Friday, September 19, 2008

RIP: Ken Bender

I was saddened to read in this morning's Oshkosh Northwestern about the passing of Ken Bender. Anyone who follows city politics will likely know who Ken is. He was a regular at Common Council meetings for many years, until falling ill in the last year or two. He was a champion for the little guy and often took on the establishment city for doing things he thought were wrong or just plain didn't make common sense. Sometimes he got a little angry and flustered, but I think that was just because Ken was so passionate about a city he loved so much. Ken had not been at council meetings for several months, but in some way I think his spirit was always there - and will continue to live on in other citizen activists. Rest in peace, Ken. You and your love for the City of Oshkosh will be missed.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Are some gas stations taking advantage and just plain greedy, or are their prices justified

In the 24 hours that followed this weekend’s Hurricane Ike, the price for a gallon of unleaded gasoline at at least one of Lang Oil’s gas stations in Oshkosh rose to $3.99.9. Meanwhile, Titan Shell, just one block away from them continued to offer a gallon of unleaded for $3.84.9 a gallon. At the same time, in the Fox Cities, many stations were offering unleaded for $3.76.9 a gallon. It is not at all unusual for stations a few miles up the road to offer gas for less than stations here in Oshkosh; it’s happened for years and, like others, has always left me scratching my head in bewilderment. But 23-cents a gallon less! Why? What is the explanation why we in Oshkosh almost always have to pay more than our neighbors to the north, and this time so much more?

What really got me with this latest price increase was why Lang Oil felt justified in jacking their prices up to nearly $4 a gallon when its competitors kept them where they had been (though they may go up eventually). Moreover, why did many stations across the country jack their prices to about $4 and nearly $5 a gallon in some places, according to this article. I know we’ve all heard prices may go up because of the hurricane, but it is unconscionable, and perhaps should be illegal, for a station to raise prices in advance of their actually paying higher prices. After all, the gasoline in their underground tanks, which is what they’re selling us, has already been bought and paid for at a lower rate. Why should the consumer pay more before the retailer does? Now, you might think the supplier passed along higher prices to Lang in the hours following the hurricane striking. But the oil rigs shut down just before the weekend and Ike hit on the weekend and I don’t believe Lang Oil or anyone else got a shipment of gas on Saturday or Sunday.

And how about those ridiculous stories from the major oil companies saying they have to make a profit?! Who are they kidding? They’ve been realizing record profits and their CEOs have been getting anywhere from tens of millions to hundreds of millions of dollars a year in bonus money, for some time now, which leads me to the reasonable conclusion that it sure seems to be greed on the part of oil companies and an unwillingness on the part of our elected officials in Washington and elsewhere to band together and put a stop to it.

It may be time to start boycotting certain stations. Starting today we will no longer knowingly purchase gas from any Lang Oil station. And when I pointed out the huge price difference to others they said they won’t either. It’s not just us being driven away by Lang Oil’s high prices. While filling up two others were at Titan Shell talking about how they didn’t stop at Lang because they saw the two different prices on the stations’ signs. There is strength in numbers and if our elected officials don’t want to send a message to the gas stations, their suppliers and the oil producers, maybe we as a collective public need to.

What do you think about the price of gasoline? Let your voice be heard in our online poll.

Will the third time be the charm for the riverfront development

According to yesterday’s Oshkosh Northwestern, Akcess Acquisition Group is looking to pull out of the Waterfront development project along the Fox River and is proposing that local developers Andy and Art Dumke take over the project. According to the article Akcess vice president Tim Rikkers says their hopes for a Class A office building, hotel/condominium building and restaurant fell prey to a tough economy, a tight credit market and a major housing slump. Their proposal to hand the project off to the Dumkes would essentially keep the same elements in the project, the article says, but would change how and when the different components to the project would be completed.

I have been a cheerleader for the Akcess folks from the beginning, but have grown increasingly doubtful about their ability to pull it off as delays keep popping up, elements to the project keep changing, and more and more excuses, however valid, are offered. The nail in the Akcess coffin as it relates to this project may have come when there was a recent parting of the ways between Akcess and the Supple Group (and their involvement in the hotel/restaurant part of the development). So we are left with one group wanting out, another seemingly willing to take over and, presumably, with high hopes for success.

While it is true that the Dumkes have show entrepreneurship and realized success here in Oshkosh, is that because they’re local or because they have a silver bullet? Or both? Here’s some food for thought as we contemplate a changing of the guard at this riverfront post. The agreement to taking over the project would require not one, but two, office buildings to be built at this site. If Akcess was unable to get tenants for one, how in the world will you get tenants to fill two? Unless the plans for the type of office building change, etc. But even at that, what will then happen to the other office space in town that is sitting empty, or may end up being vacated for the newer, more scenic space? Moreover, will the same economic woes that plagued Akcess – a tough economy, tight credit market and a major housing slump – not also affect the Dumkes? While it may true that because they’re local, the Dumkes may have somewhat of an easier time navigating these economic waters, but will it be enough to overcome all the obstacles? I guess time will tell.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Kids and smoking - an illegal, deadly, nasty combination

School's been in session only one day and the high school students are already starting to loiter in the parking lot areas of local convenience stores, many of them smoking. We know the stores can't legally sell the cigarettes to these kids, so why are they allowing them to congregate outside their buildings, puffing smoke out of their mouths like chimneys? Over the years I've heard plenty of comments from people about how it looks. I've also heard people wondering why the stores even allow the kids to loiter on their property. I've wondered the same thing. When you see a bunch of kids hanging around it's not necessarily conducive to encouraging other, more mature customers to go inside the store or stop for gasoline, etc.

The other question is exactly where are the liaison officers from the schools or others from our local police department during the high school lunch hours? Why are they not seen patrolling around the convenience stores or driving down the streets that run from the school to the stores, citing these kids for illegally smoking and littering when they throw their cigarette butts, soda cans and candy wrappers in the street or on people's lawns?

I think it's time to start clamping down on these kids early in the school year. Maybe they're not causing any real harm and certainly there are far worse things they could be doing, but setting them on the right path now to not smoking and to respecting other people's property can only help keep them out of greater trouble later. It will also help them develop better habits for the rest of their lives, and, if they can curtail or quit smoking altogether, hopefully help them live longer lives at that.