The Curse of the Fitbit

I showed up at work this morning to find that our Finance Director had baked a cake in celebration of the last paper payroll stubs to be distributed to City employees. Finance directors celebrate strange things, but the cake was good. I justified eating this treat by reminding myself that I ran five miles this morning and burned 1,285 calories while traveling 10,767 steps.

Some might wonder how I know with such precision the number of steps I’ve taken this morning as well as the number of calories I’ve burned. I know because of my trusty Fitbit. I’m sure everyone who is anyone knows what a Fitbit is; but for the uninitiated, it is (in my case) a rubber-like bracelet with an electronic monitoring device inside it. The device measures stuff that is collected through a dongle, which magically turns the stuff into essentially useless data about how much you move around. I think Fitbits are a representative symbol of the data-obsessed city manager, and it should not be surprising that my wife felt it was a perfect birthday gift for me this year. Not only does it satisfy my craving for data, but it also is theoretically helpful in a competition I’ve entered with my three sons and my son-in-law.

My youngest son, Patrick, came up with a scheme to motivate all of us to lose weight by having each of us contribute $100 to a monthly pool for six months. The person who loses the most weight collects a hefty $3,000 prize at the end of the competition. I suppose my wife figured the Fitbit might help produce some financial benefits in addition to giving her a svelte husband. Sadly for her, neither goal has been accomplished to date.

Patrick and his brother-in-law, Gabe, each lost over 20 pounds in the first month while the rest of us have taken off about five pounds collectively. I know that I have exercised more than any of the others, but apparently I’ve also been eating more. I guess 470,921 steps in the last 30 days isn’t enough to compensate for the all the food I’ve been unwilling to log on my Fitbit page. I tried entering my food intake for awhile; but it’s boring, complicated, and a little depressing. I have been entering my sleep record, and I was surprised to learn how good I am at it. Last night, I slept for 7 hours and 3 minutes with a sleep efficiency rating of 97 percent. I don’t think I’ve ever dropped below 90 percent; so if competitive sleeping ever becomes a sport, I may be a champion.

I have noticed a few other Fitbit bracelets at City Hall, and I wonder if anyone else has wondered about the absurdity of collecting daily information about steps, calories, sleep, and other activities. Perhaps all this data will be of interest to future generations, and I can almost picture my grandchildren marveling that grandpa took 21,135 steps on January 31, 2015. I hope they don’t wonder about whatever motivated me to record it, let alone care.

The Importance of City Parks

My wife and I are cheap babysitters, so it’s not surprising that we frequently have grandchildren at our house while their parents are tending to other business. We have a supply of toys for the children, and they are young enough to still enjoy playing in our small backyard; however, there is no substitute for a good outing.

Our grandchildren will almost always lobby for a hike on the trail surrounding our subdivision that ends at Teloh Calapooia Park about a mile away. The trail includes mud holes, water features, and a variety of sticks, stones, and creatures that children find amusing. The park at the end of the trail offers great slides, swings, and other things to climb, in addition to other kids. We must have seen at least 20 other children on our most recent visit.

We are fortunate to live within walking distance of two neighborhood parks that are attractive to our grandchildren. Sometimes disputes arise over which is the preferred destination, but the trail usually wins the day. I think my wife prefers Doug Killin Park because there is less mud. Our Valentine’s Day trip to Teloh Calapooia required hauling four children upstairs and giving them lengthy baths before they could be unleashed on the rest of the house.

I hadn’t given much thought to the importance of city parks to my family and me until recently. I have always believed in having a good park system, but I didn’t realize its value to me personally. We have taken our children and grandchildren to countless city parks over the years to play in organized sporting events, watch concerts, view fireworks, climb on play structures, fish, attend fairs, picnic, attend family reunions, hike, swim, or just sit in a shady spot on a hot day.

Oregon is such a beautiful state, and we have so many great natural areas that city parks may seem unnecessary to some. I think the great value of city parks is their proximity to where we live. I love Silver Creek Falls State Park and Crater Lake National Park, but I don’t necessarily like driving a car full of children to either place on a regular basis. Walking down the street or a nearby trail and running into people we know is a much different experience, requiring less energy of all kinds.

I would like to express my thanks to all the people who make our parks desirable places to take our children. Parks are a great community service that help us with the challenges of raising happy children who will grow up to be healthy, productive people.

On the trail Kiddos swing

Ballot Measure Protocol

Last Wednesday, the City Council voted 6-0 to place an $18 million bond measure on the May ballot to help finance construction of new fire and police stations.  The estimated impact of the bond on property tax rates is currently 29 cents per thousand dollars of assessed value.  This number is subject to change based on the actual interest rate obtained when the bonds are sold, assuming the measure passes.

Employees in Albany and Corvallis have, in the past, been targets of complaints to the State Elections Division of the Secretary of State’s office alleging violations of a law that prohibits public employees’ use of public resources, including work time, from advocating for or against measures once they have been referred to the ballot.  Most of these complaints have been dismissed; but in our case, I received a small fine for failing to note in a press release the potential cost per thousand of the last ballot measure referred to our voters.  That decision is currently under appeal at the State Court of Appeals.

My advice to all City employees is to exercise caution when commenting about the measures while on work time.  I would emphasize that this law does not in any way limit an employee’s freedom to exercise the First Amendment right of free speech when he/she is not on work time.  I have written letters in support of and opposition to previous ballot measures on my home computer on my own time, and I was clearly within my rights to do so.  Employees may choose to actively campaign for or against measures by going door-to-door, writing letters, putting up lawn signs, etc., without any fear of official action against them, as long as they are clearly doing so on their own time and not using any City resources to assist them.  There have even been past decisions upholding an employee’s right to wear a button at work in support of or opposition to something on the ballot.

I think the likelihood of anyone filing a complaint against an employee other than a director or me is small, but I also know that it is prudent for all employees to be aware of the possibility.  I plan to exercise my rights during future campaigns, and I encourage all employees to do likewise.  I will also do my best to make sure I use no City resources during any election campaign, and I’m sure all City employees will do the same.