Wednesday, February 02, 2005

I'm so thrilled for the R-E.

Awards. They are recognition of accomplishment. The R-E is crowing about its awards granted by the Michigan Press Association. Excuse me if I'm not so impressed. The R-E was recognized for some of the very things that have provided the basis for my and others' complaints regarding the paper: attacking people and institutions in the name of the First Amendment. Rather than truly promote free speech, I suggest that the R-E has been recognized for a less than stellar accomplishment: mixing personal attack with the business of investigative reporting, and in the process, actually chilling the free speech of some in the community.

Government officials and leaders of non-profits and other community organizations now live under the fear of personal assaults and innuendo that accompany any investigation by the R-E. "Northern Michigan isn't just a playground for tourists, or a haven for hunters and anglers," the Record-Eagle's entry for the Public Service Award stated. "It's a region where public officials - state, county, city, township, village, law enforcement - aren't used to media scrutiny and often don't take kindly to it." "Record-Eagle wins Michigan Press Association Public Service Award",Traverse City Record Eagle, January 30, 2005.
Interesting observation. So there hasn't been any media scrutiny prior to this? Prior to the arrival of Mr. Thomas? Maybe what people don't take kindly to is the overly aggressive stance of the paper that presumes guilt from the start. Bragging about the number of FOIA requests submitted doesn't indicate to me the best approach for getting officials to be forthcoming. The FOIA is a tool of last resort, not a starting point for discussion. These requests take time and taxpayer money, ironic when one considers that defending the taxpayer seems to be the recurring theme of the R-E's writing. In a previous Blog response, Mr. Irwin Fletcher (an R-E editor) says that "As for the naive FOIA comment by one of your responders, any FOIA request comes only after public material has been denied." Is that truly the case, or do FOIA requests arrive up front in the paper's search for truth as they see it? I'd like to explore the naivete of folks complaining - I'd be curious to see some anonymous postings by government or college officials as to whether that is indeed the case.
The R-E also proudly reports the following in its article:
"What stands out about the Record-Eagle is the breadth of its pursuit of open records, inquiries and reporting," said one of the judges, a member of the Iowa Newspaper Association. "The focus is not just on one agency or governmental entity - everyone is on notice."
That's right, EVERYONE IS ON NOTICE! No one is to be trusted. Anyone can not only be the subject of an article, but better yet, if the facts don't make the case well enough, we have scathing editorials to fill the gap. On the Michigan Press Association website, they list the awards and provide snippets of supporting comment for them. Mike Tyree of the R-E is recognized for editorial writing with the following observation: "Not afraid to criticize high profile people and tell it like it is." This observation ignores that the criticism involves personal attacks that go beyond the individuals' public actions. Apparently branding people as "good ole boys" is a great way to characterize people. The Press Association also remarks on the R-E editorial page that there is "Good balance between opinion of newspaper and opinion of readers." As I've said in my open letter to the R-E and as evidenced by postings here, I have a hard time seeing extensive "balance" of opinion in the R-E.

I'm not too overly concerned with the awards. They are necessarily subjective, and are judged by people who read the paper in a vacuum, rather than with the greater awareness and sensibility of a person living in the newspaper's region. I felt it necessary, however, to briefly comment that the celebration of these awards and highlighting the attacks on public figures sadly re-inforces the agenda of the paper. I don't think we're richer as a result.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

An opportunity to comment on the ICE controversy


I posted a Blog entry below with an open letter to the R-E from an ICE board member, Mr. Quandt. I'm posting this here to give people the opportunity to comment on the column/letter.

Keep it civil.


A guest letter to the R-E re: ICE

This is the first guest "column" on the Blog. I invited people on both sides of the ICE controversy as described in the R-E to post on this Blog. Mr. Joseph Quandt, a member of the Board of Directors of ICE, offered this column. I have not received a response from Ms. Spencer, who was also asked to write a piece. I respect her right to refuse or ignore my request. I ask that readers of this Blog extend that same courtesy. The following was written, apparently, as an open letter to the Record Eagle. It is printed in full, with no edits or further commentary.


"Dear Editor:
I was shocked and saddened by your recent article on the status of the tax appeal of Involved Citizens Enterprises (ICE) with East Bay Township. Normally I let this type of agenda oriented journalism go with a grain of salt as it has sadly become, over the last several years, a staple of the Record Eagle. While I have no problem with directing blame where blame is due your paper has stepped over the line when you publish innuendo as fact and create a perception in the community that decent, honest and hard working people are out to feather their own financial nest at the public's expense.
First, you need to know that it has been my privilege to serve on the board of directors of ICE for almost ten years. I know most of the board members well and I can say with a certain degree of authority that there is not a single self serving member on that board. All of the members of the board have the same goal in mind, secure for the public the continued opportunity for skating sports, at the lowest cost possible. ICE makes available to the public, low cost public skating (sometimes free) as well as, I am told, the lowest cost ice rental of any privately owned rink in Michigan. ICE is a federally recognized 501(c)(3) non profit organization and proves it every year by just barely getting by financially. Every cent saved is pushed to the bottom line to preserve for the public the continued opportunity to enjoy affordable skating sports. Losing charitable organization recognition at the local level will have dire economic consequences and may threaten the very viability of the organization. Certainly, if not jeopardizing the organization's viability itself it will certainly cause a significant increase in the cost of skating sports to the public, placing figure skating and hockey outside the financial reach of many families in our area.
That is why the board of directors of ICE have fought so valiantly to preserve the tax exemption, because the exemption helps ICE deliver a low cost public service in a way which does not create a drain of other public resources and infrastructure. As evidence of this you need look no further than the continued financial morass and burden that the ice rinks in Kalkaska and Cadillac create for those communities. Because of ICE's charitable mission, both federal and state taxing authorities have for the last twenty years treated ICE as an exempt organization. I have been told by East Bay township's legal counsel that the township had no basis of putting the Center ICE property on the tax rolls other than that the Grand Traverse County Equalization Director told them to. I would hope you would agree that this is a rather suspect basis for placing a tax burden on any organization let alone one who has the public service mission of ICE. Certain ICE directors did meet with county officials to plead their case to maintain the tax exemption for the facility. This is every taxpayers right but you have portrayed it to the public as some kind of back alley deal. This was all done with public scrutiny at public meetings and approved at a public hearing by the County Commissioners. Were they ALL part of the vast conspiracy?
It is my fervent belief that the County, when confronted with the overwhelming evidence of ICE's public and charitable mission, decided not to pursue the issue further. I doubt very much that Mr. Aloia is as susceptible to arm twisting as your article suggests. Moreover, to suggest so by innuendo without proof is an insult to his character as well as the character of Messrs. Correia, Anton and Phillips who are people who have donated tens of thousands of dollars as well as thousands of hours of service to make the Center Ice facility a reality. Your article made it sound like these "influential business leaders" lobbied in secret for a deal that would protect their private investments in Friends of Ice, LLC. Nothing could be further from the truth. Friends of Ice is not comprised of a bunch of wealthy businessmen. Friends of Ice is comprised mainly of skating families who believed in the vision of a rink to serve their needs and the needs of the public for generations to come. Friends of Ice put up the seed money to make the new rink possible. Without their investment, financing would not have been available. Moreover, I for one have not been paid one thin dime on behalf of Friends of Ice, and my understanding is that most of the other investors in Friends of Ice have not been repaid a single penny of their principal loan to ICE. More than once these believers in the ICE mission have foregone even interest payments to keep the cost of ICE manageable for families who would not be able to skate otherwise. To brand them as greedy weasels trying to get something for nothing off the public dole is untruthful, unfair and a disservice to the public you serve.
Finally, I find it ironic that you derided the County Equalization Director only a few months ago for unilaterally withdrawing the homestead exemptions of private homeowners and forcing them to prove their homestead status, some while they were gravely ill. The irony is that Ms. Spencer has done the exact same thing to ICE, in forcing us to prove the justification of our nonprofit status which has been long since recognized by the authorities. But instead of your criticizing these strong-arm tactics, you make Ms. Spencer sound like Karen Silkwood, railing against the injustices of the "old boy network" and having her job threatened for doing so. Could it be that this is a little more transparent in that the county looked into the exemption, decided that ICE truly deserved the exemption and only threatened her job when she refused to follow the directions of the people she is appointed to serve? I would submit that this is much closer to the truth than the scenario you portrayed but I guess the truth doesn't sell many newspapers.
Joseph E. Quandt, Esq."

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Evil Businesspeople are everywhere!

In headlines ripped straight from the Globe, I've discovered a number of stories in this national tabloid that have great relevance for our life here up North. Notable, for example, was the discovery that Iraqi submarines were plying the waters of Lake Michigan prior to the comencement of the war. I also found out a lot about Bigfoot's walks among us. Most recently, it has been reported that actual businesspeople are planning the demise of democracy as we know it. Oops. Scratch that last one. That wasn't in the Globe. It was in the Record-Eagle.

Somewhere along the line, "business people," that hideous group, have given up providing jobs to people, stopped being the prime source of funding for non-profits, and ceased to even pay advertising dollars to the local newspaper. Instead, these money-grubbing zombies are destroying the democratic process and usurping the power of duly elected government officials. Shame on them. They should stop becoming involved in non-profits. If only we hadn't built another ice arena. If we're lucky, the world might be saved when the place closes. Then their investment in the community will be appropriately punished . And then, there will not be anything taxable to have to reconcile.

And things are getting even worse: the latest rumor, er, I mean factoid, is that some of the evil business people even voted Democratic in the last election. We can't have that, otherwise how will we know who the enemy is?

I received the following email today. Rather appropriate, since I was prepared to comment on this story by the Beagle:

"Yesterday the R-E finally printed its story about Centre ICE that must have been in the works since before Christmas. Its lead paragraph read, "TRAVERSE CITY - Cash-strapped Grand Traverse County stands to lose its share of a $181,000 tax bill because a group of influential businessmen successfully lobbied county officials to oppose taxing a local ice rink and arena."

Could this not as easily read that a group of citizens has successfully worked through the appropriate process to address the crushing tax bill at Centre ICE? Apparently, if a person works, they are among the "influential businessmen." Were all the supporters of Centre ICE "influential businessmen?" Are all businessmen evil or influential? Are they not "citizens" raising their voices? Also, this citizen-driven process was undertaken very publicly via the citizen representatives that were duly elected to the County Board of Commissioners. The R-E chose to make the lone employee opposing the exemption at the County out as a victim and the sole crusader on the people's behalf.

The writer also makes only brief note that Centre ICE is a 501c3 tax exempt entity and, therefore, may have a good case for challenging its tax bill.

I am sure the editorial condemning the Commission, the County Administrator, and the "influential businessmen" is right around the corner if the R-E Editorial Board stays true to formula. Unfortunately, the message they are sending is inconsistent: It's only appropriate some of the time for citizens to challenge the government process, depending on whom the citizens are and whether they are in good stead with the paper.

This article did not help build our community."

The author asked I post it anonymously.

Again, I call on involved parties to be willing to write a column here on the Blog to address this. Balance is important. And we have to act fast now, before the businesspeople ruin everything...

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Salem witch trials resume in Traverse City...

I don't know Joel Rus from Adam, yet he is merely next in a long line of individuals in the community who have had unwarranted aspersion cast on them by the Record-Beagle. In typical fashion, the Beagle doesn't lower itself to outright slander, but makes unspoken accusations through innuendo. The headline begins:

Child Guidance director gone; no one is saying why
Nonprofit service has had money woes

People are hired, quit, or are asked to leave their jobs every day. The question that should first be asked is "Is it newsworthy?" If it is a very public position, perhaps the departure rises to the level of "Why did this person leave?" In this case, however, implications of "money woes" are compounded by the inane statement "no one is saying why."

The reasons should be obvious:
  • These are often very private decisions. You do know what private means?
  • There may be liability for the employer if they denigrate an individual publicly and affect future employment, especially if the departure is by mutual agreement.
  • Let's not kid ourselves, if you have half a brain, why would you talk to the R-E? They have a solid reputation for misquoting, editing quotes with strategic omissions, and lending new meaning to the phrase "out of context."

And the R-E are a persistent lot, willing to violate any privacy necessary to get at their version of the truth. I'm so thrilled to know that:

"Efforts to reach Rus for comment were unsuccessful. A Record-Eagle call and an e-mail to Rus at Child Guidance were not returned. A second call to Rus at the office was referred to Bay. The Michigan Secretary of State had no vehicle registration or local address listing for a Joel Rus."

And that proves what?

The article, after listing a tale of financial woe for the non-profit and mentioning downsizing during Rus' tenure, finishes by pointing out that "Child Guidance did meet all of CMH's "yardsticks" and CMH continues to fund the agency, Bridges said." So the chief backer of the non-profit says that in spite of the financial woes, they still partner with the organization and provide the largest share of donations to it. What a generous afterthought to the story.

Who knows why this person left? Frankly, who cares is an appropriate response. It is exactly this type of innuendo that causes people to clam up when the R-E is around. "They won't say why, so they must be hiding something" is modus operandi for the R-E. This isn't hard-hitting journalism, this isn't even a complete story. It's a headline with an unfair question left hanging, and a lot of story about nothing. Something we can all be proud of. Nobody gets hurt in a non-story. Except maybe Mr. Rus.

If there is a story to be told here, it is that the R-E continues to show a disregard for the interests of individuals, especially when hiding behind the "power of the taxpayer." I would suggest that if this were a story, then some one would/should speak up. I would wager it isn't. I leave it open for people to comment on this story. Is it something you felt compelled to know? Is there a reason we should second guess a non-profit board searching for a new candidate for the position? I will always leave this forum open for people to give their side of the story. I'm not prepared to let the R-E run rough-shod over people with no alternative. However, it is also, appropriately, their prerogative to remain silent.

Regards to all,


Thursday, January 13, 2005


Hello to all.

I have sent emails to a number of members of the City Council (including Ms. Melichar), asking that each side in the Powerplant City Council dispute submit a written piece to this Blog, outlining their position. The content of the email included the following:

"I am the author of a Weblog that you may have heard about that is getting a bit more interest than I expected. In trying to be true to my word, I have proposed publishing two opposing viewpoint columns regarding the Powerplant lawsuit and conflict in City Council. I am asking you to write a piece for the Blog giving your view...

I am proposing a 2000 word piece. That will hopefully give you enough space to state your views while offering some limitation. I will not edit the piece in any manner, nor will I offer any editorial views on either of the two columns written. I will merely post them under a separate heading on the blog with an introduction stating that these are unedited guest columns and that I had no input as to their content.

I would like to post these columns by next Tuesday, so I would appreciate a response back on your willingness to contribute within the next few days. I will be sending almost this identical email to your fellow Council members, and putting an open invitation (in the event this doesn't reach your email address) to write columns on my weblog at:

Weblogs are an alternative news outlet and community forum. I would like to encourage the opportunity for reflective writing on a topic rather than only affording people "soundbites" to state their position."

We'll see what happens.



AN UPDATE: Stay tuned, readers... I have received a commitment from a City Council member to write a piece for this Blog, hopefully by early next week. I have not yet heard from Ms. Melichar. I hope that she responds to my offer and the opportunity to engage in civil written dialog. I'd love to know if any of you have sent in letter to the R-E. They refuse to respond to my open letter.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

TIME OUT! Let's get open letter to the Record-Eagle

Things have a strange way of taking on a life of their own. I hope those who read my piece on "What color is my State? The color of Home." can see that my intentions were not merely venting my spleen. Or were they?

When a person is frustrated to the point of anger, one can either choose to stay silent or to strike out at the frustration. Only two choices, right? No, one can take that nobler middle path of constructive dialogue. I'm calling on posters to the blog to tone down the "I hate the Record-Eagle" rhetoric and begin to offer your constructive suggestions for change. I don't want to deny your chance to vent, but now it's time to move to the next step. Please send me your R-E horror stories by email - you'll get it off your chest, and I'll be able to continue to get a sense of some of the specifics of folks' frustration. But please respond to this post from here on out with thoughtful dialogue. I'm going to offer my suggestions below as a means to starting the discussion. A call to the Record-Eagle for change. Yes, I said the Record-Eagle, not some other derogatory name.

To begin with, I want to share part of one of the many emails I've received. It was a good reminder to me to stay on task:

"I have been surprised to find that much of the dialogue finding its way onto your blog is just as mean, personal, and destructive as what is being attributed to the R-E. Many of the posters took this as an opportunity to at last strike out at the source of their frustration. But the mean spiritedness is going both ways now... Your first posting pointed to concrete examples of where the paper has crossed the line. The responses, however, have been bandwagon in nature and have not added much to a constructive community dialogue. Zeke Fleet is a good man and has done a good job of running the paper as a business. It stands near the top of the publications in the Ottaway family. He is responsible for adding a substantial number of new jobs in Traverse City and to maintaining and anchor in the heart of downtown. Yes, I disagree with the way the R-E editorial staff pursues issues in many cases, and I am often disappointed in the lack of local news or the bias shown in local reporting, but I also appreciate the R-E as an important part of our local landscape. I support an open dialogue based on constructive input and civility. I will (will not participate publicly on this blog), pending further review of whether this blog is a site for vigilante justice or truly a source for good-hearted give and take. "


Zeke, this is an open letter to you. Take a look at what is said here. There is wisdom in some of the responses. Admittedly, and sadly (for all), angry frustration. I regret my own sharp tone in some remarks, but I also am struck over and over again with each email and posting that it has taken an outside "force," if you will, to generate open discussion. Sorry that letters to the editor haven't communicated things in the same way. Sad that people don't feel the impetus or the security to honor your "open door" policy. Maybe in your mind they have, and your columnists have even bemoaned the angry phonecalls and hate email. But let's not imagine that this Blog is about people confusing personal political/religious beliefs with the paper's editorial stance or reporting. The thing I can't share with you are the heartbreaking confidential emails I've received from private and public figures alike who all share a common theme: "I'm afraid to speak out because of what the Record-Eagle will do...thank you for speaking up." Personal attacks, or even the perception that they might appear in the paper, dampens a civic spirit that I know you would like to keep alight. So, without further ado, here are my crude first suggestions. I hope they will encourage more intelligent solutions by readers of the Blog, or perhaps as letters to the editor at the Record-Eagle with a "BLOG!" note in the subject line. Maybe it's a way to get the readers back who have written me to tell me they cancelled their subscription:

1. Revamp your editorial page. I'm not asking you to change your position, but have you seriously thought of trying harder to balance out your editorials? I'm going to be specific here. You do the right thing in publishing syndicated columnists. Putting Ellen Goodman and Cal Thomas on the same page is constructive and balanced debate. Extend that to your local editorials. The topics are often correct (unless they devolve into the personal attacks on individuals that has too often denigrated the credibility of the column). However, while you publish an anonymous newspaper editorial almost daily, there is no balance to it. While it is the prerogative of a for-profit newspaper to speak its mind in editorials, I have seen fine examples of local editorials that provide "point/counterpoint." It is a choice to use this format, but in a town with only one newspaper, in my mind a more thoughtful nod to the unwritten obligations that come with the privilege of a free press. This can be achieved by a number of mechanisms. One is to increase the number of "Public Forum" columns. I always enjoy these to see a differing perspective. The problems are obvious - you have to rely on an outside individual to get the forum to you, you have to expend effort to find them in the first place, get it to meet the size limit, etc. However, the last time you published one was back in December. Another thing: be more cautious in appending a commentary of any kind to a guest forum. The author didn't get a chance to append your editorials - why should you take liberties?
Another alternative: what about finding, (gasp!), another columnist for your staff that takes a more contrarian view? I won't give any labels to what type of individual, for fear of generating another storm of political opinion on my motives. In any case, nothing keeps you from choosing to create balanced views internally rather than externally.
I'm looking for suggestions on this one. You folks at the Record-Eagle are smart - offer some alternatives. I'm telling you one thing - if you made opinion page changes and increased your readership by the number of people who have read my Blog, you're already increasing your credibility and your bottom line.

2. Don't confuse editorialism and reporting. Case in point: the City Council/Melichar conflict. In addition to the editorial on the subject, the headline of the article was "Move to ban Melichar no surprise after all." As the article itself shows to some degree, there is another side of the story. Wouldn't you find it inapppropriate to title the article "Melichar ignores conflict of interest"? The story for the paper should be something along the lines of "City Council divided on settlement negotiations." Ponder that. Are you going to sell less newspapers as a result?

3. Pause before you make innuendo. This one, I suppose, is for Mr. Thomas. Don't be thin-skinned here, but I would not have the email inbox I do, and you wouldn't see the spiteful blog comments posted, if there wasn't an underlying truth to the belief that the Record-Eagle has soured civic discourse. If this blog and the response to it didn't make it apparent, what does? Your paper has probably avoided outright slander in most cases, but the power of innuendo is equally as insidious. If people are afraid of you, it is not reason to sit back and congratulate yourself on your immediate impact as guarantors of the "taxpayer's interest." McCarthy believed that fear and refusal to testify before his committee was a sign of guilt. Journalistic McCarthyism suggests that people who refuse comment to the newspaper must be guilty of something. But why don't they speak?- not because they necessarily have something to hide, but because fear motivates them. Build trust. Build bridges by truly remaining objective, especially in regards to a person's character.
Build bridges back to "old friends" such as Ron Jolly. He's just as interested in you are in protecting the community, even if he comes from a different direction. This isn't about a newspaper losing its ability to remain independent and fulfill its responsibility to act as a free speech check on the abuse of public power. It's about having a greater impact because you've taken a more restrained and thoughtful approach, an impact not as readily apparent at first blush. It's easy to whip up public outrage. My Blog showed me that. I'm trying to rein that in with this piece and encourage the more tedious, less sexy discussion that leads to true change.

This is a start. Again, I encourage readers of the Blog to heed the call to address the Record-Eagle with constructive suggestion. No, I haven't sold out. I haven't been threatened. I haven't lost my nerve. I just want to live the things I've said in my more recent remarks - to love this place we live in by working to reinforce the "civility" we all seem to crave. My blog is still here. It's not going anywhere, and if we really want an alternative newspaper, the means to mobilize is apparent and ongoing.

I would like to see what happens here before I post anything else. I'd still appreciate your emails (however angry you want to make them!) and your more thoughtful suggestions to the Record-Eagle.


The ball is now in your court. Blessings to you and your family.

Dear readers,

Thanks for the messages of support. Thanks for the courage to contradict. I hope my impact is positive and uniting. Blessings to you and yours.

Regards to all,


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Wow - I didn't expect this!

Knott here...I wanted to thank those who have already thoughtfully added comment here. It is the start of an educated and civilized discourse on our community. As for the first anonymous responder, the following comment bears repeating:

We cannot live both ways. We as a strong community must admonish those that would tear us apart, scold those that fall into the patterns of rumor-speckled rhetoric, and choose to work together as a community of dreamers, red & blue, right & left, forward and backward.

I can't disagree. I've changed my byline to reflect that. As for a "cheap shot" against leftists? My byline only. I think I was careful in my words to avoid political assault. Yet, I think it does bear repeating my assertion that the newspaper does display a distinct political bent. While some might argue that is fair in editorial discourse, it should not roll over into reporting, particularly when mixed with the personal vitriol the paper has become famous for. I find it sad it has taken my admittedly biting commentary to generate discussion. Where are the defenders of those assaulted in the pages of the Beagle? Not to be seen or heard from until now. What does it take to inspire people to take a stand? Where were the eloquent arguments for civility?

It was sad that I received two emails from people with offensive responses from the Beagle denying them the right to post letters to the editor. With permission from the senders, I'll try to post something on their stories here.

Finally, I think there is an inherent problem with the Wretched Beagle displaying too strong a political bent in its reporting (I'll bite my tongue on the editorials). When a newspaper holds a monopoly in a community, in my opinion they have a duty to respect the privilege of their right to free speech with deference to journalistic ethics and even-handed reporting. The Opinion Page should be the realm of the political stance. Furthermore, their editorials remain anonymous and heavily biased to the left, while requiring that alternative voices be identifiable and relegated to an abbreviated letter to the editor. Even their guest columns are edited (often leaving out important sentences), and they have taken the liberty of adding a preceding sentence with their own editorial comment and slant when the guest column is not favorable to their position. The Beagle doesn't have the decency or foresight to recognize that offering opposing viewpoints even on the editorial page increases their credibility, and probably their readership.

None of my additional comments should be misconstrued as anything but enthusiasm. This is my first attempt at a BLOG. I am humbled by the thoughtful responses and support for creating a new forum. If you can post, please do so just to let me know how many have accessed the BLOG (I'm too poor and too ignorant at this point to have a counter for hits) Emails are also appreciated. I respect the fact that anonymity is not cowardice unless the tone of your remarks is disrespectful. Look for my next post, hopefully tonight.

Your fellow citizen,


What color is my State? The color of Home.

How often have we heard the classic line: "Things change."

There is always the obvious to note - change in our physical surroundings. Seasons and weather alter the color of the grass, the sky, the hues of the Bay. Anyone who moves away and returns to TC, even those gone on vacation, invariably marvel at the changes in their home as they drive back in on Munson, Division, or travel from the airport:

"My, the leaves have almost all fallen."

"That store wasn't there before."

We become hypersensitive to alteration of our comfortable nest we refer to as "Home." Even amidst an ongoing metamorphosis, Home provides continuity for us as a steady canvas on which the pallet of time constantly renders new paintings, visions, perceptions. There is some intangible core that remains consistent in the face of changes.

Things change.

I bemoan the loss of one of the most wonderful and odd fixtures of Traverse City: the motel sign on the Main Street Inn. On this rather dated sign with its black plastic letters on backlit white sign, it would constantly razz us on our way by with pithy and clever one-liners. Often the sign would differ on front and back. I cannot tell you the countless times I would puzzle at the words and chew on them after driving by, trying to decipher the double meaning. More often than not, I could not suppress a rueful smile when some tortured pun would suddenly come clear. I don't know who was actually responsible for these. Bless them. The messages were often topical on the news, the weather, a local event. And they were never, as I recall, offensive. What a rarity to find humor so original and kind. It was plastic haiku, constrained only by the number of vowels available in the box.

This sign represents to me the comfort of coming "Home" to TC. It was a quaint byproduct of a special and unique place where the character of the people manifests itself in unexpected ways. There will be condominiums now where the motel stands - change perhaps more good than bad. Our Home changes, but that does not diminish how I will miss that sign. It was humor with civility.

Sometimes, I would glance from the sign to look across the street at West Bay, and would be startled from my chuckled musings by the vision of whitecaps on dark, troubled waters roiling in on the shore. Sadly, this somehow reflects a shift in the nature of public discourse I see in my "Home."

We don't laugh as much in our public communication. All things are increasingly politicized, sour and mean-spirited. This is a potential loss to a place that has always prided itself for staying out of the mainstream when it counts. Our Traverse City Home is threatened by division, and we must consciously work to avoid it.

One of the most unseemly developments of the past year's national political struggle was the "Talking Heads'" use of the phrases "Red State" and "Blue State." It is angering to me to be defined by a blanket description. How sadly ironic this is for our Home in TC. We live in a "Blue State" by definition of vote outcome. Yet, there are others who toss in the entire Midwest under the category of "Red State," implying in condescending tones that people who live here are condemned by geography to be mindless idiot conservatives incapable of saving themselves and the country. What am I to make of this? "White" and "Colored" labels over drinking fountains are mercifully now viewed as criminal use of words to discriminate. These terms, and other ones we use, are demeaning in their oversimplification and veiled negative implications. "Blue State" and "Red State" are in danger of creating similarly powerful divisions.

When travelling outside of Michigan, I have refused to answer the question of whether I come from a Red or Blue State (amazingly, I've actually been asked!). I refuse to answer. I come from the color of Home.

From a white Home in winter where the City supports the most wonderful park with a rope tow and warming hut for kids of all ages to enjoy the simplicity of fun in the snow.

From a blue Home where the sky and the lake dance a beautiful jig trading Navy and Robin's Egg hues while its residents stroll a magnificent waterfront.

From a green Home where students grow in the beautiful evergreen shadows of trees and teachers who are as passionate as any.

I live in a brown Home defined by people who stay as grounded as the earth beneath them. Or I hope I do. Are we still grounded in the decency and kindness that truly makes things grow?

Words count. They have meaning. I know my Home must change. I will no longer enjoy motel sign jokes in my travels across town, but I pray that the nature of the people who put those words on that sign do not change.

Take care all.