Unthoughts

With the refreshing rain, and as a City Administrator, I am presented with things that I never thought of before.  To some, it may seem obvious, but many issues in city infrastructure are so camouflaged, it takes certain events to teach new insights.  Anyway, back to the rain.

Parts of Marion are served by a storm water drainage system, while other parts of town rely on surface drainage.  When we get a good rain like this morning, did you know a city crew member checks the storm drains in town to make sure they are open and allowing water to drain?  All the while, creek levels are monitored to the north and west of town to determine when the Luta creek inlet is closed to keep rising creek water from coming into town.

With our levee system, the majority of the water collected in town must eventually  be released back into the levee stream through drainage gates on the west and south sides of town.  The old Cottonwood River Channel within the levee has the potential of storing a vast amount of water, but this water must eventually go back outside the levee and on down the Cottonwood River.  This “release” must coincide when the outside levee stream levels are lower than the retained water inside the levee.

Another curious event with rain concerns the power lines in town.  More particularly, tree limbs that become weighted down with rain and sag closer to power lines.  Not only are they closer to the lines, they are also saturated with water and create excellent grounding opportunities.  Smaller limbs do not knock out sections of town, but do have the ability of creating “line loss” of electricity.  This is the distribution of electrical power without the ability of the city to capture the distribution with a meter.

“So what?”, you might say.  Well, next time you see a city vehicle driving in town, you might consider that the city crews may be monitoring water levels outside of town, drainage systems inside town, removing tree limbs from power lines, or checking on a variety of service requests related to the efficient maintenance of that barely visible infrastructure.

“We’ll See”

There is a story told by “Gust” Avrakotos, the CIA operative in “Charlie Wilson’s War”, published in 2003 and portrayed in the 2007 movie of the same name.  The story is about a village where a young boy gets a horse, and all the villagers say “Isn’t it wonderful!”, and the village leader states “We’ll see”.  Then the boy falls off the horse and severely damages his legs and the villagers all say “Isn’t that terrible!”, and the leader says “We’ll see”.

Then war breaks out and all the young men have to go to war; all except the boy whose legs are messed up, and the villagers all say “Isn’t that wonderful!”.  The leader only says “We’ll see”.

This story illustrates how decisions, actions and situations can be interpreted.  I get the feeling the villagers were easily excited and disappointed, while the leader understood the longer view.  It also points out that events will happen, decisions will be made and results will be evaluated.  How we respond in the middle of the process indicates our degree of excitability and, possibly, our agitation.

I have studied and researched ways to make the city run more efficiently and consistently.  Part of that analysis has evolved into the current meter replacement project we are in the middle of.  As some readers may already know, when a meter is replaced, the final reading of the old meter is entered as the usage to be billed.

It seems like a small detail, but when a meter gets replaced later in a month, the bill may reflect two or three more weeks of usage which, in turn, may be a larger bill than normal; “Isn’t that terrible!”.  But the next bill may only reflect one or two weeks of usage, making the next bill much smaller; “Isn’t that wonderful!”.  It will take two billing cycles to get it back to “normal” usage and reading for billing purposes.

With the meters on a radio-read system, the monthly readings will be much more consistent; “Isn’t that wonderful!”.  Some households may see slight increases in usage, because the old meters (average 45 years old) may have slowed down and not been metering correctly; “Isn’t that terrible!”.  But, in fact, those homes have really been getting billed 92 – 97% of actual usage for the last 10 or more years, “Isn’t that wonderful!”.

Proper metering will allow the City to efficiently distribute utility costs fairly to all residents.  So, it is my hope that before we get into the cycle of determining “wonderful” or “terrible”, we’ll garner an attitude of “We’ll see”.  My research indicates “we’ll see” a much more efficient and consistent utility system for the village of Marion.

Returning BAK

June 8th, the City of Marion will be able to witness approximately 900 cyclists traveling by Marion on Highway 256 (Main Street).  Biking Across Kansas (BAK) is an eight day, 475 mile bicycle tour of the State of Kansas.  It is the second oldest organized cross-state bicycle tour in the United States.

Marion has been designated as one of the official “Lunch Stops” for this group.  It is estimated some of them may start to appear anywhere from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM, and they could be stopping to eat.  Their visit has the potential to make a positive financial impact on our community.  Hopefully, our restaurants and cafes will be prepared for the possible onslaught of hungry bikers!

A Press Release by BAK suggests having local youth groups or community organizations prepare some type of food for the bicyclists as a fundraiser.  Either way, it is important to present a welcoming atmosphere to these visitors.  Marion has many attractions that can be appealing to this market.  And it is those return visitors that can lead to increased retail revenue and possibly new residents.

Marion sits between two recreational lakes and is situated at the western edge of the Flint Hills.  It is easily accessed by US Highway 56, and offers rural town charm with historic stone buildings, active antique shopping opportunities and a Central/Brooker Park unrivaled in peacefulness and beauty.

I know this is early, since they are still over a month away, but let’s take this time until then to dust off our welcome mats.  Opportunity may be riding by June 8th!

Quarterly Summary

It has now been three months since beginning as the City Administrator.  It’s as good a time as any to reflect on what I’ve learned.

  • There are a lot more regulations and restrictions on finance and lending in the public sector that in the private sector.  This is how it should be, seeing many city departments are financed through real estate taxes.
  • Things move slower when making decision by committee.  Not that I want more meetings, but when decisions have to wait two weeks for a Council meeting, it slows down the process.  And then Council decides to table the issue until the next meeting….
  • Policies and Procedures are very important.  Especially in local government, impartiality and consistency may be the only way to placate the diverse personalities and issues with city residents.  If the policy is fair and equitable, it makes deadlines, disconnects and decisions easier.
  • Budgets are a “best guess”, and sometimes assumptions in the spring of last year do not equate to the realities of mid-summer this year.  Two words; Fuel Prices.
  • There is a tendency to react to the negativity and brush off the compliments.  I think that’s almost backwards.  We need to address legitimate concerns, but not allow the messenger to force the solution or the pace of the correction.  The few words of encouragement should be appreciated and remembered.

There are other lessons learned; some not appropriate to print, but that may be another reflection for another time.

Trash Talk

You may have noticed that we are changing our residential trash pickup frequency.  Currently we are picking up residential trash on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.  In an effort to conserve on fuel (and on our fuel budget), we are going to go to only one pickup per household per week.  Here’s how it will work.

If your current trash schedule is Monday-Thursday, we will now pick up on Thursday, only.  If your trash mysteriously vanishes every Tuesday-Friday, it will only vanish on Tuesdays.  My thanks to Geno for coming up with a better schedule than I was considering (I’m still kinda peeved that I didn’t think of it).

Anyway, please start following this schedule.  We will have a couple weeks where we’ll still pick up if you forgot, but will grant no amnesty after the week of May 2nd.  Look for a reminder in your utility bill.  And thanks for helping keep Marion clean and fiscally responsible!

Jobs I’ve Had

I recently had to fill out a brief bio for a trade organization.  Looking at my work history, I realized I have been in a variety of fields.  Securities, insurance, aviation, banking, real estate and even ran my own manufacturing firm.  Now, here I am, counting up all the jobs I’ve had.  Just to see if anyone is reading this, I propose a simple game.

Count up how many jobs you’ve had.  A job, for this discussion, would mean full or part time for which you received payment.  Just hit “comment” and post your name and number of jobs you’ve had.

I’ll start:  Doug Kjellin  11

Tick-Tock

I’m looking at the clock and realize it’s less than an hour until the City Council meeting.  Twenty agenda items.  Some are pretty much just “housecleaning items” like Department Head Reports and Consent Agenda.  However, we are also hearing from our Housing Authority Director on progress at Hilltop Manor.  We will be discussing changing the trash schedule to just one pickup a week.  Refinancing the Spec Building, discussing burn issues during the month of April and even a Public Hearing regarding the south hill water project.

I know it seems there is no time to go to these kind of meetings.  It can get a little tedious wading through council questions and clarifications.  And, I have to admit, formerly only went to council meetings in other cities for official real estate business, so I understand.

But please stay aware of municipal government issues.  Fuel is not getting cheaper, our streets are not getting newer and nobody wants to use the “T” word (taxes).  We have to be creative and resourceful in how we run the business that is the City of Marion.  I think you are pretty smart bunch (not only because you’re reading this).  I’m open to ideas.  We have to pull together and get our best money-saving thoughts “on the table”.

There may need to be a reduction in some services instead of raising utility rates or “T’s”.  I’ll try to keep you informed of the bigger issues and hopefully you will speak to me or the council on the best path we should take.

Well, that’s all for now.  Gotta make it to the meeting!

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