Saturday, April 26, 2008

Redistricting means always having to say you're sorry

4 clever quips
Here is a reproduction of my opinion piece that appeared in the May 2, 2008, issue of The Advocate of Stamford, Conn., newspaper. Below it is the original "Always Home and Uncool" version that I improved upon for the newspaper article.


* * * * *
To Stamford's school redistricting planners: Say you're sorry
By Kevin McKeever

If anyone needs to an image consultant these days, it's any Stamford official involved in the never-ending public school redistricting debate. Since I've got time to spare this morning, I'll volunteer for the job.

I propose that my culprits, I mean "clients" -- the Stamford Board of Education, Superintendent of Schools Joshua Starr and Mayor Dan Malloy -- appear front and center at the Monday, May 5, public hearing at Cloonan Middle School (7 p.m. Eastern, 4 p.m. Pacific) and do what is necessary. Apologize to the parents, children and miscellaneous taxpayers of Stamford.

A flat-out, no-holds-barred mea culpa from each of you. With a little self-depreciating humor and a lot of humility throw in.

They should follow the Hugh Grant model. Remember years ago when the "Four Weddings and a Funeral" actor was busted for having services rendered by a Hollywood prostitute in a car? Of course not! Hugh made it go away by appearing on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and, with those puppy dog eyes peering through his professionally tousled hair, doing his British best "oh, how daft but civilized and charming I am" routine:

Leno: "What the hell were you thinking?"

Grant: "Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time."

Pure magic. (Note to self: Contact Larry Craig and Eliot Spitzer. Those two boobs also need help.)

Here's my vision: The Board of Ed, Starr and Malloy all take seats at the front of the auditorium. Then, one by one, they admit the mess they've made progressively worse by creating the entire "open an environmental magnet school and close Toquam, no -- close Davenport, no -- shutter Hart … one second, wait for it … let's board up K.T. Murphy, uh uh … how about Rogers … we meant, Stark" fiasco.

Then, they beg forgiveness. They vow to play nicely with each other and the public in the future. Finally, they commit to start over from scratch with a better, more open approach.

Here are the talking points ...

Board of Education members:
We seriously overestimated the time and effort we could devote to this. None of us has the expertise to tackle all the issues and emotions involved. We tried really hard but, let's face facts, we're rubes on redistricting! We thought you could slip tab A into slot B, C into D, and so on, and everything would fall in place like so many dominoes or Communist nations. Whoops, scratch that last bit!

We held a lot of meetings. But, we admit, we forgot that not everyone lives and dies by the vague meeting notices we post online. We should have reached out to the school PTOs, kept them informed of upcoming topics, and sought input from them and their school's communities before voting on matters. We should have devised complete plans -- grandfathering, legacy kids, feeder patterns, etc. -- before shouting "bus those kids across town" in a crowded meeting room.

And, honestly, we were so blinded by the hordes of cash the state was dropping on us to build a shiny, new state-of-the-art facility that we never bothered to learn what the parameters for operating the school really are. Or whether anyone outside of Stamford would want to come to it. Details, details - pish, posh!

Superintendent Starr: Wow, how did this get so out of control? Where was I? Oh, yeah … probably stuck on the BQE.

First, I should have directed our staff to proactively gather all possible information about what we can and can't do with this state-funded, interdistrict, 6-to-6, environmental thingamajig of a school before ground was broken.

Second, I should have insisted the Board of Ed receive a complete analysis of facilities, capacity, enrollment projections, and district-by-district student breakdowns of total population cross-referenced against race vs. socioeconomic status vs. magnet or district school attendance, yadda yadda yadda, before they even thought about redistricting. Then we could have discussed the school system as a whole, not in this piecemeal, "endangered school of the week" fashion we took.

Third, my 11th hour Stark-closing proposal did a fantastic job of bringing a previously unheard from part of the community into the discussion. But talking about it with Stark parents first would have been wise. So would have putting it on the public meeting agenda.

And what's the deal with magnet schools? Are they working, are they really balancing the system or just messing with the people's minds? Do we need more seats or fewer seats? They're more expense to run, but other than that I honestly don't know. I should investigate this and address it in my long idle blog.

Mayor Malloy: Zzzz. Huh? Oh, oh, yeah, yeah.

Yes, I am a member of the Board of Education. A non-voting one, mind you. But, yes, I should have been more involved in redistricting from the start because it is important to the people of Stamford, whether they vote for me or not.

I should have made my opinions on redistricting clearly known and used my power to wring vital interdistrict school information from state officials for the greater good not personal acclaim. While not as dramatic or endearing as playing the white knight, charging into the fray at the last minute to save the day, being active throughout the process is the right thing to do because Stamford is me, and my actions are a reflection of Stamford.

Same for performing last-minute sneak attacks on the school's budget proposals. I was wrong about that, too. Now that the debt on my failed gubernatorial bid is paid up, I'll stop being a petty Betty.

All parties: At this point, we're as confused about what to do as anybody. We probably need a fresh set of eyes on this. Maybe we can still gather up all the information at hand and, working with an independent party, come up with three to five complete scenarios (closing schools A or B, no closings, moving magnet programs, etc.) with feeder patterns, budget estimates, etc. and roll them out to full debate and discussion with parents and the boards of Finance and Representatives.

In any case, we will refrain from springing any more PowerPoint presentations and doomsday scenarios on the public until come up with a complete, big picture plan. Only then can we have a real dialogue with people rather than these "not my school/kid" debates every other week.

One more thing. Each of us should have recognized early on that we were in over our heads. We should have slammed on the brakes and asked for more help sooner. We were well intentioned, but also arrogant. We'll do better next time to work with the community because our priority is ensuring Stamford kids gain intelligence, wisdom and understanding. Forgive us …

Hey, readers -- me, again. To conclude, on behalf of all my imaginary clients, I'd again like to quote The Divine Book of Hugh Grant, as spoken to Jay Leno:

"I think you know in life what's a good thing to do and what's a bad thing, and I did a bad thing. And there you have it."

* * * * *

Original gansta, I mean, version:

Set your TiVos, folks. Stamford Superintendent of Schools Joshua Starr, the city Board of Education and Mayor Dan Malloy -- Starrboard Malloy, for short -- will appear on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" to re-enact Hugh Grant's famous "Divine Brown" apology.

But the context has changed. It's in response to our city's never-ending redistricting debacle.

Jay: "What the hell were you thinking?"

StarrBoard Malloy: "Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time."

Every official involved in this mess needs to sit on the late-night couch and apologize to the public. Flat-out, no-holds-barred mea culpa. They need to admit the whole "open an environmental magnet school, close Toquam, no -- close Davenport, no -- shutter Hart … one second, wait for it … let's board up K.T. Murphy, uh uh … how about Rogers or Stark" Gordian knot needs to simply be cut ... then set aflame and floated out to sea like the barge full of landfill crud and seagull poop it has become.

They need a do-over, a make-up exam and, frankly, a clue.

Let me help start the healing. Here are some talking points for the gang ...

Board of Education members:

We seriously overestimated the time and effort we could devote to this. None of us has the expertise to tackle all the issues and emotions involved in this process. Some of us tried really hard to come up with solutions but, let's face facts, we're rubes on redistricting! We thought you could slip tab A into slot B, C into D, and so on, and everything would fall in place like so many dominoes or Communist nations. Whoops, scratch that last bit!

We held a lot of meetings. But, we admit, we forgot that the rest of the working world does not live and die by the vague meeting notices we post in the Town Clerk's office or online. We should have reached out to the school PTOs, kept them informed of upcoming topics, and sought input from them and their school's communities regularly. We should have devised complete plans -- grandfathering, legacy kids, feeder patterns, etc. -- before shouting "bus those kids across town" in a crowded Government Center committee room.

We were also so blinded by the hordes of cash the state was dropping on us to build a shiny, new state-of-the-art facility that we never bothered to learn what the parameters for operating the school really are. Oops.

Also, we (shhh) ... we really don't know everything. We're just volunteers. Some of us are only interested in one school or one issue and need to be poked with a stick to contribute to the team. Others of us just like hearing our own voices. We're human and fallible.

Finally, we should have recognized early on that we were in over our heads, then hit the brakes and asked for help. We were well intentioned, but also arrogant. Forgive us. We'll do better next time to work with the community because our priority is ensuring Stamford kids gain intelligence, wisdom and understanding.

Superintendent Starr:

Wow, how did this get so out of control? Where was I? Oh, yeah … stuck on the BQE.

First, our staff should have proactively gathered all possible information about what we can and can't do with this state-funded interdistrict, 6-to-6, environmental thingamajig of a school before ground was broken. I also should have looked into how these schools operate in practice as well in theory, as Mayor Malloy did. Good work, T-Bone, but a bit late to the table.

Second, I should have insisted the Board of Ed receive a complete analysis of facilities, capacity, enrollment projections, and district-by-district student breakdowns of total population cross-referenced against race vs. socialeconomic status vs. magnetic or district school attendance, yadda yadda yadda, before they even thought about school closings or sending kids to different schools. Then we could have discussed the school district as a whole, not in this piecemeal, street-by-street, school-by-school fashion that gets a new group up in arms every other week.

And what's the deal with magnet schools in Stamford? Are they good, are they bad, are they working, are they really balancing the system or just messing with the people's minds? I honestly don't know. Maybe I should address this in my idle blog?

Last point - I should have recognized early on that we were in over our heads, then hit the brakes and asked for help. We were well intentioned, but also arrogant. Forgive us. We'll do better next time to work with the community because our priority is ensuring Stamford kids gain intelligence, wisdom and understanding.

Mayor Malloy:

Zzzzz. Huh? Oh, oh, yeah, yeah.

Yes, I am a member of the Board of Education. A non-voting one, mind you. But, yes, I should have paid more attention to redistricting meetings because it is important to the people of Stamford, whether they vote for me or not.

When I did attend, I should have spoken up. Withholding knowledge that could help others, especially those I represent, is just plain bad judgment. Rather than playing the white knight, charging in at the last minute so I could look good, I should been involved from the start because Stamford is me, and my actions are a reflection of Stamford.

Same for performing last-minute sneak attacks on the school's budget proposals. I was a jerk about that, too. Now that the debt on my failed gubernatorial bid is paid up, I'll stop being a petty Betty.

I should have insisted the schools set aside money to hire an independent consultant with no stake or allegiance in this issue. The consultant could have given us three to five complete, unbiased scenarios (closing schools A, B or C, no closings, etc.) with feeder patterns, budget estimates and the Donut Delight drive-thru window ... I mean, kitchen sink. Then, we could have a real public discussion with well constructed ideas rather than these "not my school/kid" debates every other week.

One more thing. I should have recognized early on that we were in over our heads, then hit the brakes and asked for help. We were well intentioned, but also arrogant. Forgive us. We'll do better next time to work with the community because our priority is ensuring Stamford kids gain intelligence, wisdom and understanding.

Starrboard Malloy, all together, quoting the Book of the Divine Hugh:

"You think you know in life what's a good thing to do and what's a bad thing, and we did a bad thing. And there you have it."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I'm a teeny weenie scared

0 clever quips
Penis theft panic hits city!

KINSHASA (Reuters) - April 23, 2008 -- Police in Congo have arrested 13 suspected sorcerers accused of using black magic to steal or shrink men's penises after a wave of panic and attempted lynchings triggered by the alleged witchcraft. ...

"I'm tempted to say it's one huge joke," police chief, Jean-Dieudonne Oleko, told Reuters on Tuesday. ...

"It's real. Just yesterday here, there was a man who was a victim. We saw. What was left was tiny," said 29-year-old Alain Kalala, who sells phone credits near a Kinshasa police station.
Read the full Reuters story here.

What does this teach us?

1. As I near the big 4-0, this makes my worries about losing my hair seem insignificant.

2. Kinshasa is out of the running for an appearance in the next editon of "1000 Places to See Before You Die."

3. (Insert your own Lorena Bobbit joke here. Or just read this one.)

4. The career path of someone who sells phone credits outside an African police station is probably quite wide but very, uh, short.

5. Beware of passengers in communal taxis wearing gold rings. Beeeee-waaaaaaare!

6. The local police chief most likely did not see the irony in his statement about this being "one huge joke."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cream and sugar with that, dog?

5 clever quips
A member of the Uncool household has a drinking problem. Ha -- it's not me!

I fear I may need to send Murphy to doggie detox. It's his coffee addiction.

Unlike My Love, I've come to accept the Murphster's Oscar Madison-like ways at the water bowl. Sure, his enthusiasm for slopping everything over the sides of the dish has created a massive black stain on the hardwood floor of my office. But that's why Martha Stewart invented throw rugs, right? She understands.

And yes, his yellow Lab jowls suck up -- then promptly spill out -- all the excess water they come in contact with, usually on your slippers. I can live with that. As long as it's not toilet water he's drinking. I've only caught him doing that a few times when one of the rugrats left the lid up. (Don't pin that one on me, you gosh-aren't-men-clueless-pigs stereotyping stereotypes out there. I always fully close the throne. Not out of courtesy for the women folk, mind you; out of fear of dropping something important in there.)

Well, this morning, while I was upstairs rousing Thing 2 from his slumber, Doggie Do-Wrong's Super Smeller apparently detected steaming, home-brewed Dunkin' Donuts coffee with a splash of half-and-half left sitting in my thermal DD Mets' cup on the kitchen counter. He jumped, he bumped and I came downstairs to a pool of java on the countertop … cascading onto the floor … and onto the new bar stool seat pad … and the 25 really colorful but never used cookbooks we keep on the shelf under the cabinet.

And, there is the Murphinator lapping it all up like Kenny on "30 Rock."

I've caught Murphy nosing my coffee cup before with that wild-eyed look. I've seen him licking up drippings or overpours that hit the floor. But he's a 23-month old Lab, and he doesn't need to be any more wired than he already is. He needs a 12-stepper ASAP. Aetna better cover this one under the expanded family intervention plan.

Once this is kicked, we move on to his issue with packing peanuts. Have you ever seen poop-shaped Styrofoam before? It ain't pretty.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Work-at-home tip, No. 2

0 clever quips
Never answer your home phone. Nothing good ever comes of it.

Most times, it is either telemarketers who don't abide by the national Do-Not-Call list, your college soliciting yet another donation or a robo-call asking you to vote for someone in the next election. These are not your businesses' stakeholders, as we used to say in the world of corporate communications.

You may have your answering machine screen calls or look at the Caller ID if you are curious, but resist picking up the phone in mid-message. Reeeeee-sist!

Exception to last rule: Always pick it up if it is your child's school calling you about bomb threats canceling all afterschool activities. Otherwise, they call whoever is next on the "emergency contact" pecking order, and you really don't want to freak out your Mom any more at this stage in her life.

Get a dedicated business line or, if you only telecommute on occasion, have your business calls routed to your cell phone. Just make sure you change your cell phone voice mail message to something that makes it sound like you are still in your office at work.

That means making sure the sound of the 5-CD/iPod/satellite radio music system, dog, newly installed water feature, and/or ice clincking in your glass can't be heard in the background. Those sounds would be honest, but not very professional. So I'm told.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

My life as an undercover Republican

4 clever quips
Confession No. 1: I've been a registered Republican for the last four years.

Disclaimer No. 1: It was completely without my knowledge. Hillary suspects a vast right-wing conspiracy.

A little while ago, My Love and I each received postcards in the mail from the Stamford Registrar of Voters office asking us to confirm our existence. This isn't Chicago, after all. So I looked them over. Names and addresses were right. Then I noticed ... it.

My Love's card had a "D" at the top, noting she was a member of "D'at Party." Mine had an "R."

As is, "Really!?!"

When we moved back here, I registered to vote at the same time I applied for my Connecticut state driver's license. I'm positive I put down "unaffiliated," "independent" or whatever the proper choice was to indicate I had a mind I could make up on my own, thank you very much.

Could the DMV have screwed up my God-given right, as an American, to vote for whomever I wanted to screw up my God-given rights as an American? Naaah …

So, I crossed out the "R" on my postcard, scrawled "unaffiliated/independent," signed it and dropped in the mail. A week later, the registrar of voters sent me an application to register to vote. To the Batphone!

The woman I spoke with at the registrar's office explained that, when I registered four years ago, I must have checked the box that said that I chose not to pick a party at that time. However, since I had previously been a registered voter in Stamford, the "system" re-activated my old file and it defaulted to the party I had last been registered with.

Confession, No. 2: I was a registered Republican for the first 12 years of my voting life.

Disclaimer, No. 2: I was only 18 when I first registered. It was the height of the Reagan Revolution. It had been drilled into my head for years that it was important to pick a party so I could vote in a primary. I blame my parents, the media and society. Shame on all of you!

Actually, I had a plan. I joined the party in power because if it turned out they were greedy, uncaring, phony-baloney, hypocritical purveyors of not-niceness than I would work from within the party structure to start a reform movement that would raise their spiritual, moral and political conscienceness to a higher plane that would benefit society as a whole.

I also believed in Santa Claus until I was about 9. Then my sister showed me the stash of unwrapped presents under the living room couch.

So, I asked the woman on the phone if she could help me out.

"That's no trouble," she said. "I'll do it right now."

That was awfully nice of her. Of course, I may not have been who I said I was on the phone. I could have been anyone. I could have been an Al-Qaeda operative. I could have been Dooley Womack. I could have … hmmm …

Coming soon: Confession, No. 3.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A drinker's lament

4 clever quips
Damn you, Grade A supermarket on Hope Street. Damn your automated loudspeaker messages.

I cannot check out your "great selection of cold beer."

This is Connecticut and it's Sunday. Frickin' blue laws!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Work-at-home tip, No. 1

0 clever quips

Inevitably, you will be on a conference call and someone will make a crack about you working in your pajamas. This "original" witticism gets old fast.

Solution: After they make their sniggering PJ remark, respond with: "Actually, I sleep in the nude."

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Who's fooling who today?

4 clever quips
Choice Pet Supply on High Ridge Road -- you have the right to charge whatever the market demands. If you are, by far, the most overpriced pet store in Stamford yet year after year you survive, good for you.

But when you ask $48.99 for the same 40-pound bag of dog food I can buy at Sport-N-Life on Glenbrook Road for $34.99, you need to remove from your storefront that three-window-wide, crimson red sign that reads "Discount Pet Supply."

Now. I'm waiting.

Ring, ring. "Hello, Attorney General Dickie B.? Yes. Press conference."

If there's a camera present, you know he'll attend. You've been warned.

OK, the rabbits you have up front are always adorable. Your salespeople are pleasant. And usually helpful.

Jeez.

Just overcharge me for this bag of cheese-and-egg flavored Charlie Bear treats before the guilt overwhelms me.

Curse this white boy pain of mine!

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