Living in Hanover

Living in Hanover

'Apparently a blog about living in Hanover'

So That Happened

As my wife and I cleaned up after dinner last night, I told her I changed my mind about going to the Hanover Borough Council meeting. I had many reasons.

  • I had some work to do for Hanover Little Theatre
  • I’ll be going to plenty of meetings once I’m on council next year
  • I didn’t really feel like it

And the most important of all

  • The current leadership has made it clear they don’t care what their critics think so why go sit in a basement with no cell reception to see them do things that potentially make me cranky.

So I watched some TV, walked up the street for ice cream and then sat down to post the announcement of HLT’s new season (it’s going to be awesome) on the theatre’s web site. I also opened up a tab to check Facebook and saw the Living in Hanover page had received a message that said “Barb resigned.”

Immediately, I thought someone was playing a prank on me, but then I checked a bunch of other places and saw the news was correct – manager Barb Krebs had decided to step down as of July 17. Or Oct. 2. That’s all not clear to me now, but the upshot is that she is leaving her position.

Don’t expect me to celebrate. Sure, I never had faith in Barb’s ability to lead the borough and pretty much everyone I encountered since I decided to run for office told me my first act should be to get rid of her (that would take at least six members of council so I couldn’t promise anything), but I’m not going to jump up and down because someone quit their job before the heat got turned up.

First of all, I’m not as mean as I think some people may want to paint me. Secondly, my desire to run for council goes beyond simply thinking we could do better in the borough manager’s chair. A total change of attitude in borough leadership needs to take place. Some steps have been made, but the borough still faces lots of debt, much of it racked up under Krebs’ tenure, and suffers from a staggering lack of foresight when planning projects.

The insularity has to end at some point, but I expect those who hold power over the sitting council to simply promote from within instead of using the next six months to find an outside candidate who will bring new ideas to Hanover, so last night’s news just represents one small step in the process.

Thinking Isn’t Complaining

Recently, someone commented on another post that I complain a lot. I get that once in a while because anyone who has ever met me in person knows I come off crankier on the Internet than I am in real life.

While some may feel upset or bothered when someone totally mischaracterizes their personality, I actually love it. First of all, there’s the whole judging me without really knowing me thing. I try not to do it for others (not always successfully) and am amused when others do it to me. But more importantly, it’s the notion that complaining about things you have a problem with is inherently a bad thing. Lastly there is the notion that the comment can be seen as a complaint about someone complaining meaning that you are complaining so the three fingers are pointing back at you. Or some nonsense like that. I like complaining about complaining sometimes so I let that one go.

Just because I or anyone else complains does not make them bad, especially since a look at the sum total of the things I talk about would show lots of cheerleading (maybe too much), but most importantly, pragmatism. Sometimes I do complain, but sometimes it’s much deeper than that.

Sure, I criticize the borough manager for not being able to use Power Point correctly or for having a horrific website as the face of Hanover, but those are specific complaints with easy solutions in areas where I have professional experience. When you take the things you learn and try to apply them for positive effect to benefit others, how is that bad?

I thought about this a lot this morning as I read a Chronicle of Higher Education article called “What ‘Learning How to Think’ Really Means.” The article focuses on the positive effects of a liberal arts education. One clause in one sentence sentence does a perfect job of explaining my problems with the borough’s rush to push the Fire Museum into the old Eagle Fire Company, a move which curiously hit the fast track the day after the council president was slaughtered in the primary election.

People with intellectual virtues will be persistent, ask for help when they need it, provide help when others need it, and not settle for expedient but inaccurate solutions to tough problems.

I’m not going so far as to endow myself with the lofty gift of “intellectual virtues,” but I have been thinking a lot about college since I recently had my 25-year reunion at Allegheny College, a place where I really learned to think and judge and act (and party, to be honest).

During one conversation at the reunion, the topic of a minor came up. We were walking by the building that housed the Classics department. Since I took AP Latin in high school and received credit for my test score, the head of the department tried to recruit me as a Classics major. That wasn’t happening, so he also made a pitch for minoring in the field. I pretty much dismissed it out of hand, but ended up pretty close to actually pulling it off.

I had credit for two classes from the AP exam and could use my classes in Greek and Roman Art and Green and Roman Epics to get close to the six-class requirement for a minor. I may have had one other class, but the real stumbling block was the requirement of what Allegheny called a “seminar ” class for any minor. Seminars were fairly intensive classes that prepared people in a major for their senior thesis, nicknamed a “comp” at Allegheny. You took your seminar as a junior so you got a taste of what comping would feel like.

I ended up taking three seminars in my major, English. They each required a 25ish page page at the end of the trimester. By comparison, my comp was 60-some pages long. I took multiple English comps because that was my speciality, and they came up with some really, really awesome topics during my junior and senior year. But I was in no way, shape or form putting myself through the same thing in Classics. Or History or Communication Arts, two other departments I was close to minoring in.

This long explanation is my way of saying that my time at Allegheny taught me to seek out many different ways of approaching things. I took some classics, some comm arts, a bunch of history, a psych class, computer science, economics and even theatre appreciation (which I took mainly because it was one of the few things open when I did registration freshman year).

But I also wrestled for four years, worked on the campus newspaper, played and officiated intramural sports, was an officer in my fraternity and represented us on the Interfraternity Council. None of this counts the amount of time sitting around and talking with lots of other really smart people who were taking their own eclectic mix of courses because they, like me, just found it interesting to learn new stuff.

I guess that is why I shake my head when people try to pigeon hole my curiosity and outspokenness as complaining. I grew up with parents who expected their eight children to learn as much as they could and know how to think critically about the decisions they made. I had seven siblings who held me accountable for so many things. Then I had four years of reading and talking and questioning and taking action.

All of that has led to what some people want to characterize as “complaining.” I will never accept that as the truth. I don’t just throw out negativity. I take a look at what is happening, run it through the experiences I have had and the things I have learned and offer a perspective that others may not have considered. Sometimes that means the project you think is perfect may need new and varied voices and may need to take a little longer than you want it to be done (which you probably hate because if you do it now you won’t have to listen to anyone else because they don’t have your experience so they can’t be right).

A fire museum is a wonderful thing. Preserving history is a great virtue. Reusing classic buildings is an admirable goal. But to do it right, you need the intellectual virtues to know that it needs to take time, care and careful consideration with the voices of museum professionals, fundraising experts and unemotional onlookers to make sure that we aren’t trying to save history every seven or 10 years because we never took the time to plan and discuss things beyond seven to 10 years.

So if it’s complaining to expect a major project to have clearly defined goals and an articulated path to success, call me guilty. I just think I’m using the tools I learned in life.

 

Brian June 18, 2015 1 Comment Permalink

Communication is Hard

The problem with the Internet is that everyone thinks they can do it right. Making your own website has never been easier and cheaper. Anyone can get any message they want out to the public.

That doesn’t mean everyone can do it well. I’m looking at you, Hanover Borough.

I am not saying that I am the greatest communicator in the world, but I have been doing this for a living for a couple of decades and then some. You learn a few things in that time. I hope to pass some of those lessons onto the folks at the borough in 2016 since they don’t seem to want advice from people who aren’t on council at this point.

A perfect example is the home page right now. This screenshot was taken a little after 10 this morning.

Screenshot 2015-06-11 10.04.51Now I’m not saying the borough shouldn’t communicate news about how the fire (and why they capitalized fire, I don’t know, but that’s another fight for another day) at Miller Chemical, but when you throw it on the bottom of the page and do it in a way that makes the background image look a little funky and includes random capitalization and doesn’t include any context (I know the fire was a big deal, but you can’t assume everyone knows everything), you look like communication with the public is an afterthought.

The borough did a good job with letting people know to shelter-in-place after the fire happened, but this just smacks of “It’s not our problem. Stop bothering us.” When you don’t dedicate a space on our website to current news updates and just throw them on the home page when you feel you need to share info, that’s how you come off.

 

Brian June 11, 2015 3 Comments Permalink

Brian May 20, 2015 1 Comment Permalink

A Quick Tutorial

I know everyone understands technology at different levels. Many things that come easy to me confuse other people. I try to have a lot of patience because I know getting frustrated with folks can just make it worse.

But watching Barb Krebs do the “video report” at last night’s council meeting drove me up a tree.

First of all, there was no video, just still images. Which are OK if they tell a good story (I thought these were mostly inside baseball or self-congratulatory, but whatever). But just because the agenda template which Bruce Rebert gave to Barb says “Video Report,” that doesn’t mean that you need to keep those words on there if that does not represent what you are doing. Since you were hired for your communication skills, that should be simple to understand.

Secondly, Powerpoint is not that hard. I really wanted to go up, take the mouse from her and show her how to use the program. Instead of actually running a slideshow in the program, she clicked individually on each picture in the sidebar, which is distracting when she is scrolling and clicking on the wrong picture and just moving the mouse around the screen. This also meant that the pictures were not full screen so only about 75 percent of the available real estate on the video screens was being used effectively.

Like I said, I get that not everyone picks up technology as quickly as I do. So I have put together this difficult and detailed tutorial to help Barb Krebs and anyone else struggling with Powerpoint.

Presentation2

That’s it. That’s how you properly display a slideshow in Powerpoint. You can also go to the top, select Slideshow and choose from the options there, but the handy little icon right next to the percentage bar is the best way to start a slideshow. Once launched, just click your mouse or hit the space bar to go to the next slide. There are lots of other tricks, but starting the slideshow and clicking the mouse is my free tip of the week.

All of this may sound petty to some people, but it’s just another indication that one of the problems in the borough now is the lack of attention to detail. If you are paid a lot of money for your job and that job entails doing presentations in public, you should know how to use the technology available to you. But I am sure this is someone else’s fault because that’s how borough leadership rolls these days.

Brian April 23, 2015 1 Comment Permalink

Council Agenda for April

The council agenda and staff reports for April are now at the borough website. Remember, folks, this is the first meeting since the water fiasco that was announced conveniently after the last council meeting took place. If you are upset about that issue, show up and let them know.

Other items of note:

  • The amusement tax will be repealed, effective for this year. Finally! Add this to the children’s library and nature trail as incidents when borough leadership swore they were doing the right thing, but now they have to reverse course because they realize they were completely wrong.
  • Bonds will be reissued to save close to a million dollars. I bet that money is already spoken for via unbudgeted expenses like the Tanger building, which took up 12 days of borough employee labor this month. But it won’t cost us anything!
  • The borough manager’s “report” actually has a little bit of a report instead of just her re-stating agenda items. Maybe the heat is getting to her because I don’t remember seeing this kind of extensive report before.
  • The rec commission is getting a couple of new members (full disclosure – my wife is the school board rep to this group and helped recruit one of the two).

I’m planning on being there.

Council

Reports – April

Committee Meeting Agenda

Here is the agenda for Wednesday night’s committee meeting. Last time they had this meeting, the agenda miraculously grew from 11 items that were publicly shared to 21 items that were actually discussed, potentially to keep people from coming and sharing their two cents.

As you can see, the amusement tax is on there for discussion again since Barb Krebs can’t trust us to actually share any information before the meeting. The special events permits are also on there. Curious to see their plans with that. I might be at the meeting.

This is your first chance to come to a public meeting and let council know what you think of the the problems with the water system and the rate hike which they passed conveniently right before they announced their had been problems at the plant.

Finance Committee

One Letter Matters

When you’re putting out a paper seven days a week, corners sometimes get cut. That happened during one of my scariest moments – for me personally, not like a dangerous time – during my six years in the newsroom at 135 Baltimore Street.

I don’t remember all the details, but I know I was working a Sunday night layout shift in sports. This meant I worked (in theory) from about 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Because of the way things went down, I am pretty sure I didn’t work a full eight hour shift, which was not uncommon for that Sunday shift. You always worked more than 40 hours anyway so if you could get done in five or six or something like that on one day, it didn’t really matter.

I loved this shift. Nothing local was happening so you really just had to figure out what national sports news would play best, take care of all the little details and lay out the pages. It was as stress-free as doing pages got.

I know I didn’t stay until 6 a.m. because I left before the morning news shift arrived. The first person usually came in somewhere between 4 and 5, if I recall correctly. Since I worked alone most of the night, that person was supposed to do a quick check of my pages to make sure nothing was wrong with them. The folks preparing the pages for the printing press were supposed to do the same.

None of that explanation is absolving me from any blame. As you will see, I messed up. It theoretically could have been caught though. Either those folks didn’t do those things or they missed it. I don’t think I ever asked.

One of the things that always went into the Monday sports section was a roundup of the professional golf results from the weekend. People love golf in the area. Not as much as racing, which usually got top billing, but we knew we had to get golf in. Some golfer – I want to say Greg Norman, but I could be wrong – won a tournament that weekend so I made that my golf headline. I also included the margin of victory. You know, how many shots he won by?

Except I didn’t type shots. I thought I did, but the ‘o’ and ‘i’ are next to each other on the keyboard. See where I’m going?

I came in the next day in the early afternoon because I had to work a normal shift that night. Stan Hough, my editor, called me into his office. He did not look happy. I scanned my brain for what I may have done wrong. Nothing popped in my head. He told me to sit down and then dropped a copy of the paper, folded open to the golf story, onto his desk.

There is was: Norman wins by three shits (or something like that, but the word shit was in the headline)

I was mortified. I just assumed I was fired. I didn’t know how it happened. I was furious no one looked at my pages. Or missed that. Or that I missed it. I wasn’t rushed. I wasn’t up against deadline. I just had an easy night and wanted to leave. That’s when Stan said the three most beautiful words I have ever heard.

“You owe me.”

Stan liked to grab papers as they came off the press to take a look at how things turned out. That morning, my headline happened to catch his eye and he got to have a real “Stop the presses!” moment. He called up to the newsroom, someone fixed my page, and new versions of the paper without any obscenities in the headline hit the street.

And I got to keep my job.

My Evening Sun Memories

The Evening Sun is embarking on a project to commemorate the newspaper’s 100th anniversary. I don’t know what all is planned, but I am looking forward to it.

Let me just get it out there – while I can easily admit the newspaper’s faults, I will also defend it most of the time. Working at a small-town newspaper is an animal most people cannot comprehend. The decisions will never be perfect, but they are never made out of malice. That is something I will never believe because I have made those decisions and know the people who do make those decisions, and they are good people working at a thankless job. The paper isn’t perfect, but people have no idea what kind of talent has come through this town and continues to work to cover the news. Just so we’re clear.

That is the place I started my career. It’s the place I met my wife and some of my closest friends. It’s where I grew up in so many ways. So as they mark 100 years of covering Hanover’s news with a look back at significant moments and important people, I’ll share some of my stories from time to time. Names may occasionally be left out to protect the guilty because it’s more about the spirit of the craziness or the job than the details of who did what. But I will name names.

Like the time my good friend Mike Hoover called into the newsroom when I was working in sports. I honestly can’t remember if I answered the phone or someone else did, but I clearly remember what was going on.

He saw lights from his front porch. Lights at the old Antonio’s. Lights at the place that we had heard was being turned into some kind of cool bar. Since he lives just a few blocks away, he was going to see what was happening.

That’s how we found KClinger’s on one of its first nights open. He called back with giddy stories of bottles of beer upon bottles of beer. We had to come over. The owners were really cool. I am pretty sure I did that first night and for a bunch of other nights after that.

KClinger’s certainly had more loyal and passionate fans, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t really love the place. Within a few years of their opening, I had a kid and started to work down in Baltimore, making my time available to go out drinking much more limited. I remember getting samples of  pumpkin beer long before it became a fad. I remember the wall-to-wall people for the Tyson-Holyfield fight. I remember John Clinger adding a sandwich to the menu after I told him about a great meal I had on vacation.

And all that happened because a friend and co-worker used his reporting instincts to check what those lights meant.

 

The Incredible Growing Agenda

In recent weeks, the national news spotlight has turned to Hanover because of the eagles out by Codorus State Park. I think we have something else that could make headlines – municipal agendas that seem to grow on their own.

Last week, a committee agenda was posted on the borough website with 11 items. The agenda available at the meeting has 20 items. Last night’s borough council agenda had seven items added since it was posted online Monday.

Now I know some of these things are inevitable – three of the items added to the council agenda were event requests that came in after the original agenda was printed. Those are examples of good stewardship. But what changed between Monday and Wednesday to add an agreement about potentially vacating the alley between the borough office and 34 Frederick Street and an agreement about LED traffic lights and about getting a recycling grant and, most importantly, about amending the sales agreement for the property next to the Tanger Building?

Yep, that situation once again comes up last minute – the original Tanger purchase was approved as a late-minute agenda item because “someone forgot” to add it to the agenda. And when these last-minute items come up, there is no explanation as to why they are late or what the items mean. Remember, once the public comment portion of the meeting ends at the beginning, the veil of secrecy is dropped and sharing information with the public doesn’t matter anymore.

Which reminds me, water rates are going up both in and out of the borough. How much? No one knows. Well, I guess Barb Krebs knows, but the agenda item is the standard Hanover Borough legalese with no mention of what the rate will actually be. God forbid you tell the people how much they will be spending. I guess the outside the borough rate is the one they asked the Public Utility Commission for, but that agenda item was so vague, it prompted one council member to ask, “what is this?” And if the borough manager isn’t being clear with the people voting on items, how can we expect her to actually share information with us lowly citizens.

Sure, I could have asked, but I didn’t feel like getting treated like a leper. Or getting kicked out for actually requesting information in the middle of a meeting.

I don’t expect nothing to change once the agenda is printed, but these shenanigans have to stop. If people had known that the future of the amusement tax was going to be discussed in committee last week, they may have come or shared their thoughts with members of council. Instead, the public agenda shows very tame items to discourage people from coming so that more meaty topics can be added at the last minute. I’ve seen this movie in Hanover before. It’s getting old.

The borough website should be a living, breathing entity. It is possible to change a PDF once you post it. It is possible to list agenda items as they are added and put some sort of notification that allows people to see the new information. It is OK to have an ongoing dialogue with residents.

Because if you don’t keep people updated regularly, it certainly looks like you’re trying to pull the wool over our eyes. Especially when you do it again and again and again and again and again.

Brian March 26, 2015 2 Comments Permalink