Posts tagged justice
Working to Redesign MSD's Logan CSO Interceptor Project in Smoketown

Smoketown’s efforts to advocate for a change in the basin design of the Logan CSO Interceptor Project took major steps forward last week. For the Smoketown community, this is a crucial issue of environmental, racial, and economic justice. At stake is whether the community will be blighted by a structure covering a city block built by MSD or whether MSD will bury its facility and provide much-needed greenspace to the Smoketown community above its facility.  

To recap: the Logan CSO Interceptor is one of a dozen basins Metropolitan Sewer District is constructing around Louisville to capture Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) during heavy rain events. These basins are part of MSD’s effort to comply with a consent decree it entered into with the EPA to reduce pollution of the Ohio River. At every other site where it is environmentally feasible to bury the basin below ground, MSD is doing just that. However, MSD designed the Smoketown basin first and—by its own admission—failed to do the outreach necessary to get community input and engagement in Smoketown and designed the Smoketown facility as a block-long, windowless brick structure. This, instead of the greenspace being provided to other neighborhoods above the CSO facilities. For more information on the history of the project and the design, you can read the Smoketown community’s letter to MSD it delivered last week, copied in full below. 

Now to recent events: MSD scheduled a meeting last Wednesday to design the facade of the block-long building. At that meeting, Rev. Bruce Williams of Bates Memorial Baptist Church spoke for ten minutes about the history of the project and why he would refuse to participate in the design of the facade. It was a remarkable statement on behalf of the neighborhood and, following his remarks, over a hundred people walked out of the meeting. As Rev. Williams’s said, this building is an insult to Smoketown and “you cannot decorate an insult”. Here is the video of Rev. Williams’s speech: 

Led by Rev. Williams, residents, business owners, advocates, and allies met the following day. From that meeting, we have written a letter to MSD inviting its Executive Director and Board to another community meeting to “outline a process going forward in which MSD and the Smoketown neighborhood can work together to ensure that the Logan CSO Interceptor Project is a) completed in a timely manner and b) constructed in a way that treats the Smoketown neighborhood with the same respect and dignity provided to the other neighborhoods in which you are constructing CSO projects”.

It is our hope that from Wednesday’s meeting, MSD leadership will commit to redesign the Logan CSO Interceptor Project now, before it is too late. 

So, what can you do to help Smoketown get the same treatment as other communities?

  1. Come to the community meeting on Wednesday, March 24 at 6 p.m. at Bates Memorial Baptist Church (620 E. Lampton Street)
  2. Sign the petition at smoketownvoice.com This is a website we have set up to advocate for equal treatment of Smoketown by MSD. 
  3. Like the Smoketown Voice Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/smoketownvoice/
  4. Help share the petition and the Facebook page on your social media networks!

Here is the full letter to MSD: 

March 18, 2016

Re: Upcoming community meeting for Logan CSO Interceptor Project; March 23 at 6 p.m. 

Dear Executive Director Parrott and the MSD Board, 

We are writing today on behalf of ourselves, our congregations, our members, our businesses, and our neighbors in the Smoketown neighborhood. We would like to invite you to a community meeting at Bates Memorial Baptist Church on March 23 at 6 p.m. At this meeting we hope to discuss with you our vision for the Logan CSO Interceptor Project and outline a process going forward in which MSD and the Smoketown neighborhood can work together to ensure that the Logan CSO Interceptor Project is a) completed in a timely manner and b) constructed in a way that treats the Smoketown neighborhood with the same respect and dignity provided to the other neighborhoods in which you are constructing CSO projects. 

It is our hope that after this meeting you will commit to: 

  1. seek approval of a resolution at your March 28th Board Meeting to amend the design of the Logan CSO Project to construct an at‑grade facility, and 
  2. meet with our community again on March 31 to create a process with timelines to provide the community an opportunity to comment on and participate in the approval of preliminary designs of an at-grade basin and engage in the design of the land above the facility for the mutual benefit of MSD and the Smoketown neighborhood. 

While for MSD the Logan CSO Interceptor Project may only be one step in complying with the Consent Decree it entered into with the Environmental Protection Agency, for us, this is an issue of environmental justice, of racial justice, and economic justice. You plan to build a windowless, block-long building in our community while planning to buildunderground structures in other communities around Louisville in which it is environmentally feasible and to provide those communities with much-needed green space above the structure. 

The disparity in your plans for Smoketown and other Louisville neighborhoods is unjust and unacceptable. It is not too late to make it right and we want to work with you in that effort. 

How we got here

At a community meeting on November 16 at Coke Memorial Baptist Church, Smoketown residents, businesspeople, and allies gathered to hear from MSD’s Executive Director Tony Parrott. Mr. Parrott, responding to the dissatisfaction from Smoketown residents, admitted that the Logan project "did not have a good rollout" and lacked "community engagement". The Logan CSO Interceptor was the the first of the twelve CSO structures to be designed and built, Mr. Parrott explained, and he apologized for not developing good partnerships with Louisville Metro and for failing to get community input at the outset on the design of the building. 

During the course of the meeting, we learned that after receiving input from other neighborhoods on their CSO Interceptor projects, MSD decided to bury each of the other 11 structures at grade. It was clear from the comments made by neighbors at the Smoketown meeting that an at-grade structure was their preferred design, as well. MSD had studied the possibility of doing this for the Logan CSO Interceptor project and determined that burying the facility at grade would have cost an additional $4,000,000. 

As a concession to the neighborhood, MSD offered the Smoketown community the opportunity to weigh in on the design of the facade of the building. MSD explained that it would agree to allow the community to spend $700,000 that was previously budgeted for bricks on some alternative facade of which the community approves. 

On January 28, 2016, community members met with De Leon & Primmer, the architects hired by MSD to revise MSD’s plans for the Logan CSO Project. The overwhelming consensus at that meeting (like at the November 2015 meeting) was that the community was not interested in having an above-grade building on the site. Instead, we submitted to MSD several visions for the green space above an at-grade facility. 

The community members hoped that MSD would review the plans generated at the January 28th meeting, recognize the injustice it was perpetrating in the Smoketown community, and amend its plans accordingly. 

That is not what happened. 

Instead, the next meeting MSD scheduled was the “Logan Street CSO Basin Facade Design Meeting” for this past Wednesday, March 16. At the meeting, the proposed agenda was to hear from Executive Director Parrott, review the design proposals for the facade as conceived by DeLeon and Primmer, and then break up into small groups to further discuss the architect’s proposals for the facade. In other words, the entire meeting was structured to preemptively reject this communities’ repeated demand for an at-grade facility, circumscribe the discussion to preclude the expression of any preference for an at-grade facility, and treat the construction of an above-grade facade as an inexorable truth.

We rejected those terms.

As Pastor Williams said, “It’s your mistake, but we have to live with it, and I can’t accept that.” Despite hearing clearly from this community that your plans are unacceptable, you are continuing to construct an unfair building that will blight our neighborhood and stand as an insult to the Smoketown people. The neighborhood of Smoketown agreed with Pastor Williams who said, “You cannot decorate an insult” and hundreds of neighbors, businesspeople, and allies walked out of that “facade design” meeting. A link to Pastor Williams’s full comments are available at http://smoketownvoice.com This is a website we have created specifically to advocate for an at-grade basin at the Logan CSO Interceptor site. 

Wednesday’s meeting was not productive. We will not participate in decorating an insult. We hope you will meet with us this Wednesday to discuss how we can go forward together in a way that simultaneously honors both MSD’s commitments under the Consent Decree and the dignity and integrity of the Smoketown neighborhood.     

It’s not too late

During his comments at the March 16th meeting, Executive Director Parrott explained that the project was 35% complete and that “all of the blasting will be completed by the end of the month.” 

It is not too late to alter the design of the Logan CSO Interceptor Project to bring it in line with the other CSO basins you are building in other communities around Louisville. However, we understand that time is of the essence. That’s why we hope to meet with you on Wednesday. 

Will changing the design of the Logan CSO cost more money? Yes it will. From our perspective, this is a problem for MSD to solve, not the Smoketown community. Will changing the design require more workers and potentially increase the duration of the project? Almost certainly. This, again, is on MSD. MSD has already admitted that it did not do the proper community outreach and engagement in the Smoketown neighborhood when it designed this basin. MSD has admitted its process was flawed. That flawed process led to MSD to decide—without community input—to save $4,000,000 on the Logan CSO Interceptor. After it got input from other communities, it learned that its decision at the Logan site was wrong and invested in more expensive projects in the 11 other neighborhoods. Yet, MSD has not returned to Smoketown to fix its $4,000,000 mistake. 

Please join us

We want to work with MSD to make the Logan CSO Interceptor Project work for both MSD and the Smoketown neighborhood. Please join us at on March 23 at 6 p.m. at Bates Memorial Baptist Church. From there, we hope you will commit to seek board approval on a resolution to build an at-grade basin in Smoketown on March 28th. Then, on March 31st, we can meet again to chart our way forward so that the community can quickly approve preliminary and final plans for the revised project. We know you have work to do under the Consent Decree. We are committed to working with you to fix this project quickly. 

I hope it is clear from the community’s actions on Wednesday that we will not accept an above‑grade facility in Smoketown. Not when an at-grade facility is possible and while MSD is constructing at-grade facilities in other neighborhoods across Louisville. Because time is of the essence, we will need to see positive steps from MSD in the coming weeks that communicate clearly to this community that it has heard our voices and is going to change the design of the Logan CSO Interceptor Project. These positive steps include, at minimum,

  • attending our community meeting on March 23, 2016 at 6 p.m. at Bates Memorial Baptist Church (620 E. Lampton St.)
  • ratifying a resolution at your MSD board meeting on March 28th, 2016 to build an at-grade basin at the Logan CSO Interceptor site
  • attending our community meeting on March 31, 2016 at 6 p.m. at Bates Memorial Baptist Church (620 E. Lampton St.) to put a plan into place for ratification of design changes by the Smoketown community 

If we do not see these positive steps from MSD, we are preparing to insist on the design changes through direct action, political engagement, litigation, community education, protest, and activism. 

This is not our preferred path. We would prefer to work in concert with MSD and create a win‑win outcome for our neighborhood and MSD. Please call Bates Memorial Baptist Church(502-636-0523) and let us know if we can expect you at our community meeting next Wednesday. We look forward to welcoming you then and working with you during this redesign process. 

Sincerely, 

The Smoketown Neighborhood Association

Dr. F. Bruce Williams, Bates Memorial Baptist Church

Ben Carter, Ben Carter Law, PLLC 

Stephen Kertis, Kertis Creative

Fill Judicial Vacancies and Solve the Student Loan Crisis

With three years left in office, I really only want the Obama Administration to do two things: 1) Fill judicial vacancies and 2) solve the student loan crisis.  

I know, I know. There are lots of other important things the country needs (immigration reform, arbitration reform, election reform, etc., etc.) 

I know, I know. The Obama Administration can't do these things alone, but it can  use its bully pulpit more effectively in these areas. 

If this chart (more charts on student debt available at Mother Jones)  doesn't make you soil your red, white, and blue undies, then you're not wearing red, white, and blue undies. 

This is appalling. 

This is appalling. 

If you need an attorney in Kentucky to help you resolve a financial crisis involving student debt, give me a call.  

What are your priorities for the Obama Administration for the next three years?

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Commonwealth Justice Conference: POSTPONED

As you may have already guessed, I have to postpone the Commonwealth Justice conference I had hoped to host in August. 

Apparently, someone radically underestimated how hard starting a law firm would be and how much time he would be able to devote to organizing and hosting a conference for social justice-minded attorneys and organizers in Kentucky. 

I don't know when the conference will occur—probably sometime in 2014—but I am committed to making it happen. Thank you for your early support of the idea and stay tuned for updates.

Sign up for updates about the Commonwealth Justice Conference *
Sign up for updates about the Commonwealth Justice Conference
On this team, we fight for those inches

A few years ago, my best friend, Billy Parker, shared this halftime speech with me. It has become an important message for me to hear from time to time. It is especially important to me as an attorney that represents consumers and homeowners who are counting on me to fight some of America's most powerful, well-connected, well-funded industries. Life is fighting for inches and I hope my clients know that I understand that. 

Lawyers, there are no SEO shortcuts

After I announced my willingness to help lawyers build better, more beautiful, easier-to-maintain websites, a few attorneys have asked me what they can do to increase their prominence on Google's search results. Many of them have the sense that SEO ("search engine optimization") is some magic dust that techies can sprinkle onto their website that will lift the site up into the first page of search results. (Of course, many have this sense because SEO "experts" market themselves as the 21st-century's dark magicians.)

Sorry, it doesn't work like that. 

Certainly, there are some best practices you can use when creating pages and titling blog posts that will help search engines determine whether what you're saying will be responsive to a particular query from a user. But, beyond a few very basic premises (which we'll be discussing at this summer's Commonwealth Justice Conference—sign up for email updates), the reality of increasing your prominence online is that you have to actually provide value to people. Gyi Tsakalakis explains this in a useful blog post. I particularly enjoyed his list of activities that real law firms engage in. 

So what kind of “stuff” do real law firms do? Here are some ideas:

Real law firms stand for something.
Real law firms are active in their communities.
Real law firms educate the public.
Real law firms inspire social change.
Real law firms help real people.
Real law firms partner with organizations that further justice.
Real law firms raise awareness of important social issues.
Real law firms maintain the dignity of the profession.
Real law firms participate in public service.
— Gyi Tsakalakis

The idea, folks, is that you start getting better results online only after you start achieving better results offline. Do something in the world worth telling people about and then tell them on your site. Or, do something online that brings people together in a new and unique way. Over time, documenting the real work that your law firm does and providing real value to your online community will naturally translate into better search results. But, this is important: you do the things not to get better search results but because the things are important to do. They're important to you, your clients, your community. Maybe the traffic from search results comes, maybe it doesn't. But, either way, you've done something worthwhile with your limited time and energy.  

It's Time for Palau to Adopt a Bankruptcy Code

When I was in Palau in December, the Island Times was nice enough to publish this letter. 

Dear Palau,

Palau needs a bankruptcy code. I did not know that four years ago when I was working as a Public Defender for Palau, but I know it now. Too many Palauans live with crushing debt from which they will never recover. If Palau wants to provide those families any hope, it needs a bankruptcy code that offers Palauans a fresh start following financial devastation.

I have spent most of the last four years defending homeowners in Kentucky from foreclosure. That is, I have spent the last four years discussing debt and household finances with thousands of families.

While I was a Public Defender in Palau, I had the opportunity to take a few civil cases for debtors who owed either a store or another person a significant amount of money. Unfortunately, the only relief I could provide was trying to negotiate a complete repayment of those debts over the course of a number of years—often at usurious interest rates. These negotiated settlements were frustrating and unsettling to me personally because it meant that these debtors would have to struggle for years if not decades before saving for retirement, investing in their or their children’s education, starting a business.

Allowing people to file for bankruptcy wouldn’t just help individual Palauans who find themselves in over their head due to unemployment, medical setbacks, or poor financial management. Rather, there are at least five distinct benefits to providing Palauan individuals and businesses with a fresh start through bankruptcy.

  • Bankruptcy encourages economic development because it enables entrepreneurs to take risks with the understanding that if those risks don’t pay off, their lives and finances are not forever ruined.

  • Bankruptcy also encourages economic development by incentivizing investors and businesses to lend only to the most creditworthy entrepreneurs and customers.

  • A bankruptcy code would provide business partners with an orderly and predictable disposition of a failed business’s assets. This predictability reduces the cost of doing business and the cost of litigating the dissolution of the business.

  • Because the bankruptcy code provides parties with an orderly way of winding down businesses and discharging indebtedness, the court system may enjoy less litigation and fewer collections actions.

  • As I previously mentioned, Palauans deserve a fresh start. With a bankruptcy code, Palauans will know that getting laid off, encountering bad luck, or suffering through medical setbacks won’t forever plague their family’s chances at financial stability.

I hope you will not interpret this letter as the presumption of a haole thinking he knows what’s best for Palau. Having lived in Palau, I appreciate that Palauan bankruptcy will likely look very different than American bankruptcy—molded to respect tradition and the realities of life in Palau. But, I counseled plenty of hardworking Palauan families who will spend years struggling to pay back loans at unfair interest rates, struggling often with no realistic chance of ever actually catching up.

While I was in Palau, I failed to appreciate the benefits of having a bankruptcy code and failed to do anything to provide these families and individuals with the hope of a fresh start and the opportunity for financial stability. Now that I’m off-island, I look back and fear I missed an opportunity to leave a lasting impact in Palau and provide a lasting service to its people by advocating for passage of a bankruptcy code.

I am on-island over the holidays for a brief vacation and wanted to take this opportunity to urge the Palauan people to encourage their legislators to pass a bankruptcy code. To survive and thrive, Palauan families and businesses need the opportunity at a fresh start that bankruptcy promises.

I am happy to help this effort in whatever way I can from the United States. If you are interested in working on this issue, please contact me at ben [at] bencarterlaw [dot]com.

Sincerely,

Ben Carter

Nerd Alert: Here are the Briefs I Mentioned at the Consumer Bankruptcy Symposium

On March 15, I presented at the University of Kentucky's Consumer Bankruptcy Symposium. I promised certain materials and here they are: 

Here is the brief about the Uniform Commercial Code, Standing, and Securitization

Here is the brief about the Rogan v. Bank One case. 

How to Find and Use PSAs

Here are the presentation slides