CAN VALLEJO LEAD?

I once had an employer who was an excellent manager.  They had been with the company for many years, knew all the owner’s systems, took time to speak with every employee, never upset anyone, and pretty much mirrored what previous managers before them had done. It was one of the most stressful two years of my life. Change was unheard of. The same chicken dish that was placed on the menu 20 years before was still there. The menus were hard printed which, no doubt, reassured my boss as change was nearly impossible.  The only variable were the daily specials and that was left for the cooks to decide.  I remember watching that boss walk through the hot line, with tasting spoons, knowing full well they did not have any clue what the dishes should taste like. They were just going through the motions.  (It was at this point that I decided, if I were to continue in the restaurant business, that I would have to go to culinary school.) The thing missing though, that undefinable quality, that X factor of a true leader; was not present in this very good manager. That X factor, is the ability to take measured, thoughtful risks and it is what sets leaders apart.

I have found that I am attracted to the curious mind. The kind of mind that keeps asking questions. I especially like it when people look both forward and backwards and ask, how might things be better than they are right now?  A great thrill of mine is to stumble upon that random conversation which either breaks down, or gels, an opinion that has been rolling around inside my head trying to find its way out. I recently had just such a conversation the other day, sitting in Vallejo’s new parklet, with one of Vallejo’s thought leaders. Chatting about nothing and everything, our musings turned to Government versus Private sector management style. To me it comes down to the concept of Control versus Influence.  Let me provide an example: Here in Vallejo we recently passed an ordinance about the dumping of trash. Seems straightforward enough: You dump trash, we fine you and/or send you to jail. (Fear of loss is known to be 3 times the motivator than the possibility of gain.)   But here is where it falls apart for me.

  1. Vallejo spends 1 million dollars a year picking up trash.
  2. Recology gives each homeowner in Vallejo free bulk trash pickups. (Did you know this?)
  3. Recology will also give a limited number of bulk trash pickups to apartment dwellers. (I would bet that you did not know this.)
  4. My first lesson in Economics: Trash is an economic bad. One has to pay to take it away.
  5. Many of our neighbors do not have much money nor an access to a vehicle in order to take bulk items to the dumps.
  6. Vallejo’s free trash dump day on Mare Island has cars and trucks lined up for blocks.
  7. Logical Conclusion: Leave the trash on the street, the City workers (job security) will pick it up. (This option also removes the shame associated with not having enough money to take the trash to the dump.)
  8. Someone needs to witness this bad behavior and report it. No witness = an ineffective control.

What if? What if the City spent that million dollars working to influence good behavior rather than to control and punish bad behavior?  What if the City held free trash dumps on a monthly basis? What if they located these temporary dumpster sites in 4 to 6 places around town? What if it took some of that million dollars and offered jobs to whomever wanted to pick up trash throughout the City. I am not sure if you have noticed but the California Redemption Value (CRV) tax that each of us spends on bottles and cans is working. All of us have seen people collecting cans and bottles and turning them in for cash money. What if we did that for trash?  What if we used that million dollars to make it easier for people to do the right thing?  Dump the trash in appropriate places and pay them to go out and pick it up? 

Let’s compare styles:

The first: Write a law and punish, is an example of how Government seeks to control through the use of force.

The second: Reward good behavior, or at the least remove the shame of poverty, by making dumping free and accessible to those without the means to haul their own trash away and paying people to pick it up and bring it in. The CRV law influenced and rewarded good behavior; and helped clean up our streets too!

Follow up on this thought: If we are so keen on making laws, why don’t we require landlords to notify their tenants of their right to a free dumpster, and make them provide Recology’s information?  I personally have noticed that apartment dwellers seem to have more of a challenge managing the disposal of bulk items.

So here it is in a nutshell.  We have a City Manager’s office and the City Council.  The City Manager should be a good manager; the Council should lead.  Leading means taking risks. Thoughtful, measured risks. Leading relies on the ability to see problems where many perceive that none exist; and to make changes, no matter how uncomfortable that may be in the minute. Leading means taking the path less traveled and installing a parklet, solving a problem that no one else knew existed until the solution was present.

Dear City Council,

The budget before you mirrors budgets that you have seen before. There is no risk if you vote to keep it as it is presented. Neither is there growth. Nothing will change, if you choose not to change anything. We will never have the homeless services that our City, Police Department included, need unless you use the voice we gave you and change the budget. (By the way, new stimulus monies have been placed in the CDBG for homeless issues. These monies could fund the outreach and support services that both the Police Department and the Citizens of Vallejo want.)

In looking back and looking forward, I am reminded once again of what Winston Churchill said when asked to cut funding to the arts and social programs, “Then what are we fighting for?)

I ask each of you to be more than a good manager mirroring the motions of the leaders before. I ask you to use your voice to influence Vallejo’s future by creating an environment that reduces shame and influences good behavior rather than seeking to control. I ask you to fund for social services that support the mission of the police, but not for more police officers and equipment. I ask you to fund those things that keep Vallejo vibrant and unique.  I ask you to lead especially now that times are tough. I ask you to lead.

Until next time,

Tommy Judt

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

When you can say nothing?

I am at a loss today. I know that I must write, must share my thinking, my grief and my outrage. I know that because I am a white man and will be heard, that I must make sure that I am heard. But where do I begin? What can I say that would even come close to easing the pain of over a half millennia of subjugation? Whatever could I, ever say?

A pithy story about how I was pulled over by the police for speeding and had to go to traffic court, pay a small fine and go home as if nothing happened at all; if anything, shows my life to be as fully removed from this reality as it could be. The hard truth I swallow is that I will never know what it feels like to be a person of color in this country. I will never experience real existential fear, not even when Time comes calling for me. I can never know the humiliation and basic disrespect of life that is shown to the people of color whom I call friends and colleagues. I live in the very same world, the very same town; yet the two, mine . . . and theirs, exist separately together, without any apparent incongruence; yet totally divided.

I like to think of myself as a good person. I work hard at treating my dogs well and I am proud that I recycle regularly. Saving the earth and all that. But in writing these words, I picture myself a tall, white ostrich with his head fully buried in the sand. “If I do not know about it, I am not responsible for it,” or so my inner mantra chants. “This one is too big for me,” my body aches in sentiment. “What could I possibly say that would ever make a difference?”  I will share with you what I know. My fear is that it will be a pitiful palliative for this massive world of hurt that we are living in.

Bias. Intrinsic bias. Tribal and confirmation biases. Here is one place where we can look together. Evolution is a bitch. She rewards fear and not trust. Early humans who were not afraid of predators were easily killed. Those who survived, our fore-parents, did so because of their fear. That fear was handed down over a thousand generations, to us. Imagine our luck. We speak of it with great regularity. We call it our fight or flight response. Those more enlightened have added a third term for us to consider. They say fight, flight or make friends. Unfortunately making friends comes with risk, pain and potential death. So say the genes of our ancestors.

This fear evolved in what is now commonly known as Tribal Bias. Our evolution has taught us to be wary of those who do not look like us. This is a base instinct and can be over written, yet it exists in all of us. I imagine, and I have not studied this part so I speak with minimal authority here, because I have seen children of different colors playing easily together that the pain of prejudice finds nourishment in the anxiety of puberty. The time in life when testosterone and fear are palpable in their bitterness. It is this time that the desire to be accepted by one group almost always requires that we disparage another.

Confirmation bias. Here is one of my favorites. Not because I like it so, but because it is, and always will be, the most insidious of them all. Confirmation bias is hard to spot in oneself. Take this inane example. My mother always chastised me for never picking up my toys. I, on the other hand, said that I did indeed pick them up with regularity. Now never means that not once did I pick them up. This of course was not true. I believe that most times I did and sometimes I did not. Now here is confirmation bias. My mother believed that I never did. Here opinion was reinforced every time she found a toy not put away. On the times she did not see toys left out, her mind paid no attention to it at all. There was no confirmation of her opinion. My experience was the opposite. I knew that I put the toys away. There were times when I was not finished playing, when I did not put them away. My confirmation bias remembered only the times I did put them away. The things we focus on are the things we recall and hold emotions, memories and opinions about.

The painful real life example would be: If I believed that people of color were responsible for all crime, then every time I saw it reported as such on the news, or heard someone speak about it this way, my bias for this belief would be confirmed. If I heard or saw anything different, my mind would not register it. This is what is happening in our society today. We have let our tribal fear, coupled with confirmation bias, direct and dictate our policing behaviors. I believe it to be that simple. The question begging to be answered: How do you change a specieal lifetime of evolution? (I am going with the make friends part knowing just exactly how risky it is.)

I would like to say just one thing about the violence we are now experiencing. It is a symptom, not the cause.  Like the inflammation and pain that comes with a raging infection, the violence we are living through may either be treated or let run its course. I am not wise enough to address this question, for it is left to better women and men than me.  What I do know is that we need to work on digging out the source of the infection. The cause of this unrest. We need to collectively remove our heads from the sand and see exactly what is happening in the bright light of day and remove those individuals who seek to create and feed this festering national illness simply out of pubescent fear.

I do not know the answer. This is one that we must all seek together. I hope that knowing some of the why may help to lead us in the best direction.

Until next time,

Tommy Judt

JUNIOR

In a story that I once heard, a new joint chief of staff was appointed to lead our military. There was a reception following the swearing in ceremony that was well attended. After the event the new chief of staff met in a small room with the surviving, retired chiefs of staff. The new chief said, “This is an elite club, isn’t it?”  To which the eldest retired chief replied, “Yes, and you’re the junior member.”

 

This is how my first turn on the dais started. Continue reading “JUNIOR”

EXPECTATIONS

“I just want to have two days off where no one expects anything from me.” She said heading out the door to go camping over the holiday weekend.

 

Switch gears.

 

My fantasy restaurant name would be Attente. French for “expectation.” I, along with others, believe that we need to raise our expectations and set our sights higher, here in Vallejo. That should be our way forward.

 

Switch gears.

 

In relationships, Continue reading “EXPECTATIONS”

I AM BIASED

I like Robert McConnell. For those of you who do not know of him Robert McConnell is one of Vallejo’s City Council Members. I like him for a couple of reasons. One being his willingness to engage and respond to citizens whether in person, by email or on the phone. Another is his ability to make the Aloha shirt accepted as formal wear. Continue reading “I AM BIASED”

I AM CONFLICTED – PT2

 

For nothing is either good or bad

But thinking makes it so

Hamlet – William Shakespeare

 

 

There is a saying, of sorts, perhaps many of you have heard it before. It goes something like this.

‘Wow, this would be a great job, if it weren’t for all the customers.’

 

Vallejo has a problem . . . too many customers. At least that is how it feels to me peering inside, into the brick façade of City Hall.  I should clarify, lest I be blamed for attempting to master vagaries. We have a City structure that has a Council and a City Manager. The Council legislates, the City Manager administrates. We have a City Charter, which I have not yet read, (have you?) which outlines the legal authority of each body and office.  In short, we elect our City Council and they, in turn, hire a City Manager. The Elected Council set priorities. The City Manager creates a budget in an attempt to meet those priorities.  The Council votes to approve the budget or not. And so on, and so on, ad infinitum.

 

For the record, I have the deepest respect for our Council and the City Manager. Al of whom I have met, shaken their hands and most know me by my first name. (Whether or not they have the good taste to read local authors, I do not know.) I have sat with most either in Commission interviews, in their offices or on the street. I have spoken to them in depth and in passing, sometimes on the phone, most often on the street. Such is the bliss of a small town. I know each and every one to be an honorable person. So what I see happening now I find to be . . . shocking.

 

The City Council is overworked and certainly not adequately compensated for the time they commit to our City. The City Manager’s Office is understaffed and over worked, the same as our police force. We have recovered from one bankruptcy and may very well be looking at another.  I am a simple man of simple means living with my peers in Vallejo. We only have so many resources to go around and so many needs and wants. Too many customers, not enough income. We live with a severe case of Economic Scarcity. British economist Lionel Robbins defined the discipline of economics in terms of scarcity:  Economics is the science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends, and scarce means . . .

 

I remember a particular lecture in Culinary School about survival. Hmm? Why would the topic of survival come up in a cooking school, you ask? The topic of the lecture was Grand Buffets, where they originated, what they should include and how to manage them. Out teacher, the former valet to the French President, painted this picture. “You have and endless buffet in front of you, to which you can return countless number of times. Yet there are still people who will overfill their plates out of a primal fear of not knowing when their next meal will come. So the gorge now in case they cannot eat tomorrow.”  It is a primeval survival instinct born of scarcity.

 

“Tom,” you ask, “why must you walk us down such long roads? Can’t you just make your point so I can go back to Facebook?”  No, life is complex and the answers to our troubles even more so. Yet recently I have seen our City Manager, a man whom I greatly respect, try to distract us with pretty pictures on the internet. UniteVallejo.net. Perhaps you have seen his video.  While a very good idea in concept, it comes off as little more than smoke and mirrors, or worse yet Pablum, to a constituency hungry for substance.  If only we would focus our attention on the positive then the negative would go away.  I realize that your office is stressed Mr. Nyhoff, and that would very much just like a little room to breathe in order to manage all that you have on your plate. Still, I ask you not give in to your survival instincts. We customers, would rather skip this type of meal. Unfortunately I must draw attention again to our City Manager. This time his comments at a recent City Council meeting regarded the Use of Force by Vallejo PD. He did not feel that they were excessive.

 

Here in lies my conflict. I respect those who work hard for us, in this city. But I am having a very hard time with the silence and inaction around certain extremely important issues. Let me explain.

 

Something has happened in America and it started shortly after 9/11. It was called the Patriot Act. It suspended portions of our constitution, but worse yet, moved out moral compass away from humanity. Flower Power only held us for so long and the pendulum has swung back toward . . . I do not recognize what. I cannot even really define it.  Basically we live in a time of a New Normal.

 

 

Our police force, whom I also respect very deeply, recently held a Use of Force Forum which I happily attended. We were given a thorough overview, in my opinion, of the case history defining the Use of Force for Police Departments. Captain Iacono was a passionate and well informed speaker. His mastery of the Use of Force protocols was evident. The department’s dedication and commitment to constantly train our officers was impressive. Under staffed and overworked, I can understand how easy it would be to operate in survival mode as a police officer in our town.  The Norm has shifted. Courts, since the passage of the Patriot Act, have allowed greater discretion with regards to the Use of Force. Our police department is merely following the guidelines set forth by the courts. With this reference, Mr. Nyhoff was not wrong, I am sad to say.

 

 

My conflict? We are better than this. We are not just customers, consumers of this City’s resources. We are also the stewards of it. The Norm has shifted in our society and it is time for us to move it back, if that is what we want. It would be so easy for me to end my thoughts here, but that would be cheating. As I mentioned, if I know about a horror, even a small one, I become responsible for that knowledge. And if I say or do nothing, then I am a failure, a fraud, or worse yet someone who stood by while the atrocities happened.

 

Captain Iacono said something else, which disturbed me. He said, POST, California Peace Officer Standards and Training, did not offer De-escalation training guidelines. Everybody wanted it but nobody had it. I believe that he was correct but that is no longer the case. With some deep internet searching I found at least 2 organizations that offered this type of training. One was from POST, the other from Black Swan founded by Chris Voss a former FBI negotiator. I contacted Black Swan and was told that they were discontinuing that program. That it was too expensive for local governments to afford. (Black Swan mainly teaches negotiation, which is how I originally found them. Chris Voss is often heard saying, “No, is the beginning of the negotiation.” They said no and I kept writing letters.  Captain Iacono wants more training, AB 392, redefining the Use of Force in California is including training in their language. So I wrote again and again. I presented conceivable options as to how Black Swan may offer an affordable training series. I got their attention, and just this week they promised to discuss my ideas.

 

 

Mayor, Council Members and Mr. Nyhoff, as a citizen with no power to negotiate, I was able to influence a well-respected firm, to reconsider offering their program that meets the concerns that both our officers and citizens have: More training in Tactical Negotiations (De-escalation.) The questions I now have for you are these:

 

How might we, the City of Vallejo, lead in the way in California on this issue?

 

How might we offer our hard working police officers the additional knowledge they need in order to do their jobs safely and provide them with different tactical approaches to public engagement?

 

What effect might it have on our limited resources of time, money and patience?

 

 

Thank you for taking the time to read and consider my thoughts.

 

 

Please follow my Facebook page The V-Town Social Club and don’t forget to stop in my website http://www.the-v-town-social-club.com

Until next time,

 

 

 

 

 

 

NATURE ABHORS A VACUUM

Why do we rake the forest floor?

Because nature abhors a vacuum.

 

I cannot take credit for writing that joke but I am happy to retell it. But, in the retelling I become somewhat sad. This is our joke. This is now who we are as a people. We are the land where our leaders think that raking the forest floor would have saved Continue reading “NATURE ABHORS A VACUUM”

MORE THAN A HUMMING BIRD

Last Friday was the Second Friday Art Walk here in Vallejo. From the Vallejo art Walk website, “Organized by members of the The Vallejo Arts Alliance, this event is an opportunity for artists to showcase their work in a very casual setting. Entertainment and food is provided to encourage visitors to walk among the art galleries and downtown businesses.”

 

This last Friday I hosted my very first Salon in the new dining room Continue reading “MORE THAN A HUMMING BIRD”

I DID A THING

Every 4th of July we, as a country, celebrate our independence from Jolly Olde England. The day stands as a reminder of how we came together as a people to establish self-governance. Self-Governance. What an interesting word. Self-Governance. I keep writing this word because it strikes me that we, as a country, seem to have forgotten Continue reading “I DID A THING”