Tuesday, September 11, 2007

David Landau's White Papers

David Landau, Democratic candidate for Delaware County Council, has posted a number of white papers on various issues on his website. It makes my wonky little heart go pitty pat. Let’s take a stroll through the ones that are up, shall we, and see what is there.

Open and Accountable Government

This is primarily a laundry list of steps he thinks should be taken, and they are good suggestions. Take this one:

All bond lawyers who are paid must have an active participatory role in the bond work. Campaign contribution disclosed at the time of bid for bond work.

I interpret this as a variation of “you don’t work, you don’t eat,” one of my favorite rules, learned at my mother’s knee.

Landau calls for setting up a publicly available database of campaign contributions to county candidates. This seems like an idea whose time should have come years ago.

In the section on bidding we find:
All bidders must disclose all political contributions to any Pennsylvania state or municipal candidate, elected official or political committee for the two years prior to the bid.
All county contractors must disclose within five (5) days, any political contribution to a Pennsylvania state or municipal elected official, candidate, or political committee.

My only qualm here is that it is easy enough for a spouse to make a political contribution. Granted not all spouses agree on politics and contributions from one should not imply the support of both. However, it is entirely possible that campaign contributions could be written from a spouse’s separate checking account and thus would not have to be so disclosed. It is even trickier when neither surnames nor checking accounts are shared. Then it is almost impossible to track household donations unless you are “in the know” as to marriage partners. This is a difficult issue, pitting individual privacy against political transparency.

Economic Development and Job Creation

This is a very meaty document, with a lot of comparative statistics and figures. Here’s one:
A recent study by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) forecasts employment levels in 2035 based on historical workforce and population trends in the Delaware Valley counties of Delaware, Philadelphia, Montgomery, Chester, and Bucks. The forecast percent increase from 2005 to 2035 in employment in Montgomery County is 15.7%; in Chester County, 32.9%; and in Bucks County it is 23.2%. The predicted increase in employment over thirty years for Delaware County is predicted to grow by 2.5%.

Ouch!! That’s gotta hurt. Landau goes on to provide other comparative statistics on how effective the collar counties around Philadelphia have been at taking advantage of government programs and grants for areas like job creation, community revitalization, and commerce. Delaware County tends to be at or near the bottom of the pack.

A New Direction: Infrastructure Planning in Delaware County

Here he covers roads, sewers/wastewaters, and sidewalks and streetscapes. Again he provides comparative statistics with surrounding counties on monies received and spent. He also ties sewer and wastewater treatment into his proposal for a county health department in an extremely effective way. Anyone who can write engagingly about sewers probably should be in county government.

County Health Department

This is another well-written document. The two introductory paragraphs are powerful and direct without being adversarial:
One of the most important issues facing Delaware County today is the decline of public health. Unlike neighboring Montgomery, Chester, and Bucks counties, we have only an ‘Office of Intercommunity Health’ which is limited to “implementing a health coordination program.” On the other hand, Delaware County is home to some of the best private medical practices in Pennsylvania. A county health department would support an approach to community health focused on preventative measures through partnerships with the excellent private medical services in the county. Focus on preventative measures prevents the spread of illness through education, inoculation, screening, and intensive food and water inspection.

Delaware County is currently the largest county in Pennsylvania without a county health department. The lack of a health department severely diminishes the county’s ability to implement preventative practices that lead to a higher quality of life. Furthermore, our superb private medical care providers are unable to procure certain state grant money for public health services because the state requires a county health department as a partner. Creating a county health department will allow Delaware County to maintain a mission of preventing illness and injury through preventative medicine and education in partnership with the private sector.

Landau is also skillful is tying the lack of a health department into the county’s failure to reach milestones set out in the federal Health People 2000 and Health People 2010. While many voters may associate the health department solely with restaurant inspections, he highlights areas that demonstrate how the lack of such a department effects people far more directly. For example, he writes:
Particularly alarming trends emerge in the areas of Maternal, Infant and Child Care and Wellness/Fitness. In the area of Maternal, Infant, and Child Care, low birth weights in Delaware County have increased over the past five years. In the area of Wellness/Fitness, the number of Adults who have visited a physician in accordance with an accepted periodicity schedule has declined from 94.5% in 2004 to 83.4% in 2006. The number of children who visited a physician in accordance with an accepted plan dropped from 98.7% in 2004 to 91.1% in 2006. Also in the area of Wellness/Fitness, the percentage of children who are obese has risen from 11% in 1988-1994 to 24.5% in 2006.

Later he discusses childhood immunization, breast and cervical cancers, chronic disease prevention, and the ever popular sexually transmitted diseases. He also touches on education, food inspection, and emergency preparedness.

Open Space

Again he makes pointed comparisons:
In 2007, Delaware County allocated just under $500,000 for open space preservation. Montgomery County allocated just under $37 million. The County’s refusal to come up with creative finance solutions places the burden of financing open space initiatives directly on municipalities, who lack the resources to implement comprehensive plans. Therefore, municipalities cannot acquire large tracts of land for open space preservation or create or refurbish parks and recreation areas. It simply costs too much.

He also sets out his ideas for developing a comprehensive plan and finding the funds to enact it. At present, according to his data, planning has only been done for the western part of the county.

Overall Impressions

These are all very well done. My only complaint is the lack of sources. There are mentions of Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission documents and standards but no titles of them are given so it would be difficult to replicate or verify the statistics given unless you knew exactly where to look or who to call.

An overarching theme in many of the reports is the poor comparative standing with Bucks, Chester, and Delaware Montgomery Counties. I would like to speak to this briefly. He notes in the infrastructure document:
We see again that the county has outsourced its leadership, planning, and coordination responsibility to the localities. Without a strong vision and a creative plan, our county will continue to lag behind out neighbors in the areas of health, the environment, job creation, community revitalization, and infrastructure. My plan will bring a new vision and new ideas for revitalization to County Council.

My take on the poor comparisons is roughly the same but viewed through a different lense. When I saw those numbers my first thought is that there is a disconnect somewhere in the chain of needed cooperation. Since there is a county-wide pattern that may very well be where the breakdown occurs. Most government, state, or regional funding programs prefer to see a more equitable allocation of resources. Not necessarily even across the board but with varied enough distribution to avoid charges of favoritism on their part. If one county continuous scores near the bottom with its neighbors that tells me it isn’t turning in proposals or isn’t turning in very good proposals.

Many of the projects are initiated not by government officials but by local nonprofits and community groups. A lot of the paperwork associated with funding proposals is actually prepared by grassroots organizations. We are all shocked and horrified to discover that lobbyists and special interests write federal legislation in ways that suit them but somehow having a local chamber of commerce actually write the proposal for community revitalization does not seem as sinister. When I saw the Delco numbers my first thought was that the grassroots weren’t being engaged or listened to. Chances are there are local organizations and groups that are chomping at the bit to get things in their area done and there are impediments somewhere. There are coffee klatches and business lunch networks and other informal associations that have plans ready to go. But somewhere in the system there is a blockage. Mr. Landau seems to think that is at the county level. He might be right.

Regardless, Landau and his campaign have put together some very impressive documents. Voters in Delaware County and others interesting in the election should take the time to read through them.

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