Richmond Matters, a new local blog

I've created RichmondMatters.com, a new site dedicated to commentary about life in Richmond, Indiana.

As I've occasionally done here in the past, I'll be sharing my thoughts about Richmond news, politics, leadership, community life and more. It's a simple site. The name is kind of boring. I've no ambition for it beyond having a place to write with a more narrow focus on a topic that's important to me.

Sometimes I'll cross-post those essays here or tweet out links to them, but usually I won't. I'll continue to post here about all the other random stuff I enjoy writing about, but the posts about local stuff will go in this new site.

So, if you'd like to follow along with my posts about Richmond, I hope you'll use the email or RSS subscription options on Richmond Matters. I'd enjoy having your feedback and comments along the way.

Shutting down Richmond Brainstorm

20140322-screenshotFive years ago this month I launched the community improvement website RichmondBrainstorm.com. The site allowed users to submit ideas for ways to make Richmond, Indiana a better place, allowed other users to discuss and vote on those ideas, and shared success stories of ideas that had been implemented. I created the site because I think it's important for a given community to shape its own course for the future instead of waiting for solutions from state and national governments, and because I was tired of hearing good, creative ideas from others that never seemed to get the attention or visibility they deserved.

In the time since, some 86 community improvement ideas were submitted and discussed, and a number of the ideas became real projects that were implemented. The site got over 140,000 visits from around 45,000 unique visitors. I've also received contact from people other communities around the country asking for help to create a similar resource in their city, and so the idea of an online community improvement idea inventory seems to itself have become an idea worth spreading.

But, after an initial period of significant activity, the Richmond Brainstorm site had become largely dormant, with no new ideas submitted to it in close to a year. Over the years I've regularly talked to local community development organizations who have said the concept of the site is an exciting one and could even be integrated into their own efforts at prompting further conversations and action, but as yet Richmond does not seem to be a place where most of those kinds of conversations want to happen online, for better or worse. That combined with the time that it takes to keep the site's software current, deal with spammers and perform other administrative tasks has begun to outweigh the value that I think RichmondBrainstorm.com is currently bringing to the community.

So, as of today I'm shutting the site down.

Continue reading Shutting down Richmond Brainstorm

Educational attainment in Wayne County, Indiana

An article in today's Palladium-Item quotes the U.S. Census Bureau statistic that "7.9 percent of Wayne County residents have a four-year college degree. The state average is 14.6 percent."

I haven't been able to find the data that supports those statements. According to the Census Bureau's 2012 American Community Survey 1-year Estimates, the numbers are a little better than that: 16.8% of the Wayne County population over 18 have a bachelor's degree or higher. Other collections and analysis of data also suggest better numbers, e.g. 13.7% of people 25 or older have a bachelor's degree or higher or 17.1% of people 25 or older have a B.A. or higher degree.

I wholeheartedly agree with the article's point that the community needs to address 'brain drain' and improve our education situation. But I was troubled to read that the number of residents with a four-year college degree or better are that low, and at least with some initial research, it appears they may not be.

I'll reach out to the Palladium-Item to see if I can get more information about the source of the stats.

UPDATE on March 18th: Louise Ronald at the Palladium-Item helped clarify the discrepancy, noting that the original percentages in the article were from the EDC's strategic plan, and that

"The strategic plan numbers represent a % of the total population, whereas the quick facts is only taking into account the population ages 25 and older. Quick facts is also including bachelor's degree and higher into their 17%, whereas the strategic plan report has them separated between 4 year degree and graduate degree."

So, depending on whether you want to include people with graduate degrees in the stats of people who have a 4-year degree, or just want to identify people ONLY with a 4-year degree, the numbers are different.

RP&L misses opportunity to engage on energy policy

EnergyIn a guest column in today's Palladium-Item, Richmond Power and Light missed an opportunity to engage in a meaningful discussion about the future of energy and power generation in our region.   Instead, General Manager James French took the unfortunate approach of appealing to ratepayer fears about increased energy costs or drastic lifestyle changes, and the politicization of U.S. energy policy.

If President Obama’s plan is enacted, every flick of a light switch, every running of an air conditioner and every spin of your dryer will cost you more and at the expense of manufacturing jobs in the United States.  Consumers will be faced with either paying more for their bill or doing without several of their everyday conveniences.

Scientific, economic and environmental data all point clearly to the ways in which coal-based power generation is not sustainable, and perhaps more importantly, the public health and environmental risks that it increasingly poses.  As the Obama administration and many other public and private organizations try to work toward policies and practices that are sustainable and practical, it's important to make sure we're talking about the real facts and options in front of us, and to make sure the public is educated about those along the way.

Continue reading RP&L misses opportunity to engage on energy policy

8 ways for the Wayne County Democratic Party to be more effective

Capitol Dome'Tis the season for political reckonings.  As the national Republican Party performs a messy post-mortem on its failed strategy to get Mitt Romney elected President, the Democratic Party in Indiana is also asking itself what it needs to do to be more effective.  The Indianapolis Star says that "Indiana Democrats have plunged to their lowest level of power in decades after Tuesday's election."

This week the Palladium-Item's editorial page rightly took the local Wayne County Democratic Party to task for being too quiet and minimally effective in local politics. (I am on the P-I editorial advisory board but I did not contribute to that piece.)  Today's edition features some analysis of the local party's current leadership, with about the amount of internal finger pointing you'd expect from an organization in some disarray.  It's the candidates! It's the leadership! It's the unions! We just need to get on Twitter!  And so on.

I've followed local politics for a while now, perhaps never so closely as last year when I was a candidate myself running on the Democratic ticket.  It was an eye-opening experience in many ways, including discovering first-hand the significant organizational deficiencies in the Wayne County Democratic Party (and how well-organized the local Republican Party is, due in no small part to the tireless efforts of its Chairwoman, Misty Hollis).  Unfortunately, I've seen some of those deficiencies come into play again in this year's campaigning.

Continue reading 8 ways for the Wayne County Democratic Party to be more effective

Transparency redux, with progress

A month ago I blogged about some specific examples of what it would mean for local government and related organizations to be more transparent in their operations.  I also sent a copy of my remarks to nine local elected officials asking for comment, and only two replied.

But, there have been a couple of noteworthy developments since that post:

Continue reading Transparency redux, with progress

A city in distress

edvard munch - the scream  1893If you live in or near Richmond, Indiana, it looks like you picked the wrong year to stop sniffing glue. (Does anyone get Airplane! references anymore?)

Have you ever scored yourself on the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, which measures your personal stress based on which of 43 major life events (death, divorce, job change, etc) have happened to you in the past year? It's an interesting scale because it recognizes that significant life change - positive or negative - brings with it an increased potential for illness and possibly other problems.

I think if we were to do a similar scoring of events in the life of a midwestern city, Richmond, Indiana would be somewhere in the "freaking out" to "going ape-shit" range. I dare say, we're a city in distress.

Even beyond what's happening at the state, national and global level - economic turmoil, war and other violence, toxic political races, Charlie Sheen's career, etc. - I suggest that the last year in the life of our community has been an unusually tumultuous one here.

Just a partial list of some major events I've observed in the recent life of Richmond in no particular order:

Continue reading A city in distress