Monday, February 20, 2017

Candidate Endorsement Opportunity from Landmark newspaper - Filled Questionnaire

Below is the unedited version of the Questionnaire I filled out for the Landmark:

Previous political experience: Applied and interviewed for democratic candidate – lieutenant governor when the party forced out Scott Lee Cohen; volunteered for the Lozano and Jesus Garcia campaigns in Chicago. Applied to fill empty seat on Brookfield Library Board in summer of 2016.

Previous community experience: Canvassing Chair with PAC supporting new library in Brookfield 2016

Occupation: Director of Finance, Community Support Services, Brookfield

Education:  West Virginia University, BA English.
Kansas State University, Graduate work in English.
Concordia University, River Forest, MBA

1. Do you support building a new library? If no, why not? If so, what does the board need to do to make that a reality? Does it involve different outreach, revising the design? When should the library board seek another referendum?

Working for the referendum, I supported the building of a new library. The ultimate issue is that there is not enough space, and that lack of space has not gone away just because the referendum was narrowly defeated.

We need to go back to the people and make our case again, but it is harder to have gone forth once and then go back and ask for the same thing. I have heard it explained both “if at you first don’t succeed, try try again” and “the definition of insanity is to do the same thing and expect different results.” So, we as a board have to refigure how to approach the need for a new building in light of having lost.

When I was interviewing for the empty seat last summer, I specifically asked about contingencies if the referendum lost – but none were volunteered to me at the time. Therefore, I believe that we need to go back to the community with a slightly scaled back plan. Show that we can listen to what the community said but also sell the idea and need for a new building.

I think we need to go back next year with a new ask. The library can grow its reserve and strategize and show the community that the board is concerned about being stewards of the village’s funds and its trust.

2. What is the role of a library in the 21st century? What kind of programming and services should a library offer; what should it not offer? Is the library meeting its mission now? Why or why not?

When a lot of people think of the library, they imagine it is just books. But the library as it evolves towards the next century is more than just books. The library is the center of the community in terms of knowledge and self-improvement and one of the main contacts that you can have with the community as a whole.

The idea of the library at the center of the community is why the issue of space is so important. If you have ever been at the library when any kind of class or event is going on, you see just how crowded the library is. The people and the books are squeezed. If you see the library as only about books, then this is not an issue for you. But I believe that the library can scale classes and resources in a way that anyone member of the community would have trouble doing. It is investing in our future so that we can have reading groups and classes on your 401k. It works in concert with the schools but extends them so that it is about a lifetime of self-improvement and learning.

The current staff works admirably within the restraints they have, but there is so much more potential in the people we have but are limited by space.

3. If a referendum is not approved within the time period allowed by the village, what then? What is the way forward if it does not involve a new facility? Is there a way to make the existing facility more usable?

The status quo is unsupportable. The building is aging and maintenance costs will continue to increase. The current board already examined ways to maximize the usage of the current building. As far as I know, upgrading the building as is was not possible in a way that ultimately didn’t cost more money than an entirely new building.

If it doesn’t pass in time, then the reserves will be spent on maintenance and interest rates will go up as well as the cost of living and materials, and then the amount of library you could buy with the same amount of money will go down. It is not an enviable position to be in. Then we’re down the road asking for more and the new building is an emergency because the old one is falling apart.

4. What other issues are important to you as a library board candidate? How would you advocate for them as a board member?

Everyone involved in this election was either on the board or was on the volunteer group working towards the building of a new library. I would not have volunteered my time if I did not think that having a new library would be beneficial to the community.

The problem for all of us is that the referendum for building a new library lost. We can try to mollify ourselves and our supporters with whatever words we want, but there is an honest truth. Either we did not do enough to sell our vision or we over-promised that vision. The positive effects of a library are both subjective and quantifiable, but precision is difficult since we’re projecting into the future.

This unknowable future is why the library is so important to me though. The building we didn’t approve is one that was open and flexible in a way that the current one is not. Space is limited and programs are closed. Our vision was broad and open.

The library as we know it will always be the center of learning. It is not just books but a place for everyone to communicate and learn and grow. Ultimately the library is a community resource. No matter what happens it will serve the people of Brookfield.

Ultimately the goal is continued good governance of the library and ensuring the people of Brookfield the best library and services with the resources we have.  I hope that when we ask the citizens again for a new building, we will be able to make the case. I want to be part of that and believe I can play a role in the success of the Village and its investments.

Monday, February 13, 2017

On My Career and Education

Working in the food service industry, I twice was elevated to roles where I oversaw the store for the shift. At Quizno’s that was only usually me and one other person, but by the time I was at Casa, that meant that sometimes there were 20 people working who I had to make sure were coordinating service to the customers by all stakeholders so that food would go out and the money would come back in and all transactions were accounted for at the end of the night, and the prep was completed for the next shifts and the restaurant was clean before leaving. I was also involved in higher-level strategic decisions about staffing and menu items, though I was not directly responsible for these decisions. One of the key responsibilities was managing the labor levels. I had to ensure that sales were in line with the staffing in the moment to ensure we weren’t losing money by paying too many people to just stand around. Thankfully I was usually able to work with under 10% labor as pizza is a relatively high margin food.

Then there was a transition period. During this transition period, I worked jobs that were related to my education at the time. I taught Chemistry at WVU and Saint Rita and English at Kansas State University. I also worked as a reporter for three different newspapers. Two of these were student papers, but one was the region’s main daily paper. These positions all represent similar skill sets that are hard to quantify. I was able to work autonomously under my different supervisors and editors, who I all had to ultimately answer for. There were additional stakeholders in the readers and the students and their parents who were the ultimate consumers of my work. I wrote in genre-specific ways and developed soft skills both in reporting and in teaching. Interpersonal communication is so important because you must show that no matter what your ultimate role you are selling to people the necessary intimacy. They should believe that you are in the same boat as you are. It is a collaborative and not an adversarial process.

Ultimately, making things a collaborative process has been my management style for good or ill. I have always been of the opinion that you shouldn’t ask someone to do something unless you were willing and able to do it to. For me that is the essence of leadership. We are all in this together, and we are working towards similar goals. If you need help doing the essence of what the organization does and I can step in, I will. There’s an important balance though. People must be trusted to work on their own and present the results that come and be self-directed. You cannot just jump in arbitrarily. This is as true as it is making pizzas as it is making sure someone has submitted all the billing to the state.

This leads into the last six years at CSS. I started at CSS as an intern for a couple of months. In that time as an intern, my role was limited. I entered in paper billing sheets into the computer system and helped generate invoices from the internal system that would be in turn entered into external systems to create billing claims from the state. I made enough of an impression that a month or so after the internship ended, I was invited to replace my former supervisor when she left the agency for a different position. I was in that role for over three years, and as I gained experience the role grew. It became not just tracking the A/R and the payments in the internal billing system (I would generate reports from these activates that would be entered in the financial system) but also receiving money for the participants and tracking their spending, as well as invoicing families for more billing. I supervised up to three people in this role.
As that role grew, I became familiar with the inner workings of the agency. An additional task was to gather the statistical and usage data for our participants’ usage of different programs offered by the agency. Various funding bodies ask their own specific questions about the number of clients and the programs they use and I had to know based on our internal codes how to report this.

This knowledge of the internal workings of the agency helped me in what was the biggest project I undertook at CSS. Simultaneous with an effort to reduce paper use in the agency, I was one of the key people in a project to replace the legacy internal payroll, billing, and record-keeping system with a new uncorrupted database. This was a multi-year project on top of the regular duties of the agency. Though the developer had a system he expected we would be able to use with little customization, we ultimately found the needs of the agency to be more complex. As such, we had to pull apart our process, define them, and then reenter client data and test the integrity of the database and create reports that answered the questions our funders asked – all hand in hand with the developer. 

Gaining this internal organization knowledge meant that my role kept expanding. I was promoted to the Accounting manager with the responsibility now also over payables. It was not much longer when I was promoted again to Director of Finance. As Director, I handed off most of the responsibilities I had inherited to the other people in the department. My new role was working hand in hand with the CFO as a second in command situation. I learned to prepare the income statement and the balance sheet for external reporting, aided in the annual budget, and prepared grant applications for our various funders as well as create the reports to those funders based on statistical reports generated from the new database we had worked so long on. In this last role I had less autonomy and I worry that I did not learn enough of the accounting to go with my institutional knowledge side.

My journey has not only been professional though. This also tracks back to my initial round of college. I have both writing and quantitative skills and liked to exercise them both. I was a chemistry major until my junior year where I switched to English because I saw myself as a writer much more than I saw myself as a chemist. That English degree led to the grad school in English and those transitional jobs. In the liberal arts is all about reading widely and thinking critically and being able to apply this to the world you encounter. Everything becomes, pace Derrida, a text to be read. 
I’ve never stopped learning, both formally and informally.  I set up my blogs and started reviewing on amazon as a way to continue engaging critically with the world – and to help create some audience for my more creative writings. 

I also went back to school to help leverage my intellect and skills into something marketable. First it was through Chicago Career Tech, where I received certification in medical coding and billing. I was also certified by a third-party group, though that certification has since lapsed. Through CSS I was in the Nonprofit Leadership Program at Notre Dame. That made me realize that if I wanted to grow in my career I would need to continue my education even more. I took and did well the basic accountings and economics classes as a preparation for the MBA at Concordia. In the last ten years with about 80 hours attempted of college and graduate level work, my lowest grade was one A-.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Servant Mentality

One of the most important things in the narrative of both my personal and professional lives is that I want to serve a greater purpose. This servant mentality has shaped the decisions I have made and the positions I have taken.

The servant mentality means that the service is not just to the bottom line. The bottom line is important too, but it is not the full measure of success. Success to me has instead been more on the people I have reached and the lives I have touched. 

I started realizing this when I was in graduate school at Kansas State examining literature. I was tasked to teach introductory writing to help pay my way in school. For me, it soon became obvious that I could have more impact in teaching writing skills and helping students be more prepared for their futures than I could in being the thousandth person to puzzle over the symbolism of snow in James Joyce’s “The Dead”.  Watching as my students grew more confident with their writing voices and technical skills made me realize my future wasn’t in research.

It was lucky enough to find a position at Saint Rita that allowed me to have the same sort of impact. I enjoyed the opportunity to be both teacher and coach. And even though some of the young men were exasperating, I know that in my time there I helped them grow and develop not just in the subject area but it life itself. I recently talked to one of them on Facebook, and he told me “You were still one of my top 5 teachers that shaped my experience.” Now, it’s not number one.  However, he didn’t have to say it and being remembered after a decade is what you want as a teacher in serving your charges.

After Saint Rita, I was at a crossroads. I feel fortunate that I found a professional home at Community Support Services in Brookfield. It is here that I have really found not just a professional home but I made Brookfield my home too. In my roles at CSS I am not in direct service with our participants. From the very beginning I have been aware that I was in key positions that facilitated the services that we do. I could leverage my skills to be of service to people with disabilities. Making sure the money is coming in keeps the lights on for all the services that we do. I have also been able to develop relationships with several of the people we serve. Knowing that they can thrive because of our service as an organization makes all my and my colleague’s hard work worth it.

And it doesn’t end with CSS. I’m running for the Library Board because I want to help serve the citizens of Brookfield to have the best infrastructure possible. It will continue after the election no matter the outcome. The servant life is what has chosen me.  

Taibbi's "Insane Clown President": In the Footsteps of Hunter S. Thompson

Since early November, I have been trying to make sense of just how Trump won the election and is now our president. Needless to say, my sense of shock was magnified by the idea that there was no chance that Trump could win. The margins in the polls were too broad, and living in a blue state, I was more or less a spectator to the proceedings since by the laws of our land, the few big competitive states are what matters for the presidential elections. 

So, I read this book with interest. Taibbi is a keen observer of both human nature and the political process. The essays in this book are mostly campaign-related reportage, so they were written in real time in the guise of Rolling Stone’s patronage of Hunter S. Thomson’s journalism in 72. What I’m afraid of is that I still feel at a loss. I had read a lot of the essays here in real time on the website, and they are only sadder in retrospect. 

I bet that when the editors had the idea of this book, it would have been more in the idea of reviewing the possibility of danger that a Trump president would have presented and thus we would be able to find solace in the fact that Hillary wasn’t left enough by looking at this and wiping our brow, going “Phew!”. But that was not what happened. This book shows a preview of the last month in the narcissism and disorganization that the Trump presidency has been. 

My thoughts are that the Trump win makes this a more marketable book than it would have been in the case of a Trump loss, as well as a more historically important book. When the future civilizations shift through our wreckage, they read books like this and ask how it happened and didn’t we see it coming. I bet it is bittersweet for Taibbi.