Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What's Going On Here?

There are some interesting happenings in the Ruskin Heights neighborhood, though many who live there aren’t sure exactly what’s going on. It seems that recently the board asked those attending a monthly Home Owners meeting to approve a special assessment raising home owners' dues by $4.00. While this passed, there is some doubt as to whether the number of members required in the by-laws
for this action was actually present.

When this incident was brought to my attention I decided to peruse the association’s bylaws. Accordingly, the assessed amount can be raised if “the owners of two-thirds of the lots herein specified consent in writing by an instrument to be recorded in the office of the Recorder of Deeds, Jackson County, Missouri, to an annual rate in excess of that herein specified.” It’s been reported that there were only about 20 members at the meeting and it is unclear whether both husband and wife votes were counted or if it was one vote per household. Either way, given that Ruskin Heights is comprised of 1875 lots, it doesn’t seem like that was a legal vote.

An article in the Jackson County Advocate said the special assessment of $4.00 would be used for legal fees to fight the vacant house problem, but that’s a city responsibility, not the homes association's.

In perusing the by-laws I noticed another interesting fact. The stated officers are the usual: president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer; however, the association does not have a secretary. The person everyone seems to assume is the secretary is actually an office manager. There’s probably a good reason for the distinction. The by-laws state that “no officer shall receive any compensation for his services”, but as office manager this restriction does not apply. The current office manager not only receives a salary but is also paid mileage for attending such events as ribbon cuttings, chamber of commerce luncheons and events, city hall meetings, including a redistricting meeting where John Sharp accused the city of splitting the Ruskin Heights neighborhood (which in fact was not the case). It seems strange to me that an office manager would be representing a homes association in this way, but then this office manager is married to the president of the association. He lives in Ruskin Village which is considered part of the association, but she lives in Ruskin Hills which is not. I guess that’s another reason she’s the office manager rather than association secretary.

The homes association used to hire a security company so they could have roving security throughout the area but that has been discontinued. While no one is exactly sure why, there are those that say it was soon after that the office manager began receiving mileage compensation. Also discontinued was the extra weekly trash pickup that was paid for out of association dues. Now Ruskin Heights is just like other areas that don’t have official associations. They have no extra security and only the city-paid trash pickup. About the only thing they get for their dues now is a weekly subscription to the Jackson County Advocate.

It’s been rumored that Bonnaye Mims, President of the Hickman Mills School Board, spends a lot of time in the association’s office. No one knows exactly what she does or whether she’s being paid, though she and the office manager, who is also on the School Board, are very good friends, so at least it’s a friendly work environment. It may be that someone was needed in the office while the office manager is out ‘representing’ the association.

It would seem that this homes association is no more than a microcosm of the larger political world. Whatever the little guy doesn’t know won’t hurt him and those in charge can bend the rules to suit whatever enterprise they wish.

Monday, September 27, 2010

No Time for Heritage

The city held workshops for Neighborhood Tourism Development Fund grant applications. They need to have a workshop for the commissioners so they’ll know what a worthy project looks like. The Hickman Mills School District’s annual 3 Trails Day uses city funds to help defray costs. That may have been a good idea in the beginning, but no more and it shouldn’t continue to receive funds.

A bit of background: The school district was certified in 2002 by the National Park Service as being on the actual alignment of the Santa Fe, Oregon, and California Trails. It is the first, and perhaps still the only, public school district to have received that recognition. As many may know, there is a plan to physically lay the trail on the ground across the entire KC area and the school district laid the first leg. To celebrate the certification and to get the trail construction underway a groundbreaking was held complete with two oxen to literally break the ground and a group of Native American dancers who consecrated it. A number of city and state officials were present. Because of the Hispanic connection, the consulate here in town was contacted. Unfortunately, no one from there was able to attend. Everybody had a good time and it was decided that the district should continue to celebrate its heritage by hosting a 3 Trails Day every year. Not only would it be good for our community, but it could be an event that would draw ‘tourists’ from other areas of KC and the surrounding area.

The first year was great. I was on the planning committee and we really had some big ideas. In the end we decided the first year should be a bit smaller and then each year it could continue to expand until it became a two-day event. The event was held from 10-5. We had a Native American actually camp out, teepee and all, in front of Hickman Mills High School. He was a great source to provide a true history lesson for all who would listen. The area was decorated with pumpkins and hay bales. There was a hay-wagon ride and a place to have your picture taken. The gym was filled with crafters. The police department was there with their helicopter and there were several emergency vehicles for demonstrations. There was a clown and even an ‘antiques roadshow’. All in all it was a great day; but, people leave, new people take over, and the focus changes.

It wasn’t too many years before the time was shortened an hour or so until last year when it was only 11-4. This past year it didn’t even rate its own day. It was held the same day as the back to school rally. That meant there was a parade which was great because we had always talked about having a parade; however, since both functions were held at the former Hickman Mills High School, it also meant nothing could even be set up until about noon. That’s not a good way to encourage crafters unless you’re only interested in home-made jewelry or maybe soaps or candles. You’re also not going to get any re-enactors to participate.

It’s a sad commentary on the school district when they turn their backs on their African American and Hispanic heritage and turn a true celebration into a simple community day that provides a few of the usual carnival type rides for the local children. Not only has it become something of little interest for the older members of our community; but it is certainly nothing worthy of much sought after tourism funds.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

It's a Sad Tale

One has to feel for the students in Hickman Mills. The school district says its mission is to educate its students for a lifetime of success; yet, sadly, that doesn’t seem to be happening. On their annual performance report they only met 6 out of 14 standards, the same score they made last year; and didn’t meet the standards set for either reading or math, despite the fact that they are spending money for reading and math specialists. ACT scores increased from 16.6 to 17.0 which is nothing to be proud of when the state average is 21.6. In fact, the scores for kids at the former Hickman Mills High School actually decreased. In my book it all gets back to the leadership.

It’s the superintendent who is responsible for putting the right people in place; which makes her the most accountable employee. It would seem that if scores aren’t measurably improved, the superintendent’s neck contract would be on the line; yet, last year only 3 school board members voted to not extend her contract. (Most superintendents in Missouri have 3 year contracts, so each year they simply request a 1 year extension.) Once she was safely secure in her position and after 2 new board members had been elected, she decided to hire back the chief curriculum officer (who had retired) on a part time basis. First, given the poor test scores, it doesn’t seem like this should be a part time job. Secondly, this person hadn’t been able to get test scores up prior to retirement, so I’m not sure what reasoning would think she would now. Still, the board agreed on 6-1 vote.

Then there are the rumors, which are rampant in the district, that the Superintendent is hiring her friends in many positions. Whether true or not, it doesn’t make for good morale. One possible example was last week’s board meeting which was depressing to attend. The Board approved the hiring of a(nother) reading consultant at a cost of $1,000/day. When board member Debbie Aiman asked about the person’s qualifications, she didn’t get an answer; yet, the other 5 board members voted in favor. I would hope this person has more qualifications than a friendship but the process didn’t look good. There was also the re-classification of a special education secretary to special education ‘analyst’ at a considerable increase in salary. This, of course, took this person off the secretarial salary chart and thus raised some questions among the secretarial union group as to motives.

These votes, though, get to another major problem of leadership: the Board itself. It seems board members, except for Ms. Aiman, don’t ask questions. Even though the district is in dire financial straights, they hired yet another consultant, for mediation and counseling services, without knowing the total cost. When Ms. Aiman inquired as to the fiscal note, board president Bonnaye Mims told her she was micromanaging. If a school board does not question but simply rubber stamps the Superintendent’s recommendations, it is not only not doing its job, but is doing a disservice to those who elected them as representatives of the community.

Of course, Ms. Mims could simply have been flustered. Having arrived late, she seemed to have difficulty working her computer and also had considerable difficulty in figuring out where they were on the agenda. From what I understand, she often has trouble keeping her place on the agenda. She has also been known to call for a vote on a question before an answer has been given to that question. Whether this is a matter of being too hasty or simply inattention, neither is the mark of a good leader.

Towards the end of that same meeting the Board needed to find an alternate date for their October meeting and looked at several. One the Superintendent couldn’t attend, so they ruled that one out. Another, Ms. Mims friend and fellow board member, Darrell Curls, could not attend so they ruled that one out, too. A third date was thrown out, but Ms. Aiman was going to be out of town. Ms. Mims decided that would be the date for the meeting because, after all, they needed to go with the majority. It’s hard to figure why no other board member came to Ms. Aiman’s defense, but that is indicative of the current Board; and makes a sad comment on the state of the school district.

It’s also sad to realize that politics still plays a large part in Board processes even though John Sharp is no longer there. Since a board member recently moved out of town, the Board will be interviewing candidates for his replacement. Ms. Mims was overheard telling one of her fellow board members that they need to come up with a fourth vote. I think I know which candidate she favors and would love to tell the other 3 to not bother; but will just let this hand play out.

Once upon a time the Hickman Mills School Board was a professional group of people who really seemed to care about the kids and put their interests first. Now it seems, Ms. Aiman excepted, the Board is more concerned about their own interests and promoting themselves, or possibly their own kids, than they are about the overall good. They don’t seem to take school board leadership seriously or for that matter even know what it means. They don’t seem to understand that it is the School Board that sets the tone for the entire district and it is they that need to set an example. The community has entrusted them with making hard decisions to ensure the best possible education for all students; and the state has charged them with being fiscally responsible.

A friend told me once that you have to hit bottom before things get better. On the one hand, I fear we’re almost there. On the other hand, to switch metaphors, perhaps that means the pendulum is about to swing back. If only we didn’t need to wait for next April’s election when Ms. Mims will be seeking another term.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sharp Politics - it's Everywhere

The Freda Markley Early Childhood Center in Hickman Mills had a ribbon cutting this evening. Since it’s the first building to be built in the district in something like 30 years, it seemed like a pretty big deal so I went. There were all the usual speakers: school board president, superintendent, principal, namesake Freda Markley, architect. Everyone said how exciting the new building is and how they’ll now be able to offer services to more kids. They even thanked the community for passing the bonds that paid to build the facility. Then there was Councilman Sharp.

Of course he, too, said how great this is for the community. He said it would provide an anchor for the Bannister Road redevelopment; leaving me to wonder what development he was talking about. The only major redevelopment to have been brought before the community was the Wizards/retail/office building debacle and we all know how that turned out. He then went on to say the City is in the process of adjusting the city council district boundaries and there are those that want to divide the Hickman Mills School District in half. (If, indeed, that is true, someone must have come up with a new map since Saturday because there wasn’t a map there that took half of the school district. Far from it.) Of course we can’t have that.

It wasn’t enough that the Councilman called his groupies and asked them to attend the redistricting meeting Saturday. He had to take advantage of the crowd at a purely non-political event. All this because he is afraid that losing part of the sixth district will mean losing part of his base. It’s sad that he needs to be that worried. If he were confident that he has served his district well, there would be no need for such concern.

It’s also said that he seems to care more about preserving his political home territory than he is about the Voting Rights Act.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Method to His Madness

I attended the redistricting meeting yesterday morning at Hillcrest Community Center. From the beginning it wasn’t pretty.

It was supposed to start at 9. When I arrived some minutes before that time, there were already a number of people there wanting to take a look at the proposed maps, but they were all waiting outside. It seems the building doesn’t open until 9. You would think whoever scheduled the meeting would have made allowances for that.

Once the meeting started and comments from the community began, it was obvious that it was simply the John Sharp Show. Patron after patron stood up to say how the Hickman Mills School District should not be split up. Many even threw in comments about what a good councilman Mr. Sharp has been. While I hate to jump to conclusions, I have to wonder how many of the commenters received the email from Mr. Sharp’s office stating “One proposal being considered by the panel would drastically alter the boundaries of the 6th district putting much of the 6th district northeastern portion in the 5th district. This would split up the Hickman Mill School District (which is now currently in the 6th district).” Actually providing talking points is always a good way to insure that your message gets out there.

The majority of the those not wishing to see the school district divided between council districts were the usual suspects; those who openly and somewhat nauseously support Mr. Sharp and who have used the public platform in the past to promote his issues. Sadly, all but three of the speakers live east of 71 Highway. That’s not very representative of the sixth district; however, it is representative of Mr. Sharp’s base.

Other than the obvious patronage that was demonstrated, there are other issues that need to be explored.

None of the these speakers seemed to care that Center School District is in more than one councilmanic district or that, at one time, so was the Hickman Mills School District. They also didn’t seem to consider that being in more than one district might give the schools more representation at the City level. What is truly more detrimental to Hickman Mills is that it’s in two different cities.

Only one person spoke who was from the west side of the district which begs the question of how well the meeting was even publicized. Personally, I only happened to hear about it from a friend who has been attending the meetings at city hall.

It was interesting that Bonnaye Mims actually admitted that she didn’t know what she was doing. That proves just how well the sixth district was represented in this process and seems to verify what many believe: that Councilman Sharp appointed her simply to draw the sixth district lines to suit his interest; that the whole process has been orchestrated in such a manner as to help ensure his job security.

It’s all very sad because Mr. Sharp could probably be a very effective council member if he would only put the interests of those he represents ahead of his own. There was a time when many felt the sixth district had to fare better under anyone other than Chuck Eddy. How wrong that was.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Power of the Self-deluded

Some years ago I had a friend who had been a school board member for over two decades. Through several conversations with her, I learned that school board presidents don’t have any more power than any other board member. Their duties are to sign checks so district bills can be paid, set the agenda, and run the meetings. Unfortunately, the Hickman Mills school board president believes her powers are far greater. For the first meeting of the new board, she tried to assign seats, like the board members are kindergarten students.

What she didn’t realize is that Debbie Aiman, who has been on the board for two years, didn’t want to sit in her ‘assigned’ seat. Instead, she wanted to sit in the seat ‘assigned’ to Darrell Curls, who was elected to the board last year. Mr. Curls didn’t appreciate that. He parked himself in the seats reserved for the audience and kept yelling that he wanted to sit in his assigned seat and Ms. Aiman had better move.

George Flesher, who has been on the board forever, offered to trade seats, but Ms. Mims, the board president, said he couldn’t do that, Ms. Aiman would have to go to whatever seat she had been assigned. With leadership like that, it’s no wonder the Hickman Mills School district isn’t doing any better than it is.

As hard as it is to believe, I’m told this arguing over who would sit where went on for almost 30 minutes with Mr. Curls sitting in the audience seats the whole time and Ms. Mims asking for a ruling from the school district’s attorney, as if where board members sit were a legal matter. I have to wonder why Ms. Mims believes she can or should treat the rest of the board members like kindergarteners and why she believes that is more important than actually being a good role model for the rest of the district. I also have to wonder if Mr. Curls, who wants to be elected to the house of representatives, would represent his district by acting as childishly as he did over where he would sit.