Stewardship

In1 the 70’s CEO compensation was based on the size of the company. So, companies became bigger and bigger, even when it didn’t make sense. In the 80’s unscrupulous/valiant corporate raiders/shareholder rights advocates took advantage/fought this trend in frequently lucrative ways.

As a result, there was a desire to tie management and CEO compensation directly to owner wealth creation, so companies started issuing stock options. Which still didn’t align management and owner’s interests because management suddenly was more interested in stock volatility than in long term growth. So, the 2008 financial crisis happened.

And no, it wasn’t because of unscrupulous business men, unless you want to include unscrupulous government actors, the largest of which is Congress (both sides, all of them, with very few exceptions). Congress had already passed Sarbanes Oxley, as if we could legislate away already illegal behavior, under the theory that auditors self interest can be managed by government managers2. It did approximately squat in 2008, and unlike the 1980’s S&L scandal, virtually nobody went to jail, retired, or even lost their promotion.

We have a leadership problem in this country. We have managers and politicians running our organizations, not leaders or stewards. Google stewardship. Go ahead, I dare you. On the front page I found five definitional or lexical links (e.g. Merriam-Webster), five religious, and Wikipedia, which mostly talked about stewardship of the environment. Apparently, we have the concept of stewardship. but only religious nuts3 care about it.

It’s not like this is a new issue4:

When power, therefore, is placed in the hands of so small a number of men, as to admit of their interests and views being easily combined in a common enterprise, by an artful leader, it becomes more liable to abuse, and more dangerous when abused, than if it be lodged in the hands of one man; who, from the very circumstance of his being alone, will be more narrowly watched and more readily suspected, and who cannot unite so great a mass of influence as when he is associated with others.
Hamilton

In government, we talk about governance theory, because it would be disreputable to tie manager compensation to organization outcomes, or something. And when government bonuses come up, it’s usually not in a good way. Despite the potential for bonuses to tie managers self-interest to organizational results, without a profit motive, there is little tying those granting the bonuses to those same outcomes. It quickly devolves into managing optics, not results.

Despite all the crap I pulled prior, during, and after the 2014 Grand Jury document release; after a $1.2 million forensic audit documenting, amongst other things, a pay for play scheme: after at least $30 million in illegal payments to a single vendor; I got in trouble for a draft internal report reviewed by a couple outsiders, because it would make the District look bad if released, and imperil its ability to raise bond funds5.

In our talking about managerial conflict of interest, the most obvious conflicts are never mentioned. The interest of managers to look good, please their boss, go on vacation, not work hard, pull a nice paycheck, jump to that next rung, or better job, and retire handsomely. At my work, I don’t know anyone in management6 that is willing to risk any of this to do right. If they were, they wouldn’t be management7.

The idea of doing what’s right, instead of what’s rewarded is so endemic we don’t even notice it. When I was a whistleblower, occasionally I would get asked why I was doing it. I always wondered about that question, because I thought it was obvious. I doubt anyone in management ever understood any of my answers. But if they did, they only understood in the way bird watchers understand how birds fly.

I hope where you work is better, but I doubt it. I’m willing to be wrong.

More later.

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Losing Our Past

So I’m watching some Youtube videos of a guy that’s into axes, kind of like Wranglestar, but with dreads1:

And one of his videos speaks about something I care about, hatchets (er, or tomahawks or whatever).

It’s obvious he cares about his tools, knows what he’s talking about, and has been using them for something like twenty plus years.

“What this is, this is a response to the market. This is a response to a market that doesn’t understand the tool, that is unskilled in using the tool. And you know you scale everything up to compensate for like the lowest common denominator, basically. It’s like a hatchet with training wheels, or something like that. And I think that’s the wrong approach.

So what we have is something really heavy, so it is going to able to do work even when it’s dull, because a lot of people don’t know how to sharpen, or don’t sharpen . . . This, more than any product I have seen, represents the dumbing down of  the axe. It’s just sad.

This is a guy that shaves down his Gränsfors Bruk axe handles. From his review Husqvarna obviously once knew how to make a decent hatchet. But the market has spoken. Long live the ignorance of the young.

We used to value this stuff. Hell, the Boy Scouts were founded on keeping this stuff alive. Now I wonder if Scouting will outlive me, and when it does, what  it will have become.

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Brotherhood

Brotherhood is different from friendship. Friendship happens in society, obviously. The more you like someone, the more you are willing to do for them.

Brotherhood has nothing to do with how you feel about the other person. It is a mutual agreement, in a group, that you will put the welfare of the group, you will put the safety of everyone in the group above your own. In effect you are saying, I love these other people more than I love myself.

Twelve Good Men and Women

The following email was sent yesterday to the Superintendent and Board of Trustees of the West Contra Costa Unified School District with the attached demand letter. Ben, by the way, just happens to be the one that recently handed me the Anton Jungherr Award at the 2017 California League of Bond Oversight Committees.

From: Ben Steinberg
Sent: Monday, May 22, 2017 8:44 PM
To: Liz Block; Valerie Cuevas; Madeline Kronenberg; Tom Panas; Mister Phillips; Matthew Duffy
Subject: Demand Letter

Dear Trustees and Superintendent,

We, the undersigned 12 individuals, submit the attached demand letter to the WCCUSD Board of Education and Superintendent calling on you to enforce the district’s contract with construction manager SGI and to remedy SGI’s clear breach of contract in its $1.6 billion district school construction program.  Specifically, despite the “Right to Audit” clause in the contract, SGI willfully refused to turn over project documents necessary for the forensic auditors to complete their full scope of work on the forensic investigation.  As the letter describes, this is a significant breach and results in damages to the school district and resident taxpayers that must be remedied.

We will present hard copies of the signed letter to you at this Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting.

Sincerely,

Ben Steinberg

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Anton Jungherr Award

Today I received the very prestigious Anton Jungherr Award from the California League of Bond Oversight Committees (CaLBOC) 2017 annual conference.It was presented by my friend Ben Steinberg, who was an influential participant in making the WCCUSD forensic investigation happen. Anton had more than a little to do with making it happen also.

2017-04-25 Award - med

After receiving the award I said a few words, well more than a few, and ended by reading my post Dreaming.

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Why Kids Hate Reading

My wife and I were talking about the perfectionist teachers we know. Now the problem I have is not that they are perfectionist, and we aren’t. It’s that I don’t think of their OCD behaviors as somehow superior to my ADD* behaviors. That, and their lack of tolerance for my son’s ADD behaviors.

Which kind of tracks Louis Rossmann’s rant on hipsters. Since he lives in New York, I imagine he has met a few. But if you want to go straight to the part on kids reading, it’s about three minutes ten seconds in.

“Shakespeare did not intend for his work to be used to torture minors. If he knew, if Shakespeare knew when he was alive that more people, more people throughout history would hate him than the people who loved him, because his work was not used to be enjoyed, was not used on Broadway for shows, was not used for theatre, but rather was used to torture children, he would probably say, “Fuck it, I’m not writing any of this shit. Let me see what else I can do with my life.”

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What’s Wrong with Schools

Yesterday I put up a video of Charlie Martin talking about BOTALI’s, “big organizations that act like idiots”. That certainly describes schools in California.

West Contra Costa Unified School District has an annual budget of around $300 million. But all schools in California are effectively part of a single organization, loosely controlled in Sacramento. According to the California Dept. of Education, K-12 spending  is over $76 billion a year, including $30 billion from other sources. This puts it behind Microsoft, and just ahead of Google (Alphabet).

Your school Board may be locally elected, but the rules they run by aren’t. When you go in to talk to you’re kids teacher, in effect, you are talking to a chain of command starting with the teacher, and ending in Sacramento. No matter how much they may want to help your child, they first have to answer to the person above them. And they may not want to help. The first time I heard about a teacher having a “back 40” where she put the kids she wanted to ignore, I knew that my kid had been in her “back 40” when he was in her room. And talking to her at the time about what was going on didn’t change a thing.

And that’s a teacher, who presumably likes kids. My theory on administrators, including Superintendents of Public Instruction, is that they went into teaching full of idealism, and either got tired, decided they didn’t like teaching, or possibly even children. That, or they became Principles, failed at it, and were moved to the District Office.

So, the biggest problem with public education is the agency problem. When the entire chain of command, from your local teacher to the Superintendent of Public Instruction, is at best concerned about the quality of your child’s education to the extent it doesn’t negatively effect their job, money, and goals. and at worst cares only if it negatively effects their job, money, and goals, we’ve got a problem.

The last SSA* union meeting I went to, the main topic of discussion was how the charter schools were stealing our jobs. Not stealing (i.e. educating) our children, stealing our jobs. Think about that.

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