Surrounding the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library, a number of interesting articles about the Bush legacy appeared in the media. But viewing the coverage of the Bush legacy becomes even more interesting when viewed through the lens of some other recently released reports.
The first news that came out regarding Bush was that his poll numbers had received a bounce since leaving office. The writers who covered that fact noted that is would have been news is his numbers had not perked up since leaving office as Nixon remains the lone President NOT earning a post-White House bounce.
Charles Krauthammer took the occasion to write a hagiographic assessment of the Bush presidency arguing that historians will come to remember it as a smashing success because of the security infrastructure the Bush team implemented. That President Obama has retained much if not all of it, is vindication of the Bush policies in Krauthammer’s judgement.
But two other fairly recent items out in the news, I think, shed light on what is likely to be an interpretation or measure of the Bush legacy. The first, is a study published by a group of Harvard researchers, which places the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars at $4 – $6 trillion. The high costs of the wars have long been noted, but they appear in a different light when looked at in context of yet another report.
For my Ph.D. comprehensive exams in Economic Development last week, I was asked to consider an assessment made by the International Energy Agency: That by 2020, the United States will surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer. For my purposes of considering the spatial implications of such a possibility, I didn’t see much impact. But the geopolitical impact is obviously huge. It also potentially has a huge impact on how scholars will view the Bush presidency, and possibly a portion of Obama’s.
In short, if the IEA’s pronouncement comes to pass, here’s what we’ll be looking at in 2020. The United States, now energy independent, spent $4 – $6 trillion of its wealth in the 2000s, defending a fossil fuel distribution system in the Middle East that we knew was coming to an end within a very short period of time. Yes – there are lots of assumptions and arguments inherent in that statement. Certainly however, some writer or scholar is bound to argue such a point. And it will be a crushing assessment for American leadership at the dawning of the twenty first century. For now, though, we wait.
Today, the GBAD board members, minus Hy Kloc who chimed in remotely, chose commercial real estate developer Peter Oliver to replace Gail May. May resigned her board seat on December 17. No one in the mainstream media seems to think this is important. The only reporter who noted May’s resignation was George Prentice of the Boise Weekly.
This seems utterly bizarre since the GBAD board controls a vast amount of money – deposits of more than $10 million, annual revenues greater than $4 million, and could bond probably seven times that. Whatever this board decides to do will shape Boise’s skyline for a half-century.
And no one covered it.
With Oliver’s appointment, the chessboard of downtown may be changing. Site B located behind JUMP seems an unlikely spot for expansion, though the district still owns the site. For my money, I’m looking east of the Grove hotel. The strip anchored by the small Bank of America building has long been a target for redevelopment, most recently by Clay Carley and Gary Christensen (as least as far as I can remember). It is interesting to note that Oliver’s firm Thornton Oliver Keller represents Bank of America. TOK also market the C.W. Moore Building to the east of all those underdeveloped parcels. One can presume that Oliver has investigated development of the remaining blacktop around the C.W. Moore building.
Could be that convention center geography is shifting east.
One of these days I keep threatening to develop a workshop or another talk based upon my Ignite Boise 1 presentation “Myths of Idaho.”
This morning the “news” in Boise is that the new manager of the Co-op was arrested on DUI charges. I haven’t seen the print edition, but this was a prominent story on the on-line version of the Statesman. So here’s my contention – borrowed from one of the Statesman commenters: in a real city, this wouldn’t be news. In a real city like Portland or Seattle or Colorado Springs or Albuquerque they have real concerns. When the Statesman does a story like this, it’s a disservice to Boise and Idaho as a whole. It says that we’re still such a small nothing town that a grocery store manager getting a DUI deserves news coverage. This is exactly the opposite of what we should be portraying to the rest of the country and to ourselves. As long as we keep repeating the myth that we are a small, isolated, rural community we’re repelling economic development – NO ONE wants to come to a small, isolated, parochial, rural community – not for any reason.
Rule #1 – stop the news stories on parochial nonsense.
Municipal elections are over, and after another painful season of watching candidates do stupid things, I just have to say something. These quick “no duh” thoughts are based upon my time as a campaign consultant, and former city staffer. Really, any one who could fog a mirror should be able to figure this stuff out, but we see the same silliness every election cycle. Here’s the two things I’d tell future candidates for Mayor and City Council.
Learn your stuff
I was impressed in the Boise City Council race that Ben Quintana actually spent time going to budget hearings, and council meetings, and generally trying to understand just what it is that a city council member does. I contrast that with one of the other candidates who ran on a platform of helping improve the Boise Schools, and working with ACHD to improve transit. First, neither the Mayor or the Council have any control over anything that happens with Boise Schools. Nothing. Second, ACHD doesn’t have anything to do with transit – that would be Valley Regional Transit. This particular candidate might have well been running on a platform to alter gravity. The point: if you are going to run for a job, get the job description, and learn just what it is that you actually do.
Leave your ideology at home
Candidates all over the Valley ran on various platforms of “streamlining government,” “eliminating waste,” “smaller government,” or lower taxes. Some just came right out and said “I’m the conservative, vote for me.” We need to be clear on this: none of that stuff means anything in local government. The reality of local government is that it is just a basic service provider: cops, fire, water (sometimes), sewer, garbage disposal, public works. You spend a lot of time on questions of planning and zoning. There’s an annual budget cycle. If you are considering running for office, I suggest you spend some time at your local city hall looking for “waste.” It aint there. There are no gigantic slush funds sitting around that could eliminate the need for property taxes if only the greedy mayor and council would just be honest. Cuts at the municipal level happen to basic services, not boards and commissions and pet programs of entrenched federal bureaucrats. So get a clue.
One last bonus tip –
Leave the parlor tricks at home
Norm Semanko offers a great reminder that silly stunts in municipal elections don’t work. His ridiculous over-the-top statement that Reynolds’ spending made him “physically ill” was the capstone of a campaign that did little right. Norm combined ideology and parlor tricks to get his result. We’ve seen the same happen in Boise mayoral races in the past (Winder’s robo calls). I don’t think there’s anything that justifies these kind of tactics – but in a municipal race, it’s just non-sensical. At the end of the day, you have to go live next door to these people, see them at Fred Meyer, the coffee shop, etc. You don’t get to just disappear like congressmen, or presidential candidates.
So those are a few of my election tips for all you elected hopefuls.
If there is a message in the visit from Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, it is this: we need to get some skin in the game.
Lots of people around Idaho are presuming to tell this guy what to do with his billion dollar fortune, and he’s right to tell us that we better check ourselves – because our public and private sectors have done little to move any kind of development deal forward. In fact, here are the actions regarding the Hawks to date:
- In March of 2009, the Ada County Commissioners punted on the issue after Colliers Idaho spent 15 months developing several scenarios for revamping the Fairgrounds/Expo Center/Hawks Stadium.
- In June of 2009, after three years work, The City of Boise released its 30th Street Master Plan. And there on page 185, the city identified a proposed new location for Hawks Stadium: it would be the anchor project for the redevelopment of the west side of downtown.
- April of 2010: The City of Meridian through its redevelopment agency, the MDC, effectively try to “buy” the Hawks by offering to pay for a feasibility study in exchange for agreeing to relocate to Meridian. The Hawks say no.
- In June of 2010, a Statesman article mentioned the possibility of GBAD financing a new stadium, but that board is in absolute chaos, and clearly has no bandwidth to enter into negotiations.
- CCDC is engaged in a national search for a new executive director, and has not publicly committed to anything, though it is listed as being one of the agencies responsible for “invest(ing) in capital projects” according to pages 182-183 of the 30th Street Master Plan.
So to recap – The City of Boise, ACHD, ITD, and CCDC spent three years developing the 30th Street Master Plan, and Ada County spent 15 months studying multiple different options for redeveloping the entire Fairgrounds area.
Now enter the Better Boise Coalition, a Chamber led organization which intends to give us another plan?
We deserve better. Every day, municipalities all around us are cutting deals to revitalize and energize their cities. They are financing these things themselves in innovative ways. As an example, see Fairbourne Station in West Valley City in Utah. There, the City Manager finally got tired of waiting on the private sector, and decided to take over development of its downtown themselves. The signature project is a city financed Embassy Suites Hotel that will be managed by the Hilton Company. In 20 years, ownership of the hotel will revert to the hotel. An innovative way to get something done. Is there some reason in a city TWICE the size of West Valley City we can’t muster the finances and skill to get something done with the Hawks?
The reason that this region fails to get grants for TIGER projects (remember the streetcar) or grants for sustainability planning from HUD is because we have proven time and again that we cannot cooperate to get things done here. The same holds true for attracting private investment: why on earth would Tom Ricketts or any other developer invest a cent in our city and region when WE won’t even do the same. We don’t have any skin in the game. And until we do private investment is going to go somewhere else.
The time is now for someone in the public sector to commit to getting this done, and getting some skin in the game. Someone needs to lead, to take a risk. What we don’t need is a bunch of grandstading and further feasibility studies from another booster group. We’ve already had five years of that. It’s go time.
The HOLE saga continues with the Gardner Company entering the fray. Like everyone else that has followed this story since January 24, 1987, I am cautiously optimistic. My own optimism is fueled by the fact that Gardner has the juice to get a project like this done AND has knowledge of the local market – which is probably the most important thing they bring to the table. I spoke about the announcement on FOX12 (see below). Keep your eyes and ears peeled for more. Good luck Gardner!
As many are familiar, I am at work on my Ph.D. dissertation, which is exploring how Idaho and Utah, which seem so similar politically, culturally, and socially, have such different economic development outcomes. I’ve just returned from a trip to Salt Lake where I interviewed a number of key leaders, among them the CEO of the Utah Transit Authority.
Just a week after I returned from Utah, AP writer John Miller posts a brilliant piece about previous troubles at ITD. And really nothing better illustrates why Idaho, until political attitudes shift, is going to struggle economically.
A former Idaho Transportation Department director was asked to resign in 2006 after a scathing whistleblower complaint, a detail hidden from the public until it recently emerged in court documents filed as part of a separate lawsuit.
The papers, filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday, show the circumstances of how former director David Ekern exited the state’s top highway agency job in August 2006.
Ekern announced that month that he was leaving after 3 1/2 years to pursue “two potentially significant career opportunities.” He later took a job in Virginia that he quit in 2010.
But the Idaho Transportation Board had previously voted in executive session to remove him after an internal complaint in March 2006 alleged Ekern engaged in favoritism and “misuse of power and authority.” The board then gave Ekern an opportunity to leave of his own accord, the court documents show.
“The Board was dissatisfied with his performance and he should look for other employment,” according to the documents. “Chairman Frank Bruneel told Mr. Ekern that they would give him the opportunity to gracefully leave ITD. There was a general agreement that Mr. Ekern could leave basically in good standing if he voluntarily retired. Shortly after this discussion, Mr. Ekern submitted his retirement letter.”
Former Transportation Director Pamela Lowe filed the documents last week in her ongoing bid to convince a federal court judge she was illegally fired in 2009.
She was fired despite good job reviews after Idaho Transportation Board members raised concerns about her rapport with some Idaho lawmakers; Lowe blames her dismissal on a backlash after she began trimming a highway management contract with a big political donor, URS Corp.
I encourage you to review the whole article, but the short story is that political leadership in Idaho is driven by hyper-individualism, and personal vendettas to such an extent that the big picture is lost. This state has a completely dysfunctional Department of Transportation since at least 2006 – nearly 6 years, and because there has been no real change in policy direction, funding, or management structure at ITD, the only conclusion one can reach is that the electeds are ok with that.
To contrast that with Utah, about the same time that Utah legislators (conservative Republicans) were passing a bill to allow for public transit authorities (with public option taxation authority) we were trying to figure out how to get money away from the Ada County government which was building roads to Star and Kuna while the City of Boise struggled to fill in potholes. Though the problem was the state funding mechanism, legislators instead gave us the Ada County Highway District. Utah created what is now geographically the largest transit provider in the U.S.; Idaho was adopting a form of local transportation authority that has only one other example in existence. That’s what we refer to as worst practices.
I know I’ve mixed a lot of agencies here, but the story is not so much about them as it is about leadership: while we fight petty battles and adopt truly bizarre policy solutions literally seen nowhere else, our neighbors are kicking our butts. And those who suffer are those who have a fixed investment in Idaho, and Idaho’s residents at large.
Transportation infrastructure is a critical component for economic development – it shows the private sector that we are willing to invest in what they need to get their employees to work, and their products to market. But history again and again points to an Idaho that is not willing to subvert its hyper-individualistic nature for something that might be good for all of us – like a functioning transportation department.
In a recent edition of the Idaho Business Review, there’s a great insert about the Leadership Boise classes over the years. I spoke to a Leadership Boise class last year or so, and it is a great program full of great people, many of whom I know. But there’s a small component missing to this leadership training that I’d like to add, so here you go. Take a look at this photo:
What’s the matter with it? You’ve got nearly the entire front role assuming the fatal “Fig Leaf” pose. The fig leaf pose is of course the never-to-be-assumed pose where you stand with your hands in front of your privates. Professional photographers learn not to pose hands this way. And most students of leadership and public speaking learn that this pose denotes weakness and timidity. There are lots of professional references out there that will support my contention, but here are a few quick web statements about the “fig-leaf” pose:
Fig leaf position: The fig leaf posture by either sex is a closed body position. It blocks the private mid section from view. This posture occurs by placing one or both hands in front of the crotch blocking it from view. The hands are usually clasped together. It shows insecurity and occurs when someone is in a novel environment or around people they don’t know and aren’t familiar with.
DON’T use the fig-leaf pose. By placing your hands to cover the groin region, you’re making yourself look visually smaller. When you place your hands in the fig-leaf pose, your body says, ‘I’m harmless,’ or, ‘I’m afraid.’ Not exactly the way to convey the level of confidence a client wants to see.
From the book, “You Say More Than You Think”
In any situation that’s less formal, a fig-leaf might indicate serious discomfort and anxiety. People use the pose almost instinctively perhaps as a default pose that they consider respectful and businesslike. But many people read this move to mean fear, and they believe it telegraphs weakness.
To sum up, here’s what most of our new leaders are signaling:
- I’m harmless
- I’m afraid
My guess is that isn’t what these folks were going for. So buck up Boise leaders! “F” for all of you doing the fig leaf, “F-” for the gal with her hands in her pockets (this signals that you are a manipulator!!!), Solid “A” to the gentlemen in the front row, right, “A+” to the gal in the center of the photo who had the courage to stand up straight, in the front, look at the camera, and confidently place her hands at her side. Hopefully she orchestrates this photo for the next class.
So the good folks at CCDC just finished making streetscape improvements down on Main Street between 11th and 10th. That would be where Mulligans is if you’re downtown challenged. There’s new brick pavers in the sidewalk, a bulbed out curb with a seating area, new garbage cans, bike racks, street lamps, trees, flowers, and today they are installing game tables and seating. And already – before the job is even finished you people have screwed it up.
Just after the flowers were planted, some dipweed drove over the new curb and right through the flowers. See dead plant, damaged irrigation system, and muddy tire track in the photo below:
And how the genius who accomplished this, actually accomplished this, I’d like to know. The bulb out is protected by parked cars:
But wait – there’s more. Skateboarders have already ruined the concrete walls. Word to the landscape architect: you should have thought of that. Now, however, the wall has to be redone on CCDC’s (ultimately the tax payer’s) nickel.
And you wonder why state leaders are reluctant to invest in infrastructure.
I remember when Walt Minnick got elected to Congress I said to myself, “well, one good thing about Walt is that he’s already a rich man so he’ll come back to Idaho and carry on the fight when he’s through being a Congressman.” So much for my prognostication skills.
Apparently I’m the last one to find out that Walt will stay in D.C. as a “consultant” doing work for the Blue Dogs with his former chief of staff. This is disappointing. It really says something about Idaho that the politicians from here never come home. Frank Church didn’t, neither did Kempthorne, LaRocco, Symms – really just about anyone you can recall back to about 1950. Andrus was the only one, really.
And that is disappointing. It says that there isn’t any opportunity here.
On the other hand it also leaves the state without any kind of opposition party. Right now there isn’t really anyone that can really comment for the Democratic Party. Earlier this week we learned that Butch’s crack staff made a $180 million or so accounting error when they computed the budget for this year (remember Pam Lowe was fired for a $10 million error in stats she presented to the Legislature). And who is the media gonna call for a quote? Jerry Brady? The guy’s run for governor twice, and he’s more absent from the scene than Ferris Bueller. So are all of them: LaRocco, Richardson, Hansen, Allred, Minnick, Mauk. Not a one of them has the justpa to stay in the game.
Today, our Governor told the media that he is Constitutionally obligated to promote temperance.
Minnick? Allred? Brady? LaRocco?
Cricket. Cricket. Cricket.