Archive for September, 2009

Are We Too Dumb to Govern Ourselves?

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Are We Too Dumb to Govern Ourselves?
By Christian Piatt

(Originally Printed in PULP)

As the time draws closer for Pueblo’s mayoral question to achieve ballot-worthy status, tensions have been a little high around these parts. Lines have been clearly drawn on both sides of the issue, and there’s been no shortage of drama, particularly regarding the Committee to Assess Local Mayorship’s (CALM’s) petitions to make way for a charter amendment that would require the city to have a “strong” mayor at the helm.

In case you’ve been napping for the last few months, he’s a basic rundown:

CALM was created several months ago to press for the charter amendment to be included on the upcoming November ballot. It is clear from the wording of their proposed amendment (visit to read for yourself) that the type of leader they seek is historically described as a strong mayor.

In response to CALM’s actions, the City Council assembled its own “Blue Ribbon” panel of advisors, who then proposed their own model of leadership, which included a “weak” mayor.

Though there are many details differentiating a strong mayor from a weak one, the main distinction is that, with a weak mayor, we would maintain the existing city manager position to do most of the real work of governance. The weak mayor, which would be a member of city council, would effectively be a step up from the current council president, charged mainly with diplomatic and other symbolic duties.

Council took some time to decide whether to put their own weak mayor option on the upcoming ballot, as their action seemed to be a response to CALM’s proposal. In the last couple of weeks, a question arose about whether CALM’s amendment would make it after more than a thousand of their petition signatures were disallowed by Pueblo City Clerk, Gina Dutcher.

Says Roger Gomez, CALM’s Executive Director and current Owner/Operator of Steel City Dogs, “We ended up handing in 4,575 signatures. The expected signature disqualification rate for an average petition drive is about 20%. The City Clerk’s Office ended up invalidating over 35% of our signatures…”

Asked if they could provide the extra signatures in a week, CALM quickly mobilized and collected 644 more names in two days. The signatures were verified as of Tuesday, August 18th. Now the voters will have three choices in November: a strong mayor, a weak mayor, or keeping things as-is.

Though it might seem potentially frustrating to have Council openly working against CALM’s efforts, the benefit has been a more informed public. “We are delighted,” says Gomez, “that so many voters we have talked to have been able to distinguish between our strong mayor platform and the new weak mayor platform adopted by the City Council. The voters are very aware and they asked a lot of specific questions about structure and cost.”

Regarding cost, one argument for the strong mayor option is that it should cost less. Whereas in the weak mayor system, one council member serving as mayor will be paid more for added duties, while also employing a full-time city manager, the strong mayor would replace the city manager role, leaving Council as-is. The proposal is for the strong mayor to be paid $50,000 a year less that the city manager position too, and though some fear that additional positions under the mayor will be created, many current duties and positions currently under the manager simply would be shifted over to the mayor’s office.

Asked why Council would pick now to jump into the ring on this issue, Gomez was clear.

“I believe the weak mayor alternative is an attempt to dilute and possibly confuse the voter on election day,” he says. “The Pueblo voters have been watching this debate and they know the difference. That does not mean that over the next two and half months our opponents won’t try to blur that fine line with a weak [mayor] ad campaign.”

So why the objections to a strong mayor in the first place? The answers vary, even within Council, though the majority of council members oppose CALM’s proposal. One common argument is that an elected official is accountable first to the voters rather than to Council, which theoretically makes them more susceptible to corruption.

Another, more concerning, reason has come out in commentary from City Council members themselves. In a City Council Work Session held on the evening of June 22nd, Councilman Mike Occhiato referred to the median family income and education levels as cause for questioning whether or not a capable candidate could be fielded from Pueblo. He also states:

“There’s always the ability to hire someone within a relatively short period of time, or to bring someone up from the ranks within the professional pool of professionals who actually managed a department head versus the gene pool that a strong mayor might have. And I say ‘gene pool’ because strong mayors in larger communities [pause] a lot of the department heads that have those positions are not filled by people with competent ability.”

Occhiato continues, “We just don’t have the ability to pick someone out in the community, unless he’s unemployed, to run the community. And that’s exactly what’s happened. I know there’s a joke going around the community. If the strong mayor would pass, we’d wanna be at Gina [Dutcher]’s office the next day to see who lines [up] for [pause] trying to, uh, become the mayor. Those that would be unemployed.”

Get it?

Where did this mentality in our city come from that suggests we’re not capable of sustaining a reasonable democratic system of governance? Following this line of thought, we’re just smart enough to elect those currently in power, but beyond that, we cannot be trusted to choose or participate wisely.

Council’s decision to impose their own opposing option on the ballot is yet another example of this. Kudos, however, to Councilmen Thurston and Atencio for standing up against the way this matter was handled, regardless of their personal feelings. In an August 25th Chieftain story, the two “said council had no business bringing such a question to the public.” They went on to say that, had Council done the same as CALM and gone to the public, gathering signatures for their proposal of a weak mayor ballot option, they would then have been happy to support it.

The ballot options are sure to be a hot topic of conversation in the coming months, and I’d expect that, one way or another, we’ve yet to see the most dramatic developments in this political soap opera.

Stay tuned, stay informed, and most of all, mind your gene pool, Pueblo.

You can’t say that in church!

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Request for Qualifications – Draft

Smells Like Spirit

By Christian Piatt


(Originally published in PULP)


I’ve been co-editing a new book series for Chalice Press, a Christian Publisher connected to my denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Yes, that’s really the denomination’s name, including the parentheses. Don’t ask why.


Anyway, I recently traveled to Indianapolis and Kansas City to speak to a few hundred folks about the new series titled WTF? (Where’s the Faith?)


We Disciples seem to have a thing for parentheses.


Obviously, the title is provocative, which is purposeful. The series, created by young adults, primarily for young adults, is intended to speak to them where they are. This includes addressing a lot of things in a lot of ways that most folks in church have never been comfortable doing. So the relatively cheeky title does serve a purpose beyond unadulterated obnoxiousness; it’s supposed to break down barriers.


True to form the first book, due out early next year, is about faith and sexuality, and is called Oh God, Oh God, OH GOD! Trust me, you’re not the only one who’s a little bit amazed we even got that one past the editorial board, but kudos to them for having the barnacles to print it.


So you’d think that anyone aware of the connotations of both the series title and the first book would have at least a basic idea of what they were in for coming to one of our workshops. But my partner in crime and co-editor, Brandon Gilvin, took even me off guard when he said the word “blowjob” in the middle of our church event.


The room got pretty quiet for a minute. Then, thank goodness, we really started talking, which was the whole point to begin with. It should be noted that he didn’t just blurt out “blowjob” for no reason. He actually was making a point about some college girls who came to his counselor girlfriend some time back to ask her which was worse: kissing a boy or giving him a blowjob. This, they said, was a conundrum because “kissing a boy is so intimate.”


The point was made that there is more brushed under the rug in faith communities than is talked about with care, thoughtfulness and candor. A few people never lost the look of shock from their faces, but no one left. Maybe they just wanted to see what we would say next, but to their credit, they hung in there.


Afterward, I had several people come to me and thank me both for the books and the discussion. People confessed everything from personal struggles with pornography addiction, to eating disorders, and the level of honesty became nearly overwhelming. 


It was clear that people have been dying to talk about these kinds of things with people they can trust, who won’t judge them, but who will listen and respond with compassion and love. Though this was only a small step, it’s amazing to think that saying a word like “blowjob” in a faith-based workshop could be such a cathartic and healing experience.


As they say, God works in mysterious ways – I guess even through a couple of heretics like us.

Why standardized testing in our schools SUCK

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Why CSAP Sucks

By Christian Piatt


(Originally published in PULP)

If the ridiculous school supply and uniform bills weren’t enough to signal the beginning of school, there are plenty of other signs that the academic season is upon us: nervous-looking kids; slightly euphoric parents; bulging backpacks and the telltale crossing guards posted at strategic locations around town.


We also know it’s back-to-school time since we’re finally getting a glimpse of the CSAP test results from last year. The CSAPs – which stands for “Colorado Student Assessment Program” – is given to most students on most grades throughout the state, supposedly to track student progress. A love child of George Bush and his No Child Left Behind legislation, the CSAPs and similar testing batteries across the nation have drawn mixed reviews.


In general, the sentiment toward the tests is negative, but the problem is most folks agree we should have some sort of accountability for student achievement; the problem is that no one seems to have a clue about how to make the tests better.


For starters, the tests historically have compared apples to oranges, holding one third-grade class’ scores up against the third-graders that follow them the next year and so on from grade to grade. But aside from any kids who failed and had to repeat a grade, these are entirely different students, so it’s impossible to get much useful data this way.


Recently, the bureaucrats and administrators have wised up at least a little, and they’re now tracking cohorts. This means we get to see data from one group of students as they progress throughout their academic career. But this still has huge flaws, particularly in a highly mobile community like Pueblo. In some schools, where the mobility rate exceeds 100 percent, most of theses aren’t the same kids from beginning of year to end, let alone from one year to the next.


A more reasonable solution is to implement a longitudinal system that follows each individual students from kindergarten to graduation. This would require more consistency from state to state, but it’s really the only way to use the tests to tell if a particular student is where they need to be or not. 


Another issue is the test’s sensitivity, on two levels. First, though some strides have been made to try and make the tests culturally sensitive, there are still issues surrounding the assumption of prior knowledge, much of which comes from a middle class, primarily Anglo background. Simply put, middle class kids have seen and done more than poorer kids, which gives them an advantage over kids who may have never left their home town.


A second sensitivity problem is more technical, primarily regarding the higher and lower extremes of the scale. In general, all we hear about is whether or not a kid performs at or above the “proficient” level, which constitutes two of the four possible quartiles within which scores can fall. Each school can see scores in a bit more detail, but for a child who began as a non-English speaker, or as functionally illiterate, a gain of a year or more may not even create a blip on the score chart. Some concessions are made for “special needs” students, but this hardly addresses the fundamental flaw, which is a test that is akin to taking a chainsaw into surgery.


Finally, there’s the problem of what the tests actually measure. The testing protocols, which are timed, try to tell if a child has mastered a set of skills necessary to solve a problem, whether it is a math proof or answers at the end of a reading passage. For the kids who get the right answers, all is well, but for the rest, the tests really tell us nothing.


For example, say a child misses all five questions at the end of a story passage. Though we can see they got all the wrong answers, did they fail because they didn’t understand the story? Maybe they misunderstood the questions? Or perhaps the directions for what to do in the first place? Did they read too slowly to even get to the questions? Did they have so many words they could not decode in the story that they lost the story’s point? Did they lack the vocabulary to comprehend three dozen words in the first few paragraphs?


We have no idea.


That’s because these are achievement tests, which do just that: measure overall achievement. If, however, we really wanted to mind some valuable data from this effort, we should be conducting diagnostic assessments. This not only tells you where a child does well, but where, across the board, they are weak. This helps teachers target the low points so that the entire end-result can come up, and so that some problems for which kids may compensate early in their school careers don’t suddenly blow up in their faces come junior high or high school.


Some are calling for the whole testing concept to be trashed, which would be a mistake. The problem isn’t that we’re testing our kids; it’s that we don’t know how or why. For now, though, the CSAPs and their counterparts in others states score well below proficient. 

New Live Concert on my Podcast

Friday, September 18th, 2009

I traveled recently to Lee’s Summit, MO for an event where I was leading some workshops, speaking and such. On Sunday night, I got to close out the evening with a concert for a couple hundred very welcoming folks. It was probably the highlight of the weekend for me.

I love getting to share music and spoken word with people, and though some of the stuff I introduced may have been a new experience for many in attendance, they all seemed to have a good time.

Check out the podcast by searching my name on iTunes, playing it on the streaming audio player on my website (, or hit the link below to go directly to the podcast site.

All episodes of the podcast, including the concert, are free. Let me know what you think.


Two new webinars, open for registration

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

My first webinar (online workshop) on “how to use Facebook as a ministry tool) was great fun and well-received. since then I’ve gotten several requests to host this workshop again, so it’s back along with an exciting webinar on how to select a literary agent an, ultimately, how to get published!

If you want to learn more about the events, go to, or email me directly at


Using Facebook as a Ministry Tool

Wednesday, Sept. 30th, 1pm (MST)

Learn the basics of “2.0” social networking, how to set up a Facebook account, take a tour of Facebook and learn strategies for using it as a tool to connect with people throughout the week, beyond the  walls.

From “Writer” to Agented and Published “Author”
(w/ Lit. Agent Anita Kushen)

Tuesday, Oct 6th 11am (MST)

Join the conversation with Author Christian Piatt and Literary Agent Anita Kushen about what it takes to move your passion for writing to the next level. Learn valuable information like how to find and select a literary agent, and how to become a published author.

My new BANNED QUESTIONS book series

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Great news! Chalice Press has approved the first two titles for my proposed BANNED QUESTIONS book series.

The first two titles are:



These are both due out in 2011, and I am currently working on the first book about the Bible.

I have a new Facebook Group where we can discuss these topics, generate ideas for upcoming titles, and where you can propose questions you’d like to see in the books.


I look forward to your input as this exciting new series takes shape.

Christian Piatt