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Category — The Big Lebowski

The Cross Report

The Name “Dottie Cross” is sprinkled throughout my childhood memories because she was friends with my mother who would mention her from time to time. I finally met Dottie and her husband George on May 22, 2005 at the Sheraton Hotel. They happened to be sitting directly behind my mother and me at the speech by Ann Richards there that day. Boy I miss my mother. We used to do cool things like that together. When I was eleven she took me to my first political rally. That time it was Geraldine Ferraro at Memorial Auditorium when she was running for vice-president. Ferraro didn’t know that day that her son would eventually be under house arrest just a few blocks away from there. The last movie my mom and I saw together was Sicko by Michael Moore. Ironic since my mother was dying of cancer. Just a few months before she died we went to a dinner held by the Society of Mayflower Descendants where my mom was inducted as a member. It’s smart to wait until right before you die to join the Mayflower Society. Saves on dues.

Where was I going with this? Oh yes. Jeanne Collins emailed the school board tonight to let us know Molly Walsh from the Burlington Free Press was asking about the proposal to shift retirement costs for non-teacher school employees from the city to the school department.   I’d better scoop Molly.  This cost shift and other measures were recommended to the Burlington City Council on June 22, 2010 by Dottie’s husband George Cross who was hired as a budget analyst a year earlier by the Democratic city councilors who pooled their meager operating budgets to pay him.

Now in April of 2009 when Cross, a former teacher was hired, I was pleased to see the city council empowering itself in such a way.  The Burlington Telecom scandal had just broken and it seemed logical that the plurality Democratic council would have its own guy to counter Jonathan Leopold.  I thought he was just going to help the council interpret the budget, so they didn’t have to rely entirely on the JPAL.  I didn’t know he was actually going to make recommendations, or that those recommendations would have legs with both the council and the administration.  I also had no idea at the time that I would be elected to the school board a year later and be forced to deal with the ramifications of those recommendations.

There’s the “be careful what you wish for…you just might get it” philosophy.  There’s also the “it doesn’t matter what you wish for, something bad always happens” theorem.  I like the way David Letterman put it best: “Life is just one disappointment after another, isn’t it?”

Some of reccomendations of George Cross’s “final report” (here’s a draft of the report which is similar to the final version) presented as a memo to the council June 22, 2010 first came to my attention a few months ago when Dale Tillitson told me Leopold was working them.  I asked Jeanne and Keith if they knew why a somone might be asking me about this and they gave me a breakdown of how the retirement works right now.   The proposal to change it wasn’t discussed, but how it works now is as follows.

School Department employees come in two types- folks licensed as educators by the Vermont Department of Education, and everybody else.  The licensed educators pay into and draw from the State Teachers’ Retirement System (STRS).  Everybody else- food service, para-professionals, custodians, after-school staff, business manager, grants manager, diversity director- they are all considered municipal employees by city charter and draw from the Burlington Employees Retirement System (BERS) which the city pays for.  Also- until now they city has always cut the School Department a check to reimburse it for the FICA tax (Federal Insurance Contributions Act of 1935) for these non-teacher employees, which pays for their Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Cross has 3 main recommendations to the city with regard to its financial relationship with the school department 1) Stop paying the non-teacher FICA tax.  Make schools pay it.  City saves estimated $550K; 2) Stop paying into BERS for non-teacher employees.  Make schools pay it.  City saves estimated $792K 3) Move crossing guard services from the Department of Public Works (DPW) to Schools.  City saves estimated $216K.  These were estimates for FY11.

The School Board’s Planning Committee was made aware last month that the city is planning to move on these recommendations as soon as possible.   Since then there have been two meetings about this between city and school officials which took place on October 12 and November 3 at the mayor’s office.  Present 10/12: Me, Alan Matson, Jeanne, the school department’s financial manager Karen, Bob Kiss, Bill Keogh, acting CAO Scott Schrader and another city money guy named Rich… I think that’s it.  Present 11/3 were all the same people plus Keith, the school board chair.

The Cross report and the city officials explained several arguments in favor of this cost shift- 1) Act 68 which says “funds received by a municipality other than a school district may not be used directly or indirectly for education expenses” which is meant to prevent so called “gold towns” from shifting school costs to the town to keep their school rate lower; 2) Cleaner accounting.  It’s hard to know true school costs if city is paying for some of the school department’s retirement. 3) shifting the cost to school taxes and gives tax payers the benefit of school tax income sensitivity (it socializes those costs across the state).

Bob and Bill both seemed resolutely in favor.  From my perspective, I can see no up-side of doing this for the school department.   Even if this is a good idea, timing matters.  Right now it looks like the city’s broke and it wants to cannibalize money from the schools… from the kids. Plus the schools are losing stimulus funding this year, and this hit compunds the problem.  I argued a little bit, and Bill Keogh warned me if the school board fought, there would be political fallout…  Then I was like “that’s not a fair political fight for the council!” Then Bill stood up, shook his fists and yelled “You want a piece of me?!”

Just kidding.

Schrader tried to argue we’re at risk of a lawsuit from a taxpayer seeking income sensitivity, but I found that argument silly.  We’ve been doing it this way forever and nobody has ever sued.  The arguments in favor of the shift appear to make sense on the surface, but however much the city lowers their dedicated retirement tax rate because of the cost shift to the schools, the savings will appear invisible to the taxpayers because they’ll inevitably be swallowed up by increased spending elsewhere.  That’s as sure as the sun rising.  Nobody’s going to really feel that decrease, but people will feel the increase on the schools side, which will not be the only one coming, by the way.

In any event, it appears this is how it appears it’s going to play out…

Next year the city council isn’t planning on cutting that FICA check to the schools which will mean another 411K the schools will have to ask from the taxpayers for FY13 .

The BERS cost will be tougher for the city to pass on to the schools because it will require a charter change and the cooperation of the school board.  We’re going to kick that can down the road for now and see how the elections pan out.

Jeanne says the proposal to move crossing guards from DPW comes up every few years and it always gets beat back.  This one will probably get punted indefinitely.

There are a lot more ins, outs and what-have-yous, but there’s a little background for you to compare to the Free Press story on this if Molly writes one.

November 16, 2011   9 Comments

The Big Lebowski Surpasses Wall Street

I have concluded the The Big Lebowski has now surpassed Wall Street as my all time favorite movie.  I realized that this week.  Wall Street held the title of my favorite movie from 1987-2011.  Before that is was Star Wars (1977-1987) and before that it was The Wizard of Oz (1973-1977).

February 14, 2011   2 Comments

More to Come…

November 24, 2008   Comments Off

The Big Lebowski

The first time I ever saw Taxi Driver was on a rainy night in Budapest. The first time I ever saw Goodfellas was on a cool fall evening in Philadelphia.

The first time I ever saw The Big Lebowski was on a warm spring day in Austin Texas.

It’s easy to watch The Big Lebowski. The movie doesn’t pressure you. Going bowling with Walter and Donny is exactly like being at the O.P. Nobody’s in a position to judge you. Plus there are a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what have yous that make it fun. Walter is deeply emotional because of his trauma in the Vietnam war. Donny dies. Flea and Tara Reid are in classic form. And of course, there’s The Dude.

April 30, 2008   Comments Off

Burlington Lebowski

Clinton vs. Romney XII: Obama vs. McCain I

I was doing my radio show yesterday morning on The Radiator (WOMM-LP 105.9 FM Burlington), looking for content on their iMac when I thought I’d search Flameape by Gregory Giordano. Of course I quickly noticed there was no link to BurlingtonPol. Almost as quickly my interest was piqued by a fascinating link called “Burlington Lebowski.” I clicked on it and was taken to BurlingtonPol. HA! That’s awesome. I guess at some point I must have mentioned loving The Big Lebowski. Or maybe I remind Greg of The Dude. Either way, I was tickled. I think I did an ok show. I got a call from a 9-11 skeptic out in Essex with a Burlington based blog to add to my Burlington Blogroll. Speaking of 9-11…

Then what? I went to the dump on Pine Street like I do every Saturday. I went home. I dropped spaghetti on the floor. I’m broke so I still had to eat the spaghetti even though it got all kinds of hair in it in from the carpet. Yuck! Then we loaded up the kids and went to Healthy Living, but on the way there we stopped at that job fair on the waterfront. I gave a demand democracy bumber sticker to Burlington Pol Bernie Sanders. Later I went to Hannaford and bought oranges and baloney. At the store I ran into Shay Totten and he said he saw me on the Matty and Stech Variety Hour (featuring Josh Bridgman and a cast of thousands) and told me has to go to White River Junction twice a week to work for Chelsea Green Publishing. Then Obama won South Carolina. That morning Bill Clinton was reminding people that Jesse Jackson won South Carolina. That night after he Hillary lost big to Obama, he was reminding people he has an office in Harlem. Jeez. Ok then. If there was any doubt left before Saturday, it should be gone now. Bill Clinton was the third youngest president and the second to be impeached. He was the first president from Arkansas. He was not the first black president. And there you have it.

January 27, 2008   Comments Off

About Me

I was born on January 18, 1973 at the Mary Fletcher on Colchester Avenue. That makes me 35 going on 36…

First a little about the family I was born into (anachronistically including my younger brother.)

My Dad (born 1899) is an Armenian who after being conscripted into the Soviet army, captured by Nazi Germans, surviving a concentration camp and spending two years of WWII as a slave laborer- came to Ellis Island on a boat in 1950. My father’s grandfather was the last in a 900 year line of priests that ended when the Bolsheviks came.

My Mom (born 1937) grew up on a farm in Sudbury, near Brandon in Rutland County, went to Castleton State College and had a long and successful career as a teacher, culminating in a 30 run- first at Wheeler, then at Barnes. My mom’s ancestry can be traced throughout Vermont and New England history, includes several of those who sailed to Plymouth on the Mayflower, then back to England all the way to William the Conqueror. Her blood is 15/16 English or Welsh and 1/16 Dutch.

My older brother (born 1963) -my father’s from his first American marriage (to a German woman,) whom my mother adopted at nine, has spent the last 20+ years climbing the ranks in the US Army.

My younger brother (born 1977) is a local rock star bass guitar player who has played with such acts as Concentric, Gordon Stone Band, Outer Bass Project and Rumble Doll. He also teaches bass. You may have seen him play.

Now about me- here’s some bullets. They are not in order and this is not a complete list.

*I’ve lived in Burlington my whole life, except for the last four months of 1991 when I lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and from June 1997 until November 1998, when I lived in Austin, Texas. Neil Cleary was in Austin the same time I was. We randomly ran into each other there twice. Once while we were both waiting in line at a post office. Once while we were both waiting in line for a urinal after the world-premier of a Jonathan Demi movie. While there, I was among a small minority of Texans eager to vote against Governor Bush’s re-election. Unfortunately his democratic opponent in that race, Gary Morrow, was too weak to get my vote either. I voted for a fringie instead.

*Once I took a flying lesson in a small plane. I actully took off myself by pulling back on the handles. The instructor had the same name as my younger brother, which is rare. I took that as a good omen.

*Poopsie, Koko and Yanna are the fake names I give my wife, son and daughter respectively when I blog about them.

*I dropped out of UVM and started Haik’s Secret Sandwiches in 1993. I had a cell phone, a cooler full of sandwich and “the fastest delivery in the world” as late as 3am. First alone, then with a partner, I worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week for about a year. It paid the rent and fed me, but I ate a whole lot of sandwiches. Ten years later in 2003, I finally got my BA from UVM.

*The day I graduated High School in 1991, my friend I flew to Europe and toured around for a month. That was awesome. We visited Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris, Chipped at what was left of the Berlin wall until a cop caught us, and took a 36 hour train ride from Athens to Budapest. That’s from A to B.

*I have shaken hands with Bill Clinton three times- Twice on the same day when he campaigned at Perkin’s Pier in 1992 and once at Burlington International Airport when he came here for the National Governors Conference in 1995.

*Early in 2001 I accidently set myself on fire. My brother had just dropped me off and I wasn’t feeling well. It was freezing outside. When I got in the door of my apartment on Loomis Street, I cranked up the heat, put the kettle on the gas stove and started running a hot bath in the tub. I started to warm my hands by the heater which was about a foot from the stove. After a couple of seconds I felt things were getting a little too hot and suddenly realized the back of my shirt had caught fire from the gas stove behind me. Like an idiot I tried to reach behind me and beat out the flame with my hand. My hand caught on fire too. Within a few seconds, my entire back was engulfed in flames. I tried to roll against the wall (small kitchen-not enough room to “stop, drop & roll”) and that didn’t work. I was alone in my apartment. Nobody was going to help me. My mind raced. “If I don’t solve this problem right now I’m gonna die.” I thought. There was only one answer. I threw myself back-first and fully dressed into the scalding hot bath water I was drawing. Thank God I was. With the fire out, I pulled myself out of the tub. Then the pain hit. Worst I’ve ever felt. I made sure no fire lingered and lumbered to the phone. I called my brother who had just dropped me off not ten minutes ago. “Uh…can you come back to my place please?” I spent two days in the hospital with second and third degree burns over most of my back. Some resident kept trying to muscle me into getting a skin graft, but I was like “Forget it!” I had to go over this guy’s head to the chief burn doctor just to get out of the hospital. I had to wear a huge maxi-pad over my back for about a month, but within a year I was totally healed.

*I have run for office three times. When I was 18 I ran for mayor against Peter Clavelle and came in second in a field of four with 11% or 865 votes. Jane Sanders was essentially my campaign manager that year. She taught me how to run a political campaign and I still remember a lot of it. In 1995 I ran for city council from ward three as the Progressive Coalition nominee and won against a democratic former councilor who had lost his seat because his house was redistricted out of his ward. I was the youngest person elected to the council in Burlington’s modern history. There may have been someone younger way back in the “City Fathers” days. In 2001 I again ran for mayor against Peter Clavelle. This time I came in third in a field for four with 1% or about 87 votes. I haven’t been a member of a party since 1997. I’m an Independent.

*When I left the city council in 1997, I spent two months in India and Nepal. While in India I was fortunate enough to shake hands with the Dalai Lama in Dharmsala where the Tibetan Government in Exile is seated.

*Because I have a friend whose father lives there, I have hung out on Rockaway Beach in Queens a good number of times. Once I saw the Concord leaving JFK from that Beach. It was huge and loud in the sky and very surreal.

*When its towers were still standing, I went to the top of the World Trade Center twice. The first time I had walked all the way there from Washington Square Park. I love New York City.

*I have also been to The Coliseum in Rome, The Leaning Tower in Pisa, The Taj Mahal in Agra, The Ganges River at Varanasi, The Eiffel Tower in Paris, The Acropolis in Athens, The Grand Canyon in Arizona,the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Mount Rushmore in South Dakoda, Disney World in Orlando, The Capitol in Washington, Hollywood and Niagra Falls. Still, the number of places I’ve seen will always be dwarfed by the number of places I haven’t seen. I’ve never seen an Aztec or Egyptian Pyramid. I made my first trip to Armenia in 2009.

*I have taken two great American round-trip cross country road trips. The first was in a 1981 Honda accord that cost $600. The second was in 1980-something Subaru GL that cost $650. On the first trip I met an Italian guy and we drove together to Las Vegas, down to Ensenada, Mexico and through the Canadian Rockies. On the second trip I soaked in a hot spring in Idaho.

*I drove the night shift for Benway’s Taxi during the summer of 1995. I only had two pukers that whole time- one out the door, and another on himself but not the cab. I was lucky when it came to passengers vomiting. I took one woman to a safehouse where she was hiding from the ‘father of her children’ who had bound and stabbed. “He stuck me like a pig.” she told me. I drove one guy to the jail behind Denny’s, he was using a lighter to seal the plastic from a cigarette pack around a nug which he explained would be going up his ass. Ah.. the night shift.

*I used to read a lot more than I do now. I’ve read Vonnegut the most, followed by Dostoevsky and Hunter S. Thompson. Before I read books, I was largely raised by television. On Friday nights in my youth I would watch The Dukes of Hazzard in one room, and then when it ended, I’d go watch Dallas with my parents in a different room. I was fully into Dallas when I was seven and eight years old. Decades later when I lived in Austin, my older brother was stationed in Oklahoma. Once my parents visited him there and followed him to a Pentecostal religious convention in Dallas. I met them there and took my parents out to the Southfork Ranch set where the show Dallas was filmed. That was neat. Before I left Dallas I visited Dealy plaza and the Sixth Floor Depository Museum.

*Poopsie were engaged within three days of meeting in late 2003. We were married on July 31 of 2004. Less then two years after that she was pregnant with our second kid. Hey, why beat around the bush, right?

*I started this blog in January of 2006. I hope you enjoy reading it.

*My all-time favorite movie is Wall Street, but Poopsie and I love to watch The Big Lebowski a lot. It also think the film Network is highly prescient.

*I want to build a marble staircase from Batterry Park down to the waterfront. Tricked out with plateaus, benches, landscaping… what a place to watch the sunset. Instant tourist attraction.

November 30, 2006   1 Comment