Thursday, July 20, 2006

I had no idea...

Since leaving the Beacon, I have received an astonishing amount of support from this community. Some of you I already knew; a great many of you I didn't. You've taken the time to write letters to the editor of the paper on my behalf (knowing full well they'll never see print). You've found a few moments to pick up the phone and call to give me moral support and encouragement. How many calls have I gotten that begin with, "Hi. You don't know me, but..." The emails I've received could fill a book. Truly, I'm overwhelmed (why is that a word? is anyone ever just "whelmed"?) with how this has all turned out.

That I've claimed one small space in your busy lives...what a terrific honor. Without a print publication, I've lost a great deal of my readership, I know. So it's up to us to spread the word that I'm still here. Please...let people know. I feel like I've disappointed those who can only read me because I was delivered to their doorstep, and that saddens me. So much of life is hard; I'm glad we can still meet here for a laugh or two...a "right on"...a brief oasis from this desert heat we've been living with.

I wouldn't be here without you, and I just can't tell you how touched (in a good way, not one of those creepy, old-man-brush-up-against-you ways) I am that the change in venues hasn't meant a cessation of publication.

So...keep on dropping by. Leave me a comment. And tell your friends I haven't disappeared.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Can we please let go of Wal-Mart??

Am I the only person in this town who is ready to drown myself in Windsor Lake just to escape the whining and moaning about Wal-Mart's decision to build in Timnath rather than here? Dear god, get over it!

I was not against Wal-Mart coming here; neither was I in favor of it. Had the store been built here, I would have shopped at it. It's not here, so I'll continue driving the very short distance to any one of four other Wal-Marts should the urge overcome me. It's not a big deal.

Building a big-box store near a school is stupid. It's an idea lacking in all important areas: logic, safety, reason. Champions of the idea of becoming home to a Wal-Mart Supercenter are grieving the loss of revenue. But you can't lose what you never had, and we never had that money. The possibility was there, but if it was meant to happen, it would have happened. It didn't.

It would be easy to say that Windsor is divided into two camps: those who want development and those who don't. But that would be an unfair simplification. Smart growth is one thing; jumping at an opportunity that presents itself at the wrong time and in the wrong place is another. It's not as if Windsor is the only community ever to fight back against Wal-Mart. Consider that in 2002, Wal-Mart planned to build 40 new Supercenters in California. Inglewood was one town that did not welcome the retailer. Its citizens lobbied city council, claiming it would be a net-loss for the community (and there are many studies that back up this claim). Two years later, Inglewood residents went to the polls and opposed Wal-Mart's initiative with a resounding 60.6% to 39.3%. Wal-Mart, undeterred, moved on. More importantly, so did Inglewood.

This is exactly what happened here in Windsor. Wal-Mart wanted in, clearly Windsor was not united in its views on the pros and cons of such an endeavor, and Wal-Mart went elsewhere. It's time to move on.

Yes, we need new schools (and here, I would argue that, given just the information that is available on the Internet, a K-8 makes much more sense for this district's needs in every way than does renovating a fossilized middle school and building other schools, but the task force has decided it would be too hard to convince us simpletons of the benefits of a K-8 configuration. But this is fodder for another column.). But Wal-Mart was not going to be the answer to all our prayers. Study after study shows that in the long run, Wal-Marts reduce overall wages of a town's employees, cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year because many of its workers can't afford the company's health insurance, and seriously drain smaller local businesses, including supermarkets. And...there's a reason Wal-Mart is so anti-union.

So let's get past this ridiculous mourning of a retailer that, in the long run, was not going to do us any favors. Let's focus our energies instead on figuring out other ways to build new schools and get the other things this community needs.

[For some interesting reading on Walmart, cut and paste this URL into your browser:]

On another note: The school board is in the process of selecting candidates for a task force to revamp the student discipline policy in the district. Think they'll give me a call?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Here's the Column that caused such a fuss

Several folks have asked me to post a copy of the column that ran in the Beacon and raised such a ruckus. Here is that column, which ran on 7/1. A few things to know in case you're not familiar with the situation:

- On 5/12, five teenage boys (some of whom had prior records of illegal activity) vandalized the high school by supergluing all the locks. Initial estimate of damage was $4000. All 5 boys were suspended for the rest of the school year, and 4 were expelled for this upcoming year. This sentence was in line with school district policy, as stated in the handbook.

- One of the boys involved comes from a prominent family in town. The father practically owns Windsor...he's donated some $$ to the school district, and it seems to me (and a whole lot of other Windsor residents) that he called in a favor when his appeal failed to give him the outcome he was looking for and...

- He took it a step further and held a special meeting with the school board. The result of that meeting was a revocation of the expulsion. Instead, the 4 boys must pay restitution (which dropped from $4000 to $1600), must provide 40 hours of community service each, and will return to school here in Windsor. Supposedly, if they step out of line again, they will be expelled. Except that only a fool would believe that this ruling will be upheld, since it seems obvious who's calling the shots. This revocation of the ruling went against the wishes of the high school admin AND the interim superintendent (who was set to retire and doesn't live in Windsor anyway, so she really had nothing to lose by speaking her mind).

- The school board president claimed that this was a matter of wanting to see these kids in school. But I think that's just spin. These kids could have gone to school, they just wouldn't have gone back to a Windsor school.

- A school board official wrote a letter to the editor refuting my claim that the board is spineless. She listed all sorts of initiatives that show that the board has the students' best interests in mind, but I don't know what that has to do with any of this. I'm pretty sure most of those initiatives were started by a superintendent that this board ran out of town (yet his initiatives were good enough to continue). A Windsor resident also wrote a letter to the editor, singing the praises of the father who I believe used his clout to strongarm the authorities into doing what he wanted. I've been told this woman received the parcel of land she built her daycare facility on for free--from the father! In the development community his money built (she neglected to mention this in her letter)! Her sister tells me this isn't so, that she's leasing the land legitimately. Either way, the woman was not upfront about her ties to the father.

- I stand by what I wrote, no regrets. I absolutely believe that, had the crime not included the son of a wealthy, powerful man, the original sentence would have been upheld. The fact that this simple op-ed piece raised such a furor says more about the situation than anything I wrote. And based on the onslaught of emails and phone calls I received in support of this column, I only said out loud what many people in town are thinking.

Parents and school board failed Windsor

Three years ago, I began writing a weekly column called The Family Room. As my column relocates from the Windsor Tribune to the new-and-improved Windsor Beacon, I thought it appropriate to change its name to reflect its gradual evolution from a families-only to a community column. And so I welcome you to The Front Porch, where no topic is off limits and discussion runs the gamut from personal anecdotes to politics and current events. To readers who have enjoyed this column in the past, I thank you for following me to The Front Porch. To those of you who are just joining us, I encourage you to kick back and relax as you read about yourselves, your neighbors, and your community here each week. You may not always agree with my point of view, but I'll always give you something to think about.

What I've been thinking about are those five teenage vandals who were recently expelled from school for destroying high school property, only to have their sentence seriously modified. This wishy-washiness in dealing with these young criminals is a perfect example of what I've said before: Windsor doesn't seem to know what it wants to be.

I don't know with absolute certainty the identities of the boys. But my initial reaction upon learning of the sentence revocation was that someone's daddy has money, and that money gave him the power and influence to challenge and rise above the rules. And a reliable source has since confirmed my suspicion. On the one hand, I understand parents not wanting their kids' permanent record marred by a school expulsion. On the other hand, the district handbook clearly states that the willful destruction of school property is grounds for expulsion, and a neutral arbitrator upheld the original sentence. I hope the parents of all five boys take a good, hard look at the role they played in their children's choices. The kids aren't the only ones who are guilty here; their behavior is a cry for help.

That plea seems to have fallen on deaf ears. I think the parents who could afford to do so bought these kids a warped sense of justice. Their rescue attempt is not going to give these teens what they need most, which is a wake-up call and a dose of reality. Instead, all they've done is make a feeble attempt to save face, and give the not-so-subtle message to their children—and ours—that money can do for them what their own moral compasses cannot. And the authorities who could have stood firm, they wavered and collapsed. Who, then, can we depend on in this town to hold our youth accountable when they do wrong? And what will be done when future vandals do their dirty work? Will authorities consistently give them this second chance? If not, then this sentence modification is problematic on several levels.

At 14 and 15 years of age, these kids were old enough to know right from wrong. But seeing as how their parents don't have that degree of discernment, what can we expect? The school board doesn't shine in times of controversy, either. I thought they were still trying to rebuild our trust in them in the wake of the Karbula debacle. If so, they've failed.

This isn't about keeping students in school; it's about the corruption of wealth and school officials who seem to have misplaced their spines.