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Author Archives: Harry Styron

New library facilities are a huge asset to Christian County


I heard some fine music on August 11 at the newly-renovated Ozark branch of the Christian County Library from Kicking Jacksie!

As you can see in the photo, we were in a bright meeting room that is available to the public. The windows overlook the Finley River Park, where a mud-run had just been completed and where on other days and nights you can see barrel racing at the Finley River Saddle Club arena, various amateur athletic events, the county fair and people having picnics or paddling kayaks.

In our public discourse, we glorify entrepreneurship and the for-profit engines that drive our economy. But what I saw Saturday reminds me that the nonprofit sector—including the government—plays a big part in providing some of the best things in our lives, such as parks and libraries, when citizens are willing to tax themselves.

Last December, I was privileged to be asked to provide legal counsel to the board of directors of the Christian County Library District and the capable director Geri Godber and assistant director Katy Pattison.

The Christian County voters had the good sense to vote an increase in the District’s property tax levy by a 2-1 margin in August 2017. A mere twelve months later and the District has delivered an 8,000 sq. ft. branch in Nixa in a former office suite leased (with a purchase option) from Southern Bank and a complete renovation of the original branch in Ozark, adding a children’s reading room.

For both the Nixa and Ozark projects Sapp Design Architects, led by project architect Devon Burke and senior project manager Jim Stufflebeam, provided designs and Nesbitt Construction was the general contractor.  Michael Strong of George K. Baum & Company was the District’s financial consultant, assisting with the issuance of certificates of participation.

I’ve rarely worked on renovation projects with so much cooperation and so few problems. Nor have I worked on many projects where women (Geri, Katy, Devon and most of the District’s board members) made almost all the decisions. Though my role in the District’s projects has been tiny, I’ve rarely been more proud to be associated with a client’s endeavor.

At the Ozark library, you can check out live music and other performances from time to time, and you can also check out a rod and reel and tackle box or cake or muffin pans. And there are lots of books and movies. You can use a computer that may be connected to databases that aren’t available on Google and get help from a trained librarian. There’s a room full of local history materials. Separate spaces for little kids, tween and teens, with furniture and books to fit them, will help them enjoy using the library.

Getting back to the music–which is linked to books–Jack Bowden of Kicking Jacksie! is a teacher in Hermitage who formerly entertained at Silver Dollar City, where he hooked up with drummer Andy Holloway and bassist Shannon Thomason.

Jack is a participant in Wild Bob’s Musical Book Club. This book club publishes a list of books for upcoming months. Songwriters write a song related to or inspired by the book of the month and congregate at Lindberg’s on Commercial Street once a month to perform the songs that each has written. Literature and music fuel our spirits and imaginations, so that we can go on working. For the performance at the Ozark library, the two songs inspired by Where the Wild Things Are were big hits for all ages.

Everywhere I go, libraries are popular. They offer many things besides quiet spaces, including spaces with pleasant noise, helpful librarians, cake pans and fishing equipment.

One big difference between searching for information at a library and on the internet is that the internet is driven by mechanisms that obtain information from you and select information to give to you, including advertisements, based on what the advertising clients of Google and Facebook want you to see. Libraries aren’t like that.

Christian County has library facilities to be proud of and dedicated board members and employees. The 20 cent per thousand levy provides knowledge and entertainment. Even in an off-year election, Christian County voters turned out and did themselves a huge favor. More facilities are planned for the west and east ends of Christian County.

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Brooks Blevins’s refreshing new book, A History of the Ozarks, Volume 1, The Old Ozarks


Brooks Blevins has given us a fresh and refreshing new look at the early history of the Ozarks in the first volume of A History of the Ozarks, published in July 2018 by the University of Illinois Press. I bought my copy through Amazon.

This history is refreshing because it includes many aspects of Ozarks history that I have learned and forgotten, as well as including lots of things that I never knew.

It is fresh because it does avoids the errors of many histories of the Ozarks. The introduction is essentially an essay to counter the stereotyping of the people of the Ozarks. I highly recommend the book just for this part.

In addition, the book sidesteps many errors of previous histories, rather than:

  • being confined to either the Arkansas Ozarks or the Missouri Ozarks, Blevins covers both and a little of the Oklahoma Ozarks,
  • overlooking the contributions of women in commerce as well as on pioneer homesteads, instead, he tells us about Betty Black’s ferry and Polly Hillhouse’s pioneer farming enterprise,
  • treating Indians as as though they were here and suddenly gone, we learn about the internal divisions among the Osage as they confronted loss of hunting lands, as well as many other groups of Indians who lived in the Ozarks while being pushed westward, eventually to Indian Territory,
  • describing the landscape merely as rugged and rocky with poor soils, we learn that different groups of settlers had different preferences and abilities, which were applied to various types of forest, prairie and bottomlands, and
  • leaving out slavery and the economic contributions of enslaved persons, the earliest substantial industries, such as the Maramec ironworks, depended heavily on involuntary servitude, as did the founders of Springfield

There’s a good balance of cultural history, political history and economic history, leavened with a few tall tales, such as that of Duke, who tamed a herd of elk calves and taught them to pull his wagon, carrying him away from the Ozarks when too many settlers came in.

I’m anxious for the next volume, which takes up with the gathering clouds of the Civil War.

 

Are Indians extinct?


In this article from Missouri Life, “The Tribes of Missouri, Part 1: When the Osage & Missouria Reigned,” the author Ron Soodalter barely hints that the Osage and Missouria people are living people who maintain relationships with Missouri.

Admittedly, the focus of the article is historical. The Osage Nation has very competent academically-trained historians and archaeologists, and citizens who can relate oral histories that involve the Osage time in Missouri, who should have been consulted.

Magazine articles and museum curators who treat Indians as an extinct form of wildlife–or as extirpated in a particular region–are demeaning. The following two paragraphs are galling to me:

There are no full-blooded Missouria alive today; the last one died in 1985. Two centuries after their ancestors were absorbed into other tribes, the remnants of the once-powerful Niutachi exist only within the amalgamated tribal group formally known as the Otoe-Missouria.

Nor were these two tribes unique. After the various land-hungry nations staked their respective claims on the seemingly boundless expanse they called the New World, no tribe that had long occupied or settled in Missouri would ever again claim control over itself or its old way of life.

I hope the forthcoming installments in this series are different.

A Grandchild’s view from The Backseat of Two Old Folks’ Car


Marshall Hill and his wife Tami and their granddaughter Tinley had a wonderful vacation to the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore. They made this beautiful music video to remember it by:

Libertarian support for federal regulation of dog walkers?


Regulation of providers of local services–barbers, real estate brokers, taxi cabs, etc.–is traditionally a function of state and local governments. Not discerning any great effect on interstate commerce (i. e., no significant campaign contributions), the United States Congress has stayed out of this field.

Many economists and politicians, especially those with a libertarian bent, wonder why a manicurist or a hair braider, needs a license.  Restrictions on entry into an occupation protect the license holders from competition and allow them to raise their prices.

I have read that at the peak 17% of the United States labor force was in trade unions. Now, about the same percentage has occupational or professional licenses, while trade unions have lost their clout and amount to 3% of the labor force. My guess is that those who hold occupational licenses are more likely to vote Republican, while trade union members once gave great power to the Democratic Party.

Tyler Cowen, an affable academic economist with a libertarian outlook, advances the argument in a recent Bloomberg column, that federal regulation of these occupations would be a better alternative than allowing state and local regulation to continue:

My radical proposal is therefore for the federal government to preempt as much occupational licensing as is possible. That’s right, these functions would be taken away from the state and local governments.

Unfortunately, I don’t expect the federal bureaucracy to usher in the reign of Milton Friedman’s Chicago School economics. But the federal regulatory process would likely pay less heed to local special interests, and it would produce a more homogenized and less idiosyncratic body of regulatory law more geared toward the most important cases, such as medicine and child care. The federal government is less likely than many state and local governments to obsess over licensing rules for fortune tellers, florists and athletic trainers.

Though the Commerce Clause was stretched pretty far by the Warren Court in the 1960s, I doubt that the current Supreme Court would allow Congress to regulate dog walkers and hair braiders.
Cowen’s rationale is that federal power may be justified to keep state and local governments from infringing on economic freedoms:
Keep in mind that the alternative to my suggestion is not the status quo but rather a regime where occupational licensing becomes progressively worse at multiple levels of government. The defense of liberty requires changes, and sometimes that means recognizing that small, local governments are infringing upon our rights rather than protecting them.

Tesla slips the noose of regulatory capture in Missouri


A regulated industry sometimes is able to use a regulatory agency to restrict competition. In Missouri, licenses for dealers of new cars have been issued only to applicants which hold franchises granted by manufacturers, with the franchisees each maintaining a place of business within the state. The value of a dealership is strengthened if a manufacturer cannot open a competing dealership.

Under Tesla’s business model, purchasers buy directly from the manufacturer, not from a separate dealership. Tesla granted itself a franchise and was thus both franchisee and franchisor, sparing customers the cost of supporting a separate dealership.

The Missouri Automobile Dealers Association (MADA) sued the Missouri Department of Revenue and Tesla Motors, claiming that issuing the license to Tesla created “a non-level playing field.” The Cole County Circuit Court determined that MADA had a right to challenge the issuance of the license to Tesla and agreed with MADA that the issuance of the license to Tesla was unlawful.

The Missouri Court of Appeals reversed the Circuit Court, holding that MADA (as well as another car dealer and a motor vehicle manufacturer) had no right to challenge the issuance of the license to Tesla, lacking standing. The appellate court examined the motor vehicle licensing statutes and found that the statutes permitted an applicant to challenge the refusal of the Department of Revenue to issue a license, but said nothing about the right of a dealer to challenge the issuance of a license to a potential competitor. Moreover, a court could not order the Department of Revenue to revoke the license, because the Department’s power to do so depended upon the existence of specified acts or events that were deemed by the Department’s director to be a “clear and present danger to the public welfare.” The director had not made such a discretionary finding.

The appellate court characterized the MADA challenge as that of “competitors seeking to avoid competition and not as vindicators of the a larger public interest.” Thus Missouri follows several other states that have allowed Tesla’s business model to disrupt old ways of doing business.

Uber and Lyft, Airbnb and HomeAway, and Zillow are similarly changing the economy, taking advantage of internet and smartphone technology to be responsive to consumer preferences. Lobbyists will have plenty to do.

Book Review: James Fork of the White River, Transformation of an Ozark River

Book Review:  James Fork of the White River, Transformation of an Ozark River

Published by Lens & Pen Press, 4067 Franklin, Springfield MO 65807, $35 (buy both James Fork of the White River and Damming the Osage for $52.50 postpaid), 351 pages.

The evolution of a river in the modern era has many dimensions—geology, politics, cultures, the rise and fall of towns, commerce—and Crystal and Leland Payton have once again used various techniques to capture the modern history of the James River in Southwest Missouri. These techniques involve reproduction of old photographs, maps, and promotional brochures, and lavish new photographs. Combining these graphics with a penetrating verbal narrative, the Paytons have given us what we all want and need to know about the White River’s largest Missouri tributary.

The James originates on the dome of the Springfield Plateau, east of Springfield, near Mansfield. Other streams radiate from this high elevation—the Niangua and the Osage Fork of the Gasconade flowing northward, Bryant Creek and the North Fork of the White flowing southeastward, Swan and Bull creeks flowing south, and the James, initially flowing westward before taking a southward turn at Springfield to eventually reach the White River a few miles above Kimberling City.

Drawing on the pioneering archaeological work of Carl and Eleanor Chapman, whose courses and books about Missouri anthropology and archaeology shaped a couple of generations of students including me, the Paytons summarize what is known about occupants of the valley over the past 12,000 years until the first Anglo-Americans began visiting, then settling, in the past three centuries.

The text, supported by photographs, depicts the valley of the James and its tributaries east of Springfield as an agricultural area, once dominated by general farming, changing to cattle ranching. The authors point out that the substantial Amish communities have continued to raise a variety of crops and livestock, along the tributaries such as Panther Creek and the upper Finley.

Proceeding westward, the James and especially its tributaries that drain Springfield (Pearson, Jordan, Fassnight and Wilson creeks), are urban streams, carrying loads of contaminants. Jordan Creek runs through the heart of downtown Springfield, much of it in underground culverts; the Paytons do a great job of explaining the history and politics of burying Jordan Creek and the progress toward its exhumation and restoration. A interesting tidbit appears in a sidebar, connecting the Jordanaires vocal group that backed Elvis to this stream, a small point that typifies the richness of this book.

In addition, the role of John Woodruff, a Springfield business mogul in the years before World War II, in the development of Springfield and his pursuit of the Arcadian style of tourism is also connected to the James River. In their various books, the Paytons have explicated the attempts of various Ozarks promoters, like Woodruff, to present living and vacationing in the Ozarks as a step back into a perpetual paradise. The idea is both attractive and hollow, and the Paytons use advertising materials and historical photographs to show the efforts made to puff up this ideal, which can never been sustained.

The middle section of the James River Valley, from Springfield to Galena, has a history connected to the Arcadian ideal, some deep hill country culture, and geological curiosities. Here you’ll learn about Browns Spring, Hurley, Jenkins, Ponce de Leon, and Montague.

Galena, with a railroad, became the jumping off point for the classic Ozark float industry that began early in the 20th century. The railroad brought customers from Kansas City, Saint Louis and other Midwestern metropolises. At Galena, they could be placed into long, flat-bottomed boats, and spend several days fishing, camping and drinking, before disembarking at Branson. From there, they and their boats would be loaded on a northbound train to return them to Galena, and eventually take the fishermen to their homes. While there are lots of photos of strings of fish, I suspect that much of what happened on the river stayed on the river.

The lower James, more than the middle section, was caught up in the clamoring for a dam. The story of how the Corps of Engineers wrested dam-building away from private enterprises is well-told in the the Payton’s earlier book Damming the Osage. Similarly, with the boosting of engineering and construction firms, local politicians (especially Dewey Short) and chambers of commerce became convinced that the national interest would be served by a dam and reservoir on the White River, just below the point where the James River emptied in. The machinations resulting in the selection of the Table Rock dam site and the construction of the dam is fascinating and occupies a significant portion of the book.

I’m especially happy that the Paytons are interested in the economic and ecological health of the James River Valley. They have included opinions of several knowledgable people and provided their own thoughtful synthesis.

A short final section is entitled Guardians of Water Quality, and describes the good work of several organizations and individuals who are dedicated to monitoring, protecting and improving the water of this compromised system. The organizations mentioned are the James River Basin Foundation, Ozarks Water Watch, Watershed Committee off the Ozarks, and the Ozarks Environmental and Water Resources Institute at Missouri State University. I have worked with all these organizations, and believe that the work of each of them in public education will be helped by the publication of the James Fork of the White River.

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