Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rumor Report #1

The purpose of this column is to provide direct and accurate information from the City to the residents of our town, so that citizens know what’s going on. In the past several months I have seen an upswing of rumors based on inaccurate information. I have written in this space about how the repetition of misinformation hurts our town. I have also made suggestions on rules for public discourse and the need for individual citizens to check out rumors.

It is time to get serious about addressing rumors. Let’s define a rumor, shed light on the effect of rumors, and create a method for getting accurate information.

My edition of the Random House Dictionary of the English Language gives this definition of the noun “rumor”: “1. A story or statement in general circulation without confirmation or certainty as to facts; 2. Gossip; hearsay; 3. a continuous, confused noise, clamor, din.”

There is a surprising amount of research devoted to the study of rumors. A 1944 study described three basic characteristics that apply to rumors:
  1. They’re transmitted by word of mouth;

  2. They provide “information” about a “person, happening, or condition” and

  3. They express and gratify “the emotional needs of the community” v. an individual need. This distinguishes rumors (community interest) from gossip (individual or trivial interest.
This study also found that negative rumors were more likely to be disseminated than positive rumors. A later study found that rumors tend to be shortened as they travel.

More recent research on rumors has also theorized that rumor-mongering is simply an attempt to deal with anxieties and uncertainties by generating and passing stories that can explain a situation. It was also found that when anxieties are intense, rumormongers are less likely to monitor the logic or plausibility of what they pass on to others.

Another observation on rumors holds that when parties are engaged in intense conflict, there is typically little direct communication between the parties; however, there are likely to be numerous individuals who are informally talking with one another about the conflict. Any gap in information may be filled by rumor or misrepresentation.

The Effect of Rumors
Rumors often contain seriously inaccurate information. In conflict situations, this inaccurate information is likely to make a conflict more destructive. It also tends to erode the parties mutual trust. This makes it more difficult for the parties to move towards a resolution of the conflict. A proliferation of negative rumors increases the chances that the parties will develop worst-case images of one another, which in turn may result in the individuals becoming entrenched and unwavering in their positions.

Therefore, rumors can serve to escalate conflict and make it much more difficult to find a resolution.

The Rumor Hotline
In order to bring rumors to light and respond with accurate information, the City has established a rumor hotline. The rumor hotline number is: 678-4182 extension 231.

This number goes to the desk and answering machine for the Human Resources Director, Sandra Davis. Anyone may call the line to report a rumor. The line is available during business hours and during non-business hours by simply leaving a message. All rumors may be reported anonymously.

City staff will research the rumor and will report the results in this column. The records researched will be open for review at City Hall.

I believe it is our civic duty for the good of the entire community - the duty of each of us as a Lake Walean - to report rumors and bring them to light. We now have an opportunity to do so.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Changes to Garbage Pick-up

There will be a change in the method of garbage collection in our town as the result of a new contract with Florida Refuse. The biggest change is going to once per week garbage pick-up using large garbage cans on wheels. These new cans will be provided next week to residential customers by Florida Refuse.

This new contract includes the following features for residential customers who now use their own garbage containers:

  • Florida Refuse will provide large garbage cans on wheels, called Totes, to each residential customer (except customers who currently use dumpsters). The Totes will be provided, maintained and replaced as necessary by Florida Refuse.

  • Totes will be delivered the week of September 29, 2008 and once per week pick up of the Totes will start the week of October 6, 2008.

  • Flyers will be provided with the Totes that will provide information such as pick up days, Tote placement, etc.

  • Residents may call the City’s Customer Service office at 678-4196 for the following services:
    • Additional Totes will be provided at no additional cost.

    • The Totes provided may be changed out for smaller Totes.

    • After 60 days, residents will be able to request twice per week pick up service for an additional charge.

    • Back door service may also be requested.
  • During a transition period of three weeks, Florida Refuse will pick up overflow garbage. After that if a resident overflows on a habitual basis, the City will be notified so they can contact the customer and request that an additional Tote be delivered.

  • Pick up days for yard waste, recycling, bulk furniture and garbage will be provided on the flyer delivered with the Totes.

  • If a holiday lands on a pick up day, the garbage will be picked up the next day.

  • Florida Refuse has agreed to pick up an unlimited volume of yard waste at each house at no additional charge. However, this service is subject to the following requirements:
    • Residents will need to cut items such as tree limbs, three trunks, palm fronds, etc. in lengths no greater than four feet long if the item’s diameter is less than six inches and need to be put in lengths no greater than two feet long if the item’s diameter is six inches or greater.

    • Grass cuttings, weeds, leaves and other yard material must be placed in containers, bags, or bundles.

    • No single item shall exceed fifty pounds in weight.

    • Debris resulting from a professional tree service company must be taken off-site and disposed of by the tree company.
  • Yard waste will be collected from the front of the premises at curbside or from service alleys at the rear of the property, where available.

  • Please notify the City of any missed pick ups. If Florida Refuse is notified by the City before 2:00 pm, a missed pick up will be removed within 24 hours.

  • Florida Refuse will not begin collection prior to 6:00 am or later than 8:30 pm unless prior authorization is obtained from the City Manager or his designee.

  • Florida Refuse will continue to provide two annual citywide clean ups annually.
  • Florida Refuse will promote recycling participation with a marketing campaign to provide incentive gift cards to residents who recycle.

  • Florida Refuse will provide an annual rebate payment to the City for increasing recycling tonnage. The City will receive a rebate of $25.00 per ton on the annual average tonnage increase year-over-year.

  • Florida Refuse has the exclusive right to provide solid waste collection services within the City.

  • Contractors engaged in building or remodeling operations shall be permitted to remove waste accumulated as a result of their operations if they own their own containers but they may not contract for the service of any other waste hauler/refuse contractor.

If you have any questions on garbage collection please do not hesitate to call the City’s Customer Service office at 678-4196.

Florida Refuse assisted in the preparation of this article.

    Tuesday, September 16, 2008

    Multi-Purpose Sports Complex Now Open

    The Multi-Purpose Sports Complex on Hunt Brothers Road is now open for league play. If someone familiar with municipal budgets were to take a close look at our City budget, and then drive out to see the new Complex, I would expect this question:
    So just how does a city with a relatively small tax base, and a financially constrained General Fund, in this tax reform era, come up with the money to build a $1 million dollar+ sports complex?

    This question recognizes the fact that the City could not fund the construction of this project. In fact, other than fertilizer and weed control, the City did not contribute any hard cash to the construction of the fields. Remarkably, all of the other development costs were paid for through grants and donations.

    This is the modern day equivalent of a community barn raising, where everyone joins together and pitches in to get the job done. This can serve as the model for similar projects, here and elsewhere, in the future. The elements of this project that made it successful are as follows:

    1. It started with a clear “end use” with wide appeal: to build a facility to serve as the home for soccer games, and for other sports as well. There are hundreds of Lake Wales youth who play soccer who would benefit from the building of such a complex.

    2. The project is inclusive. Sports and youth activities attract families from all income levels and neighborhoods. The development of this project required the cooperation of many people and organizations, and everyone involved welcomed the contributions that new partners brought to the project.

    3. The project had a driving force in Robbie Shields, Tony Mathewson, and the other directors of the Ridge Soccer League. They were willing to do a tremendous amount of work.

    4. The city staff and the soccer league directors recognized and capitalized on opportunities.
    With these four cornerstones, the City’s inability to fund the project was not an obstacle. The directors of the Ridge Soccer League were willing to conduct fundraisers and go after grants to make the dream come true. Along the way there were other “spin-off” benefits, such as the re-establishment of the City’s Recreation Advisory Committee, and participation in countywide recreation meetings.

    In this new era of tax reform, the development of this project is the new paradigm of community capital projects. A single local government alone will be less likely to have the financial resources to make large community improvements.

    The next challenge will be to ensure that there is adequate funding for maintenance. The same ingenuity that was used to build the complex will be needed to develop the resources to properly maintain it. New ideas include:

    • A small maintenance fee will be charged to players for each season;

    • For a certain fee, a field and the entire complex could be named for a person or a company for several years;

    • The fields could display company advertisements on field fences; and

    • A fee could be charged for use of the concession stand and for use of the field for clinics.
    As one speaker noted at the grand opening Saturday, the Soccer/Multi-Purpose Sports Complex is a good example of the spirit of Lake Wales – a town with a strong sense of community!
    A few Facts in response to a letter in Saturday’s edition
    • A position’s total compensation consists of a salary and benefits. Unfortunately, a letter in Saturday’s paper mistakenly stated the total compensation for the City Manager position as “salary”. The salary budgeted for that position in the current fiscal year is $105,527 (which includes $4,058.73 in deferred compensation). How does that compare to City Manager salaries in other cities of similar size in our area?

      • Auburndale Salary $117,042, car allowance $500/month

      • Haines City Salary $133,413, car allowance $375/month
    • City Manager car allowance: The car allowance of $400 per month is the same amount provided in the employment contract dated July 3, 2001, when regular un-leaded was $1.22!

    Tuesday, September 9, 2008

    Framework for Public Discourse

    In the 1970’s one of the prominent requirements for federal grant programs was demonstrated evidence of public participation. This meant that the local government had to hold public hearings and allow citizens the opportunity to voice their opinions on the proposed project that would be funded by the grant. Since that time, many people have come to recognize the value of an environment that encourages public discourse and healthy debate of public policy.

    This is also the theme of the “sunshine law” and the “open records law”. Any matter that may come to the City Commission for a vote is off–limits for discussion between two City Commissioners, or between two members of a board appointed by the City Commission. Any such discussions would be considered to be a public meeting, requiring proper notice of the meeting, and minutes being taken.

    The Attorney General’s Office has advised that reasonable rules may be adopted by a local government to ensure the orderly conduct of meetings. For example, a rule which limits the amount of time an individual may address the City Commission may be adopted provided that the time limit does not unreasonably restrict the public’s right of access. In another example, a court ruled that the mayor of one city did not violate a citizen’s First Amendment Rights when he attempted to confine the speaker to the agenda item in the meeting and then had the speaker removed when the speaker appeared to become disruptive (Page 45, volume 30, Florida Government in the Sunshine Manual.)

    The open records law allows review of practically any city record. The definition of a record is defined rather broadly to facilitate access to local government documents.

    The City of Lake Wales’ Score
    In my estimation, the City of Lake Wales scores well in making information available that is necessary for public discourse. The City’s website is filled with information including City Commission agendas, staff reports, adopted policies such as the strategic plan, and user friendly documents like the city budget. City staff also makes themselves available to meet with citizens to explain programs and policies. Each City Commission meeting has a call for citizens to come to the podium and address the Commission, and there is an extensive array of advisory boards that develop policies and make decisions in their areas of expertise.

    The Pledge of Civility
    To establish a “standard of behavior for public meetings”, the City Commission adopted an ordinance in 1998 that contains the following:
    1. We may disagree, but we will be courteous and respectful of one another.

    2. We will not engage in personal attacks.

    3. We will direct all comments to the issue under consideration.
    This standard is written on a plaque on the podium in the Commission chambers under the heading of the “Pledge of Civility”.

    A Corollary: Seek Information Before Forming an Opinion
    In addition to the “Pledge of Civility”, I would like to add a corollary: that with the availability of information as noted above, it is counter-productive to have public discussion when inaccurate information is sometimes dispensed as the gospel truth. It is not clear if this is done out of an ignorance of the facts, a disregard for the facts, or simply using the old debate tactic of distorting the facts and then attacking the distortion. Anyone who chronically dispenses opinion based on inaccurate information eventually loses all credibility. However, in the meantime, the inaccurate information brought to the public stage negatively impacts our town. In our information-rich environment there is no excuse for not asking questions or researching answers before pronouncing an opinion. Asking questions and gathering information should be step one before entering the public forum. Only then can thoughtful and influential public discourse take place.

    Saturday, September 6, 2008

    LWPD Items of Interest

    Let’s take a look at two informational items from our Lake Wales Police Department:

    Lake Wales is a great place to live, work, and raise a family. Unfortunately, we are still susceptible to the larger problems that affect other areas of the county and state… including crime.
    When the economy takes a downturn, there is often an increase in theft. Recently we have experienced a variety of thefts, from homes, vehicles, and businesses. What can we, as citizens, do about this? Isn’t that something our police officers need to deal with?

    The first and most important step in combating property crimes is this: We all need to realize that we are called upon to play an important role in preventing crime in our community. That means that we need to stay alert and be aware of our surroundings. When we see anything that is suspicious, or something that just does not seem quite right, we need to call the police.

    If it is an emergency situation, we need to call 911. If it is not an emergency, please call the police at the non-emergency number: 678-4223. Our police officers will investigate anything suspicious, regardless of how small it may seem. Sometimes these investigations turn out to be something that could prevent a crime.

    For example, a vehicle that looks out of place in your neighborhood, driving around slowly, could actually belong to a burglar planning to victimize a home in the area. Or someone you see running through your backyard or down the street may be running from a crime scene, or from the police.

    Besides serving as eyes and ears for crime prevention, we all need to be mindful of making our homes, businesses, vehicles, and ourselves a much more difficult target for criminals. A great number of crimes occur when the criminal perceives that there is an opportunity for an easy score. Crime prevention experts tell us that by simply making it more difficult for criminals to work, they may very well move on to a different, less familiar area… and a crime was prevented.
    Simply locking doors, checking to make sure windows are secure, and installing exterior lighting are all good ideas.

    Our police department has information to help you be more crime resistant and reduce the chance of being a crime victim. Please contact Judi Gladue at 678-4223 extension 261 for more information on how to keep your home, business, and yourself, safe.

    Chief Herbert Gillis invites all residents to register to attend the 2008 Citizens Police Academy.
    Our police department will conduct the 2008 Citizens’ Police Academy from September 17 thru October 29. Courses will be conducted on seven consecutive Thursdays from 6 pm to 9 pm and on two Saturdays from 8 am to 2 pm.

    The Citizens’ Police Academy follow the training provided to law enforcement officers and includes the following topics:
    • Canine Unit operations

    • Crime scene procedures

    • Drug recognition and identification

    • Emergency vehicle operations

    • History of law enforcement

    • Less-lethal weapons familiarization

    • Lethal weapons familiarization

    • Patrol section operations

    • Problem oriented policing

    • Report writing

    • SWAT Team operations

    • Traffic control procedures

    • Traffic enforcement procedures
    Prospective academy participants can obtain an application by contracting Lieutenant Joe Elrod at 678-4223 extension 257 or e-mail jelrod@cityoflakewales.com.