Bailiwick News – December 4, 2019

12.4.19 Bailiwick News – Interim Mayor appointment presentation

By Katherine Watt

Reprint of presentation given to State College Borough Council on Dec. 3, 2019

  1. Grew up in Allentown, Penn State philosophy degree 1996, reporter and paralegal, married, husband and I have two kids, we moved to Borough in 2008, bought 1945 house in Highlands in 2014.
  2. Learned, in 2005, about the tight connection of cheap fossil fuels, rising debt levels, economic growth, complex, centralized supply chains, and modern standard of living, and how those can all be thrown into reverse when fossil fuels and debt become expensive, destroying supply chains and reducing standard of living.
  3. Changed the direction of my life, focusing it on community organizing around protecting local water and soil, localizing supply chains and increasing local skill-sets and self-governing autonomy to increase redundancy and resilience.
  4. Worked last 15 years in various aspects of same, and will continue. North Plainfield (NJ) Citizens for Community Rights, Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, Transition Town State College, Spring Creek Homesteading Fund, Sustainable Centre County page at Centre Daily Times, Stop the PSU/Columbia Gas Pipeline, Save State College Water Supply/Toll Brothers/PSU, Voices of Central PA, Owl & Turtle Press, Bailiwick News/KW Investigations LLC, Nittany Valley Environmental Coalition, Stop Nestle, Friends & Farmers Cooperative, Feel Goodery Foods, Stacy Parks Miller and Centre County prosecutorial and judicial corruption.
  5. I want to bring that perspective, way of framing public problems and developing public responses, into local government policy and funding discussions. I do not plan to run for Mayor in 2021. I ran for Borough Council 2019 as an independent, and was encouraged by the results, even though I didn’t win a seat, so I do plan to run for Borough Council again in 2021.
  6. I have experience running meetings as board member of local civic organizations, have been told I’m good at it – I respect participants’ time sacrifice to be present, I keep group on-task, I shut down redundant comments and I draw out dissenting views to reduce groupthink risks. I find it demanding but worthwhile, because I pay close attention to the verbal and non-verbal communication of the people in the room and around the table.
  7. I understand the “Strong Council-Weak Mayor” form of government, although I think it’s actually “Strong Manager-Strong Solicitor-Weak Council-Weak Mayor.” In any case, I know the Mayor doesn’t have a vote on Council, and that his or her veto can be overridden with a two-thirds majority. But he or she does have a voice.
  8. There’s really only one scenario in which it would make sense for Council to appoint me, and not one of the other candidates. That call depends on current Council’s understanding of the historical moment we’re in. In my view, we’ve been in a slow-moving, long economic disaster that started in the 1970s, was papered over with massive amounts of public and private debt, took another leg down in 2008, was papered over with more debt, and we’re now on the brink of another leg down that curve. From that perspective, a main role of local government is to help communities manage the disaster at the local level, and if that’s the case, I’d be a useful addition to the local government team, well-equipped to a) advocate for the views outlined at right below – which I think reflect reality more accurately than the alternative views, b) draw into the conversation more voices proposing a broader diversity of responses to our shared community challenges and c) help expand the range of self-governing movement available to us. If this Council is not there yet, don’t appoint me. I won’t be a useful addition to the local government team.  But if your views change as world events unfold over the next few years, please know that I’ll be around if you want my input on anything, whether in or out of government.
COLUMN A (STANDARD) COLUMN B (NON-STANDARD)
IF YOU THINK THAT:  IF YOU THINK THAT:
2008 Great Financial Crisis ended, because the stock market has been rising ever since… 2008 Great Financial Crisis is still going on, and has been papered over with Federal Reserve quantitative easing, which has printed new money and handed it corporations to buy back their own stocks to push up their stock prices without any improvement in their actual earnings, inflating a new “everything” asset bubble even larger than the housing bubble that partially deflated in 2008…
Unemployment and inflation statistics published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are plausible, and we have record low unemployment at just under 4% and low inflation at about 2%…

 

Government has “adjusted” the unemployment statistics to meaninglessness, by not counting people who have given up looking for work and people who are part-time because they can’t find full-time employment. Taking those people back into account, the unemployment rate is 21%; and government has “adjusted” inflation statistics to meaninglessness, by excluding data that was used to calculate cost of living up until 1980 to reduce COLA and other obligations. Using the 1980 calculation method, inflation is just under 10%.
There’s plenty of oil and gas still to recover at prices consumers and businesses can afford, and prices that allow oil and gas companies to be profitable, so oil and gas corporations are in good financial shape for additional discovery, drilling and delivery for the next several decades at least… We’re coming to the end of the shale boom driven by fracking, which has exceptionally high production decline rates and “sweet spots” as compared to conventional oil and gas; oil and gas corporations have funded it to date with debt, not with sales because of depressed prices because of the initial production glut; so they’ve scaled back discovery and drilling and many are now going bankrupt; and investors are losing appetite for supplying more funds with little chance of ever seeing returns…
The student loan debt gravy train will continue unabated, and students and their families will continue to willingly take out huge loans for college education… The student loan debt bubble will pop or deflate, lenders will dramatically reduce the loans they’re willing to extend, potential borrowers will decide to forego loans and look for other, more affordable pathways to employment…
Lack of affordable local housing is a function of lack of new construction, and that college students should live in privately-owned, luxury apartment complexes at $900 per bed…

 

Lack of affordable housing is a function of Penn State’s policy of increasing student enrollment and cutting side deals with private real estate investment corporations to build luxury student housing for exorbitant profits, and that college students should live in basic dormitories and standard apartments, as most of them did until just a couple of decades ago, when real estate investment firms and university administrators discovered the gusher of student loan financing that would flow to them if they coordinated with each other to build and market luxury housing and expand enrollment to fill it…
High cost of tuition is a function of increases in the basic costs of staffing and operating an educational institution… High cost of tuition is a function of luxury capital projects and expansion of the ranks of middle-management administrative deans and vice-presidents who add no educational value…
Penn State leaders must continue to grow enrollment, build expensive new facilities and luxury dorms, manage massive investment portfolios, and expand the ranks of its administrative middle-managers to “compete” for students… Penn State leaders can and should, suspend all new construction projects; focus on maintaining existing building stock; reduce undergraduate enrollment to at most 30,000; and reduce administrative deans through vice-presidents by at least 50% to cut tuition and housing costs for the entire community – students and workers…
Corporate Penn State is indistinguishable from academic Penn State, and that as a unit, they’re a benevolent educational and economic engine for the region and state…

 

 

Corporate Penn State has metastasized into an overwhelmingly powerful, unelected, malignant, hybrid public-private corporate profiteering machine, and is a controlling force shaping Centre Region public life with neither accountability nor transparency, with neither voting shareholders nor a citizen electorate choosing its governing board, such that it requires an aggressive, strong, boundary-setting counterforce working for the people of the town, represented by the elected Borough Council and Mayor…
Corporate Penn State is a good faith, negotiating partner on public affairs, and that its exemptions from taxation and transparency are legitimate… Corporate Penn State is a bad faith negotiating partner on public affairs, and that its exemptions from taxation and transparency are the unjust result of a $6.5 billion annual budget Goliath stomping on myriad local Davids, who work with a tiny fraction of the University’s financial, legal and political resources…
State and federal regulators do a good job of protecting the interests of the public in clean air, water and soil… State and federal regulators do a good job of protecting the interests of private corporations in using public air, water and soil as disposal sites, so local communities need to step up and levy their own self-protective measures…
LEED certification on new construction is a good way to promote local environmental sustainability… Placing a moratorium on new construction – because it paves over intact ecosystems while increasing population pressure on food, water, sewer, transit and other public services, and promoting of Victory gardens and urban farms are good ways to promote local human and ecosystem resilience…
Corporate Penn State implemented effective reforms in the wake of the Sandusky scandal, sufficient to reduce the odds of a similar scandal hitting the university again… Corporate Penn State avoided implementing key reforms in the wake of the Sandusky scandal, especially transparency, accountability and governance reforms, so that there’s still nothing in place to prevent a repeat of criminal investigations for incidents taking place on PSU campuses, being stopped by police administrators who are accountable only to their corporate employer (PSU), not the public…
COG’s record of being in operation for 50 years without rules for binding financial votes is okay, and that the 2019 measure to address that lapse in procedure, in which “No minutes are taken and individual votes are not recorded” is also fine… It’s not okay for COG to have operated for 50 years without clear rules for holding public officials accountable for their votes committing municipal tax dollars to regional programs; State College should withdraw from COG due to its inherent illegitimacy; and as interim reform, the COG Articles of Agreement and Rules Governing Unit Votes should be amended to require all votes – whether for the full General Forum or the units, be roll call and recorded in minutes…
Towns are corporations, subordinate to unchallengeable state and federal legislative and judicial control; Borough Council is a corporate board of directors; Tom Fountaine is a CEO; residents are a hybrid customer-shareholder, and that that’s working fine… Towns are communities of independent citizens with free will, and need maximum local flexibility to deal creatively with local challenges, even to the point that – if we-the-people who live here now want a different form of self-government than the one we’ve inherited from the people who came before us, we have an absolute right to abolish the current form of government and create a new one that meets our current needs, whether the state and federal governments consent or not…
It’s okay for local legislators to unquestioningly follow the directives of municipal solicitor, to avoid drawing litigation by private actors… It’s state-sanctioned, masked extortion for municipal solicitors to tell local legislators how they must vote to avoid litigation, effectively negating their exercise of free will, individual conscience and right to refuse consent…
Establishing paid fire and EMS services and expanded police force should be funded with higher property taxes or income taxes on State College residents… Establishing paid fire and EMS services should be funded with property taxes on Penn State property in the Borough (up to $3.8 million a year); and/or a $100 per student local public services impact fee for 46,000 undergraduates (up to $4.6 million per year) and/or a $10 per seat impact fee for 742,000 Penn State football tickets per season (106,000 x 7 games) = up to $7.4 million per year…
The Municipalities Planning Code and local zoning ordinances provide sufficient flexibility and enforcement strength for local populations to steer the character and scale of their community where they want to go… The MPC is preemptive, and local populations need case-by-case flexibility and enforcement strength to shape the character and scale of their own communities…
THEN you would be better-served to appoint someone else as interim mayor. THEN you would be well-served to appoint me as interim mayor, because I’d make a very useful addition to the local government team.

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