Tag Archives: government

Ethics

May 16, 2017 by

Years ago, my colleague Butch Ethington showed me a graphic he designed when he was the ethics officer and ombudsman at Union Pacific Railroad. I still use this graphic in my Creighton classes and the department uses it in our Business Ethics Alliance programs.

It is a pyramid. At the bottom are all the rank-and-file employees, the heart and soul of business. Their No.1 ethical issue, Butch says, is fairness. “She got more time off.” “He was given the opportunity for travel.” “She got to work from home.”

In the middle of the pyramid are the managers and directors. In between the top dogs and rank and file employees, managers and directors have tough roles. Their No. 1 ethical issue is accurate reporting. “How do I make my boss happy about the numbers?” “How do I showcase my subordinates?”

At the top of the pyramid are the executives and board members of the organization. They spend a great amount of time interfacing with government, the public, and all stakeholders. Their No. 1 ethical issue is conflict of interest.

Of course, conflicts of interest can occur at any level of an organization. Think about the conflicts that arise for salespeople, or the ones that occur in procurement. Executives have other ethical issues, for example, telling the truth or community responsibilities. Let’s focus on executives and board members and their conflicts of interest.

Three key questions arise. What is a conflict of interest? Why is it so hard to recognize our own conflicts of interest? What can be implemented to reduce conflicts of interest?

As for the first question, we all know that a conflict of interest can arise when someone is responsible for serving competing interests. But this is not, in and of itself, unethical. It is what a person does about the competing interests that matter. Classic examples of conflicts of interest focus on financial interests, for example, an executive who shares confidential information, thereby decreasing his firm’s assets and increasing his own. But a more nuanced definition of conflict of interest includes multi-dimensions and is not always about making more money. For example, what about a board member who provides a building to the firm at reduced rent? In this case, she provides a benefit because of her interest. Is this a conflict that is unethical?

It has been said that half of the battle in ethics is being aware that there is an ethical situation in front of you. Why is it so hard to see one’s conflicts of interest? Behavioral ethicists shine a light on this second question. We have psychological dispositions to think or act in certain ways, due to chemistry or socialization, which are unnoticed or disbelieved. Deeply entrenched and habitual dispositions can be healthy, like being confident. But confidence can become extreme and turn into a bias. Overconfidence bias can block one’s perception of a conflict of interest and when this happens we say a person has a psychological blindspot.

Overconfidence bias can be heard when an executive says, “This is not a problem. If anyone can handle it, I can.” But no one is immune to psychological blindspots and unethical conflicts of interest. No one. The best we can do is recognize our human nature and develop strategies to overcome our extremes. Which takes us to question three.

What can we do to reduce conflicts of interest? At the policy level, it is helpful to have executives and board members sign conflict of interest statements. But make sure the documents are multidimensional, addressing possible financial, as well as non-financial, conflicts. Most conflict of interest statements do not. Second, we can learn from something Bruce Grewcock, CEO of Kiewit, once told me. He says that the company has leaders who are willing to speak up and point out to him when he needs to examine a situation again. He’s expressing the old adage, “surround yourself with good people.” When we do this, we have the best chance of recognizing our overconfidence and reducing the chance that we will act inappropriately and wreak havoc on our world.

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is the executive director of Business Ethics Alliance, and the Daugherty Chair in Business Ethics & Society at Creighton University.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

 

W. Dale Clark Library: A Reflection of Omaha

February 21, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Why  are  libraries  relevant? For Rem Koolhaas, international architect and designer of one of America’s premier libraries in Seattle, “in an age where information can be accessed anywhere, it is the simultaneity of all media and, more importantly, the curatorship of their content that makes the library vital.”

This compelling principle of curation—a thoughtful way of organizing and presenting content—is how the Omaha Public Library’s W. Dale Clark branch promotes free public access to multimedia information, programming, and assets inside and outside the four walls of  215 S. 15th St. The library’s architecture, in turn, is both a container for, and reflection of, the community of Omaha at large.
Omaha’s first permanent public library opened in 1877 at 18th and Harney streets. Designed by Thomas Kimball, it was Omaha’s first building dedicated solely to a public library. However, with a capacity of 46,000 books and drastically out of sync with modern needs, the library outgrew this historic building after World War II. Often referred to as “the worst library in America” and “the horror on Harney Street,” city and library officials began contemplating a new building and the role a new central library would have in defining the cultural core of Omaha in the late 1950s.

While some branches of the Omaha Public Library system are named after locations, others are named after prominent city leaders and/or major funders. The central library branch is named after W. Dale Clark, a long-time banker, civic leader, and Omaha World-Herald board member. It is no coincidence then that during the development of this new central branch, the Omaha World-Herald was often a soapbox for the library’s necessity as a cultural anchor. A June 9, 1957, article explained, “a library should offer the opportunity for enlightened citizenship and the continuing education and cultural advancement necessary to a working democracy.” This sentiment held true for W. Dale Clark as well.

Although Clark did not live to see the completion of his library branch, which began construction in 1975, the 124,500-square-foot Bedford limestone monolith opened on March 9, 1977. Architects John Latenser & Sons of Omaha designed the $7 million open-plan building to accommodate 350 patrons and 400,000 volumes (the current collection is 500,000+ volumes). The Omaha World-Herald defined the opening as “the greatest event in Omaha’s history.”

Little has changed architecturally to the branch since 1977, although its surroundings continue to take shape—the neighborhood is part of a six-block $15 million revitalization plan.

The striated five-story W. Dale Clark Library opens laterally east and west and features a 110-foot bridge on the west entrance that spans a parking moat below for 48 cars, special facilities for audio-visual materials, a large open atrium, contemporary art gallery, and significant art collection including Catherine Ferguson’s sculpture Totem and an Olga de Amaral tapestry. The central library maintains practical roles to store government documents, house the ever-growing genealogy department, and to be a repository for community history.

In a building nearly 40 years old, how has the Omaha Public Library advanced into the digital age—an age where traditional media is seen as almost cliché? The answer is quite simple: curated in-person programing.

The facilitators for this community-driven programing are the 78 library staff at the W. Dale Clark branch. With a web of knowledge and resources, Emily Getzschman, the marketing manager for OPL acknowledges, “the staff are our greatest asset.” They fulfill the library’s tagline “open your world” by connecting dots—many of which are obvious (GED training, citizenship assistance, computer training, and literacy classes) and others that seem more disparate (STD screening, a toy lending library, speed dating, a culinary conference, and facilitated conversations around contemporary topics) all under a major OPL tenet of non-discrimination. As Amy Mather, adult services manager, says, “the library allows a smooth transition where a barrier may be to connect people with ideas.” In many instances, the library is filling voids in the public domain with this free niche programming—all of which is community driven.

Since its beginning, some have questioned the role and need for the Omaha Public Library—a story that continues to play out today. These opposing views undermine the very role of the public library as a space to define, beyond hierarchies, the community of Omaha.

It is a privilege and right to use the Omaha Public Library, which is free and open to all of the public. Everyone and anyone has access to its curated network of resources. The potency of programming, outreach, and staff reverberates beyond its architecture and stated mission placing OPL at the frontier of relevancy. As Mather says, “this is your library.”
omahapubliclibrary.org/w-dale-clark-library 

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

Jean Stothert

September 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Keith Binder

The corridor leading to the Omaha mayor’s office serves as a gallery for a long line of portraits of the city’s past mayors. It is a wall-to-wall boy’s club.

This day, the portrait of the city’s newest mayor is off at a photography studio waiting to be framed. But once it arrives, it will be an image long overdue on this wall.

It’s the first picture of a woman in the hallway on the third floor of the Civic Center.

“It was not an issue in the campaign, and it was not something I thought about,” says Mayor Jean Stothert as she sits at the conference table in her new office. “But yes, there’s no question I’m proud to be the first female mayor of Omaha.

“You get pretty sick of the ‘*-word.’” – Jean Stothert on women in politics

“Some of my biggest influences are those strong, pioneering women who broke new ground. I love Margaret Thatcher. I would love if someone called me The Iron Lady.”

So be it. Jean Stothert—The Iron Lady. It’s a name both friend and foe are likely to find fitting.

Conservative, like Thatcher. Driven. A homemaker from humble beginnings turned successful political figure. A tough, sometimes polarizing figure. A woman who can shrug off, and move on from, the sometimes vile comments only female political figures have to face.

“You get pretty sick of the ‘c-word,’” she says. It isn’t unusual for women in politics to be pushed to prove their “toughness.” So where is the “Iron” in the “Lady?” In Stothert’s case, not only did politics help galvanize her; so, too, did her years as an ICU nurse.

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Humble Roots

Stothert grew up in Wood River, Ill., outside St. Louis, “a refinery town where my dad worked at the refinery.”

He was not in a union, if you were wondering. Like Thatcher, Stothert—as she has proven already with the firefighter’s union—stands in vocal and firm opposition to some union interests.

The specs of her childhood home roll quickly off her tongue. “Tiny house—living room, kitchen, four kids, one bathroom,” Stothert shares. She’s clearly said this many times before. It is a counterpoint raised often in political spheres when people note that she lives with her surgeon husband in often-assumed-to-be-more-affluent-than-it-is Millard.

She walked to school, had a job, did volunteer work. She wanted to be a nurse “because it seemed like a good way to give back to the community.” While many of her friends chose to work in hospitals in more affluent parts of St. Louis, she chose to “be where I was most needed”—with the Trauma Center at St. Louis University Hospital in the heart of the city.

You have to become an Iron Lady to be a nurse in an inner-city trauma center.

“You see it all,” she says. “I’ve done CPR on hundreds of patients. I’ve opened people’s chests and done internal heart massage. I’ve wrapped up bodies and taken them to the morgue over and over again. That’s just how it is.

“I like the challenge of making a critically ill patient well. But sometimes, I’m not going to make that patient well. They’re going to die. The thing is, I never want to get that hard edge. You can do tough work without losing your humanity and compassion doing it.”

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From Homemaker to Politician

It was in this environment that she met trauma surgeon Joe Stothert.

After five years of dating, they married. In time, the couple moved to Seattle with his job. Then to Galveston, Texas, where the couple’s daughter, Elizabeth, and son, Andrew, were born.

Then to Omaha, Neb., “in good part for the better schools,” Joe notes. With two young children and a husband with a job that took him away at all hours, Jean decided she would stay home with her children.

“She has always been strong-willed but wonderful at listening to others and working together with people to get things done.” – Joe Stothert

In little time, being an at-home mom entailed diving into work with her local parent-teacher organization. Joe says it was a natural fit for her.

“She has always been strong-willed but wonderful at listening to others and working together with people to get things done,” he says. “Then, as an ICU nurse, she was working with an immense amount of sophisticated mechanisms. She enjoyed that. I think she was quickly interested in the mechanisms of government.”

Jean and husband Joe Stothert went out in a blizzard to campaign.

Jean and husband Joe Stothert went out in a blizzard to campaign.

Getting Out the Vote

Three years after the family arrived in Millard, three positions opened on the Millard School Board.

“There were 13 people running. A full field,” Stothert says. “I didn’t have much money, so I figured we’d have to hit the streets and knock on as many doors as we could. We won by a good bit. We learned right then how important it is to get out and talk to everyone you can.”

That shoe-leather, door-to-door campaigning with her and her supportive family at its core has been the key to her continued success. She served two more terms on the Millard School Board before her election to the Omaha City Council, which, she says, was a logical step.

“School boards are very much like city councils,” Stothert says. “You manage multi-million-dollar budgets, you have labor negotiations. It wasn’t much of a leap at all.”

During her time on the school board, she suffered her only loss so far in politics: a 2006 bid for the state legislature against Democrat Steve Lathrop.

It was one of the closest races in state history. Initially, it appeared Stothert had won by only a few votes. She celebrated with a small vacation with her husband. When she returned, she found out that after absentee votes were counted, she had lost by 14 votes. Stothert said the final margin—after some votes were contested—was five votes.

“So maybe you should have picked up 10 of your friends and driven [them] to the polls,” she recalls having wondered to herself. “Yes, I thought about it. But I truly believe we did the best we could. I think I learned more in losing than I did in winning. I also truly believe that things happen for a reason.”

She then turned her eye toward the Omaha City Council. She asked Joe if she should run. “I said ‘no,’” he says. “She ran anyway.”

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Taking on the Big Boys

She had no plans to run for mayor when she won her seat on the council, but, in time, she says, she “decided that we needed a change.”

In her race for mayor, her calls for smaller, more streamlined government resonated with voters. Her ground game grew considerably. At its core was a relentless door-to-door campaign by the entire Stothert family.

Joe took 10 vacation days prior to both the primary and the general election. Her son, who is pursuing an advanced degree at the University of South Florida, and her daughter, who works at Union Pacific, also joined in.

Stothert proudly showed off a framed photo of her and her husband in the middle of a residential street during one of the weekend campaign blitzes. The city was socked in by a blizzard that weekend. The Stotherts are wrapped in wet winterwear. Part of Jean’s hair is frozen and cocked sideways. Joe’s right thumb is protruding from a hole in his glove.

It’s a picture of resolve. They knocked on 15,000 doors. She says Joe helped push her on when she grew tired on the campaign trail. Joe insists, “She never would have gone on if she didn’t want to.” It’s also a picture, she jokes, of the Stotherts on a date. “We really have enjoyed those times together,” the mayor says.

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The Ugly Side of Politics

At times, the war of words during the campaign got brutal. Stothert, often characterized as a hardline conservative, can throw fire as well as she receives it. But particularly in the modern world of blogs, tweets, and every sort of website, the personal stabs at those in the public arena are often relentless and outrageous.

Stothert admits that, during the campaign, she failed to heed advice that she avoid reading all the attacks on her on the internet. Also, some of the nastiest—and most sexist—of the insults blew up into campaign issues she then had to address.

She boldly repeats two comments about her—one, a joke essentially about her being gang raped, and another about her being a stripper—that one would not expect to hear verbatim in an interview with the mayor.

“She would get pretty stern. She would challenge me, I would challenge her.” – State Senator Brad Ashford on Stothert

But there is often a flipside to such outlandish attacks. People get angry. In this election, Stothert admits, polls showed that a substantial number of women responded to the sexist attacks by moving into her camp.

Stothert says she’s not afraid of criticism. She invites it, as long as it’s civilized. But she knows now to avoid the constant barrage in cyberspace.

“It’s just not good for your mental health,” she says. “It wouldn’t be good for anyone’s health.” Her husband, as you might imagine, hasn’t handled some of the nastier or more personal criticisms with such a thick skin. “I don’t forgive and forget as easily,” Joe says. “She’s the one who can do that. Early on, she had it pegged. She told me the jabs were going to hurt me more than they would hurt her.”

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Tackling Tough Issues

The criticism is not going to ebb. She will continue to grapple with the powerful and vocal firefighter’s union. While sitting at her office’s conference table, she points to her desk. The gritty specifics of her proposed budget to streamline government “are sitting right over there,” she says.

She promises to cut government and cut taxes while improving government services. There are few political figures who have not claimed they could accomplish this feat. There are few who have.“We are going to succeed,” she says. “I have no doubt about that.”

If anyone can pull off this trick, it might be Stothert. State Sen. Brad Ashford, who ran against Stothert for mayor while also working with her on several issues on the state government level, says Stothert, while always civilized, is a tough and driven negotiator.

“She would get pretty stern. She would challenge me, I would challenge her,” Ashford says. “There’s nothing wrong with that. In the end, that’s how you make good policy.” In Ashford’s mind, Stothert’s best chance to save money while improving services will come “if she’s committed to consolidating” many services that both the county and city provide.

Jean and Joe with their family.

Finding Equilibrium

To keep a sense of balance, Stothert says, she knows she has to guard her personal time. She has a life outside the demands of the mayor’s office. “I love my home,” she says. “I’m pretty good at getting there, calming down, and shutting things off for a while.”

Her day is fairly regimented, as you might expect. She’s up at 5 a.m. After a usually healthy breakfast, she walks for 30 minutes on her treadmill, then takes her Australian Shepard, Ozzie (named after St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith), for a one-mile walk.

Back at home, she watches little television beyond the news. Instead, she relaxes by reading “a lot of fiction.” Her favorite books: one from her childhood, To Kill a Mockingbird, and comedian Tina Fey’s Bossypants (the cover of which inspired our magazine cover concept and, yes, the mayor enthusiastically “suited up” for the photo shoot).

If she has the time, she loves to get in the kitchen. “My friends and I used to get Bon Appétit magazine and try things all the time,” she says. “I would consider myself a gourmet cook now. I enjoy any time I can cook something myself.”

“I’m pretty good at getting [home], calming down, and shutting things off for a while.” – Jean Stothert

If she can’t, she’s also a fan of numerous Omaha restaurants. One stands out though, she says, perhaps because she fell in love with the fresh fish dinners she ate during the family’s time living in Seattle.

“The Twisted Cork has wonderful halibut and salmon,” she says. “I just love the food of the Pacific Northwest when it is done well.”

Then it’s five hours or so of sleep, the morning exercise, and off to another day as The Iron Lady.

“I’m a very black-and-white person,” she says. “I’m a very determined person.”

Meaning?

“We will achieve better services for less money,” she says. “We are not reducing city service, and we are going to balance the budget. This is what the people of this city have asked me to do, so that is what we’re going to get done.”

The Affordable Care Act

August 26, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), better known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is a federal statute signed into law in 2010. The objective of the Act is to increase affordability and rate of coverage for health insurance and reduce the overall costs of health care, which will be executed through mandates, subsidies, tax credits, and other means. The ACA is divided into 10 titles with some provisions that became effective immediately, while others are phasing in over a 10-year period.

But what does this mean for most seniors?

“If you don’t have insurance between age 60 and 65, that’s a concern.” – Andrea Skolkin, OneWorld Community Health Centers, Inc.

Individuals over 65 will likely find that not much will change as far as Medicare is concerned, says Andrea Skolkin, chief executive officer for OneWorld Community Health Centers, Inc. More preventive care is covered and prescription drug coverage will improve, she says, but most facets of Medicare will carry on as before.

“People who have Medicare, other than the little bit of expansion in the ‘donut hole’ [Medicare Part D coverage gap between the initial coverage limit and the catastrophic-coverage threshold for prescription drugs], should be secure in their coverage,” she explains. “The new marketplace isn’t for people who have Medicare.”

Sixty-plus individuals who will definitely be affected by ACA are those seniors who haven’t reached the Medicare eligibility age of 65 and are without medical insurance. In January 2014, uninsured individuals will be required to buy health insurance, available through an exchange, or pay a penalty tax. Some people will certainly struggle to finance the premiums, but currently, seniors who don’t yet qualify for Medicare and can’t get covered through an employer are likely to take their chances and go without health insurance altogether, Skolkin says.

EJ Militti, financial advisor with The Militti Group at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management

EJ Militti, financial advisor with The Militti Group at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management

“If you don’t have insurance between age 60 and 65, that’s a concern,” she says. “We see a lot of it—people 55 and up—who are being ‘right-sized,’ if you will, out of their jobs and are left without anything until they are eligible for Medicare. Especially at our new clinic in West Omaha, we see a lot of uninsured adults.”

From a financial standpoint, it’s fair to say that ACA will not spell good news for everyone’s pocketbook, says EJ Militti, a financial advisor with The Militti Group at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.

“[For] the wealthy and those who have properly saved for health care and other retirement costs, there is less to like and greater confusion about government-mandated health care. Moreover, those considered wealthy will be helping foot the bill of this epic legislation,” he says, explaining that a Medicare tax increase and additional taxes on taxable investment income have been instated, and other proposals are pending. “In my opinion, there is little doubt higher-income earners are going to be paying more in taxes. Higher-income earners need to be aware of future tax proposals on the table.”

On the other hand, Militti points out, some Americans will clearly benefit financially from the legislation.

“[For] the wealthy and those who have properly saved for health care and other retirement costs, there is less to like and greater confusion about government-mandated health care.” – EJ Militti, The Militti Group at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management

“The poor, the lower middle class, the long-term unemployed, and those with pre-existing conditions will benefit the most, and that’s by design,” Militti says. “The entire premise for government-mandated health care is to provide taxpayer-financed subsidies for those who, otherwise, cannot provide for themselves.”

**

EJ Militti is a Financial Advisor with The Militti Group at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management. The information contained in this article is not a solicitation to purchase or sell investments. Any information presented is general in nature and not intended to provide individually tailored investment advice. The strategies and/or investments referenced may not be suitable for all investors as the appropriateness of a particular investment or strategy will depend on an investor’s individual circumstances and objectives. Investing involves risks and there is always the potential of losing money when you invest. The views expressed herein are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect the views of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC, Member SIPC, or its affiliates. 

Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC (“Morgan Stanley”), its affiliates, and Morgan Stanley Financial Advisors or Private Wealth Advisors do not provide tax or legal advice. This material was not intended or written to be used, and it cannot be used, for the purpose of avoiding tax penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer. Clients should consult their tax advisor for matters involving taxation and tax planning and their attorney for matters involving trust and estate planning and other legal matters.

An Omahan in Omo Valley

It all started with National Geographic magazines. If you were a kid like me, you thumbed through them and dreamed about the exotic places that were halfway around the world. African stories always caught my eye. So unusual. So different from life in Nebraska.

Especially Ethiopia

I recently traveled to Ethiopia, spending several weeks exploring the culture and the country. Like most of you, when I travel, I pack my passions. In my case, that’s business ethics. Wherever I went, I asked about business practices and economic development. I learned a great deal about the ethics of the people and, in the process, I reflected on our Greater Omaha values. Let me share two experiences.

Hawassa University

At Hawassa University, I spent time with Dean Fitsum Assefa’s faculty and MBA students. We talked about business ethics as a competitive advantage. In a country ranked 114 of 147 on Transparency International’s Corruption Index, the consensus among students was that being ethical would not lead to business success. My experience is that our Greater Omaha students think differently than this. What is your opinion?

Omo Valley and Economic Development

One of the most intriguing destinations in Ethiopia is the Omo Valley. Through the heat and the mud, we traveled to the Valley to interact with its tribespeople. I grew up on a farm, but I have never experienced this kind of outdoor life where people live with their cattle herds and have only the most basic shelters. The customs of the people are exotic—the Mursi women wear lip plates, the Hamer people use cattle jumping as a rite of passage to manhood, and the Bumi participate in scarification. There are no other people on the planet like the people of the Omo Valley.

Herein lies the rub. The Ethiopian government has a plan for economic development. They are selling tribal land in the Omo Valley, primarily to foreign investors, to create sugar cane plantations. In tandem, they are building factories to process the sugar cane. The plan is to entice the tribespeople to work in the factories to alleviate their extreme poverty.

It is difficult to imagine the challenges for Ethiopian leaders, one of the poorest countries in the world. They must promote economic development. (Our Greater Omaha leaders have that responsibility here, too, right?) But their plan will literally destroy the tribal cultures.

So I talked to Mrs. Moges, the CEO of Travel Ethiopia, the largest travel agency in the country, and a member of the Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce. I asked what she thought of the plan and its implication for the tribes. Mrs. Moges said, “The Omo Valley is Travel Ethiopia’s daily bread and butter. I know that the plan will destroy tribal culture and affect my business. But I think that is okay. Why? Think of the women. Daily, they carry bundles of sticks for firewood. They walk one to five miles a day with heavy containers to collect water. Childbirth is a nightmare. Is it okay to change the tribal cultures? You bet it is.”

I have been deep in thought since returning from my Ethiopian trip. When is it acceptable to change a people’s way of life for the sake of economic development? When should we save a way of life, knowing that doing so will stifle economic development? In Omaha, we have asked these kinds of questions, too, about our culture, our historical buildings, etc.

This I know: There are those who hold onto the past and those who grasp towards the future. In that tension, change is generated, and this is where communities’ values are revealed.

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is Executive Director of Business Ethics Alliance and Chair of Business Ethics & Society at Creighton University’s College of Business.

Grassroots Organization

“The best way to predict your future is to create it.” – Peter F. Drucker

The thought of community organizing has been something that would raise my ire with thoughts of…well, you know the kinds of thoughts. When it was suggested that the same efforts might be useful for purposes I’m interested in, I was taken aback. If you read further, you might find that there is something in community organizing that you may find useful in your business endeavors, too.

In the U.S., there are a couple of companies that have been extremely professional in their approach to getting candidates elected: motivating the citizens in districts to participate in a meaningful manner to get a candidate re-elected or elected to office; changing apathy to active interest, and, on occasion, to participation. It was one of these companies that approached me to help with a difficult zoning matter.

Over a three-week period, we had people meet with and discuss a project for which I was seeking governmental entitlements with fully half of the registered voters in the city. Armed with a tablet computer, the door-to-door people knew who they were approaching, as well as the citizen’s voting participation, history, and party affiliation. This level of knowledge made their approach more of a “warm” contact. With each citizen contact, responses and interests were recorded for our use later. Citizens were asked to sign a postcard, which was pre-addressed to their specific council person. Hundreds did so, which resulted in a deluge of postcards to every council representative.

Just before the council hearing for the zoning matter, we called every residential telephone in the city, asking whether the resident wished to participate in a Tele-Townhall. Hundreds did choose to participate. This participation allowed us to poll the citizens again, as well as secure a huge city council attendance.

With this being my first such use of a political company to generate grassroots support for my business interests, there were several lessons learned.

Spend time with both the field people and the managers to be certain that they understand the big picture. Each person making contact with citizens needs to have a feel for what the hot topics are in the local community. They need to understand, with a moderate level of detail, the project being promoted. To be able to use local landmarks to describe location, and how the project will impact the community on a practical and emotional level.

Accurately describe the project from the perspective of both the opposition and the proponent. By offering both perspectives, one can stand before the governmental and political body and show that the presentation was neutral. More than a typical promotional approach, like selling a home or a car, this must be balanced. This is because when the citizens appear in the public forum and hear the impassioned presentation of both sides, they should find that what they were told was indeed balanced. This keeps your supporter’s positions solidly committed.

Unlike regular elections or product purchase, governmental action on many large issues will affect communities for generations. If a property is zoned for industrial, that use will be carved in stone for many decades. Citizens will step up to the gravity of the situation and the importance of the decision if they are informed and invited to participate. Every communication with citizens must convey the importance of the matter, as well as the part each citizen might play in that decision. You will find that many will grasp this opportunity to break from apathy and participate in a meaningful way.

Local government workers, and especially elected officials, may resent this grassroots effort. An awakened citizenry is a threat to their typically unquestioned authority. While this may be something you are accustomed to in business, the participating citizens may be better served by being forewarned that their reception may be rather cool.

For the modest expense involved and relative ease in this effort, I think that a well-planned and prepared grassroots effort is just what most communities need. Too many citizens have been lulled into apathy, cocooned in their daily routine. You may find that your project inspires great community support. Support that will result in you prevailing in securing necessary governmental entitlements.

I know that I’m being a bit vague by not naming names. The point of this topic is to be thought-provoking, not a step-by-step instruction. My direct experience has led me to the conclusion that I will involve the community with every big project.

Any views and/or opinions present in “The Know-It-All” are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of B2B Omaha Magazine, or its parent company, and/or its affiliates.

Is Our Liberty to Succeed or Fail in Jeopardy?

May 25, 2013 by

It’s an issue that affects small businesses—the push for more and more sharing with others who don’t have as much as you do. This trend can be seen in many business practices, too. For example, the sales commission question below:

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” This Benjamin Franklin quote, with its many derivations, points toward a simple fact that, for one to expect a government to guarantee something, a part of one’s liberty will be the price.

The questions is: How much of your liberty will you gladly trade for an increased level of governmental protection? In other words, is it the responsibility of government to feed you, house you, educate you, care for you, etc…if you are sick, unwilling, or incapable?

Most of us feel that it is the obligation of government to provide us with some of these needs and desires. Others feel that government should do that and much more.

This is the age-old contest between those rowing the boat and those along for the ride. The sales adage says 80 percent of the sales are made by 20 percent of the sales force. In school, grades tend to follow a bell curve with a few students getting excellent marks while most are average, and a few bring up the rear. Should the sales staff getting 80 percent of the sales get the same commission as the rest of the team? Should the top students share their grades with those less fortunate, thus everyone getting a grade of C? What level of “sharing” do you consider fair?

What if you were a doctor who endured many years of school with considerable effort and expense? Economic justice would dictate that the doctor’s earnings be shared with those who were not capable, for whatever reason—even laziness—to achieve the same degree of earning capability. Would you be willing to have the government decide how much of a doctor’s income gets redistributed? If so, what incentive would current medical students (or anyone considering entering into a lengthy and expensive effort) have to continue becoming a doctor only to have their efforts taken away?

To the consternation of so many, life isn’t fair. Is it the role of government to make life fair? This exact precept was explored throughout the 20th century. The direct result of these experiments offered two class societies: the ruling elite and everyone else. Sadly, the ‘everyone else’ class was considered expendable by those ruling. China squandered the lives of over 60 million in an effort to purchase world power status. The average Chinese existed and died on a daily caloric intake smaller than that of the slaves of Auschwitz. Russia bartered the lives of their bread basket Kulaks by the millions in exchange for the materials of industrialization. No, the only way a government can enforce equality is by reducing the living standard of the ‘everyone else’ class.

As America celebrates the 4th of July, a time for quiet contemplation of the uniqueness of this American experiment is due. All throughout history, tyranny is the norm. The liberty Americans have is truly unique. The thread that holds this together is the Constitution. I contend that the freedoms across the globe are there only so long as Americans remain free. Free to succeed, free to fail, free to risk their all in the pursuit of personal happiness. If Americans lose that desire for liberty, the rest of the world will lose as well.

Any views and/or opinions present in “The Know-It-All” columns are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of B2B Omaha Magazine or their parent company and/or their affiliates.