Hiding In Plain Site

by Curt Kovener

Have you checked how much any of your units of local government want to spend next year? It’s right there for you to see on a web site, you know.
In 2014, then-Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed a law passed by the Indiana legislature that eliminated newspaper notice of local government budgets. Before the law was enacted, all local government units in Indiana— from cities & towns and counties to libraries and fire districts districts— were required to publish their annual budget proposals and estimated tax rates in a local newspaper.
Now they are only required to post them on the website of the state’s Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF), which was the main proponent of the new law.
Each year since the new law passed, the Hoosier State Press Association (HSPA) has asked the agency for traffic data for the Budget Notices for Local Government page on its website. To its credit, DLGF voluntarily provided the following numbers:
Last half of 2014– 4,600 unique visitors
Last half of 2015– 5,500 unique visitors
Last half of 2016– 7,000 unique visitors
In case you’re wondering, those aren’t daily or weekly or monthly traffic figures. Those numbers reflect the TOTAL visits to the page for each entire six-month period.
For comparison, for the first three months of 2017 this newspaper’s website that you are reading right now, crothersvilletimes.com where we place all pubic notice ads found in print had 4,745 unique visitors, according to statistics found on our Google Analytics page. A six-month extrapolation would have your “best little newspaper in town” approaching 10,000 visitors.
And as puny as the DLGF’s public notice visits are they actually overstate the number of Indiana citizens who now receive notice of their government’s proposed budgets.
First, like most websites a significant portion of DLGF’s website traffic is generated by Google search referrals from people who live outside of the state. So the unique visitor totals provided by DLGF are inflated by the incidence of non-residents who visit the page. And of course, public notice laws aren’t designed for the benefit of non-residents.
Second, DLGF directs local public officials to check its website every year to make sure their budgets are posted, according to HSPA Executive Director Steve Key. Since Indiana has 2,000+ local government units, it also suggests that much of the non-foreign traffic to DLGF’s budget page may very well come from government officials.
One is left to wonder: Has anyone in Indiana who doesn’t work for the government or media read any of the proposed budgets submitted by local government units since the new law took effect in 2014? Have you?
Meanwhile, consider that HSPA’s American Opinion Research study in 2014 found that 3.8 million Hoosiers read at least one newspaper per week. It’s also worth noting that budget notices are almost impossible to miss when they’re published in a newspaper. At a minimum, they generally occupy several columns on a page and contain bold text and lines of numbers that jump out at the average reader.
So when Mike Pence signed the law eliminating newspaper notice of proposed budgets, the state of Indiana traded a medium that by its very nature promotes effective notice for one that does not. And it swapped 3.8 million potential readers for, at best, a handful of highly motivated citizens. If you wanted to wrest control of local tax and budget processes from regular citizens in order to hand it to politicians, lobbyists and activists, this would be a great way to start.
This isn’t the way public notice is supposed to work.
(Our thanks to Richard Karpel of the Public Notice Resource Center for the research for this column.)

Will Sunday Sales Finally Get Consistent?

Curt-lineby Curt Kovener

Figuring out Indiana’s confusing, incomprehensible and outdated alcohol laws is enough to drive a person to drink.
You can’t buy carry out liquor on Sunday but you can buy it by the drink. You can buy a bottle of wine at a Indiana winery but not the same bottle at a pharmacy or big box store but you can’t buy a six-pack of cold beer at a liquor store but you can buy a growler of cold beer at a craft brewery. And you can taste sample beer and wine at Hoosier craft breweries and wineries seven days a week.
And no cold beer if you’re buying from a convenience store but you can buy warm beer there but never on a Sunday.
Phew!!! Understand? Neither do we.
The state’s confounding, confusing liquor laws— most notably its antiquated ban on Sunday carryout sales— have been in need of overhaul for years. No, it’s nowhere near the most pressing issue facing Indiana, but as any Hoosier who’s wanted to grab a bottle of wine while picking up groceries on a Sunday afternoon can tell you, it’s inconvenient and annoying. Almost as annoying as a 20-something cashier asking a Medicare Card carrier his/her date of birth when buying alcohol and blaming the Excise Police for the inconvenience.
A poll last month found that an overwhelming majority of Indiana residents favor expanding cold beer sales in the state and allowing carryout sales on Sunday.
Change may finally be coming, according to a member of the legislative summer study group tasked with untangling the outdated snarl of laws.
State Senator Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, says he expects Sunday sales to happen. Indeed, he believes that dealing with this piece of the alcohol issue— “getting that over and off our plate”— ought to be a priority.
Supporters of lifting the Prohibition-era ban may be forgiven for thinking “Here we go again” at Alting’s prediction. For years, there’s been talk of lifting the ban; for years strong opposition from the state’s powerful liquor store lobby (surprisingly not the churches) has helped keep it in place. Just two years ago, a sponsor of a bill to legalize Sunday alcohol sales announced that “Prohibition is over” — only to pull his bill a month later for lack of support.
There’s no good reason for banning Sunday liquor sales by retail stores in Indiana. The state long ago gave up the notion that alcohol may not be sold on Sunday, and for years it has been available by the drink in bars and restaurants. So the store sales ban isn’t really a “blue law” anymore in the traditional sense. Instead, it’s a law that favors one type of business (package liquor stores) over another (grocery, pharmacy, and convenience stores).
For those of us in Southern Indiana, we can travel across the Ohio River into Kentucky any buy alcohol on Sunday. That’s a fact that ought to knot the knickers of the pro-business Republicans in charge of all Hoosier state government.
It would be good if the party that supports removing government regulation and restriction, the party that supports free enterprise and business, the party that controls both the Indiana House, Senate and Governor’s office would live up to their campaign slogans and promises.
But after years of fruitless attempts to change the status quo, yet another failure wouldn’t be a surprise.
But we hope not.
(We thank our friends at the South Bend Tribune for contributing to the research for this column.)

Aggravation & Frustration Weather Or Not

Curt-lineby Curt Kovener

Not much of one to make New Year’s Resolutions, but early on I had decided that this would be the summer I would clean and re-coat the back deck at the wilderness retreat.
It is a 14’x40’ elevated wood structure that overlooks a tree filled valley and creek. It is a place of summer grilling, nature solitude, contemplation, and conversation… frequently over adult beverages. Over the years I had cleaned and re-coated with a semi transparent stain only to have to repeat the process every few years.
Those four-letter words—work and life—got in the way of my routine maintenance plan and the deck went lacking and was overdue for some care.
I started in May…and it is mid-July and it still isn’t done thanks to the weather.
Being shaded much of the day by yellow poplar, maple, oak, and cherry trees, the deck got its share of tree sap, pollen, tree blooms and seeds, and the accompanying mildew over time. To clean the nearly black wood, I acquired a solid surface cleaning attachment for the power washer. The enclosed circular spinning wand has a pair of nozzles which did a quick job of cleaning the deck down to the bare wood without the usual fuzzing or raising the grain.
I highly recommend this tool to anyone who needs to clean wood or concrete surfaces.
After cleaning I found a number of the boards were split and that a larger number of the fastening screws were above the surface. So I spent a couple of days on a small stool and my cordless drill tightening screws, replacing those that broke. And there was a lot of breakage owing to the years of neglect.
Reading the solid stain instructions, I was instructed that this product is thicker than other stains and contains a sand like substance that helps fill cracks and holes as well as help eliminates a slippery walking surface. Not slipping in my advancing years, is a good thing, I believe.
Advice from experienced painters encouraged me to be sure the deck was totally dry from moisture before beginning the coating lest my efforts not adhere to the wood.
Those experienced told me two days without rain, then let the morning dew evaporate before coating the deck making sure after I was finished there was another 12 hours of drying time without the threat of rain.
Also, I factored in an aging back and knees
By my reckoning that would be four days in a row without rain in the forecast. And that, dear reader, is the rub. We haven’t had a forecast of four days in a row without rain up here in the wilderness.
Well…yes we did and it was during the Red, White & Blue Festival which otherwise occupied my activity and attention.
In late June & July the deck would dry and I would plan on starting the next morning only to be awakened to the sounds of thunder and yet another delay.
So I have tried to complete my task in bits and pieces. Since June I have managed to fill cracks and screw holes in the little time between precipitations in preparation for the eventual first coat of deck stain.
It does make for a peculiar looking deck right now—sort of a combination of polka-dot and stripes of new deck coating and bare wood— but so far now one in complaining or making fun of how it looks.
Perhaps a temporary tarp made into a roof may eventually need be implemented in order to get & keep the deck dry enough for a fresh surface.
I said I planned on re-coating the deck this summer. I just didn’t think it was going to take all summer.

Uno, Dos, Tres

Curt-lineby Curt Kovener

Trouble comes in threes. Three strikes and you’re out. “Knock three times on the ceiling if you want me,” “You’re once, twice, three times a Lady.” But there are other trios that we are now going to test your knowledge, thanks to my Bathroom Book of Lists.
•Continuing with the musical lyric theme, from Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’ who are the 3 men he admires the most? Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
•What are the 3 primary colors? Red, Yellow, Blue.
•Name the 3 Little Pigs: Fifer Pig (house of straw), Fiddler Pig (house of sticks) and Practical Pig (house of bricks).
•Who were the original 3 Stooges? Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Shemp Howard.
•Name the 3 Musketeers: Athos, Porthos, Aramis.
•Of course you know horse racing’s triple crown: Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes.
•But what is baseball’s triple crown? When a player leads the league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in.
•According to Ernest Hemingway, the only 3 sports are bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering. “All the rest are merely games,” he said.
•In case you didn’t hear, what are the three bones in the human ear? Malleus (hammer), Incus (anvil), & Stapes (stirrup).
•Since you are reading this bit of prose, surely, you remember from high school English class the three points of view in writing: First person (I, we), Second person (you), and Third person (he, she, they).
•Remember Sigmund Freud’s 3 parts of personality? Id (Unconscious mind, acts on instincts), Ego (conscious mind, keeps the id in check), and Super-Ego (the moral center, distinguishes between right and wrong.) If you thought Super-Ego referred to today’s politicians, you get extra credit.
•From your high school health class, what are the three body types? Ectomorph (tall, thin), Endomorph (short, round), and Mesomorph (athletic).
•What were the 3 Axis Powers of World War II? Germany, Italy and Japan.
•More recently, what countries did President George W. Bush call the ‘Axis of Evil’? Iran, Iraq, North Korea.
•What are the 3 branches of government? Legislative (congress which drafts laws), Judicial (which rules on the constitutionality of the laws passed), and Executive (the cabinet, VP and president who sign or veto laws) Although, today it seems, those lines are getting blurred.

The Day The Tower Tumbled Down

Curt-lineby Curt Kovener

Nearly 20 years ago a Crothersville landmark came tumbling down. The original town water tower stood approximately 250’ west of the current town hall. Though, at the time, it was behind to old town hall which, like the old tower, is no longer a part of the town’s landscape.
To enlighten some of the newer immigrants to Crothersville of our history (and to refresh the memories of veteran locals), from the Curt Comments archives here is what was written after the tower stubbornly came down.
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There’s an empty space against the sky in Crothersville.
A major portion of a landmark which the majority local residents took for granted fell to earth with a resounding crash Thursday afternoon. The remnants were to be demolished early this week.
The water tower which for more than three quarters of a century served as the source of water pressure and volume for the 750 or so water utility customers in Crothersville went by way of the cutting torch.
And like many of the advancing age residents of Crothersville, it too, showed a stubborn streak in the end. The plan was to notch the tower and cut it from the opposite side to form a hinge and allow the top of the tank to plummet to earth.
The physics and the mechanics were all okay. But when tension was applied to topple the tank, the hinges started to work but then broke early and the tank wedged itself against it base. And then refused to budge.
Well over two tons of quarter-inch steel sat wedged at an angle more than 120 feet up in the air. It was more cutting and rearranging placement of a chain (and definitely more courage than most of us earthbound sidewalk superintendents had) and a couple of tire squalling tugs from a truck which finally brought the top of the tank to earth.
The tower hadn’t been used in more than a year when it was decommissioned in favor of the new 300,000 gallon tower constructed a block and a half to the north.
Erected in 1922 when the Crothersville Water Utility Company was formed, the 50,000 gallon high tower, just like other water towers in other communities, served as a source of identity for the community.
It had more coats of paint than most folks could remember. Through the years it had been a light blue, gray, and at one time was a patriotic red, white & blue.
For some Crothersville area teens and young adults, the water tower was a rite of passage. Many local youth foolishly climbed the 140-foot tower to prove adulthood. It wasn’t manhood, because some girls were known to have climbed the diagonal braces of the water tower legs.
To mark their territory or to evidence their thrill-seeking ways, names and dates were often spray painted on the tower for earthbound mortals to see.
Adding to the danger, the tower climbing was always done at night so to avoid detection by police and other adults.
More than one well known Crothersville personality not only climbed the tower but went atop the roof to sit on the metal ball at the apex of the cone. In one instance, his peers attested to his daring that night as they saw the intermittent glow of a cigarette he smoked while sitting atop Crothersville’s highest point possibly as he attempted to screw up enough courage to make the trip back down.
And the old tower served as home to thousands of pigeons over its lifetime.
I always thought the old tower could be put to some useful purpose, other than recycled into scrap metal.
Maybe placing a monstrously large spinning gyroscope on top of the tower’s ball would attract visitors to town. Or removing the top and planting flowers and promoting it as the worlds largest flower pot would have attracted sightseers to the community. Afterall, don’t folks know Greensburg in Ripley County as the courthouse with the tree growing from its roof?
But who would plant and who would maintain it and who would pay for the liability insurance all shot the ideas down.
So along with the original Crothersville Water Tower—like Crescent Mill, Crothersville Hardware & Schlueters Store, the multiple general and 5¢&10¢ stores at the stoplight corner, the bandsaw mill, Kern’s Grill, the plethora of grocery stores & restaurants—some of Crothersville’s history and heritage fades into oblivion only to be reminisced over coffee or occasional newspaper columns.

It Said WHAT?!?!

Curt-lineby Curt Kovener

Two of our recent columns which generated a good deal of smiles and comments were on church bulletin bloopers and newspaper boo-boos.
Some of my Internet colleagues have sent more humorous gaffs from both the religious and journalistic realms for me to share.
•Over the massive front doors of a church, these words were inscribed: “The Gate of Heaven.” Below that was a small cardboard sign which read: “Please use other entrance.”
•Rev. Warren J. Keating, Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Yuma AZ, says that the best prayer he ever heard was: “Lord, please make me the kind of person my dog thinks I am.”
•A woman went to the post office to buy stamps for her Christmas cards. “What denomination?” asked the clerk. “Oh, good heavens! Have we come to this?” said the woman. “Well, give me 50 Protestant and 50 Catholic ones.”
•On a very cold, snowy Sunday in February, only the pastor and one farmer arrived at the village church. The pastor said, “Well, I guess we won’t have a service today.” The farmer replied: “Heck, if even only one cow shows up at feeding time, I feed it.” And so the preacher began his sermon. An hour and 20 minutes later he said “Amen” and asked the farmer, what he thought of it. “Well,” said the farmer, “even if only one cow showed up to feed I would give her the whole wagon load.”
•During a children’s sermon, Rev. Larry Eisenberg asked the children what “Amen” means. A little boy raised his hand and said: “It means tha-tha-tha-that’s all folks!”
•A student was asked to list the Ten Commandments in any order. His answer? “3, 6, 1, 8, 4, 5, 9, 2, 10, 7.”
•Bill Keane, creator of the Family Circus cartoon strip, tells of a time when he was penciling one of his cartoons and his son, Jeffy, said, “Daddy, how do you know what to draw?” I said, “God tells me.” Jeffy said, “Then why do you keep erasing parts of it?”
•After the church service, a little boy told the pastor: “When I grow up, I’m going to give you some money.” “Well, thank you,” the pastor replied, “but why?” “Because my daddy says you’re one of the poorest preachers we’ve ever had.”
•My wife invited some people to dinner. At the table, she turned to our six-year-old daughter and said, “Would you like to say the blessing?” “I wouldn’t know what to say,” she replied. “Just say what you hear mommy say,” my wife said. Our daughter bowed her head and said: “Dear Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?”
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