Saturday, January 17, 2009

The City (1-17-09)

Today I received good comment on the city situation, one of which I found very inspiring. Unfortunately, it was sent as a private conversation among a few, something I would not violate. But it inspired me to write, and I want to share my thoughts with you.

Thank you, Joseph

X-----, I started a note to you early today but did not have a chance to finish as business took me away. I do see some areas covered by others that I wanted to bring out.

1) I tire of this criticism of the council-manager system. It works for corporations, it works for Greenville, it works for Charlotte, it works many places. Those that want to go to a strong mayor do not know their history and are damned to repeat it. older citizens that successfully changed Columbia from strong mayor to council-manager can tell you why. It came down to corruption and cronyism, ala Chicago style politics. Should we go back to that?

You can change the system, you can change the rules, you can change the game, you can change the players, but it can always be corrupted. it is the character of the people in place that makes it work, or not.

2) It is the job of a city manager or strong mayor to oversee all operations and insure that it runs properly, timely reports are made, competent people are employed and doing their job, budgets created, audits are done, and council and the people are fully informed. That is the job, an overseer, an organizer, a motivator, an employer, a visionary, and the coach and team captain. Though early last decade I was a proponent of the strong mayor, I am no longer a proponent of either, only a proponent of integrity and quality in my leaders. Either system can be gamed. The strong mayor can hide much and run roughshod over a council. A Manager can insulate council members from an overbearing mayor, or he can corrupt the system.

Take a look at corporate America, it is a council-manager form. yet our presidency is a strong mayor form. Seems no one is pleased with either if you throw in the names Lehman Bro. and Bush.

Take your pick of your poison, whichever way you want it delivered.

3) Regardless of how it was spun, Austin was forced out. Council had no choice if they were to save their own posteriors, and they could no longer hold back the flood walls. the undercurrent was growing into a tidal wave and The State and Adam Beam were bringing it to attention. A lot of us like Charlie, but he was failing at the job, even given far too many passes. Everyone knew that anyone else would have been fired far sooner, given the failures, and the public undercurrent was torrid. Charlie's supporters could no longer make excuses as the public was also starting to blame them for the failures, beginning with lack of oversight. It came down to him or me, and you know who goes in that case.

Of course, it was a retirement. And of course, someone(s) were whispering in his ear what was going to happen, and what he should do.

4) Though we have a "weak" mayor system, ala Greenville and Charlotte, two successful cities, our mayor could have been a "strong" mayor if he chose. Rather, he prefers to not rock any boats to keep his job and whatever perks go with that job for himself, his law firm, and supporters. he is a member of one of Columbia's most powerful law firms, and it is beneficial to them. Now, another lawyer who is a member of a very powerful rival firm is planning to run. It is important to him and his firm.

The Papadea era shows us that. remember how many Edens & Avant signs were on properties around town? Now that Jim is out, how many do you see?

5) Columbia is a "Go along to get along town". People are afraid to stand up and out. Those few that do are made to be lepers by the establishment, and the masses go along with it rather than investigating the situation.

But it is changing. The fight over the Kenny property in 5 Points has changed politics in Columbia. First, it effectively killed the heir apparent to mayor. Rickenmann was put into office by the money men of Columbia to eventually be mayor, but he lost nearly every ward in his area, winning in the areas that knew him least. Next, the neighborhoods around the 5 Points area effectively killed the completely out of character project that somehow was allowed to be placed outside of the 5 Points architectural and zoning guidelines. Thousands of citizens stood up and shouted, afraid no more of opposing the system. Now, a few have had the determination and strength to sue the city for violation of their own rules and laws concerning the Kenny project.

I am proud of all of these people and re-energized by their actions. Politics is changing in Columbia because the citizens are changing.

6) Yes, the problem of bad leadership rests solely at the feet of those they represent. Change is not something people anywhere embrace well, especially the older they get. The quality of the politicians is a direct reflection of the people of that community. If you do not believe so, ask people outside of Chicago and Illinois how they perceive those communities.

Columbia, it must change. As Pogo said, "We have met the enemy and he is us".

7) Yes, Steve Benjamin plans to run, so does Coble. Kirkman is said to be entering the race. And I may too.

Friday, January 16, 2009

BREAKING NEWS! Circuit City starts liquidation. (1-16-09)

Today Circuit City went down, filing for Chapter 7. This I hate to see as it hurts all everyone, consumers and other consumer electronic businesses alike. Now there is no other big alternative competitor to CC (Tweeter closed its doors a month ago) other than Best Buy. Walmart, Target, Costco, and a few others are trying to be in the consumer electronics market, but they have no ability to provide knowledge, installation or service to the consumer. It hurts manufacturers as they have fewer outlets to offer product through, reducing innovation as some of the smaller, yet more innovative manufacturers will also fold without outlets for their products.

What about the smaller specialty dealers like Upstairs Audio & Video? Though our business is now up due to the demise of Tweeter and the “trunk slammers” (those custom installers with a card that has a name, number and no address-they work out of their trunk), and due to the economic downturn (we always see our business go up when the economy gets tight as people shop harder and want better product and better information and service-it has been this way for decades for us), I find no joy in this. I realize that innovation will suffer, knowledge and information will suffer, and good sound and video will suffer. People will no longer have outlets with variety and choice, just more of the same old mass market mediocre product, meant to entice with too many features, decoy beauty, and “cheap” price. There is far too much poor HDTV on the market, not anywhere near the potential of what is being broadcast.

It is a strange new world, and though I am thankful for all of you that support us and what we do at Upstairs Audio & Video, keeping us as busy as we have ever been in a January, I hope that quality specialty manufacturers can still exist and continue to push the envelope of quality and new technology.

Read the articles on CC:

BREAKING NEWS! City manager resigns. (1-16-09)

Today Charles Austin, Columbia City manager retired, or resigned, depending on how you want to call it. the handwriting has been on the wall and city council has been under siege to do something to reign in a runaway city administration. They have put it off and put it off for at least 2 years, but public discord was too strong and the errors too bitter to do otherwise. They have been discussing the manager’s performance behind closed doors for a while, including this week, without any public comment. Astute political observers will comment that this is a polite way of removing someone as there had to have been conversations between the city manager and certain council members as to what was happening and what would have to happen in the near future.

There is still some question from observers as to the legitimacy of a retirement concerning pay, perks, and retirement benefits. These issues may come out, or they may be kept hidden for political reasons. Time will tell.

Read The state article: .

More misinformation from The State editorial lizards (1-16-09)

Some nights you just can’t sleep. Something comes through the atmosphere and jostles you around, making your mind race. What is it? You lie awake, helpless to know. Fortunately, the internet is there, so you get up in the dark, turn it on, and viola! There it is! It just happens to be more misinformation from those lizards in the ivory tower at that paper, the ones insular from the world of us that have to work, get our hands dirty, and struggle through the rough economic times. (If only I could get paid by the word……).

Take a look at today’s editorial: Surprisingly, the city manager’s chief cheerleaders have turned on him, but are still making excuses for him, council, and the city. Lets dissect the article.

First, misinformation #1: “Yes, the form of government lends itself to failure.”. Maybe this is what is wrong with The State as well, a system that has a board of directors (city council), a chairman of the board (mayor), and it hires the president (city manager) of the corporation to run it, a system that is what most corporations world wide have. It seems to work for business, it seems to work for Charlotte, it seems to work for Greenville, but why not here? Maybe it is the people hired (elected) to run it as it has proven successful in Charlotte and Greenville. Why do the editorial lizards at The State continue to fail to inform us of the success of other cities with a system like ours? They have been on a rage so long to change our system, while denying us information on the successful cities with systems like ours, that it is obvious to anyone that these lizards have an ulterior motive. They just absolutely refuse to acknowledge any city that is like ours and successful. They would rather we have a “boss hog” system, one that can easily be corrupted by a powerful mayor and infected with cronyism and corruption, which is why those that have been in Columbia for years said the old system of a “strong mayor” was eliminated by the people years ago. Yes, Columbia had a strong mayor system and it was voted out due to problems. The editorial lizards obviously have not done their research and dug into their own archives (or have strong ulterior motives-think they are getting something on the side?) and want us to have Chicago like politics. Yeah, sure guys.

Misinformation #2: “While a broad cross-section of the community supports the Midlands Housing Alliance’s proposal…” . Huh? Where did this data come from? Not from the lizards, who only get out among the rich and well connected at events and clubs the average Columbian never attends. Was it a push poll they did that was heavily prejudiced to getting a respondent to answer in their favor? Or is it “editorial license” to make a statement with no basis to support a position? Most people do not know what the MHA proposal truly is, and I have yet to see any MHA full proposal, though I have asked. I am not sure the MHA has a full, in-depth working document on their proposal. This is yellow journalism at its truest to make a statement such as this.

Misinformation #3: “Also, consider how the council allowed a project that would have added needed parking to Five Points to just collapse”. Is parking needed in 5 Points now? Or is it that a few scream as they don’t have enough parking within 30 yards of their businesses? One parking study did not say that 5 Points was deficient, and a look down the street at times other than noon to 1p and 5p on will tell you that. Enclosed malls create a perception of closeness and encourage walking, even though you may park 3 blocks from where you ultimately end. Open area shopping creates a different perspective. Even though 5 Points is compact and the area bounded by Blossom, Harden and Saluda is no larger than Columbiana, being open, it appears larger and people tend to look for a space in front of their intended destination, or pass on. There is no way to put extra parking in front of every place in 5 Points, unless it went overhead. There were other parking alternatives and other parties interested in supplying facilities. The adjacent neighborhoods correctly pointed out that council did not allow a fair and open process to identify other better proposals and allow an open and fair process for bidding. These alternatives still exist; there is nothing stopping council from continuing a fair and open process of addressing any needed parking solutions for 5 Points. (BTW, meters are not needed before 11:30a and between 1:30p and 5p. There is plenty of parking available at these times, and as many have pointed out in The State, Free Times, and elsewhere, meters are a deterrent to shopping in 5 Points. If some merchants feel meters are needed-and council does because they need money-enforce them only 11:30a to 1:30p and 5p until midnight. This will create a deterrent to 5 Points employees using the space at lunch, and create the turnover in spaces merchants say is needed during peak parking times.

Otherwise, the editorial has valid points about the poor job that council and manager are doing. If this were a business, the board would have been voted out long ago and the manager fired within the first 12 months. Even Kevin Fisher in the Free Times just called for this:

The real problem in Columbia is us: we tend to keep what we have even if it is broken as we do not change and progress easily. Regardless of city, the elected officials are a direct reflection of the people and attitudes of that city, and ours are of us.

As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us”.

Joseph Azar

(Done in a fit of sleeplessness so any errors are excusable. Now, if I was paid by the word as some others are…….)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Breaking News (1-14-09)

The first is Pay Your Property Taxes by Thursday at 4:59pm!

City Messes Up Checks Again

By now many of you have read The State’s article by Adam Beam ( and today’s editorial ( criticizing Charles Austin. The city has been paying the same bill 2, 3, 4 times, among other accounting problems, such as being years late in reconciling its books. Surprisingly, someone in the editorial (who knows who actually writes these as there is no name or names claiming ownership) department has decided that Austin is not competent to manage the city: “He deserves a failing grade.”. This is a surprise as the editors have been some of the city manager’s greatest cheerleaders. Why now they change their minds? These problems and inadequacies have been going on for quite a long time, which they could easily see had they read the stories of their own reporters. Incorrectly, they continue to blame the problems on the system (“Unfortunately, the buck stops nowhere in the city’s council-manager form of government, with responsibility divided among the unelected manager, the weak mayor and the six other council members, four of whom represent single-member districts.”) rather than the people in the system. Never do they point out that Charlotte and Greenville have a system like ours, and neither has the problems that our politicians generate.

What is the breaking news? Two things, city wise. I received a call today that the city failed to deduct taxes from payroll checks. I called others to confirm it and received positives. It appears that the city just found out today. How does the city fail to deduct taxes? I understand that taxes have been deducted all along, so why the failure now? What are the inherent problems that allow the city to double and triple pay bills for years without any oversight? And to miss payroll tav deductions? What else is there that we do not know?

The other item brought to my attention is that upper echelon staff at city received year end bonuses of 3%. Yet the lower level workers were initially told that they could not bonuses, turkeys, gift cards, or COLAs. As I have been told, these bonuses were possibly hidden in accounting, and that council may not be aware of them. To discover them, it would be necessary to FOI all city checking accounts and payroll records. This I will leave up to the local news media, most of whom read this newsletter.

Lets see what, if anything, is reported in the media on these.

On The Record Voting Passes the House

The other breaking news:
According to Nikki Haley’s newsletter today, this passed the house: This is good news, but in reading her comments, I am not sure that everything is to be voted on the record. I posted this on her comments section and hope to get a clarification : “This is a good start, and I have supported you and Nathan all the way. But something concerns me as you said “virtually”, not “all”. In reading what is to be recorded, it appears some items may not get a recorded vote.
Please clarify.”
I mention this as a comment I received from an astute reader and one close to the issue pointed out to me the loopholes in what speaker bobby Harrell proposed for recorded voting. It appeared to be transparent, but had so many exclusions that it was only slightly better than nothing. In reading Nikki’s comments, I feel that some of these loopholes may still be there, and that this bill may be one strong armed to some extent by those not wanting recorded voting on all issues.
Read it yourself and comment.

Friday, December 5, 2008

City raided (12-5-08)

The city’s sewer plant was raided Thursday for dumping raw sewage into the river, falsifying records, and improper operation. There is a rumor also going around that the city is under investigation by other agencies in the federal government. I cannot confirm it yet but will keep trying.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Odds & Ends (11-30-08)

Can You Believe It?

A store clerk dies after being trampled by shoppers at a Wal-Mart on Black Friday ( No one helped and customers complained after being told the store would close for a while as a clerk was just killed. What have we become?

People lined up since Thanksgiving night to shop at stores. Best Buy had customers in line for deals in our town ( Crazy, as these shoppers could have picked up a copy of Thursday’s The State and seen deals that matched or beat the ones they lined up for hours to get. Some were going to put their buys on E-bay (I am sure E-bay buyers also read local ads). Ridiculous! Better computer deals elsewhere with no minimums in stock, lower prices on cameras elsewhere with no lines, and these deals will be repeated as Christmas approaches. It always happens as stores want to clear out badly before Christmas. Otherwise, the prices are even better after Christmas as they must rid themselves of stock. Plus, returns. Those always go at even better prices. It reminds me of the sales tax holiday. Everyone goes into a feeding frenzy for sales tax savings, yet the next weekend whatever is left is always 25-50% off, far more than the 7% savings. I always wait and find better bargains then.

Then there are the liquidation sale scams ( I went to Tweeter to see what they had on sale as I was told they were selling stuff for less than I could buy it for. Some items I saw, barely. Others, more, yet they claimed 70% off. No way as the list prices were higher than ours and the manufacturer’s suggested resale price.

BTW, some of the great discounts you see at the big box stores aren’t. Some manufacturers have two prices: MSRP (manufacturer suggested resale price) and MAP (minimum advertised price). A product can have a MSRP of $1200 with a MAP of $995, which is the lowest a retailer can advertise the product for, or be in violation of dealer-manufacturer agreements and lose the line. Often the “discount” you see is the difference between MSRP and MAP. It is all just a numbers game. And most people fall for it.

Your best bet is to check with local businesses, smaller ones. Often they are the same as the big boxes +/-5 or 10%. It may surprise you, but the small guys can do it as the big boxes have unbelievable overhead; the little guys do not, so they can be very competitive. But the best part is that the little guys work harder for your business, provide better buying information, knowledge, instruction, and after the sale service. Most frequently, the small guys offer service at a lower rate than the big boxes. For instance, last time I checked, Best Buy was charging $70-80 to put a stick of RAM in a computer. Silicon Solutions, a local shop on Millwood, was charging $30-40. And the staff at Silicon Solutions is far more knowledgeable than Best Buy, and more helpful, from the feedback I get.

I find the same thing at Hiller Hardware, where I can buy one screw, not a bag of 10 just to get one. And I find a better selection at Hiller. Ditto for Mann Tool, where I buy my power tools. They also do in house service, which is very convenient and quick. Their selection is better than any of the big boxes, prices competitive, and knowledge far superior about tools. They have even fixed some tools past warranty as they know the problems and what should be taken care of from experience and service alerts.

Often, I have told people we are not the lowest but the best, especially on installation. I may have to eat those words as I have found the big stores charging far more than what we charge for less service than we give. When we can hang a flat screen TV, adjust it, program it, link it to the AV surround receiver, and instruct our customer on use for less than the big stores charge just to hang it and go, I start thinking some BBQ sauce on those words might make them go down easier.

Material is not the be all, end all. What you own is not the defining criteria of you; what you are is. No one deserves to die over a sale. People need to be aware of the sale tricks and scams designed to relieve them of their money. And it is the little guy, the specialist store that can give you far better product for comparable prices to the lesser stuff the big boxes sell.

Blue Hippo

Speaking of scams, this has got to be a real money maker. It seems to be the merchandise equivalent of payday lenders. The web site does not explain the program very well, or the prices. They advertise like mad on radio stations that seem to be appealing to people with lower income. From what I can gather, they sell you a laptop for far more than list price, but require a deposit and a designated number of weeks of lay-away payments before they ship product. In other words, they get at least the list price, if not more, before they send it, and then continue to have you pay a year’s worth of weekly payments so they can provide you a good credit rating, as they advertise they have no credit checks, and that anyone with a checking account can get a laptop on credit from them.

It strikes me as a rip off as the laptop did not even have Wi-Fi, at least as I could find on the website. If you know of anyone that bought through them, I would like to hear of the experience.


Another socialist gets in line with hands out! He hasn't been able to handle the dollars he spends now, and he wants more? How much will this new 'team' cost the taxpayers? &

I was going to let this slide, but got two earfuls from people, and then some, as seen from the example above. Coble goes to DC to get Obama to “invest” in Columbia. In other words, Coble is looking for bail out bucks just as the financial sector is. Obama has stated he would invest in America through infrastructure projects, much as the WPA did. I do not fault Coble for going (though it could have also been a Christmas shopping junket as well-he did something similar over 10 years ago when he went to NYC to talk Macy’s out of leaving, and it was looked at as a shopping junket as Macy’s leaving was already written in stone) as he should try to get money for the infrastructure projects we need to do, but 1) we do have lobbyists we pay to do this so was his trip necessary, and 2) his blatant spin, calling it an “investment” as we all do know it is a bail out. The city has increased fees and taxes and fines to get more revenue, and is having to cut the budget 5%, so they say, though it will likely be much more, in order to stay afloat. Coble insults us with his incessant spin. He has not balanced the budget for over 2 years, meaning it has not been current and council nor city manager really knew what we had and how to responsibly spend it. Council has failed to effectively budget and is now in trouble.

It is a bail out, stupid!

Bob, call it what it is.

War, What is it Good For?

Why, oh why? It has got to be the same mentality that causes people to trample a store clerk to death just to get a few “bargains”, and then complain that they have been in line for hours and do not understand why the store has to be shut for a killing. Only on a larger basis with more powerful weapons.

Buraya basarak resmi tam boytunda görebilirsiniz.

(The pictures do not show on Blogger, so visit The Azar Newsletter at Google Groups.)

What if it was you, and your children?