Open Thread

Speak!

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27 Responses to Open Thread

  1. Andrew Beverage says:

    Hi,
    Since I’m just a purely unemployed college grad now, with no more conflict of interest worries, it’s OK for me to post my opinions on stuff again. I have two things to comment on: the wine/jazz festival and the SAFER grant. I’ll try not to get “ranty.”

    On the wine/jazz festival, my mother and sister went there… and came back with no less then 12 bottles. All but two were for the home. There’s so much wine in my house right know between those bottles and all the other wine bottles, my parents might as well build a wine cellar! (By the way, none of that wine is mine- I don’t drink.)

    One the SAFER grant vote, can’t say I agree with it. In my public budgeting class, the professor, who was the assistant debt manager for Fairfax County, beat into our heads the saying “never spend one-time money on continuing expenses.” I add to that saying: “unless you know how exactly you will pay for the continuing expenses once the one-time money is gone.” From what I saw in the and before meeting, it doesn’t seem there is a plan at the moment. That fact concerns me. Just as it isn’t wise to buy things on a credit card without knowing how the charge and interest will be repaid, it isn’t wise for the government to accept a grant on a continuing expense without knowing how the continuing expense will be paid for. Sure the City has two years to figure it out, and Mr. Harrover’s directive (is that the right word?) to have a 5-year expense projection made was a step in the right direction, but really there should have been that kind of analysis BEFORE it was accepted. My fear right now is that it will be seen that the City already had large expenses pending, for example the COPS grant(?) the City is using for some police positions ending which means the City will be having to take over paying those officers’ salaries, which will make the decision to add another $736K on top of that seem unwise. I personally foresee the City having to come up with at least a million new dollars within three years between the COPS grant running out, the SAFER grant, and whatever else is out there. That of course means more taxes (as I understand it the SAFER grant alone will mean $0.05 more on the fire levy), positions being cut, and/or services being cut. I was disappointed I didn’t hear the Council really discuss this and surprised that while the Council was divided on adding more just four new police officers in a year, the dissent only wanted to add two officers, it wasn’t on committing the City to the expense of 12 new fire personnel in a year. Finally, while I understand the safety and standards concerns, that doesn’t mean the City has to meet the standards instantly. I would have preferred the fire department to have made a comprehensive plan on getting the FD up to standards which would include hiring more staff over the years to meet or exceed the staffing standard. Safety is more of a tricky point to argue, but I believe through the City’s agreements with other FDs, it is possible to get enough fire personal on scene to get the job done. If I recall correctly, the Sumner Lake fire is an example of that.

    That’s all I have. And yes, this is the short version. I could probably write paragraphs on things I covered in a sentence or two!

  2. Manassas Kid says:

    Andrew,

    Now that you’ve graduated, what did you major in and what are your job/career goals? Large company/ small company/government/entrepreneur?

    As you likley know, large companies (like all companies) hire whenever they have openings, but they especially focus on enticing new graduates in the eary fall when they spend a lot of time doing campus visits. If you didn’t do that last time at your school you may wish to do so this time in order to be in sync with the companies’ schedules (i.e. you are applying while they are looking).

    Good luck

    MK

  3. Raymond Beverage says:

    Adding on to comments about SAFER Grant:

    By Council action, it was referred to Finance Committee as noted. What should occur in that forecast, is the sustainability factor once grant has expired. The Finance Committee should be looking at not only the expense of salary & equipment, but the continued training costs for volunteer and career since we are one System. Also, in doing a full cost projection and ROI, what is the Fire Levy to look like across the five years….and then continue this finance model as a Life Cycle. Expanding it to full life cycle will also allow inclusion of equipment & apparatus with the manpower and projected levy (aka income needed to support cycle).

  4. Steve Randolph says:

    http://www.roanoke.com/editorials/wb/290717

    Virginia’s General Assembly micro-manages local governments?

    Well, shoot.

  5. Andrew Beverage says:

    @MK
    Sorry in taking a few days to get back to you. To answer the first half of your question, I went to GMU for my Bachelors and my major was Criminology, Law, and Society and I also have a minor in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. It used to be called Administration of Justice but they changed the name right before I graduated. If you don’t know the degrees, the major is basically a general criminal justice degree and the minor is basically about how to do mediation, arbitration, and the like.

    As for my career goals, my primary goal is to someday become a law enforcement officer, specialty working for a local police department or sheriff office that does not run the jail. I don’t really have that much of interest in corrections. I spent about the last six months taking tests and stuff but I keep getting the dreaded “thin letter.” It’s the economy I think; everyone from new grads to laid-off experienced officers are competing for a few jobs. In some places the odds of being selected are literary 100 or more to 1 right now! Also, it’s cheaper to hire a laid-off officer since a department might not have to pay for them to go through an academy so it can different for someone with no LE experience to get in. Given that, I’m keeping my opinions open. I’m probably going to apply to grad school this fall. GMU has a dual-degree program where I can earn a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution and a Masters in Social Work at the same time. I figure that’s a good opinion for me since my BS is kind-of narrow but with those Masters, I’d have a broad range of job options!

    To answer your second question, I’m primarily interested in government work, preferably local. But again, that isn’t set in stone. This is where the Masters degrees would be useful since while almost every LEO position is a government job (I heard of a few private police departments, but they’re quite rare and honestly I’d want to work to one), not every social work job or mediator etc. job is. Basically, I have an idea of where I want to go and what I want to do, but nothing’s absolute. I’ll keep my opinions open since I may apply to three different jobs done the line, say a police officer, a social worker position, and a professional mediator position, and I could be

  6. Andrew Beverage says:

    (sorry, I cut myself off)
    accepted in all three or I could get say the social worker job. We’ll see what happens…

  7. Raymond Beverage says:

    @Steve
    Well, looks like the City Attorney and Council will be busy considering the ban on “discharging slingshot or airgun (Sec. 78-172)” within the City.

  8. AndyH says:

    @AB: your teacher is right – never use one-time money on continuing expenses.

    The real-world corallary to that is this: never use one-time money for continuing expenses unless you’re spending grant money first and are prepared to fund it as an ongoing expense.

    We’ve done the “staff grant thing” twice now and, while I don’t regret it, it is something the Council needed to consider carefully – we had at least two meetings about it (before the Council meeting) along with a one-on-one meeting with the fire chief to go over the details. That’s more than just a little prep work.

    As for the projections, the City has always done only revenue projections and it has always bothered me. It’s as if I used cash accounting for my business – it will work but it is a serious limiting factor as you never truly understand your position. I moved my business off cash accounting 7 years ago because of it.

    The requirement for the COPS grant is alittle different. There is no requirement that we maintain other staffing levels after the grant expires so, if the Council chooses, we can accomodate those positions through attrition.

  9. Steve Randolph says:

    A new book available at Echoes, the Manassas Museum store,
    “100th Anniversary of the Manassas National Jubilee of Peace
    July 1911 – July 2011″ describes the difficult journey
    of President Taft and his party to reach Manassas and his talk
    at the event (to my knowledge, Taft is the only sitting President
    to ever give a speech in Manassas). As one newspaper
    reported “Mud-be-spattered after a difficult trip from
    Washington by automobile (a White Steamer) over flooded roads
    and swollen creeks …” Taft was late arriving in Manassas but the
    large crowd waited for him.

    In his address, President Taft noted:
    “I shall enjoy my visit to Manassas to the full, for I have been to
    some effort to get here … I’m glad to be on the soil of Virginia and
    some of it, as you can see, has adhered to me .”

  10. Steve Randolph says:

    Town/City of Manassas Census:
    1900 – 817
    1910 -1217
    1920 -1305
    1930 -1215
    1940 -1302
    1950 -1804
    1960 -3555
    1970 -9164
    1980 -15,480
    1990 -27,774
    2000 -35,135
    2010 -37,821

    (After the 1910 census showed a 50% increase over 1900, there was
    a major civic push in 1911 for “2,000 by 1920″ – a number that,
    as it turned out, wouldn’t be reached for over four decades.”

  11. Steve Randolph says:

    http://www.iihs.org/news/rss/pr063011.html

    A previous Manassas Council requested the OK from Richmond
    to use cameras – finally got the “green light” – but never installed them
    due to mixed reviews in other jurisdictions.

    What do you all think? Is it time to take another look?
    Is it a tool to improve safety or a costly “Big Brother”?

  12. AndyH says:

    I think it’s worth a look where it might make a difference – around schools or something but much beyond that I’m not really a fan…

  13. Raymond Beverage says:

    We have a list of the “10 most dangerous intersections” – and three of them are within a mile of my house. Agree it is worth taking a look at in terms of traffic control, or to use the other phrase, “traffic calmer”. There are already small cams mounted at certain intersections, so this in once sense could be an extension of what is already happening.

    But “Big Brother”? Me not think so. Roads are designed with an expectation of both traffic flow and responsible driver. Once the pattern of irresponsible driver leads to the City determining “dangerous intersections”, then the Council’s responsibility for Public Safety is the priority. Responsible drivers will acknowledge it is a useful tool.

  14. Andrew Beverage says:

    I can see both sides of this issue but I’m generally against red light cameras. This was actually discussed recently on a law enforcement forum I visit and here’s a link to the topic whose responses eco my opinions: http://forums.officer.com/forums/showthread.php?166463-Red-light-runners&p=2796792&viewfull=1. I know it’s not an academic quality source but it’ll do since this isn’t an academic exercise. I’m kinda long here (as always), but hey, Mr. Randolph did ask what those reading thought right?

    First, I’d like to know how they would be operated. Like in the forum, I don’t like how the private sector could be involved in the enforcement of laws less how the money from violations could be shared with a private for-profit company. If we do it, it should only the City should be involved in the owning and operating of the cameras as well as the issuing of tickets from them.

    Mr. Randolph’s question in regards to “Big Brother” is a valid one. I have to disagree with my father on this one. Look at what Delta_V wrote in the forum. Today it’s red light cameras, tomorrow it will be speed cameras, then no-one will be driving without a camera watching, ready to record a violation when it occurs. Do we really what that in Manassas?

    The accident reduction effect is debatable; even in the forum there’s not a uniform opinion on whether or not they have an effect. Some say they stopped accidents, some say they caused more. I’ve actually heard the latter before. The way I understand it is that a driver, who sees the light go red- or even yellow, will hit the brakes and stop quickly out of fear of getting a ticket from the camera and the driver behind him/her who is speeding, not expecting and reacting to the sudden stop, and/or tailgating will hit the first driver as sigcopper noted. Plus as Delta_V noted, no camera has the ability to stop drunk drivers or drivers that just don’t care…

    On that note, there’s that curveball the state just throw in the new law about motorcycles, mopeds, and bicycles now only having to stop for 120 seconds at a red light and then may go through if they think its safe. Stupid law in my opinion (How exactly are they able to tell it’s safe when I in a car apparently can’t? Also, what makes them so special to legally run red lights?), but I won’t get sidetracked. How a camera, or camera review, would take that into account I have no idea. Do you really expect a reviewer to start counting to 120 to see if that motorcycle, moped, or bicycle gets a ticket or not?

    I also agree with PhilipCal who wrote that the most effective method would be increased police presence at the problem intersections. Look at GTS and the how the increased police response has been effective in a neighborhood eight here in Manassas. Plus having officers there avoids my final issue with them: that who actually gets the ticket may not be the one who actually ran the light (as noted by Crimy). There was a case on a show “Speeders Fight Back” where a guy proved he was in Mexico at the time his truck was seen running a red light and the driver took his truck without permission and still was found guilty since all the law says is that the registered owner gets the ticket. Plus, I believe there’s a court case, I believe a US Supreme Court case but I’m not sure, in which it was ruled that these cameras cannot take a picture of the driver or others in the vehicle deliberately. That’s perhaps my biggest issue with the cameras.

    So, no, Mr. Randolph, I don’t think it’s time for another look. I’m not convinced they improve safety and they have other issues involved like I’ve discussed. I don’t think there’re worth how ever much it would the taxpayers to study it either.

  15. Steve Randolph says:

    http://www.wtop.com/?nid=41&sid=2439781

    Obviously this is a controversial subject, but other local
    NOVA cities have decided to use red light cameras and
    Manassas can learn from their experiences, both positive
    and negative.

  16. DavidB says:

    Me, I would much rather see every penny that might go to studying red light cameras, buying red light cameras, operating red light cameras, defending, maintaining, etc go towards REAL cops. A REAL officer can do a LOT of different things, a red light camera does 1 thing and doesn’t even do that 1 thing all that well.

  17. Steve Randolph says:

    Andy, A huge crowd in Old Town to watch the fireworks
    (and, no doubt, groups gathered at numerous other locations
    around the City). Despite the drizzle/humidity everyone seemed
    to be have a good time.

    – Restaurents had closed off Battle Street and it was filled with
    tables and customers. Remember getting flack over changes
    to the street in Manassas Next, but your vision for that area has
    worked out well and I’m glad we did it.

    – Not sure what happened with the show last night – it started well,
    but about 15 minutes into it there seemed to be some technical
    problems and we ended with more fizzle than sizzle. Trust we will
    get an explanation in the near future. (Last year’s show had an
    “intermission” due to a grass fire started by the fireworks, but I’m
    fairly sure that wasn’t an issue last night).

  18. Scott says:

    Enjoyed being up in Old Town for the 4th. Enjoyed the fireworks. Thought they were great even if they were on the short side. The ocassional barrage of shells as we walked home made the walk enjoyable heading down Main Street towards Baldwin. From what I saw, the crowd was enjoying the festivities of the day.

    On the way into work, I saw that the City was hard at work in cleaning up the debris that was left by the crowd. Wonder if the City should think about placement of the temporary cardboard trash cans. Some people are lazy but there are a fair amount that take pride in their surroundings and would use them. Also, the City should think about the regular trash cans and empty them prior to the even. Monday afternoon around 2:00, I took the dog for a walk and to see them setting up for the events. There were several trash cans alredy overflowing.

    Enough of my complaints, the fireworks were amazing, the crowd great and the Battle Street restaurants busy with some nice bands for entertainment. I hope that the family atmosphere remains for years to come.

  19. Andrew Beverage says:

    More on red light cameras Part I…

    I have two links to pass along but I’m putting them in separate posts since in my experience the anti-spam software doesn’t like it when I put more then one link per post.

    First, I looked into the court ruling I mentioned… It turns out there is no US Supreme Ruling though I swear there some court case on the news a while ago that ruled the way I said (maybe even years, I can’t recall it clearly). Sorry for any confusion I caused. Type “red light camera unconstitutional” into Google (or whatever search engine you use) and you’ll get lots of opinions (some better argued then others of course) and court rulings on the matter both finding them constitutional and unconstitutional. This is another reason I don’t like them, the courts can’t agree their constitutionality. I wish there was a USOTUS ruling that would settle the matter.

    However, I did find an interesting case from the 4th Circuit in which a North Carolina school board sued a city over who would get the money from the cameras. Here’s the link from the 4th Circuit’s website: http://pacer.ca4.uscourts.gov/opinion.pdf/031960.U.pdf. Apparently it isn’t precedent since it’s unpublished, which is odd for a case decided in 2004. Maybe the website was never updated… I don’t know ask a lawyer. Interesting read but in short (and extremely simplified): the Court ruled the city did not have to share the money with the school board. Makes me wonder if our City School Board would also want money from the red light cameras and possibly sue for them (I don’t know how similar VA’s laws are to the NC laws discussed in the ruling)… nevertheless yet another reason to be against them… not having them avoids issues like this.

  20. Andrew Beverage says:

    More on red light cameras (part II)…

    Second, another discussion happened has happened to come along on the site I linked to earlier: http://forums.officer.com/forums/showthread.php?167321-Red-Light-Camera-Enforcement

    I’ll let the people in the forum mostly speak for themselves, I’ll just point out a two things:

    1) Good quote by ateamer: “Red light cameras = revenue enhancement and avoiding real face-to-face traffic enforcement. It’s usually a decision made by the elected politicians, not by the police.” Again, with private companies involved to make money, it’s impossible to truly argue safety as the sole interest. Plus, unlike normal traffic citations where the Commonwealth takes its cut and then whatever’s left back to the jurisdiction that wrote the summons (as explained to me by one of our City officers), the City would get all the money. It’d be hard to argue the Council wouldn’t be thinking about that when making a decision. Then there’s what ateamer wrote before that on cities shorting yellow lights and I hope I don’t need to explain the implications of that…

    2) According to both threads I’ve linked to, the violations would be civil in nature. I recall the post on this blog on zoning fines where a poster said that you can’t have both a civil and criminal charge for an offense. If that’s true how can you have a civil charge (camera) and a criminal charge (police traffic enforcement) for running a red light? Either the poster was wrong, red lights are a special case, or the City would choose one. My guess to the second thing I listed, but I’m not a lawyer and you’d have one to get the answer to that.

    Finally, I have some new concerns: In our city already, it’s a common compliant that the City doesn’t seem willing to take very many Zoning cases to court already. I don’t know how true that is, but that’s a perception I’ve heard for years and as people have pointed out in other places on this blog, perception is the majority of reality. If the Council commits the City to have red light cameras, it must also commit the City to enforce the violations, including going to court. Why have them if the City isn’t willing to argue the tickets in court if need be? The result is that our City Attorney would have to go to court more and thus be paid more and the City would have to come up with that money somehow. Maybe the money from the tickets could pay for that, or it could not. Personally, I think if the City goes to Zoning fines and/or red light cameras, it’d be wise to hire an exclusive City Attorney, who wouldn’t have a private firm on the side, would could handle all these cases as well as the other legal business of the City. It’s something that should be studied, but when other studies get out of the budget that need to be done, I couldn’t argue for studying red light cameras.

    The more I research and read about these things, I more I don’t like them. I hope they do not come into my city.

  21. Steve Randolph says:

    “For $1 a year the Town of Manassas will have its first park
    – a triangular piece of property owned by the Prince William
    County Library Board at the intersection of Sudley Road and
    Grant Avenue. …. It is hoped that the passive park could be
    beautified with flowers and bushes along with a sign welcoming
    people to Manassas, a plaque in memory of the Nelson
    family who donated the parcel to the Library Board and
    possibly a gazebo.”
    Manassas Journal-Messenger (July 11, 1973)

  22. Steve Randolph says:

    Andrew, thank you for your research and observations on
    red light cameras. They obviously continue to be a topic
    of debate. The fact that other local jurisdictions have chosen
    to use them, has drawn my interest, but the jury still seems
    to be out on their cost/benefits/legality. Don’t see them
    coming to Manassas – at least in the near future.

  23. Steve Randolph says:

    http://www.roanoke.com/editorials/wb/292154

    FYI — another unfunded mandate from Richmond.

  24. Mo Stokely says:

    Steve,
    Thanks for posting this. This is the worst idea to come out of Richmond in many years. I understand the need for a balanced budget and I have spoken many times regarding overspending by government at all levels, federal, state & local. This bill is an exeception to all of those rules and any member of the general assembly should be ashamed that this bill was even discussed. Please allow me to make one basic comment. “One does not balance the budget of the Commonwealth of Virginia on the backs of the widows and orphans of our public safety officers either career or volunteer”. One balances the budget by shutting down interstate rest areas and the like. The heroic actions of our first responders (as well as military) should be honored by the Commonwealth and protecting the families the fallen have left behind is a responsibility which should not be ignored by the general assembly. The responsibility of local government should be to supplement the state benefits. Shame on the general assembly. Is nothing sacred?

  25. AndyH says:

    In this case, the GA should have either summoned to fortitude to pay for it or adjusted the plan. Mo, we’ll still continue to pay for this program but at the local level. This happens every year – welcome to the party!

    Oh, and while we’re at it, don’t forget that on the top of the list for most of our local GA reps is the elimination of many local taxes as well!!! It’s a win-win for them. The height of absurdity.

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