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Archive | Voices and Views

To Find Hope, Look Around You 

 

By Lee Hamilton

By Lee Hamilton

These are very unhappy times in Washington. Relations between the executive and legislative branches are not just sour, but corrosive. Partisan paralysis and game-playing on Capitol Hill have become a hallmark of these times, as has the evident distaste our nation’s leaders feel for one another.

It would be understandable to give in to despair, and a lot of Americans have done so. I have not, and for a simple reason: in our system there is always hope. Why? Because our representative democracy rests finally not on what politicians in Washington or in our state capitals do, but on what our citizens do.

The bedrock assumption of representative government is that Americans will make discriminating judgments about politicians and policies, and shoulder their responsibility as citizens to improve their corner of the world. The remarkable thing is, they often do.

More than anything else, what you see when ordinary Americans decide to get involved in a public issue is their common sense and good judgment, their fundamental decency, and their remarkable sense of fairness. They recognize there are differences of opinion and that they have to be sorted through. They make decisions by and large based on hope, not fear or despair.

The sense that comes through when you watch Americans at work on public issues is their overwhelming desire to improve their community. Often this is reflected in concrete projects—a new bridge, a better school, a badly needed sewer system. But you can also see it in many people’s cry for candidates who will set narrow interests and excessive partisanship aside, and work to improve the quality of life for all Americans.

We often think of representative government as a process in which the elected official educates constituents, but the reverse is usually even more the case. Americans understand the need for deal-making, compromise, and negotiation—and that to achieve change, they have to work through the system we have, which means educating and pushing political leaders.

This is why I have an underlying confidence in representative government. Americans are pragmatic. They recognize the complexity of the challenges we face, understand there are no simple answers to complex problems, and do not expect to get everything they want. My confidence in the system is built on citizens exercising their right to make this a stronger, fairer country.

Lee Hamilton is a Distinguished Scholar, Indiana University School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. For information about our educational resources and programs, visit our website at www.centeroncongress.org. “Like” us on Facebook at “Indiana University Center on Representative Government,” and share our postings with your friends.

 

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Is Board of Education leading or following?

Post Scripts: The Cedar Springs Post welcomes letters of up to 350 words. The subject should be relevant to local readers, and the editor reserves the right to reject letters or edit for clarity, length, good taste, accuracy, and liability concerns. All submissions MUST be accompanied by full name, mailing address and daytime phone number. We use this information to verify the letter’s authenticity. We do not print anonymous letters, or acknowledge letters we do not use. Writers are limited to one letter per month. Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to PostScripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

 


 

There are many responsibilities that we, as community members, entrust to our Board of Education. These policies are a collaboration of the Michigan Association of school boards, the Board of Education, and district staff. As we find ways to support each other and our schools in a positive and productive manner, I’d like to highlight a few areas that are in need of community attention.

Communication:  The board is responsible for providing adequate and direct means for keeping the community informed and for keeping informed about the wishes of the public.  They must also maintain effective communication with staff and students.

How does our board comply with this responsibility?

In a letter read from the board president during the October 12, 2015 board meeting, she stated to administrators and staff “if you do not think you can work for the current administration, you are free to seek employment elsewhere.” An example of the “my way or the highway” culture prevalent in our district.

When asked to elaborate on decisions/opinions during BOE meetings, the typical response is “the superintendent will get back to you on that.” When provided the opportunity to have exit interviews with the administrators that have left the school district, the BOE response was “No, thank you.” Are they afraid of the truths that information might reveal? The decisions to not respond and not seek truths are irresponsible and inconsistent with BOE policy.

Financial resources: The board is responsible for exercising control over district finances to assure proper use of and accounting for all funds. Further the employment of consultants requires board approval.

According to the latest budget amendment approved by the Board of Education on February 22, 2016 it was reported projected net change in fund balance of $808,988.  Of this, over $180,000 was spent on legal services, consultants, and financial advisors. Over 25 percent of the increase in expenses, approved by our BOE was spent on external consultants. How does this compare to the last ten years? It seems readily apparent that our current leaders need a significant amount of guidance.

School Superintendent: The superintendent is responsible for the management of schools under board policies and is the only employee of the district accountable to the BOE. The BOE is to provide sufficient and adequate guidance for implementing policy.

From all outward appearances, I suspect our BOE has misinterpreted the policy and believe they are the ones receiving guidance and direction. A leader with a strong personality does not relieve you of your obligations. A leader who is not held accountable by established checks and balances is called a dictator. For the sake of our district, you cannot be puppets responding to the pull of a string.

Steve C Harper, Algoma Township

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School board needs to listen to community

Dear Cedar Springs Public Schools Board Members,

There are some deeply disconcerting issues that I and many parents are very concerned about. These are issues that I’m sure you are aware of, but the lack of leadership and reluctance to stand up to do the right thing necessitates the need for me to bring them to your attention publicly.

Over the past 18 months, we have lost four highly acclaimed and accredited administrators. These administrators were well thought of in the community and had given many years of selfless dedication to our children. Their departures were premature and the direct result of intimidation and a hostile work environment. When will this critical drain of vital resources end?

Morale among administrators, teachers, and support staff is at an all-time low. The current culture of “My way or the highway” and lack of institutional support does nothing to foster an innovative, healthy learning experience for our children.

Budget deficits are threatening our children’s quality of education. Blaming the deficit on past administrations, a trick many of our politicians often use, doesn’t explain how the district goes from financially healthy for many years to a sudden deficit. Maybe it has something to do with all the money being spent on lawyers, legal fees, consultants, financial experts, etc. that we never seemed to have needed before.

When will the impassioned pleas of the community make an impact? No credence is given to the phone calls and emails you most assuredly have received. It is difficult to watch you sit indifferent and stone-faced at BOE meetings while the future of our children and district is at stake.

Make no mistake, Board of education members. This school district is at a crucial point. It will take years to rebuild the trust of our leaders, restore a healthy learning culture, and ensure our future financial stability. You can no longer sit passively on the sidelines and watch.

There’s an old saying, “Lead, follow or get out of the way.” The time has passed for you to indulge in the luxury of following.

Sincerely,

Steve C. Harper, Algoma Township

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Sorry to see best lips tradition end

 

This comment was posted on our website on February 5, regarding our story on canceling the Best Lips contest. In the story, we mentioned a set of “imposter” lips that were once sent to us, supposedly belonging to then school finance director Frank Verhoven, and how we called the FBI to investigate. — Editor

I remember the FBI coming to my office to check my DNA. They wanted to make sure the lips really were not mine. They ruled my lips were not as pretty as those published. Too funny. Sorry to see this tradition ending.

Frank Verhoven

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Use your extra day to leap into retirement

By Stephanie Holland, Social Security Public Affairs

It’s leap year and that means one thing—you can add one extra calendar day to your February schedule. Many people are preparing for the upcoming elections. Others might be getting a jump on spring-cleaning. What will you do with your extra day?

You could use a few of your extra minutes to check out what Social Security offers   www.socialsecurity.gov/onlineservices. There, you can:

Apply for retirement, disability, and other benefits;

Get your Social Security Statement;

Appeal a recent medical decision about your disability claim;

Find out if you qualify for benefits;

If you’re planning or preparing for retirement, you can spend a fraction of your extra 24 hours at my Social Security. In as little as 15 minutes, you can create a safe and secure my Social Security account. More than 21 million Americans already have accounts. Sign up today at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount. With a my Social Security account, you can:

Obtain an instant, estimate of your future Social Security benefits;

Verify the accuracy of your earnings record — your future benefit amounts are based on your earnings record;

Change your address and phone number, if you receive monthly Social Security benefits;

Sign up for or change direct deposit of your Social Security benefits;

Get a replacement SSA-1099 or SSA-1042S for tax season; and

Obtain a record of the Social Security and Medicare taxes you’ve paid.

If you have a little time to spare, you can always check out our blog, Social Security Matters, at blog.socialsecurity.gov. There, you will find guest posts by Social Security experts, in-depth articles, and answers to many of your questions about retirement, benefits, and healthcare. Each post is tagged by topic so you can easily search for what matters most to you.

Leaping from webpage to webpage, you can easily see that Social Security has you covered all year long, not just on that extra day in February. Remember, you can access our homepage that links to our wide array of online services any day of the — socialsecurity.gov.

Stephanie Holland is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan.  You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 455 Bond St, Benton Harbor MI 49022 or via email at stephanie.holland@ssa.gov

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How to tell if Congress is working again

By Lee H. Hamilton

Lee Hamilton

Lee Hamilton

There have been encouraging signs that the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill wants to make Congress function again. They’ve talked about using conference committees more, allowing a more open process for rank-and-file members, enacting separate appropriation bills rather than using omnibus bills, and letting committees lead on legislation rather than hoarding all power in the leadership offices. Perhaps most important, they’ve acknowledged that Congress has many bad habits, and insist that they want to restore a healthy legislative process.

This has to be heartening to any American concerned about the level of dysfunction to which Congress had sunk. The question is, how can we tell if Congress is actually fixing itself? For as promising as the rhetoric might be, there’s a long way to go before words and reality meet on Capitol Hill. Here’s what you should keep your eye on:

First, differences in emphasis separate the leaders of the two houses, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan. Ryan is intent on pressing forward with key policy proposals that would anchor a bold Republican legislative agenda. But that’s because the Republican majority in the House is not generally believed to be at risk. Over in the Senate, things are different: control of that body next year is up for grabs, and McConnell seems to be focused on maintaining his party’s majority. For his members, boldness is a risk. This difference could lead to slim production.

So look to see how many and which issues the two leaders really push forward. Will they advance the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal in some version, or let it slide until the elections are past? Will they tackle tax reform? How about authorizing support for the war against ISIS? Ryan has already removed one key matter—immigration reform—from the table. Will other pressing issues also bite the dust?

The second big indicator is whether Congress has the political will to fix itself. Most members say publicly that they don’t want gridlock and are dedicated to making the institution function smoothly. The key measure of whether they really mean it is the attitude they take toward their political adversaries. If what you hear on Capitol Hill is nothing but distrust, then they’re not serious. If they’re willing to negotiate and compromise with one another—as happened at the end of last year, with the passage of an omnibus spending package — then there’s hope.

Third is what you might think of as the rolled-up-sleeves test. How hard are members of Congress willing to work at addressing the key issues facing the country? So far, the evidence is disappointing. The legislative schedule put out by the congressional leadership is, to be blunt, lax. On average, members of Congress will be working about nine days a month. They’ve given themselves four stretches of ten days off at a time. They’ll be off for 52 straight days in July, August and September, and then another 39 days in a row in October and November. Yes, it’s an election year and they want to campaign. But you cannot run a government that is not in session. The best we can hope for is an obvious sense of urgency when members of Congress are in Washington. Look for it. If you don’t see it, little will get done on Capitol Hill.

I should say that not all the responsibility for restoring Congress rests at the federal level. The states, too, have a key role to play. Will they get serious about how they draw congressional districts, so that politicians no longer have the luxury of picking their voters rather than the other way around? Will some states continue to pursue efforts to make voting harder—which, like gerrymandering, has the effect of shoring up the extremes in Congress? Will states make the effort to modernize their voting systems, so that the democratic process has a chance of working with minimal friction?

In the end, good intentions and fine rhetoric don’t accomplish much. I hope you’ll keep an eye on Congress and cheer for its members to act in accord with their own advice. If they do, Congress will take a giant stride toward improved performance.

Lee Hamilton is a Distinguished Scholar, Indiana University School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. For information about our educational resources and programs, visit our website at www.centeroncongress.org. “Like” us on Facebook at “Indiana University Center on Representative Government,” and share our postings with your friends.

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New online service to replace Social Security Cards 

 

Available through a my Social Security Account

 

The Social Security Administration introduced the expansion of online services for residents of Michigan available through its my Social Security portal at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount. Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, announced that residents of Michigan can use the portal for many replacement Social Security number (SSN) card requests. This will allow people to replace their SSN card from the comfort of their home or office, without the need to travel to a Social Security office.

“I’m thrilled about this newest online feature to the agency’s my Social Security portal and the added convenience we are providing residents of Michigan,” Acting Commissioner Colvin said. “We continue to provide world-class customer service to the public by making it safe, fast and easy for people to do business with us online and have a positive government experience. I look forward to expanding this service option across the country.”

The agency plans to conduct a gradual roll out of this service; Michigan is one of four states, plus the District of Columbia, where this option is initially available. Throughout 2016, the agency will continue to expand the service option to other states and plans to offer this to half of the nation’s population by the end of the year. This service will mean shorter wait times for the public in the more than 1,200 Social Security offices across the country and allows staff more time to work with customers who have extensive service needs.

U.S. citizens age 18 or older and who are residents of Michigan can obtain a replacement SSN card online by creating a my Social Security account. In addition, they must have a U.S. domestic mailing address, not require a change to their record (such as a name change), and have a valid driver’s license, or state identification card in some participating states.

my Social Security is a secure online hub for doing business with Social Security, and more than 22 million people have created an account. In addition to Michigan residents replacing their SSN card through the portal, current Social Security beneficiaries can manage their account—change an address, adjust direct deposit, obtain a benefit verification letter, or request a replacement SSA-1099. Medicare beneficiaries can request a replacement Medicare card without waiting for a replacement form in the mail. Account holders still in the workforce can verify their earnings and obtain estimates of future benefits.

For more information about this new online service, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/ssnumber .

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Your social security benefit statement

 

By: Stephanie Holland, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

It’s that time of year again: time to start preparing to file your taxes. If you receive Social Security benefits, one of the documents you will need when filing your federal income tax return is your Social Security Benefit Statement (Form SSA-1099).

About one-third of people receiving Social Security benefits must pay taxes on some of these benefits, depending on the amount of their taxable income. This usually happens only iff you have other substantial income — such as wages, self-employment, interest, dividends, and other taxable income that must be reported on your tax return — in addition to your Social Security benefits. You will never have to pay taxes on more than 85 percent of your Social Security benefits, based on Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules.

You automatically receive your 1099 form each January. It shows the total amount of benefits you received in the previous year so you know how much Social Security income to report on your tax return. The 1099 form is not available for people who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), as SSI payments are not taxable.

Social Security makes it easy to obtain a replacement 1099 form if you didn’t receive one or misplaced yours. You can get a replacement quickly by using your secure online my Social Security account. If you don’t already have an account, you can create one in minutes. Open your own personal my Social Security account today at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount. Once you are logged in, select the “Replacement Documents” tab to obtain your replacement 1099 form.

You can also obtain a replacement 1099 form by calling us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., or by contacting your local Social Security office. If you live outside of the United States, please contact your nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.     

Stephanie Holland is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan.  You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 455 Bond St, Benton Harbor MI 49022 or via email at stephanie.holland@ssa.gov  

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Government needs to work better 

V-Lee-Hamilton-web

By Lee H. Hamilton

Whoever wins next November’s presidential election, it’s a sure bet that at some point he or she will vow to set the federal government on the straight and narrow. It’s a bracing sentiment. But you’ll want to take it with a grain of salt.

Our history is filled with remarkable government accomplishments. Our involvement in World War II and hands-on approach to the postwar reconstruction of Europe and Japan, our role in ending the Cold War, the interstate highway system, extending the right to vote to all our citizens…There’s a long list of crucially important efforts the federal government has executed well.

Yet every American ought also to be alarmed by an expanding list of missteps and blunders. In a report last month for the highly capable and too-little-noticed Volcker Alliance—whose goal is to improve government effectiveness—NYU Professor Paul C. Light drew attention to what he calls “a shocking acceleration in the federal government’s production of highly visible mistakes, miscalculations, and maladministration.”

A moment’s reflection will call to mind a sobering litany of failure, from the inability to stop the 9/11 attacks to shortfalls in the care of our veterans. The reasons range from muddled policy or insufficient resources to outright misconduct, but the question isn’t really what or who is to blame. It’s how we turn things around and reverse the accelerating pace of breakdowns.

To start, while a lot of hard work goes into creating policy on Capitol Hill and in the agencies, much less attention goes to how it will be carried out. Both branches need to focus on how they will assess effectiveness, anticipate problems, make sure that staffing is adequate, and provide necessary resources.

Second, if making policy today is complicated, so is implementing it. This means that we need skillful people within the government to carry it out, which means hiring them, retaining them, and making sure they’re held to account with well-conceived metrics.

Finally, too often these days the losers of a policy debate turn to torpedoing it. Some government failures aren’t the result of muddled policy, lack of leadership, or incompetence; they’re the result of what amounts to calculated sabotage. This needs to end.

Most Americans want government to work well. When a policy is adopted, it needs to be executed effectively. Whoever our next President turns out to be, let’s hope he or she takes that charge seriously.

Lee Hamilton is a Distinguished Scholar, Indiana University School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. For information about educational resources and programs, visit www.centeroncongress.org. “Like” us on Facebook at “Indiana University Center on Representative Government,” and share our postings with your friends.

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The Force is strong with Social Security’s online services

 

By: Stephanie Holland, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

There’s been an awakening. Have you felt it? 

This winter, Americans of all generations are awakening to the newest film in the Star Wars franchise, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Many readers probably remember seeing the first Star Wars film in theaters in 1977. Audiences watched with fascination at the advanced technology used by the Jedi and Sith in a galaxy far, far away.

We still don’t have interstellar travel, personal robots, or holographic communication, but we now use technology in our daily lives that would have seemed like science fiction in 1977. At that time, it would still be years until the modern Internet and smart phones would be part of our lives. Now, many of us can’t imagine life without such technology.

Many people who need to do business with Social Security are finding an awakening of sorts in how easy it is to use our online services. We continually expand our online services to reflect changing customer needs, and to provide you with world-class service. Our online services are convenient and secure, and allow you to conduct much of your business with us from the comfort of your home, office, or space freighter.

You can open a free personal online my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount, where you can keep track of your annual earnings and verify them. Why is that important?  Because your future benefits are based on your annual earnings. With your account, you can also get an estimate of your future benefits if you are still working; or, if you currently receive benefits, you can use your account to manage your benefits, and get an instant letter with proof of your benefits. You can also request a Medicare card replacement.

“The force is calling to you. Just let it in.” This winter, check out our online services and join the millions of other Americans who have already awakened their own personal my Social Security accounts. A my Social Security account is a force to be reckoned with. And you don’t need to be a Jedi to have one.

Learn more at www.socialsecurity.gov. Once you go online, this force will be with you … always.

Stephanie Holland is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan.  You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 455 Bond St, Benton Harbor MI 49022 or via email at stephanie.holland@ssa.gov  

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