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No Money Blues or Ruse?

How many people are familiar with this scenario?

You step away from the catered lunch spread, company paid for ‘just because’; and you walk into your supervisor’s office, noticing his new laptop. His old one was only six months old while most of the other computers in the building are at least five years old. You ask if you can discuss the purchase of a new piece of software that will result in time and efficiency savings for your department – leading towards a substantial growth in productivity.

Your supervisor stuffs the last of the free muffin in his mouth and ponders for a moment. Closing his new laptop and leaning back in his recently purchased, leather high-back chair, he says, “I’d like to help but we’re out of money. Maybe we can consider it in the new fiscal year.” The new fiscal year, of course, is nine months away.

We’ve probably all experienced this at one time or another. Especially in corporate or government work.

It goes like this:

  1. There is a problem.
  2. There is a solution. (Usually multiple solutions.)
  3. No one is willing to take the time or the necessary action to solve the problem.
  4. The problem continues.
  5. The decision-makers continue to complain about the problem.
  6. Business as usual.

No action.

This perfectly describes the majority leadership of the Elgin City Council*.

The City of Elgin, Illinois had an estimated population of 111,117 as of 2014. This makes it the eighth largest city in Illinois, yet it has maintained the same feel of any small town in America. And that’s a good thing.

The bad thing? The center of downtown is a ghost town and has been for years. Especially after 5pm and most weekends. Aside from a few struggling restaurants and bars and three (yes, three) tattoo parlors; most nights– there is just nothing going on. I’m not counting¬† the Centre of Elgin recreation facility (operating at a deficit every year since it opened in 2002) or the library which are both to the north end of downtown. South of downtown is the Grand Victoria Casino which has also seen a major decline in attendance and revenue in recent years.

DistributionNoMoneyElgin’s 2015 Budget is $290,535,730. I repeat, nearly $300 million dollars! But according to the City Council, Elgin has no money. That is, for important things. Things that are holding the city hostage– like the lack of economic development.

We need economic development NOW.

Why is there no economic development department? No money. At least that’s what they say. Of course you don’t have to look far to see where the money could come from, if the City Council really wanted to take the steps to advance this agenda.

You know the saying. “You have to spend money to make money.” But, what happens when you spend money and you don’t make money? You make excuses. Elgin constantly defends ineffective actions of poor financial decisions with phrases like, “Oh, they (or that) are (is) invaluable.” Or, “Some things just can’t be measured.” Really? Did you even try?

Throwing Money at the Wind Two non-profit organizations that could be considered responsible for economic development are the Downtown Neighborhood Association (DNA) and the Elgin Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (EACVB). Both are mostly ineffective. Neither, despite continued funding, show any accountability. Neither are even able to effectively use their websites or social media towards successful progress.

I feel I need to repeat that these are nonprofit organizations. They are not Elgin governmental departments. The money they receive for the city is basically theirs to spend how they see fit, without regulation. The DNA started as a volunteer organization and now has a paid staff (as does the EACVB) . The city gives them this money without any expectation of measurable return.

The DNA was supposed to be financially independent of the City as of 2015, and the City had not budgeted to continue funding their efforts in the current budget. Yet, on June 24th, 2015, the City Council voted to continue to give them money, through a Purchase of Service Agreement for an unbudgeted amount of $135,000. And, not for just one more year, they amended it for two more years. In spite of a few Councilmen raising their concerns, the Council still voted 9-0 in favor of this continued expenditure.

But, wait! There’s no money! So where is this unbudgeted $135,000 coming from? And why isn’t it being spent to hire a director of economic development instead?

Good question.

Now, the DNA may try to claim success with the recent opening of three new downtown businesses. Okay, that’s nice– but what about the seven that closed in the past year? That’s right, seven businesses have closed. While it’s not the responsibility of the DNA or City to make businesses successful, they should still be providing support and resources to give them every possible chance.

There was an article in the Daily Herald recently about the Elgin Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau; questioning its expenditures (71% staff and travel) and suggesting there should be proof of its effectiveness. Nearly $200,000 of their budget comes from about half of Elgin’s hotel/motel tax revenue.

LOOK! I found money! If the City of Elgin took the money they gave these two nonprofits ($335,000), they could easily hire and create a small department of economic development. That’s still only a pathetic 0.1% of the City’s annual budget.

The Elgin City Council believes that throwing money at something–even after years of no measurable results, is better than nothing. Which is exactly what they are getting in return.¬† Then they can continue to shrug their shoulders and point fingers of blame at others, claiming they (the Council) tried. If I’m wrong— show me the numbers.

The Elgin City Council needs to learn how to cut its losses. They need to learn how to say ‘no‘ and ‘enough is enough‘. Continuing to fund ineffective organizations and projects with no accountability, is irresponsible and being poor stewards of our community’s money. This has gone on for years and it’s time that it stops.

The City of Elgin needs some sound financial planning and should be focusing on developing and reinvigorating our community. Not, continuing to toss money at organizations that are not effective, in order shift the blame.

So back to my original scenario… there are always people that have the ability to make change- to make decisions (sometimes difficult) that are better choices when looking at the big picture. Unfortunately, people often make decisions that are selfish, self-serving, or just downright easier.

There always seems to be money for the wrong things… Ideas that aren’t fully developed, things that are personally or politically beneficial; and it’s always easier to ‘do the same old thing’ than to commit to bringing about change. People are so afraid of change! Why is that?

Elgin City Council, you were elected as the leaders of our community to manage, protect and improve the city and its finances. It’s time you step up to the plate, make some tough decisions and do the job you were elected to do. Stop singing the ‘No Money Blues’ and fix the problem. The time to act is now.

*NOTE: When I refer to the Elgin City Council, I am referring to them as a whole. This includes the City Manager (non-voting member) who, as the senior ranking staff member on the City’s payroll; oversees and is responsible for bringing the majority of the financial and policy decisions to the Council for approval and implementation. There are only few individual Councilmen that are frequently vocal– seeking change and not always voting with the majority. Unfortunately, as members of the Council, for purposes here, they are lumped into the whole– guilty by association.

 

 

Dreaming of the Open Gate

The Dream

It’s a typical day. Seems pretty ordinary. I’m outside and walk around the corner of the house to see our front gate standing wide open. A momentary panic suddenly washes over me and I rush into action. Where are the dogs? Did they get out? Where they stolen? Who left the gate open and why? Must find the dogs!

Dreams Road SignThen I usually wake up.

Sometimes, I’ve been so startled, I sit up abruptly in bed. I check and the babies are sleeping soundly. I usually can’t go back to sleep and I get up. Not so much because the dream rattled me but more just because I’m fully awake.

The dream has many variations. Usually it’s the front gate but some times it’s the back one. The seasons in my dream may be different but not necessarily the current one. Sometimes its even the house door standing open and I’m worried the cat got out. (Collins is an indoor cat but has gotten out on several occasions.)

We all have reoccurring dreams that haunt us, don’t we?

Does it mean what seems most obvious?

Yes, I can be overprotective of my kids. Yes, sometimes we find our gate is standing open. I don’t have the dream regularly, months can go by sometimes. I’ve had variations of this dream for at least ten years, when Cash and Roxie were just puppies.

The dream always stops with me discovering the gate, thinking I’ve got to close it and wanting to check on the babies. They never actually get out in the dream and I never actually close it in the dream.

I had this dream Friday when I was napping with the babies. That morning, the front gate was standing wide open in real life. This time in the dream though, it was the back gate– it wasn’t just open, it was like someone had driven through it destroying it completely. A new variation.

So I know what triggered the dream– but does it mean something deeper?

I researched online, more than a dozen dream interpretation sites; all saying pretty much the same thing. I couldn’t find anything specific (dogs getting out, etc.) beyond focusing on open gates in dreams.

Dream1In dreams, an open gate is interpreted to represent a transition, a change, or a new chapter. It could be a change in awareness or level of maturity; a passage from one phase of life, or from one situation to another. A closed gate symbolizes ones inability to overcome or not ready to move on. Gates represent obstacles in life. If you walk through then you are moving on, if you close it or it is closed, you aren’t ready or maybe you are afraid you aren’t prepared for what’s to come.

To relate this to my life– when I first had this dream, I was working in a job that while rewarding in many ways; was limiting my professional growth and creativity. Now, as I continue my search for the right job, I know that I don’t want to be in the same situation again. Interviews have not yielded a job offer. I’ve toyed with ideas of some options but nothing has presented itself as the right thing yet.

So if I was to interpret the crashed gate, I’d have to say it might mean there’s no turning back. I’ve evolved beyond the past and I’m ready for something bigger.

But what exactly?

It’s something to ponder, for sure.

Or, maybe it’s just what it is at face value:

A Dad’s fear, protecting his furry children.

 

Being Human: A Life Without _____ Is A Life Not Lived

Cloud 1It’s hard to believe it’s getting close to a year and a half since I parted ways with my job.

It’s been quite a roller coaster. I’ve had a lot of changes to get used to, a lot of decisions to make; and most of all, I’ve had to get reacquainted with parts of me I’d forgotten, locked up or ignored.

There have been a lot of feelings going on in my head and it’s not always easy.

It’s called being human.

I’m about as human as they come. I could never be accused of being a robot. I tend to wear my passion for whatever I’m doing, on my sleeve; and as a result, I may come off a little intense and dramatic.

Out in the real world it is expected that you behave with a certain amount of coldness. Sometimes you’ll hear it referred to as: professionalism and decorum. This requires you to bottle things up and not be completely honest. That lack of honesty, my friends, is one of the biggest failures in our society’s increasing isolation. Real communication is becoming obsolete.

Time and time again, I have watched people sit completely stone-faced and not express themselves– when I know they have definite opinions or feelings on the matter. It’s really hard to watch. How do you interact with that? I know, I’ve tried it– how should I say it… in the name of civility… and I usually fail miserably.

One of the biggest realizations I’ve had to face is that the feelings and responses to the things around us aren’t always going to be considered appropriate. We have to be okay with that. I think of all the people that medicate just to avoid feeling and I never want to be in that place.

We can try to ignore and avoid our feelings… even feel guilty about them but then how much are we really living? How much are we really experiencing life? It’s not always necessary to express all our feelings to other people but we at least need to acknowledge them ourselves. Appropriate or not, our feelings are real— if only to us. The people with whom we engage have those feelings too. Everyone deals with things differently… the important thing is that they are dealt with and not ignored.

It’s far too easy to become numb and go through the motions of living.

It can happen for a number of reasons:

  • We’re too busy, obsessed or focused on one thing; ignoring, or refusing to deal with everything else,
  • Afraid to become emotionally involved; of being used or hurt,
  • Lack of self confidence and feelings of inadequacy; fear of being judged,
  • Expectations of professional demeanor, void of expression; always holding your cards close,
  • Purely for self preservation; protecting your self, job, relationships or image,

When we allow ourselves to fall into any of these patterns, we start living a life without. We alienate ourselves and our selves. We may find the temporary protection we need to get through any given situation but if this becomes the way we deal with every day life, something is missing. We can become lost.

op7Tn.jpgBeing human is thinking, feeling and expressing through our experiences.

Life is joy, celebration and happiness— anger, heartbreak and tears. It’s connecting and sharing those feelings with others that make us human.

It’s important to feel things.

It’s important to express things.

It’s most important that we not lose who we are in the daily routine of survival.

Take away these human traits and what do you have left?

A big blank. A life without.

 

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,900 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Workplace Survival: 12 Rules To Protect Yourself

I finally broke down this morning and filed for unemployment. It’s been three months since I was notified that my contract would not be renewed and I had hoped I would have secured a new job by now. I have some good prospects but for now, the search goes on.

I promised in an earlier blog to talk a little bit about what led up to my release. I’ve waited until now because I didn’t want my words to be fueled by hurt or anger. I finally decided I would rather do it in a positive way and give some advice that might help others who find themselves in similar situations.

Here are my 12 suggestions that might help you survive in the workplace:

Rule #1 Don’t be too good at your job or know too much.

Rule #2 When a superior says, “Don’t Worry” — watch out.

Rule #3 Climbers don’t look down. They don’t have time for you.

Rule #4 Open Door policies can get one slammed in your face.

Rule #5 Keep records and be able to account for everything.

Rule #6 Never feel that your job is secure.

Rule #7 Change isn’t always good but don’t fight it.

Rule #8 Learn to deal with incompetence.

Rule #9 Don’t expect to be treated fairly. Even good people behave badly.

Rule #10 Right doesn’t always win.

Rule #11 Don’t expect rewards for loyalty.

Rule #12 Rules (and policies) are made to be broken (and will be).

Bonus– Rule #13 Work to live, don’t live to work.

Holding a job and being successful at it, isn’t about showing up on time and doing what is expected of you. It’s not about your education or knowledge and expertise. It’s not about your dedication or going the extra mile. Those are all givens. To be successful, you have to be constantly aware of two things: company politics and money. You have to keep your eyes open and your ears to the ground if you want stay aware of what’s really going on behind the scenes.

You, as an employee, are expendable. Simple as that. What makes you important is how you fit into the political and social climate of the workplace and what impact you have on the bottom line.

— I’ll address and explain this set of rules, my experiences and their importance in future blog posts.

Today I do want to explore my Bonus Rule– and I know you’ve heard it before:

RULE #13 WORK TO LIVE, DON’T LIVE TO WORK

It sounds simple enough and yet it is probably the hardest rule to follow. I have always struggled with this, even with jobs that weren’t necessarily in my main field of interest. It is too easy for many of us, to become so vested in our jobs that it’s hard to let it go when we punch out at the end of the day. Unless you own your own business– and even then, you have prioritize what is really important– living a good life and hopefully, sharing it with other people.

Why do we work? To pay bills, provide for families, plan for the future… to live.

Remember that the business doesn’t care about you. Unfortunately, in many cases, neither do employers. You may think they do– but if you step back and look at it clearly, you’ll realize you are there to perform a specific function. You are only one small ingredient in the recipe of success. Being responsible and taking ownership in your job is a wonderful thing. You have to learn to set limits. This is especially difficult when you are doing something you love. When work becomes the only thing, it’s probably time to move on.

I personally have lost years of friendships, family gathering and missed opportunities to experience and enjoy life– either from the necessities of the jobs I’ve held, or by my own drive. You can’t buy back that time.

You may find it necessary to put work first— but at what cost?

That is the most important question.