Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ripping an Old Friend

“The music on this compact disc was originally recorded on analog equipment. We have attempted to preserve, as closely as possible, the sound of the original recording.”

I deal so much in digital music these days; I hadn’t read that line in awhile. I read it recently on the back of John Lennon’s Double Fantasy album as I ripped it onto my computer. At some point I realized that my database of nearly 17,000 songs had only a couple Lennon solo songs. Needed to fill in the gaps.

As the computer hummed and whirred, assembling 1s and 0s out of Lennon’s final works, I found myself studying the photo of John and Yoko below the warning that “the sound might have some limitations.”

I know the story of the photo. It’s 1979 or ’80. John and Yoko are standing in front of the Dakota building in Manhattan where they lived while the album was being recorded. A gray line of buildings recedes into the background. Lennon stands in profile looking toward Central Park. His hair is cut surprising close to the version he had ala-“Help”-era Beatles. Not the shorter version of the Ed Sullivan show, nor the longer hair of the late ‘60s that made him look like a feeble old man. Beneath the hair, that sharp, almost Greek nose dominates the face. And his chin reminds me of what a young British gal recently told me she was looking for: “A man with money and a chin.”

Lennon had both. But he wasn’t chasing drugs or women any longer. You can see it in his face. He’s at the leading edge of middle age, trying to be a good father and husband. The cocky swagger of “Twist and Shout,” and the taunting righteousness of “Give Peace a Chance,” are gone. Instead, he looks simply content. It’s apt that a song on the album has a lyric the read, “feels like we’re starting over.”

But he couldn’t know what would happen to him on that sidewalk in the months ahead. It was not a new beginning, but an ending.

A couple years ago I walked up to the iron-gated drive in Manhattan, along that spot in the photo with one of my kids. We’d been across the street in Central Park at the spot Lennon was looking toward on the Double Fantasy back-cover. We were watching the gurus and mesmerized tourists light candles in Lennon’s memory in the little spiral of asphalt known as Strawberry Fields. We walked up to the gate and a guard on the other side pointed at the ground and said, “He was killed right there. That man shot him right here.”

I remember the night it happened. It was a Monday night and I was a college student at Ball State. Our dorm room door was open and Monday Night Football played on a TV across the hall while I studied. Somebody stuck their head into my room exclaiming, “John Lennon’s been killed. Somebody shot him’.”

A few years later, while pumping gas with the windows down and the car radio on, I heard a familiar voice singing an unfamiliar song. At first, I thought it was Lennon, but no, it couldn’t be.

I’ve often thought about that little moment of joy, the pleasure of being surprised by an old friend’s voice– maybe someone you hadn’t thought of or heard from in awhile. How many hours of my youth did I sit in my attic bedroom in Tipton with headphones on, listening to Lennon? Uncountable.

Turns out the eerily similar voice on the radio was Lennon’s son Julian, singing the song, “Valotte.” When Julian was a child, Paul McCartney wrote “Hey Jude” for him.

So I’ve corrected that unforgivable sin – having thousands of pieces of music in my computer data base and almost no solo Lennon. That is the unending task of the audiophile – making sure you’ve got everything you need, especially from familiar voices of the past.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tax Reform, Tax Increases, & Taxing The Poor

The State’s property tax reform brought much needed relief to a large numbers of Hoosier homeowners, but its been costly to some of the poorest among us, and they’ll get hit again if Noblesville raises taxes via a trash fee.

I’ll skip over the boring details of property tax reform and highlight one result: property owners who can claim a Homestead Tax Exemption (it’s their primary residence) saw their property taxes go down. That helped the regular Joe who owns his home.

But those who own rental property or business property and are not eligible for those 2 tax exemptions saw their property taxes go up substantially. For example, I own two rental properties. Taxes went up on those so much that my rental enterprise went from paying for itself each month and earning a small profit to losing money each month and costing me out of pocket to make up the difference.

Even though some are paying more, in total, reform cost the City of Noblesville $2.9 million in tax revenues for 2010, according to one Noblesville Common Council member who contacted me.

Property tax reform was sheparded through State government by Noblesville’s own Senator, Luke Kenley. And while no doubt Senator Kenley is getting an earful from some county and city leaders, the impact of property tax reform for cities like Noblesville are founded on a pretty solid conservative political philosophy: those with local control should be making more of the taxing and spending decisions for themselves. The State has essentially said, “We’re going to collect less on behalf of cities and as a result, give you less. If you want more services, parks, etc., you raise the money among your population for the things you and they want.”

So Noblesville’s Mayor, John Ditslear is trying to figure out how to provide the same services as before without the pain of serious spending cuts and without going to the community and building concensus for a tax increase. That’s where the tax increase for trash service comes from. They’ve got a budge shortfall and the trash tax is an easy fix. I’m against it, but not out of some jerk-knee reaction against taxes.

To be honest, I get frustrated with my fellow taxpayers. Nothin’ wrong with wanting lower taxes. But taxpayers seem to think that reform means the tax fairies will appear in the night and pave the roads, pay the unemployment benefits, manicure the parks, you name it, and maybe we won’t have to pay so much.

Remember that saying about, “no free lunch?” But at this time, I see holding the line on taxes as a matter of social justice.

As I said earlier, property tax reform hit owners of rental property pretty hard. I’m a Realtor and deal with landlords every day. Those I know are passing on their property tax increases to their tenants through increased rent. So property tax reform has already raised living costs for the lowest income residents in our town. Add a new tax on trash collection and those least able to pay will see their rent go up again, because landlords will pass that on, too, rather than see their investment lose money.

It’s easy to forget that the amount of the monthly tax increase Mayor Ditslear is pushing so hard for could pay the reduced school lunch rates for a lot of low income families.

It’s a matter of social justice.

Most people I know have been tightening their belts, trying to figure out how to do more with less. Some people have lost their jobs, some of lost their homes, and some others are simply afraid either might happen at a moments notice. This is not the time for government to come to folks, especially those least able to pay, and ask for more money. This is the time for government to tighten their built in the exact same way local families have had to.

Three separate Noblesville Common Council members I spoke to listed for me line items of waste still in the budget that haven’t been cut. Some are perks for city employees and others are pet projects. Still, Mayor Ditslear pushes for a tax increase rather than make the hard budget decisions.

Various bits of legislation effecting local governments pushed by Senator Kenley at the state level have a common thread. Many are aimed at making city mayors and county commissioners across the state more accountable to their constituents, making it harder for them to tax or regulate without the consent of voters. But some local leaders have a hard time letting go of old habits.

At a budget meeting last Wednesday, while Mayor Ditslear was in China with Governor Daniels, his assistant, Rusty Bodenhorn and his City attorney, Mike Howard, tried to use a legislative trick to slip the trash tax increase through when we wouldn’t expect it – at last night’s council meeting. The 4 council members on hand refused.

Bodenhorn and Howard work for us. It’s kinda hard to take – knowing they’re getting paid by us while they concoct tricks to raise our taxes in a way we can’t stop.

Which lays bare the dirty side of Noblesville politics. Here, decades of leaders have been used to ramming things down voters throats. The notion of going out into the community and building consensus with taxpayers is treated like a trip to the dentist.

There’s a group trying to put a stop to any talk of a tax increase during this recession. A neighborhood group that started as a crime watch organization for the north side of old town has been circulating a petition to stop Ditslear’s tax increase. For a copy of the petition and instruction on how to use it most effectively, contact Dwight Dickerson at

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Lessons Learned From Teaching, Escape Me Now

Before I was a Realtor I taught high school graphic arts for 16 and a half years.

My classroom was a free flowing, organic place created by my predecessor. It required juggling various activities and a sometime volatile student population. I wrestled with it, abused it and got my ass kicked by the place a time or two before I finally figured out how to make it work.

There were seldom concise lessons taught before neat rows of chairs. Instead, controlled chaos, as students were up and about working at various tasks. At times I worked with advanced students running an offset printing press while other kids screen printed nearby and others developed pictures in a darkroom while still others did graphic design on a bank of computers. It was that free wheeling aspect of the place that made kids love it, and made it hard to control.

I was ridiculously tough on kids at first, trying to show them who was boss. That was a loser’s game. Over a couple years I learned a finesse that made it work. Mixing firmness with a sense of humor I learned to disarm hecklers and even allow class clowns and macho boys to occasionally win small battles, just so long as I won the war for control. The boys were easy.

But while teenage girls were easier to deal with on the surface, they were harder to deal with in the long run. I learned to handle the unpredictable emotional ups and downs and the vicioius condescention they brought to the classroom by watching how they treated one another.

Teenage girls have the ability to be the meanest creatures on earth. They trade in a social cruelty that boys can only guess at and haven’t the fine touch or emotional intelligence to replicate. If you dare care about their approval or want their affection, you’re handed them the ability to crush your spirit. If you’re a social competitor of a smart teenage girl, may God have mercy on your soul.

Learning all that helped me survive as a teacher. The key was getting older, losing hair, gaining a little weight, and as a result, not caring about most of the things teenage girls found most important – like being stylish or cool or acceptable to a particular group.

I would sing out loud while I ran the printing press with little or no care for their protests. I would sing a Little Feat song, mimicking that slow, New Orleans drawl, “Oh Juanita, my sweet Chiquita, what are you up to? . . . there’s a fat man, in the bathtub, with the blues –ue-ues . . .”

Consider it my, “Whistle while you work.”

I’d sing Lyle Lovett: “She’s got big red lips, she’s got big brown eyes, and if she treats me right it’s a big surprise.”

They’d shake their heads and smirk at one another. It was my Madonna oldies medley that made them realize once and for all that they couldn’t hurt me. I’d sing, “Get into the groove, boy you’ve got to prove your love to me,” which somehow faded into, “We’re living in a material world, and I am a material girl.”

Over a couple years a group of girls came up with a response rhyme they’d sing when I finished a song, “ Mr. My-ya, you’re on fy-ya, and I ain’t no ly-ya.”

Of course the joke was if anyone was on “fy-ya,” it wasn’t me. And that’s okay. At least we were talking and doing productive learning amid the silliness. I had made myself likeably unthreatening and in the process pulled down the wall that often stands between adults and teenagers.

Over the years they drew their chairs up to my desk as I graded papers and shared painful secrets. “Mr. Meyer, my parents are getting a divorce,” as the tears trickled down their faces. “Mr. Meyer, my boyfriend hurts me,” or, “Mr. Meyer, I’m pregnant and don’t’ know how to tell my parents.”

On Take Your Daughter To Work Day, I would take my daughter Sally when she was little. We’d pick up donuts on the way to school to share with the students. They loved my little girl and saw in her the sweet little girls they once were – before boyfriends, before thongs, before the clamoring confusion of their teen years. They drew in coloring books with her and took her off to the lunchroom like a mascot to sit with their clique.

When my wife, Greta went back to teaching I was free to pursue another career. I jumped at the opportunity. I drove to my classroom late one July, cleaned out my desk, typed up a resignation letter and drove away like a guy who’d just won the lottery.

But now, 7 years later, I realize I have lost that magic, that good natured mojo that allowed me to connect with teenage girls. It shows up in my relationship with that little girl of mine who is a teenager herself now. Often both my sense of humor and my “clever” observations about the world are met with blank stares (if I’m lucky), exasperated sighs, or a bristled shrug of the shoulders. I don't dare even sing a rediculous song.

I said earlier that a teenage girl can crush your spirit if you dare care too much about her approval. Perhaps that lies at the heart of the problem. Now the teenage girl isn’t some stranger’s daughter, but my daughter.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Mayor Distlear Plans Tax Increase

Noblesville Mayor, John Ditslear is proposing to charge each Noblesville households an additional $10 to $12 a month for trash collection to help cover budget shortfalls. He’s calling it a “fee,” but just about anyway you look at it, it’s a tax increase.

I heard about the trash tax increase an hour after it was unveiled in a Saturday City Council retreat at City Hall on August 22nd. I scoured the Noblesville Daily Times for the following week but found no mention of it in their pages. In his two weekly columns in the Times since the Council retreat, the mayor wrote about water safety and going back to school, never mentioning that he wanted to raise our taxes. The typical taxpayer couldn’t read about it until 5 days after the Council retreat in the now once a week Noblesville Star, and that article never questioned the Mayor’s use of the term, “fee.”

If somebody at City Hall tries to tell you it's a fee, ask them these 4 questions and see how they do:

1) Am I getting more service for my additional “fee?” (No. We’re paying more to get the same service as before. That’s a lot like a tax.)

2) Is it voluntary? Can I opt out and tell the City, “I’ll just find my own way to get rid of my trash. I don’t need the service and won’t be paying the “fee.” (No. The “fee” is mandatory. That really sounds like a tax.)

3) Will the City lower my tax rate equal to the amount I’ve already been paying for years that covered the cost of trash collection? (No. We’ll all keep paying that, and now also the new “fee.”)

4) If the amount we paid that used to cover trash collection came from taxes, how can the additional amount we’re going to be forced to pay be called anything other than a tax?

The term “fee” is political spin. In reality, this is a tax. You’ll even hear doubletalk like, “Westfield residents pay $10 for trash collection and Zionsville residents pay $11. Noblesville is the only town with trash collection that doesn’t charge its residents a fee for it.”

That rationale leaps right over spin and enters the realm of outright falsehood because it suggests we’ve been getting something free that we will now, in all due fairness have to pay for. But trash collection has never been free for Noblesville residents.

We’ve been paying for trash collection with our taxes. Noblesville City Hall just never broke it out as a separate line item per house and never sent out a separate bill, as they do with sewer bills. No City leader bought it for us with their paycheck and no benevolent trash collector did it for free. We paid for it. But the money we paid for it will now go to some other budget item and we’ll pay the City an approximate $130 extra a year for something we’re already paying for.

When facing a tight budget, this type of “fee” charging amounts to lazy leadership picking the low hanging fruit. They don’t have to fight to justify a cumbersome increase in property taxes; they simply add an extra amount to your sewer bill. That billing system is already set up and operating. A few keystrokes and the city can gather an extra $1 or $2 million from taxpayers.

And now that it’s a line item “fee,” it can easily be raised .50 cents one year, a dollar the next. I’d be willing to bet that the $12 a month will be $20 a month in just a few short years.

One of the things that raise eyebrows about the proposed tax increase is that it’s coming in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. While families are tightening their belts and trying to figure out how to do more with less money, the Mayor isn’t. Noblesville Common Council member Mary Sue Rowland opposes the new tax and feels that the shortfall should be covered through city belt tightening. Mary Sue told the Contrarian that $2 million could be cut from the City’s budget and make talk of a tax increase irrelevant.

Fellow councilman Brian Ayer won’t go that far, but he wants to see if she’s right before he even considers a trash fee tax increase. Brian told the Contrarian he’s bothered that at the Council retreat they spent over an hour talking about charging a trash fee and only a few minutes about budget cuts. Ayer’s is sure there are large amounts of money that could be cut from the budget, but isn’t certain it’s enough. He wants proof they’ve done everything to cut all the fat before they go to the taxpayers and ask for more.

Though he did not return my call for comment on this piece, fellow councilman Steve Wood voiced opposition to the trash fee tax increase in the Noblesville Star last week.

One can only hope that these 3 Common Council members prevail and a new taxing mechanism isn’t imposed on Noblesville residents.

Local Republicans have been complaining about the possibility of higher taxes at the national level. Well we've got it happening right here and it's being imposed by local Republicans. Maybe we need Tea Party protests at Noblesville City Hall.