Tuesday, October 21, 2014

2014 League City election picks for City Council

Early voting for the City Council races in League City (plus many other muni, county, state, and federal positions) began yesterday but I withheld publishing my picks until today out of a desire for fairness and balance.  I wanted to incorporate the primary alternate editorial source, which is the recommendations put forth by Galveston County Daily News (paywalled), and also see some of those forum comments, so that you could compare and contrast both sets of picks in the process of doing your own evaluation and arriving at your own voting choices.

I note again for the record that this is a non-commercial, non-politically-affiliated blog that presents personal opinions only.  This blog is not associated in any way with Centerpointe POA; we just happen to live in the same named place.
Here we go... the early vote is now on!  Signs at the corner of SH 3 and League City Parkway.  
For those of you who are not familiar with my local involvement, I gathered the information that underpins my picks from the following sources:

  1. Daily reading of our local newspapers (GCDN and Chron; I am a paying subscriber to both, ca-ching!).
  2. Daily participation in local online discussion forums, some behind paywalls, and also email discussion threads.
  3. Daily general attention to League City goings-on for the past 5 years of my residency here.
  4. A little bit of attendance at a few historical City Council meetings and watching of additional meeting videos on the internet
  5. Attendance at the City Council candidates forum held on October 8, 2014 (you can see a full video of that forum here - not paywalled - with corresponding GCDN link here). 
  6. My own October 9, 2014 public appeal for historical context and additional "back-story" information on all candidates in competing races.  

Cutting to the chase, here are my picks, and I will describe my rationale for these choices in sections to follow this graphic.

POSITION 1:  BECKER vs. EWEND

My choice is either Becker (if you can stand him) or a no-vote in this ballot position (which is called undervoting) if you cannot stand him.  GCDN picked Ewend because they obviously cannot stand Becker, but I find that their rationale for doing so was weak and didn't take all relevant decision factors into proper account.  Becker is well-known for his obvious intelligence and League City managerial experience, but GCDN essentially argues that he's too much of a hot-head to deserve a vote.  My response to this is YES, he certainly is a hot-head, and furthermore, he does not seem to be improving himself in that regard.  But the example that GCDN gave was that of the fist-fight with fellow Council member Okeeffe, which I argued was mostly a cosmetic issue that, if anything, suggests that both men are probably honest at the core.  I don't pick my political candidates based on the cosmetics of their behavior or sensationalized news accounts of same.  Far more consequential in this analysis is Becker's Achilles heel:  Despite his higher IQ, he sucks out loud when it comes to risk assessment and decisional priority weightings.  I could provide you with specific, pointed examples but I'm afraid it would make this post too long, and so I will reserve that for later.

In my opinion, voting for Ewend would simply make a questionable Council seat much, much worse.  Ewend has not represented himself well during this election cycle.  Jim Guidry's local news service, which almost never crosses my radar, explained exactly how in an op-ed titled "The circus left Houston last week - a missed calling".  The writer described Ewend as "our town jester" and I agree with that evaluation.  Ewend seems to be intentionally making a mockery of the American democratic process and he has already cost the LC taxpayers unnecessary time and money with his absolute failure (or refusal?) to comprehend Ethics 101 (sorry - paywalled; can't find an open info source on that one).

In absolutely no scenario that I can imagine would Ewend be an improvement over Becker, as imperfect as Becker is.  Becker is the clear lesser of evils, as I see it.

POSITION 2:  CONES vs. MORRIS

I pick Morris because I think he's strong enough to deserve a chance to prove himself.  He's an attorney, so we get that proverbial "free attorney" on Council which is something we desperately need (and this is particularly important because I do NOT pick attorney Gross; explanation given in the next section).

GCDN picked Cones and argued their choice on the basis that nobody knows LC better than Cones does, but that's not necessarily a good thing unless Cones can also behave in a functional manner with respect to City business and relationships.  During my public appeal, every single piece of feedback I received on Cones was strongly negative, and every email was backed up with objective information that the commenters used to justify their thumbs-down (so it wasn't  just subjective ranting on their parts).  Whatever the hell Cones did during his previous Council tenure, he made a lot of enemies.  And we don't need enemy-makers on Council when we have a potentially better choice available in Morris.

POSITION 6:  GROSS vs. J. LONG vs. DAWSON

I pick Dawson for much the same reason that GCDN also picks her - because there is no other voice on Council who has proven themselves to be the least bit concerned about quality-of-life issues.  We desperately need a canary in our Council coal mine, and Dawson, as limited as she appears to be in certain functional respects (explanation omitted for brevity), has proven herself capable of filling that specialized role.  Dawson will be the whistle-blower when the rest of the WASPy conservative clones on Council step too far out of line.  And we really, really need that for counterpoint perspective if nothing else.

As further support for this pick, I note that Jason Long is not a good choice by virtue of his criminal record (paywalled) which calls his temperament into question if nothing else, and the fact that he does not represent himself well in debate (see the forum video for evidence).

As further evidence for this pick, I note that Gross is a litigator, an adversarial character whose mannerisms struck me as way, way too far toward a slash-and-burn mentality.  Watch the forum video and I think you'll see what I mean.  He does not appear to come to the table with a cooperative demeanor - rather it's a short-sighted, over-the-top attitude of (paraphrased), "You people are all screwing up spending money on moving oak trees and thank goodness I'm swooping in to save the good people of League City from your wild incompetence and dastardly influences."  We do not need that kind of attitude on Council given the personalities that we've already got.  He may be an attorney and he may have some professional strengths as a result of that, but that's not enough.

POSITION 7:  N. LONG vs. AL-SAHLI

Agreeing with GCDN on this one as well, I pick Nick Long for the simple reason that he's an extremely strong candidate, so strong that if he ran against any one of those others, he'd still be a shoe-in (danged pity that he did not choose to run against Becker).  In the candidates forum, Al-Sahli proved himself to be no slouch, and if he were running against a weaker opponent, I think he would be both electable and desirable as a Council member.  He seems to be a buoyantly positive, laid back kind of guy (in some instances, probably a bit too laid back for his own self-preservational good).  I sense that Mr. Abdul has a latent potential to become a Great Dispeller of Bullsh*t, if only he were given a chance.  I hope that decides to run again in the future if he loses his current bid.

There are my opinions for you to do with as you see fit in formulating your own.  With respect to voting resources, here are a few useful links.  Following the closing meme below, I will also reproduce GCDN's contrasting election picks with their own rationales presented in full for your consideration.



But not until the skinny lady sings.  Good luck at the polls.  
***
In the contested races for city council in League City, The Daily News recommends:
• Council Position 1: Jay Ewend. This is a case of addition by subtraction. The incumbent, Dan Becker, was arguably the most knowledgeable candidate at a recent forum. He provided informed answers on questions about debt and infrastructure. But League City got national attention when two council members got into a fistfight in the city manager’s office. Voters shouldn’t have to worry about things like that.
• Council Position 2: Tommy Cones. Cones had a colorful run during his previous tenure on council — and he could work on decorum. Nevertheless, few people know League City better.
• Council Position 6: Joanna Sharp Dawson. Attorney Keith Gross is an articulate candidate and would be a good choice, but Dawson deserves another term. She has been a voice of decency on a council that is sometimes bitterly divided. She’s also been an advocate for parks and historic preservation — interests that ought to warrant at least one spokesman in one position on council.
• Council Position 7: Nick Long. Long, a financial consultant, gave the most detailed view on how the city should balance debt with the need to build infrastructure to accommodate growth. While Long gets the endorsement, it’s hard to argue against the experience in operating small businesses offered by his opponent, Abdul Al-Sahli.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A request following the League City candidates forum

Last night, Galveston County Daily News hosted a question and answer forum attended by all nine City Council candidates.
GCDN editor TJ Aulds, who served as the organizer and moderator, did a superb job of maintaining a rigorous professional order.  
As a blogger, I am in the process of formulating my list of "picks" for this election.  Attending last night's forum was one step in my process of researching and evaluating the candidates.  In conjunction with this process, I invite members of the community to present me with their own opinions and evaluations.  Here are my personal areas of weakness regarding which I would appreciate specific input:
  1. I have only lived in League City for about five years.  Therefore, I lack some historical context that is relevant to this present-day evaluation.  For instance, why did Cones lose his Council seat previously?  Why have I observed Cones and Paulissen to fight like cats and dogs on occasion?  What else do I need to know about historical activities and backstories that should be weighed in the evaluation of each candidate's present-day qualifications? Questions such as these are important because they speak to the potential of the candidates to work effectively with Council rather than expending time and energy on the type of conflict and divisiveness for which League City has become well-known.
  2. I am politically unaffiliated and socially unconnected where all of these candidates are concerned.  That is a strength I cite in support of my own objectivity, but it is also a weakness because it limits my ability to know from experience who is in bed with whom and why - in other words, what behind-the-scenes alliances may or may not bode well for League City.  Local political offices are routinely exploited by people for personal gain instead of representing the genuine sense of civic duty that should be driving their participation.  A particular candidate might look wonderful on paper and may present well on his or her face, but if that candidate's primary motivation is to use League City as a stepping stone to something better for themselves, then I'm not sure that's the candidate we need.  Knowing more about this factor will help my evaluation.  

If you have information to share (hard information substantiated by facts is particularly desirable), please inbox me via centerpointe.blog - gmail.com.  Conversely, if you start your own blog or provide your analysis elsewhere (such as in the commercial news media), I would appreciate it if you would drop me a line to draw my attention to your content.  I do review the GCDN comment stacks almost daily, but sometimes I miss things.

Thank you!  @CenterBlog. 

There's always room for a meme, especially when it conveys information.  
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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The polarity predicament, Part 1

I have been quieter than usual lately on this blog in part because I've been making some behind-the-scenes inquiries into what responsive measures might be possible with respect to the continued open animosity between the City Council of League City and some members of the local Muslim community.  I've addressed a few facets of this issue previously in this post and this post, but as a blogger, I have yet to deal with the core issue head-on.
That is, indeed, what we have on our hands in LC on the immigration resolution issue.  
Here is one hobbling limitation that has been repeatedly emphasized by the folks with whom I have spoken thus far:  The lack of available public information on this conflict, specifically as it relates to newspaper coverage.  The residents of League City would genuinely like to know more about what's been happening, but they have few options for obtaining this information.  I have complained bitterly about this limitation on many previous occasions, to the point of establishing a blog category titled "Newspapers".  Those with whom I have spoken in the past few weeks have confirmed and even elevated my own concerns, with comments such as "I subscribe to Houston Chronicle but they are not covering League City's issues" and "Galveston County Daily News may be reporting on it, but their overall product is of such poor quality that there's no way I'm ever going to grant them the satisfaction of my subscription fee, so I really can't get any information about what's been happening."
GCDN is covering it at least in a limited sense, but that content is almost entirely paywalled.

I apologize if you find the memes distracting, but I think this discussion could benefit from some much-needed comic relief and the general not-taking-of-oneself-too-seriously, among other things.  Memes are certainly good for those purposes.  
Just as an aside, GCDN is commonly accused of indulging the usual and customary liberal media bias, but some of the most negative comments I've received recently about GCDN have been from people who self-identify as having very liberal viewpoints.  Their complaints seem to center on the quality of the investigative reporting - specifically on what they perceive as a complete lack of any intellectual perspective whatsoever - rather than on the ideological slant.
I "bereave" the liberal media - yes, I most certainly do!!
:-)

The world-renowned actor Jackie Chan undoubtedly did not approve of this internet meme, although he has been known to be outspoken on political issues.   
I am currently at a loss as to how people might compensate for this informational vacuum.  I do agree (as people have noted) that it's unworkably pricey to subscribe to both Houston Chronicle and GCDN - that's going to be out of the budget of many of the Clear Lakers who are caught in the middle, geographically and otherwise (I'm considering Clear Lake to encompass League City).  It's unworkably pricey especially because neither of those publications is located in our area and neither of them do justice to our area.  Regardless of which one is chosen, you don't receive that much relevant content for your considerable amount of subscription money, frankly.

So where does that leave us?  As I've said many times before, the newspapers royally suck and our local blogosphere is nonexistent, and I never set my blog up for the kind of generalized communicative purpose that is called for here.  Effective dissemination of this kind of information requires extensive market penetration of the kind that I originally intended to deflect rather than achieve.  Those 155,000 hits you see on the counter below are all from people who had to work to get here - to make a long story short, I was shooting for readership quality rather than quantity, which is valid for its own purposes, but it is far from effective when the objective is disseminating general public information that isn't otherwise available.

Anyway, FWIW, the latest offering from GCDN is a very formulaic editorial titled "It's bad policy to disdain the public's complaints" (paywalled).   It references the fact that a few members of City Council walked out of the public comment period during a recent Council meeting.  The public participation, as always, referenced the original "radical Islamist terror groups" clause in the resolution that has already been DEBATED TO DEATH, BUT ONLY WITHIN THE PROFOUNDLY RESTRICTED FRAMEWORK OF PREVAILING ACCEPTABLE SOCIAL POLARITY.
...but not for as long as each and every one of you insist on maintaining your current polarized positions.  
The reason why I have started talking to some people in the community is that, like everyone else, I'm sick to death of the obvious ideological stalemate.  I have specific ideas about how this issue could be (brace yourself) actually moved forward in a mutually productive way.  Unfortunately, thus far, I'm not finding many other people who feel similarly and who would be willing to contribute a bit of their time and energy in order to do something about the stalemate which is continuing to manifest like a really bad broken record in Council meetings and in the press.  Mostly what I'm finding is that people have a passionate desire to continue stamping their feet and proffering their particular polarized oversimplifications.  Most people seem to want to continue taking bi-weekly baths in their righteous indignation as they pout and hold their positions with their minds clamped as firmly shut as they can possibly muster.

Anyway, as a first measure in this regard, I started calling louder bullsh*t on the polarity in response to that newest editorial linked above.  Because it's paywalled, I will reproduce my comments below FYI.  You don't really need to read the original editorial - all it basically says is that certain City Council members are bad for walking out during a public comment period.  There's no historical or contextual weighting, no suggestion as to what else might be done to really address the underlying issues (that's what op-eds are supposed to do, isn't it? Suggest things?).  It's just that little dissociated bit - Council is bad.  And that's the polarity predicament in a nutshell.

***


What continues to amaze me about this situation is that everyone is behaving exactly as our current ultra-polarized society expects them to behave, every step of the way. 

There's not been a shred of creativity or original thinking anywhere in this equation - I feel like I've been watching a collective Dance of the Automatons, from LC City Council to the Muslim community to this local press itself.  Every single party playing their prescribed role, right on cue.  There's no room for thinking outside the box.  There's no room for asking legitimate questions (they have been in there, but were drowned out by all the BS, especially the name-calling of which both sides are guilty).  There's no room for orthogonal viewpoints.  There's no room for thought experiments in devil's advocacy.  There is no room for anything that even remotely resembles a fresh perspective.  It is simply not allowed. 

There is absolutely no room for anything other than extremely polarized cookie-cutter views that conform to established stereotypes (especially liberal vs. conservative).  And the situation is SO BAD that when I make the observation for folks that what they are doing amounts to nothing more than cherry-picking an off-the-shelf extremist view, they literally think I'm nuts.  Twice in one week in behind-the-scenes conversations, I had the unnerving experience of pointing out to different people that they have reduced a nuanced situation to an unworkable level of black and whiteness, and they responded to me, scandalized, with (paraphrased), "What do you mean?  I'm not taking an extremist view - I'm simply taking a HUMAN view."  In other words, they've totally lost touch with their own extremism, if they even had any awareness of that in the first place.

Of course, it's the height of fashion right now to join in the American polarity movement.  It's so effortless and attractive, instant gratification in the style of illegal drugs - you can get instant street cred, an instant "in", not by having any actual ideas, but just by dropping a few key words and phrases that confirm your subscription to The Group.  But at a certain point, you have to ask yourself what you're really getting out of that kind of mindset.  OK, bully for you - you're "in", and those unfathomable guys on the other side of the issue are also "in", but what are any of you actually gaining from all this polarity?  And much more importantly, what is everyone losing because of it? 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Section 9 burglaries

Centerpointe Section 9-ers, you may have noticed this message on your USPS clusterbox late yesterday or this morning:
It was distributed by a good Samaritan but it won't remain there for long.  Posting notices on clusterboxes makes USPS absolutely furious (ye shall receive the wrath of Mail Carrier if she catches you doing it).  They won't stand for it, even if it is in the public interest.  
I don't have full details yet, but reportedly, as many as nine (!!) vehicles may have been burgled on the night of September 23.  From what I was told, it seemed to be the usual modis operandi - a person or multiple people looking for items that could be easily grabbed and fenced.  Drug people, I speculate.

Anyway, keep your eyes open.  And for heaven's sake, park as many of your cars in your garages as possible.  A couple of years ago, I published a theory that crime is positively correlated with the number of driveway- and street-parked cars.  It makes perfect sense - if your intention is to break into cars, where are you going to go?  To the areas that have the most cars, duh.  Higher densities of cars provide a two-fold advantage:  greater potential for theft in a smaller area, plus greater opportunity for physical concealment as the cars are being broken into.  The area hit on September 23 does have a lot of outdoor cars, including some that are street-parked.  My cul-de-sac does not seem to have been affected, and it's worth noting that we have no cars whatsoever parked overnight on the street, and most of our residents garage their cars.  Slim pickens, in other words.   
... AND THEY LEAVE THEIR CARS OUTDOORS SO THEIR STUFF IS EASIER TO GET AT.

It looks like yet another meme but it's not.  This doormat is actually for sale. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

City Hall scene

Small meteorite?  Wrath of God?  Micro-hurricane come ashore when we were not watching?  Graffiti shroud?  Grand unveiling about to occur?

Yeah, I know, it's most likely to be a roof leak or structural issue.  Given that it's only two years old, I hope it's still under warranty.
The blue roof blues, as seen yesterday evening.

Friday, September 12, 2014

An open letter to City Council candidate Abdul Al-Sahli

Mr. Abdul, as a candidate for League City Council Position 7, I am curious as to why your business chose not to lower its flags to half staff yesterday to commemorate the 13th anniversary of 9/11.
September 11, 2014, approximately 4:00 p.m.

Your exact role at this business is reported variably depending on the source, but it's clear that you have substantial authority there.  The DE website does not mention any owner or controlling entity by name and neither does the corresponding Secretary of State franchise page (officers and directors information is missing), but your own LinkedIn profile describes you as DE Flooring's "President".  I've heard people verbally refer to your relationship to this business in ownership terms (partial vs. full ownership not specified), and when I signed a small services contract with DE Flooring about a year ago, you were explicitly described to me as "the man in charge".  As such, it would appear that you are the authority who would be in the position to make administrative decisions such as flag-lowering.  
Yesterday was a day of national mourning in which American flags were ordered to half staff.
Screengrabbed from this site.  
Of course, not every private business in our area complied with this directive.  For instance, a day care center not far from DE Flooring also had flags at full staff.  The crucial difference is that the day care owner has not claimed a role for himself or herself as a political figure.  He or she is not currently running for an American public office and seeking the public's trust.
All public offices and most local businesses did lower their flags, however.  About three minutes after I took the above photo of DE Flooring, I took this one of ACU of Texas' League City branch, which has established an unfailing local reputation for its tasteful displays of patriotism.  
Even the initial act of declaring political candidacy is a demonstration of leadership, and the very first task of leadership is to identify with the people and confirm a strong connection to the people.  I intentionally looked at your place of business yesterday on my way home from work because I assumed you would be showing this kind of solidarity on a day when such observances are absolutely vital to the American soul.
While DE Flooring's flags were at full staff late yesterday afternoon, this is what was going on a short distance away.

Image courtesy of the City of League City.  
In your case, of course, the participatory issue goes beyond generic political candidacy due to your ethnicity.  I mention this because I personally think it's fair game to discuss that aspect of what you potentially bring to League City's political table (which is currently characterized by a woeful lack of diversity), and because obviously you think this is fair game, too - your campaign website specifically references that element:
Screengrabbed from this campaign page.  
As a Council candidate, it cannot possibly have escaped your attention that League City has spent the last two months embroiled in conflict over a City Council resolution that contained the phrase "radical Islamist terror groups".  While most reasonable people question the motivation behind the injection of this reference (and the resolution itself, for that matter), the unavoidable fact is that the resulting social conversation is well underway, and some of the questions being raised by local residents are arguably valid and deserving of responses (e.g., see the most recent discussion threads on Galveston County Daily News here and here).  Many of those questions boil down to a very simple inquiry:  which is more important to any given individual - their ethnicity and the religious and cultural factors that go with it, or their allegiance to America?  People genuinely want to explore that issue, and I believe that it is healthy for them to do so.

It saddens me that your business did not lower its flags yesterday.  I may be the first to publish this question, but I cannot possibly be the only League City resident who noticed those flags.  By not participating in the national observance of Patriot Day, you will give additional ammunition to those of the more extreme voices in the conversation who are quick to seize upon any perceived negative development to support their fears and distrust of other cultures, especially those that they believe are associated with Islam.  They're going to say things like (paraphrasing), "WTF??  This guy named Abdul Al-Sahli is running for office and he had the nerve not to observe 9/11?  See??  I've been telling you all along that these people are not really with us!"  Even if accidental, this type of outcome hardly seems consistent with your own stated campaign intentions.

I hope you will address this question, not to me, not to this blog post, but to those who deserve your response - the good people of League City, Texas.
On top of everything else we've got going on locally, yesterday was not an "ordinary" 9/11 anniversary - it had a larger sadness component than those in recent memory.  All of America is increasingly anxious because, every single day, there is a new news story documenting the burgeoning power of the group known as Islamic State.  We don't know what will happen, but we know that thousands of people have already died, and thousands more will surely die, with or without the planned American airstrikes.  

I could not get done with work in time for League City's memorial service yesterday, but I did pause to face these half-staff flags in front of another City Hall about 50 miles from here.  I stopped to pay my respects and to say a small prayer for international peace.  I also pray that we can reach a better state on our local level, a state in which we can all understand each other more deeply than we obviously do today.   
 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Beware of other critters, too

Please try not to run over that large tortoise who is currently insisting on traveling straight down West Walker Street.

I picked him up near Cypress Pointe and deposited him in a safer area, but when these guys get a mind to head toward a particular destination, they often can't be redirected, and it sometimes doesn't end well.