Steve Stycos Year End Report: Ending Wasteful Spending, Opening Community Gardens, and Opposing Charter Schools

Ward 1 Council Member Steve Stycos reports on his excellent contributions to the city:

December 21, 2011

As 2011 comes to a close, I want to update you on my first year on the Cranston City Council and my goals for 2012.

For the most part, the council works well. Debates are generally polite. Council members listen to each other and many change their views when presented with a solid argument. The inflexibility and nastiness which characterize politics in Washington, D.C. are rarely seen at City Hall. In addition, Mayor Allan Fung’s administration is honest and competent. Unfortunately, city finances remain tight due to years of inadequate funding of city-run police and fire pension funds, cuts in state aid and health insurance costs.

During my first year on the Council, I fought wasteful spending, advocated for our children and schools and worked to improve our neighborhoods.

Fight Wasteful Spending
Amendments I offered to the mayor’s budget cut spending by $289,000.
Included in the cuts was the repaving of two school yards. I argued that asphalt is an unsafe playing surface and repaving is not critical.
Another cut came when I discovered the budget included funds to rebuild two playgrounds at Hope Highlands Elementary School. I noted that every other elementary school survives with one playground and some have no playground. The Council made the cut, saving $70,000.
After I discovered that Board of Elections members were paid $12,000 in the last off election year for meeting a total of 73 minutes, I convinced the Council to eliminate their pay.
Shortly after I took office I discovered that the Board of Tax Assessment Review was meeting without taking minutes. In addition, the board, whose members were paid $50/meeting, was meeting more than 100 times a year, sometimes for just twenty minutes. I objected to this secrecy and the three member board was forced to keep minutes. The council also agreed to my proposal to eliminate their pay, saving $22,000 a year.

Advocate for our children and schools
EDUCATION: I was one of two Council members to testify before the Rhode Island Board of Regents in opposition to the creation of a charter school in Cranston. Charter schools spend public money without controls from elected officials and drain badly needed money from our school system.

LIBRARY: After I succeeded in cutting the mayor’s budget by more than a quarter million dollars, I proposed adding $50,000 to the Cranston library budget. In recent years, the library has reduced its reserve fund to provide excellent services in tough financial times. The Council passed the addition, but the mayor vetoed it. The council failed to override the veto by one vote.

PUBLIC HEALTH: I convinced the Council to increase the city license fee to sell tobacco from $25 a year to $100 a year, raising about $7000 and taking a small step to discourage tobacco sales.

WOMEN ON HEARING BOARD: When a citizen alerted me that the Cranston Juvenile Hearing Board’s members were all men, I moved to add two women. The police department refers teenage petty offenders involved in fights and graffiti to the board instead of the court system. We especially need women members because half the cases involve girls. My proposal passed and two capable women were appointed.

Improve our neighborhoods
COMMUNITY GARDEN: With a lot of volunteer help, I started Cranston’s first community garden at Edgewood Highland Elementary School. The school department contributed part of the school parking lot, the Council appropriated funds for soil and construction materials and volunteers built the garden. Sixteen plots were built in 2011 and another sixteen are planned for 2012.

TREE PLANTING: At no cost to the city, I coordinated planting 28 trees at Edgewood Highland Elementary School, Cranston High School West, Ruggerio Park and Meshanticut State Park.

BUSINESS HOURS: When constituents complained that the council allowed Akid Dairy Mart to expand its hours without notifying neighbors, I proposed that businesses seeking longer hours must notify neighbors within 200 feet. The proposal passed and was used for the first time when Wal-Mart in western Cranston sought to open for 24 hours. The Council denied that request.

TREE TRIMMING: A Narragansett Boulevard resident complained that his street trees were badly pruned by Cox Cable and the city. We devised a proposal to require notice be posted whenever a street tree or a tree on city property is to be removed or trimmed. Citizens then may appeal to the city tree warden. The Council approved the proposal.

FOURTH STREET REPAVING: After a constituent brought to my attention that Fourth Street had only one layer of pavement and was falling apart, I raised the issue. The mayor was unaware of the problem, but after investigating, agreed to repave the street.

Looking toward 2012
In 2012, we need to do more. Our parks should be expanded to provide additional green space for biking, walking and other family activities. More trees should be planted to replace those destroyed by Hurricane Irene and, in a small way, temper the effects of global warming. Zoning reform is needed so that big corporations like Stop & Shop and CVS are not granted unnecessary variances which undermine the quality of life in our neighborhoods. Finally, our schools and libraries must be adequately funded.

I look forward to representing you in 2012.

Happy New Year,

Steve Stycos
Ward One City Councilman

Doctors Who Don’t Read What They Sign are Scary

In a later post I will explain why, ‘Is Ron Paul a racist?’ is the wrong question to ask. Who knows what’s in his soul? And how much do we need to care? We’re talking about a politician here.

A more useful question is why Ron Paul’s politics attract support from activists and groups that are proudly racist, and why they think a Ron Paul presidency would advance their agenda.

Today I want to point to a statement Rep.Paul made in an interview December 21st with CNN correspondent, Gloria Borger. That interview ended when Paul walked out of the studio.

From, (appropriately enough),Crooks and Liars. Ms.Borger asks Rep.Paul about racist newsletters published under his name…

[Ron Paul:] I didn’t write them. I disavow them. That’s it.

BORGER: But you made money off of them?

PAUL: I was still practicing medicine. That was probably why I wasn’t a very good publisher, because I had to make a living.

BORGER: But there are reports that you made almost a million dollars off of them in — in 1993.

PAUL: No. Who — I’d like to share — see that money.

BORGER: So you read them, but you didn’t do anything about it at the time?

PAUL: I never read that stuff. I never — I’ve never read it. I came — I was probably aware of it 10 years after it was written. And it’s been going on 20 years, that people have pestered me about this. And CNN does it every single time.

“I was still practicing medicine.” Congressman Doctor Paul likes to refer to his MD when promising a cure for our national malaise. That’s one reason his statement raises a red flag.

As a nurse, I’ve had the misfortune to have to work with doctors who signed things they didn’t read. I’ve faxed notes asking for a simple ‘yes or no’ answer to a question about a patient– returned with signature, without answer. Makes a nurse want to get a job in a florist shop.

This is not how most doctors practice–most are concerned and mindful that their patients and other medical professionals depend on them to write clear and appropriate orders. Good doctors take responsibility for what they sign. Doctors have reams of papers coming at them, but most take the time to read and correct important things like med lists and orders.

So if Dr.Paul didn’t take time to read the newsletters he published and signed his name to, how does he prioritize? Some of what was published in ‘The Ron Paul Political Report’ was truly vile, and he disowns it today. If you believe his explanation that he signs off on views he doesn’t share, what does that say about him? If you believe that he never noticed what went out under his name for about a decade, what does that say about Doctor Paul’s attention to his political movement? What does that say about his integrity? Was he really that unaware? Or is he lying?

I once worked with a doctor who said that his lousy handwriting gave him cover. Anyone who wanted to sue him would never be able to read his notes. I hope it was a joke, but it’s not too far-fetched that sloppiness hides incompetence. It’s also possible that a very smart man might plead carelessness to dodge the big question. Not whether he is a racist, but why racists believe he is on their side.

Laugh Out Loud

From Ellid via Daily Kos
comes a tale of a Christmas service gone horribly wrong…

Mum and I exchanged glances, and our friend June raised her eyebrows. June’s mother hissed, “This isn’t Lutheran!” and glared at the book fiercely enough that it’s a miracle it didn’t spontaneously combust in her hands. All around us people were wrinkling their brows and hesitantly singing along instead of making a joyful noise unto the Lord. It was not an auspicious beginning, and as we sat down Mum was muttering to June that this wasn’t close to the original German, which she’d studied in college.

There was more to come.

The Christmas Eve homily, which should have been based on the familiar story from Luke about the Holy Family in Bethlehem, was a rousing fire-and-brimstone call to repent and give one’s self to Christ to avoid the fires of hell and the horrors of the Last Judgment. Children who’d had visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads when they arrived at the church were shrieking in terror, while their parents stared in shock at their alleged shepherd preaching about the Apocalypse instead of Advent.

Mrs. Heley looked like she’d swallowed a lemon, whole.

The rest is hilarious. And that’s not all! If you link to Ellid now, you’ll get a bonus book review of that classic of American literature, ‘The Da Vinci Code’!

If this isn’t enough proof of Dan Brown’s mastery of English letters, consider the billions and billions many, many, many chapters, some only a few paragraphs, that make this book so easy to read while standing in line to have one’s junk touched by bored TSA workers in airports. And names like “Leigh Teabing” which sound like a rejected brand of Twining’s oolongs are so much more realistic than “Frodo” or “Tess.” And what’s not to love about a book where the female lead turns out to be not only the granddaughter of the murdered curator but a direct lineal descendant of the Merovingians AND Jesus H. Christ and his charming young wife Mary M. Christ?

Read the rest here. And let nothing you dismay.



by any name is just as pretty

Last night I began my Christmas shopping. I survived a trip to the Providence Place Mall without getting foul-tempered. The trick was avoiding the parking garage, where cars were gridlocked coming and going, and inside shoppers were waiting in long lines to get their parking receipts.

I saw a rack of Obey T-shirts at Nordstrom. It’s the assimilation of bad-boy Shepard Fairey into the Mall. You can still see Obey Giant stickers around Providence from when he gave it away for free, and I’m not knocking that a guy’s got to make a living. Especially an artist– whose best ideas are prey to being stolen and making someone else rich.

Shepard Fairey is writing about Occupy on his site.

I stopped by on my way to the bus and was invited into the tent where the General Assembly was in progress. The tent looked bigger inside than out, with a community room and a library. Burnside Park is still unusually neat and the Occupation is still ongoing.

All of us who support the people there with their call for economic justice will have a project to work on now– a safe place for homeless people to get out of the cold. This is do-able, and would provide a hub for social services that address the problems that cause people to lose their housing in the first place.

An article in Alternet sheds some light on why there is such good cheer in tents in the park…
Here is a modest proposal to cure obesity, loneliness and holiday blues…

“Overwhelmingly, growth is seen as the solution to all problems, but growth is failing,” says Herman Daly, a former World Bank economist who is also known as the father of “ecological economics,” an offshoot of the same field that spawned Adam Smith three centuries ago but challenges many of the assumptions that classical economists hold dear.

And further…

Another reason to believe degrowing the economy, while not painless, may make us happier in the long run is a growing body of research comparing health and wellbeing across national borders and economic classes. As a billion poor people around the world already know and many Americans have found out as unemployment has spiked in this country in the last four years, money enough to ensure a roof over one’s head, a full belly and other basic needs is very important to well-being. Beyond a certain subsistence level, however, some provocative research suggests money won’t buy you love.

In their 2009 book, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, epidemiologists Richard G. Wilkinson and Kate Pickett argue that a society’s overall happiness is linked to income equality. Not only do they argue that equality — not more income or more consumption — make us healthier and more contented, their research shows that less equal societies like the United States have higher rates of anxiety and illness, violence, teenage pregnancies, obesity, drug abuse and eroding public trust. And they tend to consume excessively, among other negative effects.

The rest is here.

I took General Science in high school, and the teacher explained a positive feedback loop. It is a bad thing. Where a negative feedback loop is like your thermostat–turning down the heat when it gets too warm; a positive feedback loop is like global warming– where the polar ice melts and the open water absorbs more heat, melting more ice.

Basing an economy on endless growing consumption is unscientific and not reality-based. I think, too, that the passion for things can be tempered as you get older. Young people need more things, old people need more shelves. I need more family time and parties– this holiday season is going along good for that.

Funny thing, when I left Occupy to get on the #42 I had to wait until Santa Claus got off the bus. He had his beard pulled down, but it was definitely Santa, unless red suits with white trim and sacks of presents are this year’s look in men’s wear.

My resolution for the New Year is to live in the present. I have lost so many good people this year that it’s impossible not to recognize that life is short. Though I am by nature a good girl, comfortable going with the flow, I resolve to pay attention so that I know when the right thing to do is to dis-obey.

Solstice– Take Time for the Dark

Winter Dusk

The word ‘Solstice’ does not mean ‘return of the light’…

Solstice refers to the two times of the year when the sun is closest to and farthest from the earth’s equator. The word itself is of Latin origin with “sol” meaning “sun” and “sistere” meaning “stand still.” The latter refers to the sun’s apparent stoppage in the sky as observed by someone on Earth.

It’s more in tune with nature’s mood to remember that today is the first day of winter.

January brings us into the coldest month of the year, which we are just beginning to feel with the weird, prolonged autumn warmth we’ve been enjoying.

For the Word on the Return of the Light, I look to what is written on the Providence Journal weather page. They publish a nice almanac. You’ll note that immediately after Solstice we do not get any day lengthening action at all, and for weeks following, the days lengthen by a minute every couple of days–if you are lucky enough to see the sun through the iron grey clouds that strew freezing rain or snow. Harsh, I know, but let’s get real. This is why people move to Florida.

For a sense of lengthening days, I try to hold out until Candlemas, February 2. That’s the midpoint to spring, when we have six more weeks of winter no matter what the groundhog sees. And in Rhode Island, it’s anyone’s guess whether we’ll have spring.

I might leave my lights up till then, Christmas lights are the best Pagan fusion party idea ever invented.

I’m really enjoying a blessed season with a combination of mindfulness, gratitude and strategic griping. This is a sample. You don’t beat seasonal affective depression by being chirpy.

Debt by the Numbers

Elaine Hirsch, Kmareka’s West Coast correspondent, sends us a disquieting post about the hard realities of the high cost of college. Thanks, Elaine for the research and for dealing with a tough topic–

Statistics of Student Loans

For many students enrolling in college, student loans are the only viable payment method that allows them to attend. Student loans can be subsidized (awarded on the basis of financial need without interest accrual during school) or unsubsidized (when interest is charged as soon as the money is lent out). In either case, many undergraduate and masters degree students often go thousands of dollars in debt just to receive an education. Yet is the cost really worth the outcome?

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that since 1987 the average cost of attending college has risen by 360 percent, or from about $3,599 to $12,979, based on national averages. In the 2003-2004 school year, about 35 percent of all undergraduates took out some form of loan, with an average amount of about $7,336, which adds up to a little under $30,000 in debt for the full four years. In the 1992-1993 school year, roughly the same percentage of students took out federal loans (about 32 percent), but the average amount taken out was substantially lower, at about $3,884 (transposed to $15,000 for four years).

For graduate students, the amount borrowed is substantially higher. In 2008-2009, an average of 56.4 percent of all graduate students took out loans, with higher numbers for medical and pharmacy students (about 82 percent). The average amount borrowed was $40,000, with some medical degree-seekers taking out loans in the upward range of $119,000.

Since 2002, the average amount of student debt has increased at a steady rate of about 5.6 percent, almost double the average rate of inflation. According to FinAid, the total current student loan debt exceeds $950 billion, which is slightly higher than the amount of credit card debt in the county. Student loan debt supposedly increases at a rate of about $2,850 per second. With so many students graduating with loans (some estimate about two-thirds), and with such a large outstanding balance of debt, many people are pressed to fully repay their debts. As a result, the rate for students defaulting on student loans rose drastically to about 8.8 percent in 2009, up from 7.0 percent in 2008.

Furthermore, the Economic Policy Institute points out the job market for graduating students under the age of 25 is competitive, with the unemployment rate rising to 9.3 percent, up from 5.4 percent in 2007. For the average student who borrows roughly $26,000, the average monthly loan payment is $275, which is a difficult sum to accumulate without a job. Thus, the Department of Education explains, roughly 14 percent of all students default on their loans within three years of their first payment period.

For students looking to minimize student loan debt, the clear choice is to shop smarter. Schools and education should be viewed as businesses, especially in terms of debt. If students find themselves borrowing more than $10,000, they should switch schools. They should also take out federal loans first, as these usually have better rates and payment plans, and are usually subsidized. Likewise, students should not borrow more for the full cost of their education than their anticipated starting salary, since any more than that will be difficult to repay. Finally, students should learn to live more sparingly and borrow less in other aspects of their lives. By cutting credit card spending and living more humbly, students can greatly ease the amount that needs to be repaid after college.

Whether or not going to school is worth being in debt is dependent on the student as well as their intended occupation. For instance, it seems that it’s more worth it to go $100,000 in debt to become a doctor than a kindergarten teacher. However, more and more frequently, students find themselves overloaded with debt that they are unable to repay. Thus, for some people, going into debt to get an education is the newest form of monetary slavery. Again, whether or not a student goes into dept depends entirely on the student’s anticipated career path, but if a student shops around they can still receive a good education while avoiding extensive debt.