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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Hound's take on Mayor Wright's Interview with Hal Row - 1/9/2012

This morning I got up to listen to the Mayor on Hal Row’s show doing the “Monthly Morning Meeting.” Much of what was discussed seemed to be a rebuttal to what has been discussed here on the Hound.
In speaking with Harry about what we heard this morning. Harry had something very interesting that he pointed out. Remember Frank Luntz coming here last year and how everyone has bought into Frank Luntz’s word magic. It seems that the city is looking to take a page out of the Frank Luntz playbook and this is what they think branding is all about -- A game of semantics. They don’t like the fact that the $285,000 Big Tent on Union Square has been labeled that. They are jumping here, there, and everywhere to come up with some kind of descriptive moniker that will stick.
There was a comment in one of the earlier posts, about this subject, in which the responder stated that he didn’t think the Council understood the project. Although the wheels have been in motion on this thing for several months, I also don’t think the Council grasps the concept of what this structure is or its purpose and I think that this interview reiterated that point. The Mayor was using names like the gathering area, the Agora, meeting place, exhibit locations, pods, big pod, smaller pods, units, etc.; but it was almost as if he was doing an on air fishing expedition to find some way to describe what this thing is.
No matter how it is spun, this tent fulfills none of the capacities they are attempting to solve. I don’t know what the intrinsic artistic value will be worth, but it is plain as day to see its limitations. The Mayor said that there will be 16 to 20 pods. From what I understand there are presently 33 vendors at the Farmer’s market, where will the other 13 to 17+ vendors be placed? Does it make sense that this is supposed to be a permanent structure for the Farmer’s market and yet it doesn’t even sustain the current level of market activity? And does this not show that the Farmer’s Market on Union Square is maxed out and cannot grow anymore? And what about the fact that the fabric on the structure is going to have to be replaced in the not too distant future?
Then to call this structure an Amphitheater is a bastardization of that term. It will be less than two feet off the ground (look below your knees) with very limited seating and according to Mr. Zagaroli himself, this will not enhance the acoustics of that area. This token all purpose structure is being built to avoid a bolder, riskier move. So basically all they are doing is modernizing the current setup, yet we hear that there are still members of the City Council that want to see an end to some current events, such as Hickory Alive. So we are going to run off current draws with no guarantees of replacement events?
Once again, I don’t see where any of this adds up to helping recoup the $285,000+ that is being spent on this project,  coming from the general fund and penalty money revenues that people have had to pay due to the poor parking situation on Union Square. One of the biggest issues we hear from citizens who complain about their Union Square experience is the parking problems. Yet, money is being diverted from the fund that was instituted under the guise of creating infrastructure to help solve those problems. This is the definition of a slush fund folks.
Much of what we discuss above is the very reasons why we don’t want the City be in charge of building and running anything of this nature. We saw what they did at the LP Frans this past September with the Gay Pride Festival and we know how they are trying to find problems with Hickory Alive. Have you ever inquired about using a facility that is operated by the City of Hickory? It ain’t cheap folks! Do you want the Hickory City Government micro-managing entertainment choices in this community?
All anyone has asked the City to do is to foster and facilitate ideas and maybe help with seed monies that will be recouped as soon as possible. Any entertainment venues need to be operated by an “Authority,” which would be a local autonomous public-private venture. The Hickory City Council should have zero input on such a venture, with the exception being current codes and ordinances.
If you are going to build any public venue, then you institute an initiative. You have public entities come forward with requests for proposals, then you take a look at the ideas and how they fit within the framework of a budget and then after taking all variables into consideration, you make the decision on the project and who will build the project. That is what we saw with the Google initiative and that is what we are supposed to see with all Governmental initiatives, especially expensive ones.
The next big issue discussed was the Mayor inferring that $5 million to $10 million was going to be spent on a project that will be implemented this year.  The "Craftsman" idea is apparently the main theme behind whatever it is that council is going to do.  So this $5-10 million is going to be spent with that in mind.  Apparently, there is going to be some private investment as well.  But this notion of Hickory is ___________...  That blank is going to be filled in by the Council with the help of the City Manager's office and the Business Development team.  But given the track record we have witnessed, the ”It” will be what the Mayor (with City Manager Berry’s tweaking) wants to do, is thinking, wants done.
It seems the BIG project might be a business incubator, such as what Alderman Lail described from the visit to Chattanooga. The specific place they visited connected business owners with entrepreneurs. The Company Lab - (Facebook) connects idea people with artists. He said this space was full of energy. That could be an excellent endeavor, but it will depend on the process. Will we see an honest and above board process or will this be another manipulation that pads club members’ pockets.
A cynical worry is that “Investment” monies will be directed towards the airport under the economic development banner; looking to cover the mismanagement by the prior operators, which the city allowed to go on for years, with an explanation that they are "restructuring" the airport. In layman’s terms, how much debt incurred by River Hawk is the City of Hickory on the hook for and how much is it going to cost to recover from the neglect and recklessness created by River Hawk?

As usual, the big question will be how much public input will be allowed and how will the City attempt to spin the issues revolving around this investment? They don't have a track record of listening to the public and implementing what the public wants. You can rest assured that if the Mayor has introduced this topic that something is already on the table and will soon find its way out from behind the curtain. As we have witnessed for years, the fix is always in and it's going to be all about the sales job. 
Ironically, the initiatives that have been discussed here on the Hound have traction, but the Powers That Be are looking for ways to implement them “on the cheap.” They aren’t making the bold moves that we encourage. They are utilizing the initiatives discussed here as talking points, while we seek boldness and action. The Frank Luntz technique is all about political strategy through wordsmanship. I have nothing against Mr. Luntz, but I view him as a pop culture entertainer. He has no leadership capability and his methods create distrust; because we need people who say what they mean and mean what they say.
We must insist on accountability from the leadership of this community. That comes through cost/benefit analysis mechanisms, competitive bidding for projects, and real studies of the potential effectiveness of projects through compare/contrast analysis. The Big Tent deal is definitely not a template for a community to follow. The public is going to have to decide if they want mind games that lead to nowhere or real actions that can get us moving forward.


Silence DoGood said...

”This whole "Craftsman" idea is apparently the main theme behind whatever it is that council is going to do.” Many, many years ago, labels on the furniture made in this area talked of the piece being "handcrafted" by skilled craftsmen. Thus fomenting the image of someone making that piece of furniture from the rough sawn lumber, the piece being hand worked and hand tooled, assembled, and finally a hand rubbed finish into the final product. The truth of that illusion was a labor force of compartmentalized tasks, most of which were semi-skilled or non-skilled, that worked for little better than minimum wage gluing, pegging, and screwing parts together to make that "handcrafted" piece of furniture. There were even factories that made furniture out of MDF, with the wood grain printed on the MDF, the pieces glued and screwed, plastic brackets, plastic or resin grills to simulate hand carved relief. There was no real wood used in those pieces. Hence, the reality of ‘craftsmanship’ as it was in the heyday of furniture manufacturing in Hickory and the real truth behind the 'branding' symbology. An illusion propagated with half-truth and polished to a glossy sheen. Hollow, shallow, and meaningless words to foster enthusiasm and draw people in. And once they’re here, they’ll think it is just so nice and hospitable, they’ll just forget the falsity with which they were drawn in. Feel the love.

Branding. Maybe we could commission a documentary with that Craftsmanship theme. “How to subvert representative democracy, leverage the political process, and completely and utterly render an entire group of the population meaningless and of no account.” That would be a good working theme. There could even be a secondary theme. “How to spend taxpayer money on something that wasn’t originally budgeted, was never discussed in a public forum except by City Council, and to that end never allowing anyone to be heard, pro or con on the matter.” Or, “how to avoid State statutory law with your own ordinances for fun and profit!” Now THAT is a handy piece of genuine HICKORY NC craftsmanship!!! And get it all smooth, above board, and pretty!!! That is the final finish coat to the entire piece!!

Pods. The new amphitheater is the mother ship and it will spawn 6-10 pods for vendors. Not just farmers, since that was so a few years ago. Today, the latest word is "vendors" utilizing the new "pods". A new hit sensation in the foothills of North Carolina, Invasion of the Democratic Process Snatchers. Maybe we could work that into the new branding “Craftsmanship” schema. “Vendors, lovingly massage their enviroscapes, tenderly hydrating seeds in the earth, crafting merchandise to bring the bounty of that labor to you, the pod browser.” That entire experience could even be labeled podrific or podtastic; it’s a poderful moment. Far be it for me to mention, being a nay-sayer of the first order, but pods is already a registered trademark (PODS®) for a moving/storage entity.

Yes, as a matter of fact, I am having fun! How about you?

harryhipps said...

Back in older times "branding" was when a cowboy stuck a heated iron onto a cow's backside. If the mayor is looking to spend some venture money we may get branded in the old fashioned sense.

Silence DoGood said...

In my podrific zeal, I failed to mention that the Mayor mentioned returning Union Square to its' 1940's luster. After all, New York City has Times Square, the police cars in Hickory are NYC blue and white, so too, Union Square will be the Times Square of the South, in all of it's 1940's splendor. But you know, smaller. And fewer lights, no marquees, no tourists to mention from around the world, and a lack of sex shops. I don't know how the new amphitheatre figures into that. Unless of course it is supposed to symbolize (theres that word again) Ringling Brothers perpetually being in Town.

Everybody loves clowns you know.

James Thomas Shell said...

DoGood, This thing is only 10 to 14 feet tall and one person I heard was joking about it being a sailboat downtown. It isn't going to be tall enough to have a trapeze and/or high wire show. Of course that isn't to say that in the near future those that moved this forward won't be walking a political tight rope.

Silence DoGood said...

Economics and politics of scale my good Shell. It is Hickory, so, they can't do big. So it was scaled to be proportional to the space and the interest. PodsRUs. Not to mention, it's just the right size for a flea circus! And one of those little clown cars zipping around!