Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly: Traveling to Lille

No one will probably believe me, but I actually really hate to travel.  I do it because I really like being at different places.  I hate it because I'm really bad at it.  Growing up, travelling meant climbing in our VW bus and driving 12 hours to visit our grandparents in Price and Helper Utah.  To read what my summer family vacations were like, click here.  I didn't get my first passport until I was in my mid 30's.  So every trip presents a steep learning curve for me.

This trip back to Lille has been no exception.  In my continuing effort to be real (that fine line between bragging and complaining) I decided to share the good, the bad, and the ugly of my latest visit to Lille.  


I will be staying for two months in France, like I did 3 years ago, in order to get some research done, spend an actual vacation with a certain Englishman, and have some down time to work on my writing.  I chose to stay at the same apartment so that I wouldn't have to figure out metro stops, grocery stores, church meetings, and other elements to living in a new place.  

Sadly not everything has gone to plan, because of other people and my own stupid mistakes.  But yet again, things have a way of working out.  As always 97% of what I worry about never happened which is proof that worrying works.  

I think I'll start with the ugly so that I can end on a good note.

UGLY

The MASTERCARD nightmare

The ugly began when I got a text from Delta saying that our flight has been delayed and we will now be leaving at 9:50 pm.  Which was weird because our flight was scheduled to leave at 9:50 pm.  Turns out Delta and Air France weren't communicating with each other very well.  Our flight was delayed until 11:55 pm (it actually didn't take off until after midnight).  

The biggest problem with this was that I had already bought my train ticket to get to Lille.  And our train was leaving 13 minutes before our plane landed in Paris.  This meant I would lose this ticket (nonrefundable) and have to get a later train ticket and arrive at the office to pick up my apartment keys later which closed at 6:00 p.m.  If I missed picking up the keys, we might have to get a hotel.  

I knew that my travel card (that I used to purchase the train ticket) had insurance so I contacted them to see about making a claim.  

And that was when the nightmare really began.  Mastercard claimed that our bank provided the insurance.  My bank claimed that Mastercard provided it.  4 hours, several phone calls, and one temper tantrum later, I finally got a native English speaking man on the phone who said he'd research my case for me and get back to me.  (He never did.)

When I tried to pull cash using my travel card, I discovered the pin number they gave me doesn't work.  I now have to get cash using my debit card and pay the foreign transaction fees.  

In other news: We are now shopping for a new travel card NOT with Mastercard if anyone has suggestions.

The AIR FRANCE nightmare

Words cannot express how I feel about flying Air France.  It's a surreal experience.  They are absolutely awful on the ground and a wonderful delight in the air.  Except for breakfast they served us plain yogurt that tasted like sour cream.  Seriously?  That goes in the UGLY category.

Air France has rules and fees for everything.  Despite having booked our seats together, Air France moved Bradford and me 6 rows apart and gave us each a window (which isn't all that great because of the huge gap between the window and the seat).  They said if we want to sit together we have to pay extra.

We were able to get two seats together on the upper deck in the middle aisle in very back of the plane for free.  But this would make us get off the plane absolutely last eliminating any chance to catch that train on the off chance that it was late (which it ended up being but more on that later).

The TRAIN TICKET nightmare

Two days after we land in Lille, we are jumping on a train to see our friends in Stuttgart, Germany.  I got an alert on my phone asking me if I wanted to accept an appointment made by the website where I bought the tickets.  They said I would be leaving for Stuttgart from Lille one hour after my plane lands in Paris.  Uh, what??? 

So I pull up my train ticket and discover that somehow I had accidentally bought my tickets for the WRONG DAY.  Noooo!!! and they were nonrefundable and nonexchangable.

See why I hate travelling?  I'm so bad at it.

When we got to Lille Europe train station we went to see if they would have mercy on us, (they didn't) and to see if we could buy tickets for the right day (we could).  He creates an itinerary for us that made us have a long layover in Paris and was almost 3 times the price of the original ticket.  I told him to try to replicate the ticket I had purchased.  He did and it brought the price down to only twice the price of the original ticket.

The WATER HEATER nightmare

After 4 hours of fighting with Mastercard, a 7-hour flight in the back of a plane, 2 hours waiting for a train to Lille, and running errands on the metro, I was ready for a nice relaxing shower before bed.  

I turned on the water and the towel warmer and began to get ready to take my shower.  After a few minutes I noticed the water was still ice cold.  I turned off the shower and checked the sinks, all ice cold water.  I went to the tankless water heater and the screen said E 09.  I was pretty sure this was an error code.  

I got back in the shower and got a washcloth wet with ice cold water and tried to rinse off at least the first layer of sweat.

BAD

Some things also happened on the trip that weren't exactly UGLY but not GOOD either.

Delta has a better movie selection than Air France, just sayin'. 

Our tickets for the train had assigned seats, we couldn't find our seats on the train, so we just randomly picked two seats we liked and hoped for the best.  They ended up being fine seats, but it was hard for me to relax because I kept expecting to get kicked out of them.  I eventually decided if it happens, it happens, and I fell asleep.

We grabbed dinner at a kebab place that is very special to us.  I showed the worker the picture of the guy who was so good to us 3 years ago.  He told me that he no longer works there.  Boo! 

GOOD 

I purposefully put all the good stuff last so that this post ends on a positive note and to serve as a reminder that there are good people in the world.  

Our Credit Union

We have been banking at the same credit union for 17 years and we love them.  They know our whole family by name, and when we have a crisis we can call them up and they will put in the time and research to try to get it solved for us.  Our most favorite banker of all recently left to be a stay at home mom and our family went into mourning.  Yesterday she has agreed to work for our family a couple hours a week so that she can keep taking care of us by managing our accounts and making our travel arrangements like booking train tickets for the correct day. The kids are thrilled that Kelsey is back in our life.  

The Air France Flight Crew

As much as I hate Air France, I really do love it when I'm in the air on one of the their planes. Their crew really went above and beyond with our flight.  As I watched the flight tracker I could see that we were going to land about 45 minutes early thus making it possible to for us to possibly catch our train and save over $100.  I asked the steward what he thought.  He wasn't sure so he went to talk to someone else.  

A different gentleman came to our seats and said that he has found us 2 seats on the bottom deck right behind first class and invited us to move down there so that we can be the first ones off the plane.  (No one was flying in the first class pods).  We gathered our stuff and walked down a flight of stairs (first time I've done that on a plane) and he helped us get settled in row 10.  (We had previously been on row 92).  We had a wonderful conversation with a flight crew member and he told us that Air France doesn't allow their employees to work more than 35 hours a month.  A month! Can you imagine?  

Because of this kind gesture, we were able to race through the airport and customs and get to our train 8 minutes before it departed.  The train ended up being 40 minutes late, so in the end all of that mess with Mastercard would have been for naught anyway.  

The Stuttgart Tickets

First of all, I just have to say I have married the most patient, kind man of all time.  When I told him I had bought the Stuttgart tickets for the wrong day, he didn't get upset or mad at me.  He just calmly said that we can get it taken care of.  This isn't the first time a mistake of mine has cost us money in France and every time he's so kind to me about it.  

After the pain of paying way more for a train ticket than we needed to, I reached out to our friends to let them know about my mistake and added cost.  They were kind enough to cancel our hotel reservations for us so that we can stay with them (which they had initially offered and we declined so as not to be an imposition) thus saving us more than we have paid in the extra tickets.  I'm so grateful to have such gracious friends as the Swensons.

The Water Heater

I reached out to Johann my landlord a couple of days ago with a question and he informed me that he now has a service that manages the apartment for him.  It's an office close by where I get my keys.  I asked Christophe at the office if there were any problems do I contact him or Johann, he said to contact him.  

When I discovered that the water heater was broken, it was 10:00 p.m. I decided to shoot off an email letting Christophe know so that he'd get it in the morning.  I figured that it would probably take a couple days to get a repairman out and that we would have hot water by the time I got back from Germany.  

I literally fell asleep while trying to write Christophe I was so jet lagged.  Bradford woke me up so that I could finish the email.  I shot off the email and went to bed.  

True to my jet lag nature, I woke up wide awake at 1:00 a.m. ready to start the day.  (Seriously, I hate travelling.)  I decided to see what my wonderful Pleasant Grove friends were up to since it was late afternoon over there.  I was shocked to see an email from Johann.  

He said that he had been told by Christophe that the water heater wasn't working and sent me some questions and a manual in French.  (I had already found the manual in English.)  I wrote an email answering his questions figuring he'd see it in the morning.  

Imagine my surprise when wrote me back!  At 1:00 a.m.!  He had more questions.  Pretty soon he and I are writing each other back and forth and I'm sending him photos of the water heater, and he's sending me photos from the manual of what I should look at.  

At 2:00 a.m. I had hot water!  I gave Johann the good news and he asked me to check some pipes in the "cave" in the morning and wished me a pleasant night.  (This "cave" deserves its own post.  It truly feels like a cave.)

I have never met Johann in person but he is a wonderful landlord.  He worked tirelessly 3 years ago to help me get the Internet, he replaced my fridge because it was forming ice crystals in the back, and he kept the fan I had bought so that I could use it again this time.  He has upgraded the kitchen, added a dryer to the laundry room, and even held the apartment for me for months in advance while I tried to decide if I wanted it again.  And he's charging me the exact same rent as 3 years ago.  I feel truly blessed to rent this place from Johann.


So when all is said and done, things have turned out all right, thanks to wonderful people who have been placed in my life.  

When I think of my relationship with travelling, I think of it kind of like pregnancy and childbirth.  I have time to get ready anticipating the event.  I go through lots of pain and trials when it finally gets here.  I end up with feelings of happiness and euphoria.  Later, I  remember only the good parts and forget the bad.

Unless of course I write a post titled the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Becoming Broken: The Gift of Guilt


In 1999 my parents hosted a wedding reception for my brother and his new wife at their home.  The night of the reception my mother needed to hold on to a single key.  Fearing she would lose it, she put it in her shoe.  This seemingly small decision would ultimately lead to her death. 

My mother had diabetes and therefore couldn’t feel her feet very well.  She couldn’t feel the key rubbing on the bottom of her foot, which created a blister that got infected.  Two months later she was life flighted to Albuquerque where she had some toes amputated to try to stop the spread of the infection. 

The trauma of the amputation, combined with her neuropathy, caused her to get what is known as Charcot foot.  This is when the bones in your feet become so weak, they break.  My mother had broken feet the rest of her life.1 

As you can probably imagine, the word “broken” was said quite often in our family as a result.  We said it when we explained to people why my mother wore large black walking boots, why she was in a wheelchair, and eventually why she died. 

The word “broken” has felt like a major part of my life.  But in reality, it’s a major part of everyone’s life. 

We see broken things everywhere we look, even if we don’t live with toddlers.  God shows us the value of being broken in nature.    

In order for a chick to hatch, the egg must break.

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In order for a caterpillar to become a beautiful butterfly, it must break out of its cocoon.

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In order for a pine tree to grow, the seeds must first break free from the pinecone.

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In order for a baby to be born and take its first breath, the water must break. 

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In order to plant a seed, the farmer must first break up the soil.

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In order for the seed to sprout, it must first break from its outer shell.

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In order for the seed grow, the clouds must break to provide the rain. 
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Sister Pat Holland has said, “God uses broken things.” 2  When I look at all the broken things around me, I ask, “Why does God use broken things?  What am I to learn?” 

I’d like share with you what thoughts have come to mind as I’ve turned to the scriptures and modern-day revelation to find answers to those questions.  I’ve learned that we have four basic needs, to be broken, to feel guilty, to be fed, and to be born again.

THE NEED TO BE BROKEN

We don’t need to read too far in the Book of Mormon to learn a powerful lesson about being broken. 3  Lehi and his family learned when Nephi’s bow broke that God can provide for us even when something is broken.  Just like Nephi, when we come to the Lord broken, we are shown a better way. In fact, it happens every week. 

Have you noticed that those administering the Sacrament don’t take the bread and water from their own trays? They serve it to each other.  As a congregation we try to do the same when possible.  Symbolically we first partake of the bread and water, then we grab the tray and offer it to the person next to us.  But why? 

I’ve pondered this seemingly small gesture. I think it serves as a reminder that we cannot save ourselves. Just like those who built the Tower of Babel learned, we cannot return home to Heavenly Father through our own efforts.  The way up isn’t by building a tower to heaven. There is only one way, and it is by becoming broken and turning to Jesus Christ.  In 1 Corinthians Christ tells us “Take eat, this is my body; which is broken for you.”  (1 Cor. 11:24)

In sign language the sign for “exchange” and “atonement” are very similar.

ASL sign for "exchange"  Source

 So if the atonement is an exchange and he wants us to eat the broken bread in remembrance of his broken body, what does he want in return? 

D&C 59: 8  tells us, “Thou shalt offer a asacrifice unto the Lord thy God in brighteousness, even that of a broken heart and a ccontrite spirit.”

What is a contrite spirit?  Lehi’s son Jacob gives some insight to this question. 4  In 2 Nephi chapter 9, he talks about how we should awake to “the awful reality” (v. 47) of our sins. Contrition is a result of feeling remorse.  And remorse comes from feeling guilt. 


THE NEED TO FEEL GUILT

When I hear the word “guilty” I tend to think of someone in court wearing an orange jumper with handcuffs with a judge in a black robe pointing his finger at her. 

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But it just simply means when we have done something wrong.  And we all have.  Unfortunately, Satan loves to use feeling guilty to turn us away from and not towards God.  The Book of Mormon shows us how he does this.

In Alma we have three chapters in a row that teach us about guilt. 

Chapter 30, which I call the Korihor Chapter, is about a man, Korihor, who told the Nephites they shouldn’t feel guilty.  He taught his followers to be like those that tried to build the Tower of Babel and “lift up their heads” and “to look up with boldness.”  He taught that to avoid feeling guilty just deny that there is anything to feel guilty about.  It’s hard to feel guilty for breaking a commandment if you don’t believe there is a God who gave them to you in the first place.

Chapter 31, which I call the Rameumptom Chapter, is about the Zoramites…a group of people who listened to Korihor and practiced what I like to call “Korihorism.”

Note: Korihorism is not an actual word or religion, it’s just my way of describing anyone who follows Korihor’s teachings. 

 They decided to build a tower, called Rameumptom meaning “Holy Stand,” to worship on.  To avoid feeling guilty, they looked down (literally) on others.  It’s hard to feel guilty when you can look at others and say, “At least I’m not as bad as you.” 

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Korihorism teaches us we can avoid feeling guilty by lifting ourselves up or putting others down.  Does anyone practice Korihorism now?  Sadly, yes.  People are still looking for ways to avoid feeling guilty. 

Sister Julie B. Beck former General Relief Society President said, “Sometimes people get casual about repenting. I have heard some people say that repenting is too hard. Others say they are tired of feeling guilty or have been offended by a leader who was helping them repent. Sometimes people give up when they have made mistakes and come to believe that there is no hope for them. Some people imagine that they will feel better about themselves if they just leave the restored gospel and go away.” 5

Elder D. Todd Christofferson recently quoted David Brooks who wrote an article for the New York Times about moral relativism.  I decided to look up the article mentioned in his General Conference talk.
6  The news article might as well have been titled, “Korihorism and the Rameumptom Tower.”   

“Everybody is perpetually insecure in a moral system based on inclusion and exclusion.  There are no permanent standards, just the shifting judgment of the crowd.  It is a culture of oversensitivity, overreaction and frequent moral panics, during which everybody feels compelled to go along.” 7   

Remember the poor Zoramites weren’t upset at the practice of Korihorism, they were upset they couldn’t pray on the tower they helped to build.            

Lastly, we read Alma Chapter 32, which I call the S.E.E.D. (Swell, Enlarge, Enlighten, Delicious) Chapter. After seeing the effects of Korihorism, he teaches that guilt can be a gift.  Alma tells the Zoramites (and us) not to avoid our guilt, but to do as Jacob taught and “awake and arouse [our] faculties.” (v. 27)

This concept of guilt being a good thing is not something Satan wants us to believe.  But it can actually be a gift, for without it, we’d never know we need to be saved. 

Alma asks for us to “experiment upon [his] words” and to “exercise a particle of faith.”  (v. 27) He tells us we can do this by planting a seed. 

But this isn’t just any seed that grows into just any kind of plant.  This is a very specific seed that only grows into one kind of tree and produces a fruit that described in verse 42 “is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure;”  Does this description sound familiar?  It is the tree that Lehi dreamed about known as the Tree of Life and the fruit is the Love of God or the Atonement. 8  

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What Alma is trying to show us is that we don’t need to avoid guilt, because there is a way to remove it completely.  With Christ and His Infinite Atonement, we will remember our sins no more

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “When [Christ] says to the poor in spirit, “Come unto me,” He means He knows the way out and He knows the way up. He knows it because He has walked it. He knows the way because He is the way.” 9

Guilt isn’t something we need to be afraid of like Satan would want us to be.  Elder Tad R. Callister says it’s like a spiritual stop sign warning us, Don’t go down that road. You know the pain it can bring.” He goes on to say it can actually be a protection, not a punishment. 10  Yet sadly the world continues to try to avoid guilt.

THE NEED TO BE FED

I recently heard about a study that the Pew Research Center conducted. 11  They are a nonpartisan nonprofit “fact tank” based in Washington D.C. that study social issues, public opinion and demographic trends.  They found that Millennials are losing their religion and our faith is not immune to the trend. (Although, LDS young adults do remain in larger numbers than other faiths.)  One former LDS member responded said, “I didn’t come to church to preached at or lectured to, I came to be mentored.” 

I have thought long and hard about that statement.  The word preach means simply a religious message delivered from a pulpit; however, the connotation of the word is much more emotionally charged and often negative.  The same goes for the word “lecture” which just means an educational talk delivered to an audience. 

But the word mentor is more than listening to someone else, it requires action.  As someone who has given many guest lectures and taught university classes, I’ve learned that I can easily lecture someone who doesn’t want to listen (just ask my kids).  But what I can’t do is mentor someone against their will.  A true mentorship comes from someone seeking guidance and help, not from someone seeking to give it.

So as I tried to deconstruct her statement, I asked my social media community to weigh in.  They pretty much confirmed what I thought.  Most people see preaching and lecturing as bad; mentoring, good.  In essence preaching is like saying “This is what I want you to hear” and mentoring is like saying, “This is what I want to hear.” 

It was like my friends were saying, “I don’t want anyone to make me feel guilty, and I don’t want anyone to make me feel ashamed.”

Then one of my friends made this comment.

“I would say I come to church to be fed or nurtured, which happens when, through talks, lessons, and ordinances, I feel connected with God. Personally being preached at or lectured to (or phrased more benignly, listening to a lecture) are barriers to being fed and nurtured. Preaching and lecturing implies a distance between the person speaking and those listening. The best talks and lessons are those that bring me into a place of mutual sharing of the spirit. The analogies of the word of God to living water or a feast are the closest description of the reason I go to church.”

The idea of coming to church to be fed makes me think of the metaphor of a dinner party.  Can you imagine going to a dinner party and saying to the host, “No thanks, I’m not hungry”? Or arriving at the dinner party ready to eat and the host says, “I forgot to make dinner”?   That is kind of what it would be like at a church service if there is disconnection between the speaker and the listener.

I submit that for a Sacrament Meeting, a Sunday School class, or any lesson at church to be effective, there needs to be as my friend says, “a… mutual sharing of the spirit.”  We are all here to feast at the banquet table and we do that by studying together the doctrine of Christ.

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THE NEED TO BE BORN
Since pondering the concept of being broken, now when I take the Sacrament and place that piece of broken bread in my mouth, I feel like it is Christ’s way of saying to me, “Let’s make an exchange.  I will take your broken heart, your guilt, your remorse, your contrite spirit, and in exchange I will give you peace, hope, and a cheerful heart so that you can always have my Spirit.”  I don’t need to run away from my guilt, I need to run towards the One who can take it away. 

As I watched my mom struggled year after year with her diabetic-related health problems, I often wondered if she would ever be healed.  I knew that Christ had the power to restore her feet, but He never did.    When I stood in the mortuary preparing to dress her body in her temple clothing, I realized that she had been healed.  I had seen her testimony of Jesus Christ and His Atonement grow, her heart soften, and her spirit mend. God hadn’t been interested in her feet as much as He was interested in her soul.  He wanted her to be born again unto Christ. 


Ruth Rasmussen Buchanan 1946-2105

Alma 7:14 says “Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness.”

And just like the chicken, the butterfly, and the tree, my mom too needed to be broken to be born again.  We all do.  Because God doesn't love us in spite of us being broken, He loves us because we are broken.  





We don’t come to church to be made to feel guilty.  We come to church because we are guilty. 

We don’t come to church so that we can feel better about our sins compared to others.  We come to church because we are all sinners. 

We don’t learn to be obedient so we can earn our spot in heaven.  We learn to be obedient so we can feel at home when we get there. 

We come to church to partake of the Bread of Life and the Living Water. 

We come to be lifted by the One who has descended below them all.

We come to have our broken hearts mended by Christ.  



SOURCES and ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

1To read more how living with Charcot Foot affected my mother, click here  and here.

2To read the BYU devotional given by Jeffrey and Patricia Holland titled “An Inconvenient Messiah,” click here

3To read how Lehi’s family responded when Nephi’s bow broke, click here and read verses 14-24. 

4To read Jacob’s two sermons on how the atonement works in our lives, read 2 Nephi chapters 9 and 10

5To read Sister Julie B. Beck’s April 2007 General Conference talk about repentance, click here.  

6To read Elder D. Todd Christofferson’s April 2017 talk titled “A Voice of Warning”, click here.

7To read David Brooks’ New York Times article titled, “The Shame Culture”, click here.

8To read Elder Kevin W. Pearson’s April 2015 General Conference talk titled “Stay by the Tree”, click here.  

9To read Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s April 2006 General Conference talk titled “Broken Things to Mend”, click here

10To read Elder Tad R. Callister’s article titled “How Do I Know When I Am Forgiven?” click here

11To read the results of the Pew Research Center’s study on Millennials and religion, click here



















Sunday, July 16, 2017

Citizen Participation: Too much of a good thing?

As Americans, we tend to be skeptical of our government.

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But can you blame us?  Look at how our country began.

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This past 4th of July, NPR tweeted out the Declaration of Independence.  Not everyone recognized it and thought NPR was calling for an overthrow of the current administration. Yeah, it's a pretty rowdy document.

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Our beginnings have created a tradition of feeling that "We the People" have the power to change anything in the government that we don't like.  We see the government as working for us and not the other way around.  

And that's a good thing!  

I'm grateful I live in a country that values my opinion and wants me to participate in the process.  

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Citizen participation is a topic that has been researched and studied around the world.  Answers to questions are sought such as:

How much should citizens know?  

How much should citizens participate? 

When should citizens participate?  

To try to help answer these questions and more, in July 1969 Sherry R. Arnstein published what is known as a Ladder of Citizen Participation.  

While not a perfect model, it does effectively show how power shifts at each rung.

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Essentially at the bottom of the ladder you have citizens being manipulated by the government, at the top of the ladder you have citizens with complete control and the government cannot do anything about it.

So which rung is best?  

It depends.  

This is where citizen participation requires an understanding of how it works and how it works best.  

What if there is a major crisis and the government needs to tell everyone to evacuate? Holding focus groups to see how citizens feel about leaving their homes wouldn't be very smart.  (This would be an example of Consulting.)

What if a city wants to build a community pool and bond millions of dollars to do so?  Telling the community that their taxes will go up to pay for a debt might not go over too well if this is the first time they hear about it.  (This is an example of Informing.)  

Since this ladder was published, many scholars have come forward to criticize this model and have created their own.

When I was in grad school working towards my public administration degree, I had one professor who didn't like the idea of participation as rungs on a ladder implying each interaction was mutually exclusive.  

The reality is each community is different.  Some local governments are corrupt.   Some local governments do a great job running their city, like Provo, Utah voted the second best managed city in America.  Citizens are different too.  Some are organized and vocal, others have no idea who is on their City Council.  So as you can imagine it's hard to place community interactions on a single rung on a ladder.  

But, I do like the ladder because it can help both citizens and government leaders alike to evaluate what kind of participation is appropriate.  

I live in two communities that handle citizen participation very differently.
Battery Park City, a part of New York City

In Battery Park City the BPCA (Battery Park City Authority) doesn't even have board members who live in Battery Park City.  Residents of Battery Park City are not allowed to speak at the public meetings, which only recently even allowed the public to attend.  If they have anything they want to say, they must submit it in writing.


Pleasant Grove, Utah (Could my two residences BE any more different?)

In Pleasant Grove, Utah, city council meetings are streamed live over the internet and citizens are given 3 minutes to say whatever is on their mind during the open session.  And here's a novel idea, the council members actually live IN Pleasant Grove.

Seriously, Gov. Cuomo, what on earth are you thinking?
But is it possible to have too much of a good thing?  

Yes, even with citizen participation.  

While patriotic critics are necessary for a robust government.  Complete citizen control is not.

Both James Madison and Benjamin Franklin were wary of what is known as direct democracy, when the citizens take over and make decisions for the government.  They didn't even like the word democracy and wanted to keep the word "republic."

To learn what direct democracy is and how it works, click here.  

Direct democracy became popular during the Progressive Era when frontier politics were corrupt.  It was a way for citizens to take back control.  But since the 1970's initiatives, referendums, and recalls have done more harm than good.  

Especially for California, Oregon, and Arizona where they are heavily used.

Initiatives not only take over the budget, but also drive public policy from casinos to the size of chicken coops.  

An article in the Economist states why direct democracy is so dangerous.

"In many cases, there is no evidence that voters have studied the issues or even comprehend the initiative text (which can run to thousands of words). Instead, those who vote are likely to rely on attack ads by special interests or sponsors on television, or celebrity endorsements."

Asking residents to vote on initiatives, referendums, and recalls, eliminates opportunities for citizens to participate in the process.  There are no town halls, no open sessions, no debate, not even public meetings.  Just a group of citizens who privately draft a piece of legislation and then ask uninformed citizens to vote on it.  The only input a voter can give is either "yes" or "no."  

Strangely enough, between my two residences, it is Pleasant Grove and not Battery Park City that is able to vote on an initiative this general election.  A group of men, without any public forums or meetings, drafted a piece of legislation in a single day.   With the help of a lawyer they won't name, they wrote an initiative that moves 18% of the General Fund to a different fund to pay for roads reducing services in other areas.  They claim their justification for ignoring citizen participation in this process was the results from a city survey that revealed road repair was most important to the residents.

To find out how city residents were manipulated into thinking funding roads is a top priority when the problem has existed for several years, click here.  

Are any of them experts in government accounting?  No. 

Are any of them experts in public works?  No. 

Did they consult city staff when drafting the initiative?  No.

Did they ask for public input when drafting the initiative?  No.

Jacob is the author of the initiative.  This comment was made on Facebook on July 17, 2017.  

This is a screenshot of the Fund Roads First Initiative presented to the City on March 1, 2017--just 24 hours later. 

When a bunch of friends get together and draft an ordinance without any general public or government input then tell citizens to sign the petition to "get the roads fixed," I add one more rung to top of the ladder.  If I'm not comfortable with my government officials drafting legislation behind closed doors, why should I be comfortable with everyday citizens doing it?  


Extremes on both ends should be avoided. 


I think I have a better sense of how Aaron Burr felt when he learned that the nation's capital was moved to Washington, D.C. in exchange for a national debt.  I too want to be in the room where it happens, or at least be able to read the minutes afterwards.  



This hastily written initiative plays upon the emotions of Americans who are naturally skeptical of government.  The authors make false claims like "the City Council has done nothing to fix the roads" (not true) and "we can afford to trim our budget by one-fifth and not lose any services" (again not true).  As these lies are spread, citizens are confused and wondering how to vote.  Of course they want their roads fixed, of course they don't want higher taxes and fees, so of course this initiative sounds appealing.
To those who live in Pleasant Grove, Utah or anywhere else that has an initiative, referendum, or recall on this year's ballot, ask yourself these questions:  

  • Do I want to be able to participate in my government with more than just a yes or a no vote?  
  • Do I want my voice heard BEFORE legislation is put on the ballot?  
  • Do I want this country to be the Republic that our Founding Fathers intended it to be?  
  • Am I comfortable with a bunch of friends privately drafting ordinances in 24 hours that affect my city's budget?  

As citizens we need to participate, but we need to participate in the best way possible. 

To learn more about the dangerous initiative facing the small town of Pleasant Grove, Utah, click here.  














Monday, July 10, 2017

It Costs Money to Save Money: Why Across-the-Board Budget Cuts Don't Work

In case you are new to my blog, let me introduce you to my husband, a certain Englishman.  

Who does NOT have an English accent, by the way.

He earned a Master of Professional Accounting degree at the #1 Accounting school in the nation, University of Texas-Austin.  He is also a Certified Managerial Account.

He decided not work with a public accounting firm because he loves to work with start-up companies and entrepreneurs.  Which means we have not had a steady income since... well let's just say Justin Timberlake was known as the lead singer of this group.

Source
We have known times of plenty and definitely our share of lean times too.  But we have always paid our mortgage, bills, and have had food on the table.  I credit this to the fact that a certain Englishman did a great job of managing our budget.

He taught me that during lean times we don't cut parts of our budget that will end up costing us more money in the long run.

For example:  We may stop going out to eat or cancel our vacation, but we keep paying our utility bill.  While staying at home during Spring Break is no fun, it's not as horrible as a bad credit score. 

He has had clients with lean times too.  His specialty is keeping small tech companies running by managing their budget and cash flow.  He knows what to delay and what to pay immediately.  His incredible talent at negotiating and working with vendors and creditors is why he's now a successful CFO consultant.  

Source

Households and businesses aren't the only ones that experience lean times.  Governments do too. And just like personal and corporate budgets, they have to figure out what to cut.

Except, they don't get to cut their budget the same way a household or a business gets to.

To read how government funds differ from corporate and personal funds, click here.  

They have different regulations and laws that prevent them from being able to take the excess in some funds and transfer it to others.   They just can't manage them like a business can.  

To read why governments can't run like a business, click here.  

When a city has a financial crisis it must cut its budget.  The attractive answer is to do what's known as an across-the-board budget cut.  Every department has to learn how to do with less.  Seems fair, right?  
Rep. Kelda Roys of the Wisconsin State Assembly said that across-the-board budget cuts are politically easy but intellectually lazy.  

But they are even more serious than that.  They can actually end up costing a city more money than it saves.  

Source

Here's an example.  In 2008, the nation experienced a recession that caused significantly lower revenues and smaller city budgets.

In the beautiful city of Colorado Springs, they were hit with a $28 million gap.

They decided one way to save money was to turn off every third streetlight.  

Source

Sounds like a good idea, right?  That cuts their streetlight electricity bill by 33%.  Imagine spending 33% less on your electric bill.  Who wouldn't want that? Definitely the tax payers.  

Well, guess who also wants Colorado Springs to save 33% on their electricity bill?  

Source

That's right, copper thieves.  Because they no longer feared electrocution, they dressed as utility workers and opened the bases of the street lights and took the copper wires.

Let's see how this one budget cut affected the city budget.

Remember we have a gap of

$28 million


Turning off every third streetlight saved

$1.24 million

or

4% of the total deficit.

The copper wire that was stolen cost

$5 million to replace.  

For an added cost of

$3.76 million

thus increasing the budget gap to almost

$32 million.

I don't need a master's in accounting to know that $32 million is higher than $28 million.  

But that's just one isolated example, right?  

Let's move up north and look at Montana.

Source

Taryn Purdy, the principal fiscal analyst at the Montana Legislative Fiscal Division, conducted a study and found that at a certain point the state spends $3 dollars to save $1 in revenue cutbacks.

Time to take a trip to California.  

During that same recession, Gov. Schwarzenegger created furloughs to save cash quickly.  But Nancy Vogel, principal consultant for California’s Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes, said that it either didn't create actual savings or ended up costing the state more.

One example is that they had to spend a lot of money to hire more employees and pay overtime to process all the unemployment insurance claims of state employees that lost their job because of the furlough.  

Source

Now on to one of my favorite places on earth.  The pretty, great state of Utah.  


Source 

In response to the recession, the State of Utah cut the 
Alcoholic Beverage Control Agency's budget by 2%.  They did it by closing 1 of their 44 state liquor stores.  

But here's the problem, state liquor stores actually make money in Utah.  It cut a revenue-generating enterprise.  

Then a couple years later in 2011, the State decided to cut the same agency's budget by 7% which would have closed 9 stores.

The citizens got together and fought the budget cut.  Who do you think they were?  These guys?


Source


Nope, it was people who would never step foot inside a state liquor store.


Note: I have no evidence that this particular family fought the budget cut.  Source

Why would Mormons be upset that liquor can't be sold in the State of Utah?


Because 10% of all liquor sales go to the school lunch program.

Source



  • What if your city decided to cut standard cost of living raises to the city employees?  They will want to leave and work for other cities who pay competitively.  Your city would then have to pay more to hire and train new employees who don't have the same knowledge base.  
  • What if your city decided not to buy new cars for your police department but get older ones?  Those cars will most likely break down more often requiring costly repairs.  Plus, do you really want your cop in an old car if he needs to chase someone down?  
  • What if your city decided to cut a training program of its employees because they had to travel to another town or state?  This could result in costly mistakes made and lawsuits due to the lack of up-to-date knowledge in their industry.  
  • What if your city decided to cut the public works budget resulting in a loss of staff?  The pipes and number of homes would stay the same, but the ability to fix a water main break would be slower resulting in costly damage.  
  • What if your city decided to switch to a volunteer fire department to save money?  The response time would be slower meaning fires would cause more costly damage and possible loss of life.  

Are you catching the vision of why government budget cuts are complicated and we can't afford to be intellectually lazy?

So should we elect more representatives like my husband with a background in business accounting to manage our city budget? 

Let me ask you this:


Would you want an orthopedic foot surgeon to perform your brain surgery?  

Source

They both went to medical school, they both know how to prep and use a scalpel, so why not?  


Because they have different specialties.  


I'm not saying a certain Englishman wouldn't be a good city council member, I'm just saying it's not because he has a background in financial and managerial accounting specializing in SaaS revenue recognition, corporate financial budgeting, and cash flow management of small start-up tech companies.  

He doesn't even do our own taxes.  Why?  Because he's not a tax accountant.  

Instead we look to our municipal finance directors and city budget analysts to recommend budget cuts to our city councils.  That way we actually save money and keep those copper thieves away.  

Source


To learn more about government accountants, what they do, and who they answer to, click here.  

To read more about what Colorado Springs and other states did to cut their budget during the recession, read these articles: