Monday, August 12, 2013

Take 2

As a followup to our article of August 4th, I wrote the
following letter to the editor of the Iron County Reporter
that fills in a few more blanks of the multifaceted problems
facing us in Iron County.

To the editor:

Planners around the world are aware that a “cone of
possibilities” expands with time allowing for an always
better future than the past. Governments in Iron County
chop off all that positive energy with tunnel vision that
limits us to the worse possibilities. The recent changes to
the water and sewer ordinances, and their thorough
enforcement, make issues more difficult for property
owners who have their water shut off by charging them
for water and sewer as though they were consuming
water. That’s morally, ethically, and legally prohibited,
but no matter, the city council reaches into all pockets
even when their technique violates state laws and
constitution, assuring our region a lousy future. Dabecks,
Coast-to-Coast, and the bowling alley aren’t being
encouraged to succeed by this, and other, city actions.
The water bills for anyone whose water is shut off are
now scheduled to more than double. 22 non-functioning
businesses who served you well can’t afford that any
more than any average reader of this newspaper.

Councilman Sacheck said, “Our revenue is going out
of here so fast, we’re going to have to find other sources
of revenue.” Water and sewer billings are supposed to
be revenue neutral, but the city council pulled $150,000
out of water funds for other uses in 2011, so now we
have to make up for it as a new burden on the citizen.
Robbing Peter to pay Paul never works. It just kicks
the can down the road.

The real problem is population decline. Local
governments have lots of tools to counteract that
difficulty, but have chosen to punish the population
with additional burdens rather than use the available
tools to improve life for everyone. As a property owner
in the city of Iron River, I strongly protest.

Unfortunately the published limit for letters to the editor at
the Iron County Reporter is 300 words, and once I had
a letter kicked back to me asking that I eliminate 2 words
so that that requirement was met. So I endeavor to limit
my submittals to their acceptable level.

A proper description of the complex problems, and
likely successful solutions, would fill a book.

Ultimately nothing will happen to improve the situation
unless a voluntary independent committee of influential
individuals organizes itself and takes up the project of
improving things here.

Several years ago I organized a group we called "Iron
County Boosters" and we had a few meetings, but
nothing ever came of it, because "official" opposition
manifested itself that rang the death knell for the group.
I wish future endeavors better success. There were other
failed attempts before mine, but apparently none managed
to include the necessary "influential."

The cone of  possibilities does, after all, have some
limitations. That's why it is only a cone.

Bill Vajk

Saturday, August 10, 2013

one of the better kept secrets

One of the better kept secrets is that West Iron District
Library has a Facebook page. It can be found at:

Bill Vajk

Sunday, August 4, 2013

City Council Assures Destruction

Iron River’s City Council once again reasserted their
 insistence on taking another step towards the total
destruction of their own town on July 31, 2013.
Destruction is assured by the underlying
organizational (corporate) culture of this region.
Some of the issues are discussed below.

The immediate action took place at the city council
meeting. The city council approved, for themselves,
future authority to increase water and sewer rates
without taking the issues to those affected by such
future increases for public comment. There was an
attitude taught during mining days that went, “do as
you’re told and shut up.” I've heard this from
several individuals who grew up here. You can see
the process played out simply by reading the
wording of city ordinances.

Additionally, the city council approved elimination
of a separate “readiness to serve” fee for those
whose water is shut off at the curbstop by charging
those properties that remain connected to the water
mains as though they are consuming water. At the
current rates, this means that those whose water is
shut off at the curbstop will see an immediate increase
of $1.50 per month. The sewer ordinance includes
charging anyone connected to the sewer system
$25.10 per month whether any sewerage is created
or not. This sewer charge has not been enforced in
the past but apparently will now be enforced.

The changes approved on July 31, and some of the
reasoning given for them, are published here:

But, as usual, the real reasons for the city council
doing as they have done in this instance, and on
every occasion previously, is rather different. All
political problem solving in this region is
undertaken with the idea that the solution needs
only to address the particular difficulty that finds
itself immediately in front of the decision maker as
a “simple problem.” In fact most of the decisions
have much broader implications because they are
the result of bigger issues of which the decision
makers are cognizant, but fail to relate in a
cause-effect-best_possible_solution paradigm.

The children in regions like this economically
stagnant  one are taught from before they ever start
formal schooling right on through 12th grade to solve
only the problem immediately in front of them. See:

The article doesn’t give easy solutions to the
problems facing this region, but rather serves as a
rather good introductory work about the inability
of local politicians to effectively problem solve.
They've taken to calling it "kicking the can down
the road" in Washington, but the idea is just as
applicable here. The sad part is that in Washington
they understand what they're doing, but haven't a
clue in Iron County.

What is essential to solving any problem is
identifying all aspects and branching inherent in
any challenges to a community. We have two
interrelated aspects to every sociopolitical
problem here in Iron County. The first is the
depletion of the population, and the second is the
problems caused by local politicians attempting to
fix those sociopolitical problems. In fact, the
organizational culture, also often called the
corporate culture (this publication has referred to
that term a number of times in the past) forces
compliance with continuing failed strategies. See:

Another aspect of the difficulties this creates is a
situation much like the one faced by Mexico. Those
willing to work and capable of greater achievement
than is available in their home towns emigrate to
locations where greater challenge and greater
rewards are available. In most cases that brings
them to the United States from Mexico by any
means available to them. The old saying is, “You
can’t keep a good man down.”

We have precisely that situation here in Iron
County. The capable and willing individuals
migrate away toward greater opportunity. And
what does that leave us with? What/who stays
here to run local governments? Certainly those
who are the most brilliant staying behind find
successful economic niches, with entrepreneurial
risks and rewards, to occupy them. Gasperini
Landscape Services provides us with one
excellent example of that outcome.

They generally don’t attend to the local politics.
Those who run for office don’t have the vision
necessary to identify sociopolitical problems in
meaningful ways. In the 1980-85 timeframe,
with the mines having closed and the exodus
well under way, the local political leaders
participated in what can best be described as a
cargo cult mentality. See:

In the meantime, they allowed the indigenous
population that formed the economic underbelly
of the community, to escape to better
opportunities elsewhere instead of seeing to it
that those opportunities found a home here.

It is just that simple.

And, naturally, successive generations of
political “leaders” have all been cut from the
same cloth. When I offered the first tier of a
solution process about increasing local tourism
to someone who had asked specifically for one,
their first reply was, “but that requires the
cutting of trees on the south side of US2
county property and I think that’s such a
pretty site….” And this came from a formerly
economically successful transplant
(now in retirement) to our region. So now they
live here, and when in Rome (Iron County) will
do as the locals do, breaking away from their
formerly successful ways. I do wish you had
introduced successful ideologies into Iron
County instead of "fitting in" with the locals
and embracing their economic failures. Please
don't talk to me of past successes when today
you're a failure indistinguishable from the rest.
The second and third sentences in the wikipedia
article on organizational culture say, “Culture
includes the organization values, visions, norms,
working language, systems, symbols, beliefs and
habits. It is also the pattern of such collective
behaviors and assumptions that are taught to
new organizational members as a way of perceiving,
and even thinking and feeling.” That’s precisely
what happened with the solution I offered. It fell
on ears deafened hell bent on adhering to the
local, and it is important to add failed, culture. Just
as it was in declining Rome, the local gentry all
flock to the entertainments provided under the
auspices of local government, from "Holiday in
Lights" to "Rum Rebellion Days" and the monthly
open mike night, because there is nothing else
here to seize their attentions. One such person
recently told me how lucky we are to have a
radio station as well as a newspaper in Iron River.

We’re in a county full of trees, but we’re not in
a county of unlimited locations lending themselves
so nicely to economic advance, the most rare
commodity in Iron County, but no matter, a
successful economy is not desired in Iron County.
It must not be, because they're so successful at

In the meantime others say that tourists, “come
with $5 in their pockets and one pair of clean
underwear, and while in Iron County don’t change
either.” Once again, we witness the tunnel vision that
persists here. Have you ever been on Eagle River's
Wall Street on a summer afternoon?

The first and final answer is that in that case is that
here, in Iron County, you haven’t achieved a large
enough a tourism base. Why is it that you’ve only
managed to attract the lowest class of tourist?
Clearly not all tourists are of that ilk. Could it be
that they seek out their own level? What do you
need to do to attract the better classes? The first
tier solution I offered incorporated local advertising.
That’s also needed in regions that send tourists to
our area. When that solution was pointed out to
the Rodeo Board, it was soundly rejected because
greater achievement is not sought locally, only more
of the same level of marginal success that’s been the
norm for many decades. Besides, the purpose of
the rodeo must be just to entertain the locals, since
nobody else is invited!

So Iron River’s city council thinks they’ve solved
the problem of water and sewer bills not paying the
costs. Well it is so very obvious that they’re
oblivious to the real problem and that their solution
is only a short term one.

If we carry the problem of the population reduction
to its natural conclusion, we see that at some point
there would be one, count them 1, citizen living
within the corporate limits of Iron River. And then
the entire tax burden would have to be paid by
that one citizen. But we know that between now
and then, the entire city will become unsustainable
and will collapse. Perhaps the city council  thinks
grants will be available to maintain the entire City
of Iron River for a population of 1? Why does Iron
River keep adding new water system infrastructure
while in the throes of this downward spiral? What
sort of reducio ad absurdium will finally convince
local politicians of the error of their ways?

And then we look at some of the other things that
Iron River does, like unnecessarily fining
commercial property owners whenever things go
wrong. Give a little man a little authority and he’ll
exercise every inch of it. Two examples spring to
mind. The bowling alley burned down. Iron River
imposed nuisance fines because the results weren’t
being cleaned up quickly enough. The Coast to
Coast building sees similar treatment for a few bricks
having fallen off the facade. Like other buildings that
provided some tax revenue, they want to tear it down
providing more assurance that they’re knowingly
destroying what remains of Iron River.

Guess what else. Both of the properties are being
billed for water and will also be billed for sewer,
because the city, under its ordinance, can do that!
Who, in their right mind, would want to bring a new
business into Iron River knowing that?

And as we discussed in this publication earlier
( )  parking regulations
prevent proper use of downtown space. But that
is convenient for the city council. To heck with the
needs of the people!

In that article we also proposed, “any elected
official not bringing at least two good ideas
for improvement to a meeting every year should
be prohibited from standing for re-election.”

That idea is sounding better by the day. It might
get local politicians off this self-destructive path
for a change. Right now they’re so used to
abusing the population that they no longer
recognize that the effect of their actions isn’t
helping matters, but driving people to leave the
county, and in most cases, the state.

A Chicago area woman who grew up here has kept
and beautifully maintained her grandmother’s house
in Iron River with a view to retiring here. Even the
lawn maintenance is so pristine that there isn’t a
single weed on the property. After an entire lifetime
of coming up here for a week or two every summer
and maintaining, paying year-round water, sewer,
garbage, heating, electricity, and tax bills, she will be
putting that home, and her dream, up for sale
because local politics behaves in such an asinine
fashion. It is a beautiful older home, but it is in Iron
River. So compared to what such a property would
fetch in most other parts of the country, it has very
little economic value.

That’s not nice for the current owner. It is very nice
for anyone with a little money who wants to come
here. But who wants to come here these days?
Rational people won’t put up with the nonsense.

Is this the way things ought to be? I don’t think so.

Bill Vajk

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