aaawww…did us bloggers upset the little ole city of Salisbury?

It’s said that “nature abhors a vacuum.” In the case of Salisbury, since the local paper or TV stations aren’t always the best source for news, something fills in the slack.

There’s always been a “rumor mill” wherever you go, but in this era of widely available Internet and the opportunity to sign up for (or buy like I did) a domain name and join the “pajamas media”, it’s very possible for a blogger to have a larger circulation and disseminate information to a larger audience than the so-called “mainstream media” outlets.

Three of my fellow Delmarva bloggers became accepted members of the media this week as all three local media outlets featured them on their news. The gist of the stories was a focus on local resident Joe Albero, a man who’s had repeated run-ins with several government entities. To those who aren’t a fan of his efforts, I suppose the term for him would be “local gadfly.” The really funny thing is that Albero doesn’t have his own blog, generally he works with and comments to the Justice for All? blog (although he has commented here on monoblogue as well.)

I’m sure all three of these blogs have rapidly increased their readership over the course of this year (let alone the last few days), as has mine (I had a record number of hits yesterday.) Monoblogue is a little different than the other three, but I do cover a lot of the same ground. It would be interesting to know what the hit rate is for the “mainstream” outlets compared to the bloggers. While it’s probably on a order of magnitude higher, I bet the gap is decreasing.

What struck me as funniest about the coverage was the Daily Times article, and particularly Mayor Tilghman’s reaction to the bloggers, “If they care for a higher level of community discussion, then I recommend they become involved in the city of Salisbury.”

Honestly, how does one become more involved with the city of Salisbury? Let’s assume for the sake of argument that at least one of the above mentioned bloggers or correspondents attends each public meeting, and looks over all the agendas and such that is public information. To me, the next step would have to be either working for the city or running for office. There’s only so many city positions that open up where an impact can be made, and you have to actually live in Salisbury to run for office (not to mention win an election.)

Once upon a time some wag said, “you can’t fight City Hall.” It becomes easy to ignore the wishes of the public when you know you have enough support from the voters to remain in the job term after term. But you can’t ignore bloggers quite as easily when they present a compelling version of events that may not be what the mayor and others in city government like to hear. So far the efforts of the bloggers have brought to light the animal deaths at the zoo (as well as their polluting the Wicomico River), the permitless dumping at the wastewater treatment plant, irregularities in annexation and zoning approvals – that’s just in Salisbury. Multiply that by 1,000 other large communities.

Maybe the best way to sum this up is if there weren’t bloggers and commenters to the sites who really cared about the place they live, it would be that much more difficult to muster up the resources for necessary change. This is the second place I’ve moved to by choice, and the first one was paid for by someone else (college.) So I’m interested in doing my part to make it a better place to live; after all, I have a stake in the community now since my job depends a lot on the well-being of the Delmarva area.

Kudos and thanks!

I happened to catch (thanks to reading it on Delmarva Dealings) this morning’s radio chat between WICO-AM morning host Bill Reddish and “Cato” of DD. It sounds like Reddish is up to speed on the blogosphere, which is good when you have a paper like ours. It does seem that WICO’s news is basically a rehash of Daily Times stories for the most part.

Unfortunately, there’s no transcript of the program available because I found it interesting in the parts I was able to listen to at the office, but I missed a bit here and there. Co-workers can do that to you.

But I didn’t miss the part at the end where Cato mentioned yours truly’s blog. And for that I thank him…good to know I’m becoming accepted in the Delmarva blogger community, slowly but surely.

As for the morning show, now that I’m getting pretty annoyed with the “Rex Nation” it may be time to go back to AM talk in the morning like I did back in Toledo. Seems like Bill Reddish is a good morning host – I never could stand “Bob and Tom” or “Don and Mike” and the “Rex Nation” is heading that way.

It’s not like I have a long commute, about 3-4 minutes! That’s one thing I do like about living here, little traffic. I almost wonder why WICO has a traffic report in the morning. Guess they have to fill some time, but if they continue to get good guests, the time will take care of itself.

Not just our problem

With a hat tip to The American Princess, this may end up being the solution to the zoo problem.

It’s a zoo out there!

Over the last couple months there’s been a lot of talk about problems with the Salisbury Zoo. The mounting list includes animal deaths, on-the-job injuries to staff, a lack of parking and/or needing a new location, and environmental concerns recently documented in the local blog Justice for All?

It just made me stop and think about a philosophy of mine. Anyone can complain about a problem, but who’s going to stick their neck out and offer solutions?

In the interest of disclosure, I have lived in this area 16 months and have yet to make it into the Salisbury Zoo. I guess I’m not much of an animal buff. A zoo is a nice place for a family to go but I live by myself so it’s somewhat less incentive. Honestly, I know I can’t beat the admission price.

To write this post, I decided to do some research and comparison. Because it’s in my native city and personally I think it would be a good zoo to emulate, I used the Toledo Zoo is one basis of comparison. I also looked up the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore for their facts and figures to see how the zoo here stacks up.

Using the Maryland Zoo as a comparison is a little bit more fair to the Salisbury Zoo, particularly in a financial sense. The Toledo Zoo has one big advantage as Ohio law allowed it to go on the ballot for a property tax levy. Thus, the citizens of Lucas County (or at least the property owners) all serve as a funding source for the zoo – an 0.7 mill operating levy ($7 per $1,000 of assessed valuation) has been in place since at least 1987 and is renewable every 10 years. But this coming May the zoo is going to the voters seeking an increase to an 0.85 mill operating levy plus an additional 1 mill levy to fund their master plan. Since I’ve not heard of any such levy type here, I have to presume there’s no statute allowing it in Maryland law.

Some relevant facts and figures about each of the zoos (from their websites unless noted):

Date founded: Maryland Zoo 1876 (3rd oldest in the country), Toledo Zoo 1900, Salisbury Zoo 1954.

Number of animals: Toledo Zoo 4,500, Maryland Zoo 1,500, Salisbury Zoo 200-500 (by various estimates).

Cost of admission:

Maryland Zoo is $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, $10 for kids, under 2 free, parking is free; zoo is closed in January and February.

Toledo Zoo is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors and kids, under 2 free, parking is $5 (free for members) with half-price admission during “Frozentoesen” in January and February.

Salisbury Zoo is free admission and parking, open year-round.

Memberships:

Maryland Zoo memberships are $55 individual, $59 senior, $65 individual plus, $87 grandparents, $87 family, $99 family plus – all the way up to “Pride of the Zoo” which is $1,500.

Toledo Zoo memberships are $35 individual, $45 individual plus, $50 grandparents, $60 family – their high end is “President’s Platinum Circle” for $2,500.

Salisbury Zoo memberships are $20 for students and seniors, $25 individual, $40 family, $60 deluxe family – topping out at $500 for a corporate patron membership.

Each zoo has other various ways of attempting to garner financial support. Common ones are animal sponsorships, pathway bricks/tiles, and each has some sort of party for sponsors and patrons. They all also do a Halloween-themed event.

But the two larger zoos have an “ace in the hole” that Salisbury’s seems to lack. The Toledo Zoo annually festoons itself in lights (they begin stringing them up about Labor Day) for its “Lights Before Christmas” display. It’s good for at least 100,000 visitors in the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. And the Maryland Zoo relies heavily on corporate sponsorships and advertising opportunities (with “official” products, signage, ticketbacks, newsletter ads, etc.)

In reading up for this, there were a couple interesting things I found out about the Salisbury Zoo. Since it’s on a tiny site (just 12 acres) the largest animal they have is their bear. And I had no idea that Jim Rapp was such a young guy. I’m picturing a middle-age executive type and find out he became director of the zoo at the ripe old age of 25. He’s younger than me!

I sort of wonder if Jim Rapp’s lack of prior experience wasn’t the root of the current problems. Did they do a long search for a new zoo director when he was hired? Basically it seems to me like he was overwhelmed if anything. And with an $18 million upgrade master plan hanging in the balance, it may be time for some changes.

So, now that I’ve gone through the comparisons, it’s time to contribute my two cents.

To me, the best and surest way to help the zoo is to charge admission. I know the tradition is for a free zoo but in order to give itself a better revenue stream it’s necessary to start getting more than just the few dollars in the donation box. Animals aren’t cheap to feed, nor are zookeepers.

I think a fair price would be what the Ward Museum charges, which I believe is $7 for adults. That puts Salisbury at a price point that’s half of the Maryland Zoo. If you charge $3 for kids, that still means a family of four gets in for $20, and that’s not unreasonable. Memberships could be raised somewhat as well, maybe to $60 for a family and $35 for a single. On single-day tickets there could even be a “twofer” deal where $10 gets you into both the museum and zoo. Even if attendance and memberships go down by 1/3 I would think the revenues would increase.

Once the revenue stream gets set up, then the zoo can work on its facilities. It sounds like the MDE is going to have a lot to say about what goes on at the zoo but once those changes are outlined, then the Salisbury Zoo can slowly work on its master plan. I suspect an additional part of that plan would have to be some sort of levee or something to alleviate the potential flooding problems at the zoo site. But the first order of business is to stop all the animal deaths. I looked up the next accreditation date for the Salisbury Zoo and it’s in September 2009. They have 3 1/2 years to get things straightened out.

Finally, I have to say that, in order for all this to occur, it may be a time for a change at the top. Whether he was overwhelmed from the start or just a well-meaning but incompetent director, I think Jim Rapp needs to be replaced. And there’s nothing that says he can’t stay with the zoo – perhaps a more senior administrator from a successful zoo can come here as the top man and teach Jim Rapp how to do things right, then a wiser, more experienced leader could emerge.

A zoo can be a focal point of a city and a nice tourist attraction. When people asked, “what’s there to do in Toledo?” invariably the Toledo Zoo would come up. That’s not true for Baltimore, but Baltimore is a large city with multiple things to do from a tourist standpoint. As it stands now, Salisbury is basically known for being the last big town before Ocean City for the folks coming from the other shore. A nice zoo might not be the hugest tourist draw, but it’s something that can’t hurt the area. There’s no other zoo within an hour of Salisbury, so why not make it a worthwhile destination?