This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

May 27, 2010 - show up

Sometimes it's hard for me to imagine the life of the politician.

I pondered that as I sat in the iMax theater of Douglas County's astonishing Wildlife Experience and listened to gubernatorial candidates John Hickenlooper and Scott McInnis.

The forum was sponsored by the Douglas County Business Alliance, which keeps a close eye on Colorado legislative matters. Each candidate answered five questions from the DCBA, then took questions from the crowd.

Hickenlooper is the current mayor of Denver. McInnis is a former House Majority Leader for the Colorado House of Representatives, and a former U.S. Representative.

In some ways, their answers really weren't that different. They were speaking to business people. Not surprisingly, they showed great sensitivity to business issues. The difference to my mind was largely of style.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, is the un-candidate. As he said, this is only the second office he's ever run for.

McInnis is more the polished insider, complete with Republican Party-approved talking points and sound bites.

It will be interesting to see which approach resonates best in a time when there is so much anger against politics-as-usual and Washington D.C. in particular. Meanwhile, I offer my profound sympathies to both of them as they start working the long, long campaign trail.

Another group of politicians comprise the City Council of Castle Pines North. By the time this column appears, they will have decided on the Urban Renewal Authority.

Like the gubernatorial race, there are two views. Here's the first: the City Council is seeking to add as many tools as it can to its municipal tool chest. The Urban Renewal Authority is a well-tested and effective mechanism for city development.

So is the so-called TIF - tax increment financing. The idea is this: cap the existing property tax at its current value. That becomes the base. As development occurs, and property values rise, any taxes collected over the base remain with the authority, which can then use the money for infrastructure and special projects.

The other side of the issue is this: the area of the authority is huge. Castle Rock's Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and the Parker Authority for Reinvestment (PAR) both concentrate on specific, fairly limited downtown areas. Castle Pines North's authority includes over 3,500 acres, most of it undeveloped agricultural land.

Over the next twenty years or so, an estimated 12,000 new residents may move within the boundaries of the new authority. Those people will want services, such as fire protection, schools, and libraries. But if those properties fall under a TIF, the agencies responsible for providing those services will collect only the revenue generated by agricultural land. That's not enough money to provide the level of services suburban households require. Yet the new residents will certainly expect them.

So the TIF, potentially, puts a lot of money and decision-making ability in the hands of the city, which right now directly controls the authority. It removes both of those things from other agencies, without removing the responsibility to provide service. While other funding mechanisms have been discussed to fund libraries (using TIF funds themselves for construction, and Public Improvement Fees for operations), it's all untried and speculative.

So the people making these decisions are making some big gambles on the future of their young city.

My final observation about politicians speaks to those who are leaving office. Earlier this year, Castle Rock's Randy Reed was term-limited out. Just recently, Pat Braden was termed out from the Lone Tree City Council. Both of them gave countless hours and attention to civic issues.

And although not elected, Acting Superintendent Steve Herzog certainly faced a host of political issues as he dealt with the school district's budget crisis. He provided clear vision and able direction in a time of great transition. I wish him well in his new post as Superintendent of the Reed Union School District (RUSD) in Tiburon, CA.

Candidate for Governor, council members, acting school superintendent -- somebody has to pay attention to our public square. So it's worth saying: even when I disagree with these folks, I'm grateful for them. They show up.


LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

May 20, 2010 - praise the entrepreneur

Guess what I know?

I know who created 60-80% of all the net new jobs in this country over the past ten years. I know how many of them there are. I know old they are, what gender they are likely to be, and a little bit about their background.

I know where they live.

And I know how to help them. (Thanks to the wonderful research of a librarian friend of mine, Christine Hamilton-Pennell. See growinglocaleconomies.com.)

It's not a secret. On the other hand, despite all the information that's out there, you don't hear much talk about it. That's odd, since the economy is surely one of the most important issues faced by Douglas County.

There are several big ways to promote economic development.
* Business attraction and recruitment. The idea here is to bring in big outside employers. Usually, that means big box retail. The idea is that big employers generate all kinds of benefits, although it often takes various kinds of tax incentives to get them here.
* Business retention. Keep the ones we've got! (Sometimes, those big employers pull out, too.)
* Workforce development. Some people need help to get started, whether it's in acquiring basic computer training, learning how to write a resume, understanding a little bit about work place expectations, and so on.
* Reduce "income leaks." There are people who live here, but spend their money elsewhere. A thriving economy invests in itself.
* But here's the big one: support the unsung hero of the local entrepreneur.

What do I mean by entrepreneur? I like Hamilton-Pennell's definition: "an entrepreneur is someone who perceives an opportunity and creates and grows and organization to pursue it."

What's so important about entrepreneurs? Consider the following:
* 97.5% of firms have fewer than 20 employees. These small firms created 60-80% of the net new jobs over the past decade.
* Two-thirds of the the net new jobs were created by firms 1 to 5 years old. They are responsible for half of the United States' non-farm real Gross Domestic Product.
* Half of the U.S. businesses are home-based.

Who are these entrepreneurs? We know a few things about them.

First, they comprise roughly 10% of the global population.

From 1996-2007, Americans between 55 and 64 had a higher rate of entrepreneurial activity than those aged 20-34. But don't count out the youngsters yet. Limited job market leads teens to consider entrepreneurship as a viable - and maybe a vital - alternative

Here are a couple of interesting data points about "minorities:" more men than women start new businesses (maybe because more than 60% of businesses are self-financed). But immigrants are far more likely to start new businesses than native born residents. How come? Well, think about it. Emigration takes, literally, a lot of get up and go.

One of the crucial factors about the entrepreneur is this: they're already right here in Douglas County. They don't have to be lured in with big breaks. They're probably not going to pull up and vanish -- they've raised their families here. They are part of our community.

And I said I know how to help them. It turns out that the main obstacles to entrepreneurial success are things the public library can readily overcome: a lack of knowledge of industry and market conditions and trends.

Specifically, entrepreneurs need to know:
* Who are my target customers?
* Who are my competitors?
* What are the characteristics of my market?
* What are the trends and developments in my industry?

For now, I can give this short piece of advice. Would-be entrepreneurs could start by looking at this website: douglascountylibraries.org/Research/iGuides/SmallBusiness.

But there's more to say about business in Douglas County, and more than one source of sound advice. Look here next week for news about an important cooperative project of the library and your local newspaper.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

May 13, 2010 - he's back!

What should you do when you have a strong response to something you read in the paper?

Let's say you like a particular column. You can pen an approving letter to the editor. You can send a glowing email or voice mail to the writer.

It is pleasant to find people with whom one agrees. Too few of us take the time to compliment others, and thereby build communities of interest and mutual support.

Not the writing kind? Well, you can always clip the column and pass it around to friends. Or find it online and forward it.

On the other hand, maybe you think the writer missed something important, or was flat out wrong. Maybe you have some special area of expertise that fills in significant gaps in the writer's presentation.

In that case, please do send a letter to the editor. When the community gets involved in issues, shares new information, and has substantive debate, a newspaper raises the general level of shared intelligence. That's good for everybody.

Sometimes, inevitably, you will have a strongly emotional and negative response to a column.

You have many options. Among them:

* Ignore it. I freely admit that there are a few columnists who so consistently irritate me that I refuse to read them anymore.

* Share your anger and irritation with your spouse. As an institution, a sympathetic marriage prevents many a violent outbreak against the body politic.

* Write an angry letter back, laced with personal attacks and labels you neither define nor defend. In this way, letter writing becomes a kind of intellectual aerobics, allowing you to hit your target heart rate in just 250 words. Be warned: your own letters may precipitate similar responses. But for some folks, this is the very definition of fun.

* Try to silence the writer through intimidation. Contact his or her bosses and threaten them with boycott or political opposition. Dangle vague legal threats. The true intellectual bully must hold this thought steady in his or her heart: "those who disagree with me must be forced to SHUT UP."

Each of these responses has a long tradition in our country. Together, they constitute a history of dissent, of the lively intellectual discourse of our nation.

Which brings me (quite literally) to the editorial page. Most of my columns over the past 20 years have been about libraries.

That's because libraries are my deep and abiding passion. Most of my future columns will probably still be about library issues.

But writing this column isn't part of my job. I don't get paid for it. I write it on my own time. Writing helps me think and learn. I enjoy it.

About once or twice a year, my columns spark strong disagreement in some readers -- usually offset by strong approval, by the way. I've noticed a trend: in almost every case, the issue involves federal policy.

I am not a federal employee.

Likewise, most of my opinions are not library policy. My bosses, the Library Board of Trustees, have not adopted resolutions about either national fiscal policy nor zombies. (Which is the greater omission, only time will tell). When something IS official library policy, I'll say so.

In a recent discussion about my column, library trustees said that while of course I have the right to speak freely on my own time (that being the point of the First Amendment, after all), it would be wise to remind people that my opinions, as prominently labeled by my column title, are LaRue's Views. No one else should be held accountable for them.

So you will no longer find my opinions under "library news."

See you next week.

LaRue's Views are his own.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

May 6, 2010 - Looking for Adventure?

[This week is yet another wonderful guest column, this one by one of our "behind the scenes" librarians making great things happen for our patrons.]

Looking for Adventure? - Deb Margeson

Who doesn’t want a little adventure in their lives? Especially if it’s free.

But, before I get to the adventure part, I should introduce myself. I am Deb Margeson, a Collection Development Librarian here at Douglas County Libraries. I know that I have the best job possible here at our library district.

I have the opportunity to choose all the adult fiction and nonfiction books for our branches (and no, if you are wondering, I don’t get to read them before I decide to buy them…). But don’t tell anyone else that I have the best job here; they might get ideas…

Something you don’t have to keep secret is what I’m about to share. You already know that DCL provides books, magazines, music, books on CD, Playaways, and DVD’s. And you probably also know that you can download audio books and eBooks to your various devices. Well, starting May 1, you get to check out some Adventure. And, like all those other items that we provide, there’s no charge.

The idea came from one of our librarians, who had heard that another local library district had museum passes available for checkout. She brought it to our Collection Development Committee to consider and we liked the idea.

Several of us got together and did some research. Librarians are great at sharing ideas and information with other librarians and Jefferson County Libraries shared their experience with checking out passes to local museums. They use a simple system that sounded like an easy way to provide an opportunity to check out a free pass to local attractions to all of you. We are calling it the Adventure Pass.

Starting May 1, Douglas County Libraries card holders can check out a free pass to the Wildlife Experience here in Douglas County. I imagine you have heard of them and maybe you have even visited.

The Wildlife Experience is a museum that connects people with wildlife and habitats. The people at the Wildlife Experience are great to work with and provided us with discounted passes to their museum. They are enthusiastic and excited about providing an easy way to allow you to get to visit all the experiences that they provide.

This is how it’s going to work. First visit our website (www.DouglasCountyLibraries.org) and look for the Adventure Pass icon. Click on that icon and you will be taken to the reservation system.

Take a look at the calendar and pick a date that works for you. It will show you if a pass is available. We have 6 passes available per day. Each pass allows 6 people free admission to the Wildlife Experience.

You can reserve a pass up to 30 days ahead of your visit. Once you choose your date and enter the required information, just print out your pass.

Sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? Here’s the fine print. You do need to have a library card with us. But hey, we provide those for free too.

We are starting with just one local place to have an adventure. We want to work out any little kinks that sometimes happen when you embark on a new program.

But, if you have an "in" with another local attraction or museum and would like to take part in this program, get in touch with us. We want to expand because there are so many interesting places to visit in our area. And we want to provide you with an easy way to explore some of these.

If you still have questions, the knowledgeable folks at our Contact Center can be reached at 303-791-7323.

Starting May 1st gather up your family, friends and neighbors and get your Adventure Pass at Douglas County Libraries. And please don’t keep this a secret!