines, and to deal with the constant and ridiculous daily running water problem in our public parks entitle him to label himself green"... or not? Will three hard-working Ogden City plumbers be summarily "laid off?" How much will this new system cost the taxpayers, exactly? Will this mayoral effort at publically displayed "economy" offset his "visionary" commitment to the energy wasteful Ice Tower effect?

Thankfully, our gentle readers are always able to provide intelligent answers to questions such as these.

We'll offer our observation that do find it somewhat encouraging to find the Boss Godfrey Administration dealing with infrastructure issues -- albeit only occasionally.

Have at it, WCF readers.

The Collapse of America’s Service Economy

Dire predictions from one eminent US investment broker -- and a plug for a danged good book

By Peter Schiff
Euro Pacific Capital
April 18, 2008

Recent high profile bankruptcies of mainstay American retailers, such as The Sharper Image and Linens ‘n Things, as well as the proposed mergers between Blockbuster/Circuit City and Delta/Northwest, and the admissions from the nation’s leading student lenders that their business models are no longer viable, mark the beginning of a long overdue overhaul of the American economy. In short, the economy will be getting smaller and more expensive.

The success of all of these seemingly disparate sectors depends, to a large extent, on the ability of Americans to continue to borrow cheaply and easily. Now that home equity extractions and zero interest credit card rollovers can no longer be used to fund electronics purchases, vacations or tuition, those corresponding sectors are suffering. The foundation of our bloated service sector economy, supported by overseas savings and production, is now giving way.

This diminished capacity will result in a wave of bankruptcies and consolidations to restore profitability in what will become a much smaller service sector. The days of cheap consumer goods at Wal-Mart and cheap airfares at Jet Blue are coming to an end. It is all part of the process of an unprecedented decline in America’s standard of living, which is the inevitable result of years of living beyond our means.

For retailers, the business model of selling cheap foreign imported goods to over- leveraged Americans was doomed from the start. It is fitting that just prior to the collapse, Wall Street private equity firms decided to jump aboard a sinking ship (Linens ‘n Things was purchased by the Apollo Group for $1.3 billion back in 2006). No doubt the added debt subsequently piled on to the firm by the profit-squeezing buy out boys hastened the company’s demise. As revenues decline and debt servicing costs rise for many retailers (who have been similarly hog-tied by private equity firms), look for additional blow-ups down the road.

As the dollar continues its historic decline, imported goods will become too costly for many Americans. In addition, more of those products still made (or more likely grown) here will be exported to wealthier foreign consumers whose appreciated currencies increase their purchasing power. As a result, fewer products will be available to fill our shelves and those that remain will carry much higher price tags.

In addition, as defaults on credit and store charge cards continue to increase, the market for such debt will soon disappear. As a result, the credit crunch will spread from subprime mortgages to all forms of consumer credit. Therefore, not only will Americans be staring at higher prices, but they will have to pay in cash.

Similarly, the coming airline consolidation will usher in a harsher era for the American airline industry. In truth, given the rising costs of building, flying and servicing aircraft, U.S. carriers currently supply more planes and passenger miles than American consumers can afford to utilize. While this may seem illogical in a time when domestic flights are usually fully booked, it is important to realize that these crowded planes do not translate into profit at current ticket prices. While mergers may help the airlines hold down costs for a bit, the only lasting pathway to profit is fewer flights and significantly higher ticket prices. Of course, this will mean that Americans of modest means will travel less by air. Unfortunately, that fact is simply an inevitable consequence of a sagging currency and diminishing national wealth.

Although many Americans have come to regard affordable air travel as a birth right, from a global perspective it remains the province of the wealthy. The massive borrowing that has financed the American economy for generations, combined with an evaporating industrial base and a lack of domestic savings have combined to lower American’s wealth in comparison to the rest of the world. Consequently, as more materials, technicians and jet fuel go to service the burgeoning Asian air travel industry, the higher the costs will become for American travelers. As with other hallmarks of a diminished standard of living, Americans now have to confront the reality of staying closer to home.

The same mathematics will come into play for our ridiculously expensive higher education system, which can not exist without a well lubricated loan infrastructure. Limit the ability of students to take on heavy loans, and college education becomes untouchable for anyone but the wealthiest Americans. If loans dry up, universities will be forced to slash their bureaucracies and substantially reduce tuitions. Ironically the silver lining here is that with low tuitions students will no longer need the loans that kept tuitions so high in the first place.

For a more in depth analysis of our financial problems and the inherent dangers they pose for the U.S. economy and U.S. dollar denominated investments, read my new book “Crash Proof: How to Profit from the Coming Economic Collapse.”

Order the book now... while you can still charge it to your credit card.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Another Humdinger of a Reportorial Expose From This Morning's Standard-Examiner

Godfrey: "Give me 200 grand for my ice tower, or else!"

Another humdinger of a reportorial expose' from Standard-Examiner Ace Reporter Schwebke this morning, with this front page story, reporting that Boss Godfrey is shaking down the city council for $200 thousand, to be applied to Godfrey's crackpot "Fortress of Mayoral Ego Project." We provide Mr. Schwebke's opening paragraphs below:
OGDEN — Mayor Matthew Godfrey will use $200,000 in Utah Transit Authority funds to analyze local mass transportation options only if the city council allocates an equal amount for a proposed ice climbing tower, according to a report from the council’s staff.
The voluminous report briefly mentions the funding swap as part of an overall proposal to allocate $2.9 million in fiscal 2007 carryover money and Business Depot Ogden lease revenues to finance a variety of projects.
“It appears that the mayor is willing to use the UTA federal funds for the transportation alternatives analysis but only if $200,000 is appropriated for the ice climbing tower,” says the report that will be discussed during a city council work session Tuesday night.
Godfrey said he hasn’t reviewed the report, but he downplayed its mention of trading UTA funds for ice tower money.
“I wouldn’t word it that strong,” he said.
Despite Godfrey's lame attempt to soft-pedal the situation, we believe the Std-Ex gets the essence of the story just right in the article subtitle, which blares: "Godfrey’s deal? Funds for UTA study if ice climbing tower gets money". Frankly, it actually looks a tad like extortion to us. It has that "do this or else" flavor to it, don't you think?

And get this. Godfrey contends, with a completely straight face, that the city council is 100% behind the Ice Tower Boondoggle:
The mayor also said the administration and city council have agreed that a mass transit study and yearround ice tower are vital to the city.
“We have wanted to study transit corridors,” he said. “We also feel strongly that the ice climbing tower is important to the vision of Ogden.”
It's evident thay your blogmeister isn't the only person whose B.S. Meter jumped completely off-scale upon hearing the details of Godfrey's latest proposed "horse-trade." This morning's story also offers these wonderful observations and comments from Council Chair Amy Wicks:
However, City Council Chairwoman Amy Wicks said the council hasn’t discussed whether to financially support the tower that would be built at the corner of 25th Street and Kiesel Avenue.
She also noted the ice tower didn’t receive Weber County RAMP tax funding earlier this year and questions whether there is enough demand for the structure.
“My concern is, do we spend public dollars on something that has limited interest?” Wicks asked. [...].
Wicks also finds it odd that Godfrey wants to use taxpayer supported UTA funds earmarked for local transportation studies as a bargaining chip to get money from the city council for the ice tower.
“It’s crazy for it (UTA funds) to be used as a negotiation tool,” she said. [Emphasis added.]
We think Amy was just being nice. Loony would be a more accurate description, in our ever-humble view.

And let's not forget that this whole brouhaha is occurring in a greater context. The $200 thousand that Godfrey will be demanding for the ice tower during Tuesday night's work session is only chump-change, compared to the $2.9 million in city funds languishing unspent (and presumably drawing interest) in some Ogden City treasury account. We haven't seen the list of other items on Godfrey's Tuesday night shopping list, but for a Big Spending government bureaucrat like Godfrey, the whole idea of having an unintended reserve fund sitting idly must be driving the poor little guy even more nuts than he already is.

For newcomers to Weber County Forum we also link this interesting article collection, which traces the source of the $200 thousand-plus in UTA funds mentioned in Mr. Schwebke's most excellent morning story.

Nice work, Mr. Schwebke, by the way. Please add another Weber County Forum Tip O' the Hat to your rapidly-filling hat rack.

And what say our gentle readers about all this?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Bernick: "What a Mess Utah Republican Party Has Made"

Plenty of criticism of Utah GOP leadership originates from within the Utah GOP rank and file

Scathing Bob Bernick piece in this morning's Deseret Morning News, under the headline "What a mess Utah Republican Party has made." We incorporate Mr. Bernick's opening paragraphs below:
Utah voters: Welcome to the political world of Stan Lockhart, Curt Bramble and, for those living in Happy Valley, the Utah County Republican Party.
When GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., after briefly trying to find someone on his own to be the new chairman of the Utah Republican Party last year, decided to "wash his hands" of picking the new party leader, I'm told he was warned that letting GOP legislators pick the man (or woman) could prove troublesome.
But Huntsman decided to stay out of it.
And so Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem; Senate Majority Leader Curt Bramble, R-Provo; House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy; and other legislative luminaries decided on local lobbyist Stan Lockhart, whose wife is state Rep. Becky Lockhart, R-Provo. (State GOP delegates pick party leaders, but they usually follow the advice of their top elected officials.)
Known as part of the GOP Utah County clique, Stan Lockhart is well known to many legislators. For years as the Micron lobbyist, he had provided more Jazz tickets to lawmakers than any other lobbyist. A Deseret News calculation by investigative reporter Lee Davidson found that Stan Lockhart has given legislators nearly $60,000 in Jazz tickets over the years.
Stan Lockhart is best buddies with Bramble — their families go on trips together, including a jaunt to Italy last summer. (Bramble, in an as-yet-unpublished lobbyist-giving study by Davidson, leads all legislators in taking $1,447 in lobbyist gifts during the first quarter of this year, which includes the 2008 Legislature. Bramble says he paid his own way to Italy, taking no gifts from Lockhart or another well-known lobbyist who went on the trip.)
I'm told that a few other GOP supporters warned Lockhart that he would have to be his own man as party chairman, and that the "Bram-harts" — as the couples are collectively known — would not be running the Utah Republican Party like their own little fraternity.
But someone didn't get the memo. [...].
Read Mr. Bernick's full article here.

Now anyone who's familiar with Bob Bernick's writing already knows he's about the closest thing to a "lefty" as anyone who writes for the otherwise "righty" Deseret News. He takes potshots at Utah Republicans on the pages of the D-News with frequent regularity -- often based upon what we consider to be poor foundation. Notwithstanding this known propensity however, we don't believe Mr. Bernick is even slightly off-base in the criticisms contained in this morning's story. Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and then. Your blogmeister has heard similar gripes as those raised this morning by Mr. Bernick from disaffected Utah Republicans from across the state.

Case in point? We'll incorporate a few remarks from from this morning's D-News comments section:
Mike Ridgway: Bob, Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
From all of us grassroots Utah Republicans who wish we could snap our fingers and make this nightmare go away.

Roobah: Wow, what a nice story to summarize everything in one fell swoop. Nice resource piece to say it all in a nutshell. Every Republican should read this article. Thank you.

Appalling: I literally feel sick after reading this. These leaders act as if this were some kind of game. It smacks of the same bullying and clique-building you see in junior high, only the consequences affect the rights and laws of Utah citizens. Of course you see the dilemma of simply voting them out is that this arrogant clique controls who you get to vote for and unless you are willing to vote democrat (heavan forbid) they win. Good luck Utah County.

Drew Chamberlain: These are serious concerns. I applaud Mr. Bernick for the investigation. Now it is our turn as Republican Delegates to CLEAN UP OUR PARTY! Attend the county convention May 3rd. Attend the State convention May 10th. Stand up and make your voice heard.
We could go on. Be sure to read the full Bernick article; and above all, don't forget to check out the D-News reader comments section.

Food for thought on a slow Emerald City news day. We hope newly-elected GOP state convention delegates from Weber County will pay special attention to the material in this morning's story. We have more than a few GOP state delegates within our WCF readership, of course.

Who will be the first to comment?

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Fortress of Mayoral Ego

Valuable insight about deep mayoral psychological problems, inadvertently gained whilst picking up a Salt Lake Marathon packet

By Monotreme

This afternoon, I went to pick up my packet of information for the Salt Lake City marathon. It's no match for our very own Ogden Marathon, but a Monotreme has to train wherever he can.

Amongst the packets of trail mix and toothpaste, a free magazine called "Sports Guide" had a blurb on the cover advertising "Resort Report: Ogden's Ice Tower". That seemed confusing, because I'm pretty sure the ice tower hasn't been constructed yet.

The article, entitled "Ice Climbing Ogden" is by Bill Novak, who is so enamored of all things Ogden that he works at Brighton. The lede is a work of art:
Modeled after Superman's Fortress of Solitude, the world's first year-round ice climbing wall is poised to spike the city of Ogden. [Emphasis mine: pun intended? -- Ed.] Developers have crafted a three-sided holographic ice tower to accommodate 12 different routes that extend 50 vertical feet. With pitches of 80 degrees to double overhanging craziness, the ice climbing park promises to cater to everyone, from school kids to totally hardcore mountain men [to self-absorbed mayors]. Oh yeah, the whole thing will be outside.
There's more...
With the city of Ogden on its way to becoming the adventure capital of the world, a year-round ice climbing feature is an ideal addition to their party list. [Said party list includes: a glow-in-the-dark miniature golf paradise; a pizza parlor; a huge overpriced ventilation shaft; and a possible flatland gondola to nowhere.] Teaming up with the nonprofit corporation, Ogden Climbing Parks, the city, which owns the facility, will hand the tower over to OCP to manage.
And then...
Ogden Climbing Parks plans to have the facility up and running within a year, but they still need additional funding. The total project is priced at $1.5 million, and the non-profit organization needs 60 percent of this figure.
In the artist's conception accompanying the article, there are huge Ogden City, OCP, RAMP and GOAL logos on the Fortress of Solitude.

May I be the first to propose that we change the name of the ice climbing tower to the Fortress of Mayoral Ego? I think we're getting some valuable insight into deep-rooted psychological issues here.

According to Wikipedia,
The Fortress contained an alien zoo, a giant steel diary in which Superman wrote his memoirs (using either his invulnerable finger or heat vision to engrave entries into its pages), a chess-playing robot, specialized exercise equipment, a laboratory where Superman worked on various projects such as developing defenses to Kryptonite, a computer, communications equipment, and rooms dedicated to all of his friends, including one for Clark Kent to fool visitors. As the stories continued, it was revealed that the Fortress was where Superman's robot duplicates were stored. It also contained the Phantom Zone projector, various pieces of alien technology he had acquired on visits to other worlds, and, much like the Batcave, trophies of his past adventures. Indeed, the Batcave and Batman himself made an appearance in the first Fortress story. The Fortress also became the home of the bottle city of Kandor (until it was enlarged), and an apartment in the Fortress was set aside for Supergirl.
No further comment is required. Click to enlarge the lower image:

FrontRunner: The Cure for Urban Blight?

Waiting to see whether FrontRunner will be the magic bullet we're all hoping it will be

By Curmudgeon

I know Ogden is banking heavily on the restorative impact on downtown of FrontRunner arriving in Ogden. So, by the way, is SLC, where we are likely to get a pretty good read, and fairly quickly, regarding how much transit oriented development FrontRunner will spark. A story went up late this afternoon on the Salt Lake Tribune website, discussing the heavy lifting FrontRunner is expected to do in the old "stockade" district of SLC, where its terminal is located.

From the story:

Broken beer bottles, boarded buildings and bums peeing in weed-wretched lots. This long-forsaken patch of Salt Lake City borders a once-raunchy red-light district known as the "Stockade." And that was its high point.
Welcome to curiously named "Salt Lake Central," a new TRAX station near 300 South and 600 West that will serve as the nexus for thousands of FrontRunner riders whose first view of the capital could be disconcerting. Despite the neighborhood's nadir, the trains arrive next week, ferrying their cargo of debit-card carrying commuters.
Developers argue the gritty strip is gold. They have pledged hotels, restaurants, night clubs, a Starbucks and even a Ferris wheel - designed after the famous entertainment hub in the heart of Copenhagen, Denmark, called Tivoli Gardens. One builder envisions a Barcelona-like Las Ramblas - complete with commerce that flowers as often as its plants - across the street from the transit hub where debris and disrepair dominate the shadow of Rio Grande Depot.
But those promises came four years ago and seem farther off than ever. Now, people who lease or live in the area - many still are skittish over a crack-cocaine outbreak - offer mixed messages on whether the grand gentrification is realistic. Still, city bosses expect a transit-fueled rebirth of the squalid site that last thrived as an ethnic enclave during the heyday of the railroad.
Call it the boulevard of bottled hope that a westward-bound city desperately wants to recycle.
The Ogden FrontRunner station is not mired in quite that kind of urban decay, happily, but it also does not have a trolley connection to the rest of the city... and probably won't so long as Mayor Godfrey clings to his unfortunate obsession with a flatland gondola terminal there instead. But we are going to get, very short, some very real-world evidence on the potential for transit oriented development in both downtown the Ogden and downtown Salt Lake FrontRunner station neighborhoods.

Predictions of great development and the resurrection of the downtowns [which I hope come true and then some in both places] aren't going to matter much any more very shortly. In a couple of years we'll know... not think, but know... if FrontRunner is the magic bullet were all hoping it will be.

Wal-Mart Update: Slight Progress in the Property Acquistion Arena

Developer Leshem throws another $125 thousand in chump change toward the $ Multi-million Wal-Mart project

This morning's Standard-Examiner provides a hint of good news regarding Emerald City's stalled downtown Wal-Mart Supercenter project. Ace Reporter Schwebke's morning story reports that "developer" Gadi Leshem last week actually coughed up the $125,000 in earnest money provided in the sale contract with Ogden property owner Mark Boyce "about a month ago." While the payment of a contractually-required "down payment" is something that normally occurs simultaneously with the execution of a property purchase agreement in a normal transaction, we already know that Gadi Leshem isn't exactly what anyone would label a "normal developer." Looking at the bright side though, (we always like to look at the bright side), it appears that at least Mr. Boyce didn't require the services of Gadi crony Boss Godfrey to pry this latest earnest money payment loose, unlike the situation with Boyce's neighbor, Brent Cox.

Ace Reporter Schwebke also provides a handy scorecard this morning, regarding the four properties which yet remain "unacquired" by Mr. Leshem:

1) Boyce has received his earnest money, as we said. His transaction is expected to close in October;

2) Gadi is apparently in breach of contract as to the Cox transaction, although he is making noise about a "soils" problem, a possible failure of a contingency which might provide Mr. Leshem a contractual "out." Cox has nevertheless put his property back on the market, although the ever-optimistic Dave Harmer suggests another heretofore unnamed developer/accommodator/white knight is standing somewhere in the wings;

3) The Praxair property remains unacquired. Schwebke provides no information about the possible status of the transaction; and,

4) Although the Northern Exposure Gentleman's Club is now shut down (sniff), Mr. Leshem still doesn't show up in title as the record owner. Once again we have no hint about the status of this property acquisition.

This morning's news does provide some slight encouragement that the project is making progress, although we also submit that Mr. Leshem's recent behavior could possibly reflect the fact that Mr. Leshem isn't quite so flush with cash as his proponents have suggested in the past, shall we say. The so-far demonstrated perfomance to date on the part of Mr. Leshem somehow doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the Moneyman who plans to singlehandedly finance the makeover of half of downtown Ogden as far as we're concerned -- if you take our meaning -- which we think you do.

Comments are invited as always.

A Gentle Reminder: Phun with Physics This Evening @ WSU

A gentle Weber County Forum reminder for the calender-impaired

We don't like to dun our gentle readers; but this morning we're issuing a reminder of this evening's WSU special event. WSU's Physics_Open_House 2008 is scheduled for this evening from 5:30-8:30 p.m. It's the kind of event that the science-oriented among us won't want to miss; so we're bringing up the subject again, just in case a few of our gentle readers forgot to enter it on their calenders.

We did an earlier writeup on the subject a couple of weeks back; and the Standard-Examiner also published a nice promotional piece in Sunday's edition, under the headline "Phun with Physics".

This looks to be a truly phun event for kids and grownups alike. What's more, the price is right for inflation-stressed families-- admission is free.

We hope to see you all there.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Garcia Withdraws His Legislative District Nine Bid

Federal Office of Special Counsel Remains Mum in Greiner Matter

By Curmudgeon

The Standard-Examiner is reporting this morning -- full story here -- that Councilman Jesse Garcia has withdrawn his bid for a Democratic party nomination for the state legislature, out of concern that continuing might cost him his job with Weber County. He will remain on the Council because his Council seat was won in a non-partisan election, and so does not come under the provisions of the Hatch Act... a fact the Justice Department seemed unaware of when it first contacted Mr. Garcia's employer. The Justice Department investigator told Garcia's employer that his holding a Council seat violated the Hatch Act. It does not. Local public employees such as Garcia who stand for office in non-partisan races [Ogden city elections are all non-partisan] are not covered by the Hatch Act. But then, this is still the Bush Administration Justice Department, and competence has not been one of its hallmarks.

Still no word on whether, when or how the Justice Department intends to resolve the same Hatch Act complaint against Ogden Police Chief and State Senator Greiner, initially made during his campaign for the Utah Senate. But then, we have to remember that complaint about Sen. Greiner, a Republican, violating the Hatch Act by running in a partisan election for state office was made during the tenure of the now disgraced Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, whose corrupt and partisan operation of the Justice Department not even Republicans bother much to deny anymore.

Still, with a new attorney general coming on board, we were told the Gonzales mess was over, and integrity had returned. And yet, here in northern Utah and in Ogden we still wait for some resolution of the complaint against Sen. Greiner, who still is Ogden police chief, and who still holds his seat in the Senate. And we wait... and wait... and wait.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

City Council Applies Another $750 Thousand to the Junction Money Pit

Where are the hard and fast figures for the Salomon Center's nearly one-year performance?

By Curmudgeon

Yet another interesting Scott Schwebke story in this morning's Standard-Examiner. The story reports that the City Council just approved $750,000 in cost over-run payments for construction at The Junction. From this morning's story:
Three separate items each totaling about $250,000 have pushed The Junction over budget, he said.
Those items include the removal of buried fuel storage tanks and concrete from the site, construction change orders for work on a parking garage and higher than-expected expenses associated with installation of the iFly skydiving simulator in the Salomon Center.
When original cost estimates were developed for the high-adventure Salomon Center, the city did not have detailed specifications for the portion of the building that houses iFly, Harmer said.
The overruns are expected to exceed funding by less than 2 percent, which is reasonable for a project the size of The Junction, he said.
Two points: first, it's interesting to know that the Mayor and Council did not have a good handle on the cost of installing the Salomon Center's wind tunnel ride when they approved it. Since such rides were already in operation in other places, the ride hardly involved new [and unpriced] technology, so I'm a little hard put to understand why good numbers on installation costs were, somehow, not available to the Mayor and RDA Board. I know, all good construction budgets include an allowance for overages created by changes, price fluctuations and so on, an the overages at The Junction seem not out of line with what is usual for such projects. But the mis-guess on the wind tunnel ride part of it still puzzles me some.

Second: the rationale for the city putting the taxpayers' money at risk underwriting The Junction construction bonds was that the various businesses going in there would bring new business to the city, create a "high adventure" recreation venue downtown to draw the multitudes to Junction City, and so forth. In light of which, it would be interesting to know how the wind tunnel ride is doing. Making a bundle and bringing in folks from all over the Wasatch Front? Barely making it's operating costs and serving mostly locals? Losing its shirt and not drawing flies? I know, I know, it's a private operation, but given the fact that the city backed the construction bonds for it, seems to me the public has not only an interest, but a right to know if its expectations are being fulfilled. Ditto for the surf ride.

I presume that, if the wind tunnel was going gangbusters, the owners and the Administration would not be shouting that from the rooftops. So the suspicion is that all is not going as well as was hoped. It would be nice to see some hard and fast numbers on this.

Somebody Drops the Hatch Act Dime on Ogden City Councilman Garcia

Incumbent City Councilman and State House Representative candidate charges "dirty politics"

Fascinating article in this morning's Standard-Examiner, reporting that "somebody" has dropped the "Hatch Act" dime on democratic House Legislative District 9 candidate and current Emerald City Councilman Jesse Garcia. It's deja vu all over again in Emerald City. The situation is reminiscent of the 2006 general election campaign, when Ogden Police Chief Jon Greiner nearly dropped out of the State Senate District 18 race, under similar Hatch Act violation accusations. Of course we all remember what happened in the case of Greiner. He ultimately lawyered-up and fired right back at the meddling attorneys from the US Office of Special Counsel, employing the same successful legal strategy previously perfected by Assemblyman Richard Perkins of Nevada. As a result, and as reported in this morning's Ace Reporter Schwebke story, Greiner just now completed his second State Senate session, and hasn't heard word one from federal attorneys in almost two years.

According to this morning's article however, Garcia's problem is more complicated than that of Greiner. Garcia is not only running for a State House of Representatives seat, but has already served as an elected Ogden City Councilman for fifteen years. Moreover, his main employment is with Weber County Human Services, a recipient of federal grants, from which Garcia's salary is probably at least partly derived, thus arguably bringing him within Hatch Act jurisdiction.

From the tone of today's article, it appears that Garcia is prepared to cut and run. Although he's talking about consulting with legal counsel, he's also making noise about abandoning his State House race -- and resigning his City Council seat. That he would consider such a course of action is understandable. It goes without saying that he lacks the considerable financial resources of a Jon Greiner, who was evidently able to successfully stand toe-to-toe with federal lawyers in 2006.

As an aside, Ace Reporter Schwebke begins the pursuit of what we believe to be an interesting story angle this morning -- and he gets off to a fair start with the query: Who, exactly, dropped the dime on Councilman Garcia? Good question, we believe.

In a somewhat perfunctory manner, we think, Mr. Schwebke reports on the responses of all candidates in the Legislative 9 race. Neil Hansen denies any involvement. He says he prefers to play within the system. GOP challenger Jeremy Peterson also issues his own denial. Frankly we believe both of them. Hansen is the hands-down favorite to win the 2008 Democratic Party nomination. His re-nomination will likely be a Weber County Democratic Convention cake-walk. Why would he bring such unnecessary complications into his race? As for GOP challenger Peterson, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that he'd prefer to face Garcia in November, rather than Hansen, a five term incumbent, who's basically owned Ogden's House District 9 for the past ten years.

Following up on Mr. Schwebke's question, ask yourselves, gentle readers... who stands to gain the most if Councilman Garcia is forced to resign his city council seat? Somebody with an office on the ninth floor of the municipal building? Some "visionary" who'd like nothing more than to break the opposition lag-jam in the city council/RDA? Somebody who'd like to take a crack at the appointment of a new city councilman who, unlike Garcia, hasn't been a burr under the administration saddle since he took the mayoral oath of office in 2000? Somebody with a seemingly pathological obsession for GONDOLAS, perhaps, hmmm? So many questrions... so few answers.

Jesse Garcia attributes this latest development to "dirty politics;" and we think he's absolutely right. The trouble is, we believe he's obviously pointing his finger at the wrong suspects.

We sit perched on the edge of our seat awaiting our gentle readers' comments re this.

The floor is now open for further discussion of what we deem to be a VERY meaty topic.

Golf Course Update: Adopt the Principle of "First Things First"

One Ogden citizen suggests Boss Godfrey emulate a locally successful business model

Since March of this year, the Big Spending Boss Godfrey has asked for citizen suggestions on how to improve the revenue picture for the Mt. Ogden Golf Course. Godfrey characterizes the situation as dire. He proposes drastic solutions, his obvious favorite being a golf course redesign, which could cost the taxpayers upwards of $10 million.

In the intervening period, numerous citizen ideas have flowed in, all of which would inflict far less pain to the public purse than the option which Godfrey prefers. For review, several of these can be found within our WCF Golf Course Article Collection. The latest helpful citizen suggestion is provided in this morning's Standard-Examiner, within a fine guest commentary by Ogden resident Frank McFarland.

Mr. McFarland reports that he met recently with Todd Brinkman, managing pro of the El Monte and Mount Ogden golf courses, Jeff McFarland, greens manager of Mount Ogden, and Jon Fister, golf pro at Mount Ogden. Together they arrived at some "inexpensive modifications to the course were presented in order to make the course more playable for the 'average' high handicapper."

McFarland has neatly packaged his resulting suggestions within a few short contiguous sentences, which we incorporate below:
Our suggestion is: Fund now whatever money is requested by Brinkman, McFarland and Fister, and do the work now to minimize the impact on the course. The longer the delay, the less likely it will ever happen since the debt load will continue to rise.
This course is a rare jewel and should be treated as a possible summer attraction for Ogden, as Snowbasin resort is a major winter attraction. Our further suggestion is to live with the clubhouse and the irrigation system as they are now, until the course can be made to pay its own way — then think about replacement. Do first things first.
As the article subtitle suggests, "Maybe Mt. Ogden could learn from Schneiter's Riverside course in Riverdale." Boss Godfrey often gives lip service to the concept of running Ogden City like a business. Perhaps he should therefore emulate Riverside's business model, and manage the purported revenue problem according to the example of one local golf course which has found success by handling problems on a "first things first" basis, fixing things up within realistic budgetary constraints, rather than throwing massive amounts of cash at perceived problems. As McFarland points out:
Schneiter’s Riverside course in Riverdale has been there for maybe 25 years, and is just now building a new (remodeled) clubhouse. The irrigation system is in a continual state of repair, yet the course continues to operate full bore! Take a lesson in how a minimal facility operates in a profitable manner.
Godfrey has some considerable golf course expertise right there on his staff, in Brinkman, McFarland and Fister. Would it be asking too much for Godfrey to listen to them?

And what say our readers about all this?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Heads-Up for the Emerald City Lumpencitizens

Boss Godfrey ramrods a Central Business District community plan amendment, with the help of his secret steering committee

This morning's Standard-Examiner provides a timely heads-up for the Emerald City lumpencitizens this morning, about something which we expect to be Boss Godfrey's next "big push," in his ongoing obsession to inflict upon our city his "visionary" Big Government-Propelled Makeover. We incorporate Ace Reporter Schwebke's essential paragraphs below, on the subject of the now-proposed revision to Ogden City's Central Business District Community Plan:

OGDEN — City officials are seeking public input on a long-range plan to shape land use, transportation, economic development and housing within the downtown business district.
The aim of the plan being formulated by a 14-member citizen steering committee is to address growth issues within the business district’s boundaries, which extend from Adams Avenue to west of Wall Avenue and from 27th Street to the Ogden River.
“It charts out the future of Ogden’s downtown,” said John Mayer, a city planner. “It fosters orderly development.”
Community plans such as the one proposed for the business district have a narrower focus than Ogden’s general plan.
In addition, community plans balance the interests of the city and neighborhoods in addressing such issues as transportation, infrastructure, housing and public safety.
Ogden has 17 community plans. The most recent for the downtown business district was implemented in 1991.
The city planning commission will hold a series of work sessions before conducting a public hearing on the business district plan in June or July. The city council would have to amend the municipality’s overall general plan to implement the business district plan.
The steering committee’s recommendations may change before the plan is presented to the city council, Mayer said. [...]
Downtown property owners who have additional recommendations for the business district plan can contact Mayer at [Corrected email link added].
As a matter of first impression, the now-announced Central Business District community plan amendment process would appear to at least superficially resemble the Mt. Ogden Community Plan amendment process which was finalized last year -- with one big difference. Unlike last year, when democratic forces rolled up their sleeves and went to work to achieve a community plan amendment which conformed to the wishes of the citizens who actually reside in the Mt. Ogden Community, Boss Godfrey seems to be acting proactively this time around, to prevent the general popultion of lumpencitizens from overtly meddling in the process.

We also interpret the mayor's appointment of a fourteen member steering committee to be further evidence of this. As reported in Mr. Schwebke's morning story, this mysterious committee has already been hard at work in some back room at city hall, formulating its own "recommendations." And yes, gentle readers. One of the committee's recommendations apparently involves GONDOLAS.

We've linked Mr. Mayer's email addy in the above-quoted paragraph. Boss Godfrey is calling for citizen input. He's even scheduled a few work sessions so the lumpencitizens can at least formally throw in their two cents, prior to the implementation of the recommendations which his (presumably hand selected) steering committee has already formulated.

Is it time for the lumpencitizens to roll up their sleeves once again? Should the forces of citizen democracy again intrude into the process?

This will be on the test.

Comments, anyone?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Wal-Mart Update: More Plot Twists Than a Dime Novel

Ace Reporter Schwebke blows the lid off another bogus Boss Godfrey "cover story"

We dang near fell out of our chair during the wee hours this morning, upon reading Ace Reporter Schwebke's front page headline Standard-Examiner story, "Wal-Mart land still in flux." The major story line is also concisely set forth in the article subtitle,"Purchases haven't been completed, so Ogden supercenter not a done deal," although we do hope our gentle readers will read on. We'll start off this morning's discussion by incorporating a few of the key story paragraphs:
OGDEN — Problems with the sale of one parcel of land could jeopardize plans for a Wal-Mart Supercenter in downtown Ogden.
Brent Cox, owner of Grating Systems Inc. at 192 W. 20th St., said California developer Gadi Leshem had an agreement to buy the 4-acre parcel where his business sits for $1.1 million by Feb. 13. However, Leshem failed to meet the deadline, so the land is again up for sale, Cox said. “I’ll pretty much sell it to anyone who is an honest person who is willing to pay me a fair price,” said Cox, who keeps a wine glass and an unopened bottle of champagne in his office that he planned to use to celebrate Leshem’s purchase of his property. If Cox can’t sell his land, the entire Wal-Mart project will be in jeopardy, said Dave Harmer, the city’s community and economic development director. “We are trying to see what we can work out (to sell the property)” he said. “If we can’t, then it (the Wal-Mart project) won’t happen.”
In truth, it's apparently not merely one parcel of land dangling loose for the Supercenter project. According to this morning's story, there remain at least three other parcels which remain "unassembled" by Leshem. Ace Reporter Schwebke provides even more red-meat information about this:
According to records on file with the Weber County Assessor’s Office, Leshem also has not yet acquired several other business properties needed for the Wal-Mart project, including Boyce Equipment, 226 W. 20th St.; Praxair, 1903 Wall Ave.; and Northern Exposure, 1847 Wall Ave. Mark Boyce, owner of Boyce Equipment, said Leshem’s option to purchase his property expires Friday. “I have to be optimistic about it,” said Boyce, who is hopeful Leshem will follow through on the purchase. Boyce Equipment is currently building a 16,000-square-foot facility on American Way in Ogden that will open in September. Eddie Davis, division general manager for Praxair, said the company is in negotiations with Leshem but hasn’t entered into a contract to sell him its property. “We are exploring all the possibilities of what works for him and what works for us,” he said. Representatives for Northern Exposure could not be reached for comment about whether Leshem has a contract to buy that property.
Interestingly, would-be developer Leshem's spokesman attributes at least part of the delay to an incomplete environmental impact report for the Cox property, whereas jilted seller Cox says Leshem completed his environmental assessment of the property last year. "Soil problems," of course, have been Boss Godfrey's "cover story," -- at least up until now.

As per normal with all Boss Godfrey grand projects and schemes, this one has more plot twists than a dime novel, and is already laden with plenty of accusations and typical Godfrey administration counter-denial and spin. The reported facts are simply too strange and elaborate to be summarized and digested on the Weber County Forum front page. You'll thus have to read the whole Std-Ex story to get the full impact.

Weber County Forum Tips O' the Hat all around this morning: First to Ace Reporter Schwebke for digging in, getting all the facts and producing this morning's fine reportorial gem. Secondly we thank the Standard-Examiner, for placing this story on the front page (where it belongs.) Last but not least, special thanks to gentle reader Fly on the Wall, who first broke the essence of this story as a tip in an earlier WCF article comments section.

Who will be the first to comment?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Biggest Bankrupty in the Municipal Market's History?

This is how it ends for the little county that was going to teach America how to use interest-rate swaps

By Tec Jonson

Some juicy reading for a Sunday. Any parallels on our local financing? From

April 11 (Bloomberg) -- They're talking more about Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy in Jefferson County, Alabama, the home of the largest city in the state, Birmingham.

Who can blame them?

The county is now being whipsawed by an ill-thought-out debt policy and the collapse of the bond insurers. Credit-rating downgrades all around have triggered a series of events that are no longer in the county's control, leaving it at the mercy of securities firms that have little room for maneuver themselves.

This has produced a steady series of stories in my new favorite newspaper, the Birmingham News, all about how the county is preparing to declare bankruptcy any day.

Perhaps the best article ran on Sunday, April 6. It began: "Jefferson County officials have laid the groundwork for the largest municipal bankruptcy in the nation's history while publicly saying they have no imminent plans for a filing.''

The one that ran on Wednesday, April 9, was no less compelling: "Talks on the sewer system's debt crisis aren't making progress, increasing the odds that the county will file municipal bankruptcy, Jefferson County Commission President Bettye Fine Collins said Tuesday.''

This is how it ends for the little county that was going to teach America how to use interest-rate swaps.
Read the full article here.

Comments, anyone?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Ritzy Developer Bankrupt

And another one bites the dust....

By Curmudgeon

The Salt Lake Tribune reports this morning that another high-end real estate development on steeply sloped land has bitten the dust, the Sun Crest Development in Draper.. Headline: "Ritzy Developer Bankrupt."

From the story:

The housing-market slump was one issue, but the development also was being built on steep slopes peppered with ancient landslides. That, plus it had been sued more than a dozen times. Many of the suits sought claims for allegedly unpaid bills, and one alleged city-developer collusion that damaged neighboring property. Some of those claims will disappear, but suits relating to the land - such as a suit that sought to prevent expansion of a detention pond - likely will remain.
Last week, we had the high end resort in Park City going under. And of course, the [prospective] developer of Ogden's Gondola Station Towers Downtown Hotel and Parking Plaza withdrew when it became known the company could not pay its subcontractors on a similar project in Orem, was it?

Was Ogden lucky in that Mayor Godfrey's two year relentless campaign to sell Mt. Ogden Golf Course to his developer associate Chris Peterson for development as a high end gated community of vacation villas on mountainside lots... lots the Mayor announced were in the end too steep to build on anyway when he backed away from the project to save his re-election bid? Seems like a real chance that if Ogden citizens [often denounced by the Administration and its tub-thumping lackeys in Lift Ogden and the Ogden-Weber Chamber of Commerce as "naysayers"] had not organized against the scheme... and thank you Smart Growth Ogden and others who helped organize that opposition... and if the Mayor and his associates had thus succeeded in their scheme, Ogden might now be looking at a bankrupt half-built development on what had been the city's largest park. [Full disclosure: I was and am a strong and active supporter of Smart Growth Ogden and its thoughtful, evidence-based approach to city growth, development and improvement.]

Comments, anyone?

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