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:
YEAR END REPORT
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,
Ward One City Councilman
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.
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 billionsmany, 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 workersin 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. Christand his charming young wife Mary M. Christ?
Read the rest here. And let nothing you dismay.
For several blocks on Hope Street, the telephone poles are pasted with flyers in Russian calling on sinners to repent.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Winter solstice takes place on Thursday, Dec. 22 at 12:30 a.m. EST. This lovely image is your tax dollars at work, from NASA.gov.
The cool astronomical diagram is from the BBC. If you are even a little bit nerdy you will enjoy the explanation of how the seasons are measured. I never knew that winter is the shortest season, I always thought February was three months long.
My minister, quoting science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, said, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
That’s why I like Solstice as a winter holiday. You don’t have to believe in it, it doesn’t demand faith, it just happens as it has since long before life began on this planet.
Don’t put too much credence in the ‘shortest day’ hype, though. The days do not begin to lengthen appreciably until early February, when we celebrate Candlemas, the halfway point to spring.
I’ll just post a link since Kristin says it all…
My name is Kristin Rawls. I am thirty-one years old. I am not a drug user. I am not an alcoholic. My crime is that I went to school, and then I got sick. Today, I cannot even rent an apartment on my own without a co-signer. And the way things are going—the more things are deregulated—I’m not optimistic that that will always be enough.
Christine Rousselle has given the Republican Party an early Christmas present, wrapped in anecdotes, with a ‘Welfare Queen’ bow. She published an essay called, ‘My Time at Walmart: Why We Need Serious Welfare Reform’.
Rousselle, a 20 year old student at Providence College, worked summers at a Walmart in Maine, and discovered that the public can be hard to work with. She transformed the trials of service work into an opinion piece on The College Conservative that got her major blog hits and five marriage proposals according to the Providence Journal.
With a sharp eye to who was using food stamps and what they bought, Ms. Rousselle exposed the rudeness, bad dietary choices and apparent abuse of the system she had to witness from her stool behind the cash register. If any poor working families were stretching their food budget by shopping at Walmart, grateful for the food assistance, Ms.Rousselle doesn’t mention it.
That left-wing rag, the Bangor Daily News, ran this article last summer…
AUGUSTA, Maine — While there are indications that Maine’s economy is slowly rebounding from the recession, the federally funded food stamps program is growing significantly, helping more poor families get food and, in some ways, the state’s economy as a whole.
“It’s really a combination of factors that are causing this increase,” said Barbara Van Burgle, director of the Office for Family Independence. “One is that we have a lot of families where a parent is working but they do not make very much and are still eligible for the food supplement programs. That is 45 percent of the families.”
The latest statistics indicate there were over 248,000 Mainers — up 7.5 percent from a year ago — benefiting from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which used to be called the food stamp program. That is nearly 128,000 Maine households. The average monthly benefit per person is $129.17.
“This is a supplemental program” Van Burgle said. “It is not meant to be the only source of food for a family.”
The federal government pays for all of the benefits and half of the cost of administering the program. Any person with income less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level is eligible for the food assistance program.
The federal poverty level is $10,890 a year for an individual and $22,350 for a family of four. Van Burgle said in a poor state such as Maine, a lot of families with working parents are eligible for benefits.
“We have a lot of families in this state where the parents are working hard, some at two jobs, but they just do not make a lot of money,” she said.
Van Burgle said another factor in Maine’s numbers is the state’s demographics. She said more than 10 percent of those on the program are over 65 years old and retired. She said as more Mainers retire without adequate retirement incomes, the more will qualify for food assistance.
Maybe Ms. Rousselle didn’t notice the old ladies. We used to have lurid stories in the recession of the 70’s, about widows surviving on cat food. Ms. Rousselle is appalled that ‘Nearly 30% of the state is on some form of welfare’. The worst recession in thirty years seems to have escaped her notice. Some day her own parents might depend on welfare. We call it Social Security.
The minimum wage in Maine is $7.50/hr., which gets you $1200 a month if you work 40 hours a week. Maine recently voted not to increase their state minimum wage, which is a lavish 25 cents above the federal. This puts a full time, low wage worker in line to get food stamps.
So, speaking of wages, how does Walmart, our nation’s largest employer, stack up?
According to Walmart, pretty good.
As of October 31, 2011 (End of Q3), the average wage for regular, full-time hourly associates in Maine is $13.10 per hour (Walmart Discount Stores, Supercenters, and Neighborhood Markets). Additionally, eligible associates receive an annual incentive based on the company performance.
Payscale.com lists a lower rate, $7.50-$10.55 for cashier. Since Walmart has pharmacies, I wonder if they are including pharmacy techs or even pharmacists in their ‘average’? This is very unclear. There are other ways to game the labor market, such as hiring part-timers who don’t qualify for benefits. From Caitlin Kelley at Reuters.com…
The median retail wage in 2010 was $8.90 for a cashier and $9.86 for a sales associate – down from $9.50 an hour in 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than three-quarters of retail workers are older than 25, contradicting the popular belief that only teens living at home work retail for a little extra pocket money.
One-third of all retail workers are the sole income for their families, working for poverty-level wages. Many of them want to work full-time, but retail employers, who clearly have the upper hand in an era with few other available jobs, consistently and increasingly offer them only part-time positions without benefits. Part-time workers earn a third less than those employed full-time, despite the physical and emotional labor — and the skills and product knowledge that retail work requires — being identical.
With wages remaining so low, many full-time retail workers need food stamps to boost their incomes.
Did Ms. Rousselle ever talk to her co-workers who were not just there on college break?
Maybe things are different in Maine, but here in Rhode Island I work with people who are on assistance, I guess you could call it welfare. They made bad choices. They raised children and married men who worked hard and died, leaving their widows on Social Security and yes, food stamps. They married and had children with health problems who needed expensive medical care. They got themselves hit by cars or afflicted with illnesses. They struggled in school and found themselves stuck in low-wage jobs. They lost their jobs in the recession.
Anecdotal evidence is compelling, but it’s only what you see. Ronald Reagan won the Presidency with colorful stories about welfare queens and drunks buying orange juice for their cocktails with food stamps. The stories were so good, they just had to be true, and Reagan was a performer, after all.
Still, anecdotes are biased toward the exceptions, the compelling dramas.
Imagine if we took this approach to, say, Providence College. There are about 3800 students attending, and most of them are hard-working decent kids, but let’s not dwell on that.
Let’s look at something more alarming. Underage drinking and lawlessness.
The College Atlas named PC as one of the top ten beer-drinking schools. And according to the Providence Police, they don’t pay much attention to legal age.
In fact, GoLocalProvidence rates PC as one of the most dangerous colleges and universities.
If we were to collect anecdotes from some of the bars in Elmhurst, and bartender’s stories about obnoxious customers, how would PC shape up?
I know that some years ago, the modest working-class neighborhood that surrounds PC was having to petition the city for relief from loud parties, vandalism and crime coming from PC, and the college was not very responsive. The administration really had an attitude. Kind of like a twenty year old smirking at the people who have to use food stamps. But that’s opinion, I admit.
Christine Rousselle is correct that welfare can be abused and needs reform. Every big system needs reform just like every big complicated machine needs maintenance. Welfare is a poor substitute for jobs, and jobs are what every state has lost in the recession. I’d go for a new Works Progress Administration myself, but the Republican party opposes any stimulus that comes from government, and Walmart is not picking up the slack. Who’s to blame? Bring on the Welfare Queens, it worked in the 80’s.
And some of what Ms. Rousselle says she saw does sound like fraud. Fraud is a bad thing. This is what the government wants you to do about fraud…
Residents who know of, and wish to report fraud or abuse of the cash assistance, food stamp, Medicaid or any other benefit program provided by the Department of Human Services, should call the 24-hour hotline for fraud at (202) 673-4464 in the Office of Program Review, Monitoring and Investigation (OPRMI). Anonymous calls are accepted. Callers who give their names can request confidentiality at (202) 671-4496.
I don’t think there are government sanctions against being a lousy customer, service workers just have to put up with that. But Ms. Rousselle claims that she witnessed “massive amounts of fraud and abuse.” That would make Walmart an accessory to fraud. I’d like to know if Ms. Rousselle called the hotline, and if not, why not?
Having slept on this, I wake up thinking that Walmart Corp. might not be as totally delighted by Ms. Rousselle’s internet success as she is. Would you shop at a place where the clerk is watching what you buy with your EBT card so she can expose you on the internet? Good publicity for Ms. Rousselle, but not so much for Walmart.