Mar 30 2008

Paying the Bills

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized

I’ve been self-employed for more than half of my life. At age 15, I was one of the only delivery carriers in North Little Rock for the now defunct Arkansas Gazette, that consistently delivered my 450 paper routes on time, and stayed in good standing (not in debt) with the paper. At age 23 I opened a retail art gallery in Little Rock, not an easy market, that 13 years later is the place for new and exciting art in Little Rock. After selling my portion of the art gallery to my partner, I went into event production, spent 9 years freelancing and working full time for several companies in the Mid-South, and now, for the past 3 years have been working in the industry on a full-time freelance basis.

I may not have an MBA, but I know what it’s like to run a small (tiny) business. I know what it’s like when market conditions turn sour, expectations are not met, or worse, people don’t pay their bills. That’s why this article from the not so friendly Politico bothers me a lot.

From the article:

A pair of Ohio companies owed more than $25,000 by Clinton for staging events for her campaign are warning others in the tight-knit event production community — and anyone else who will listen — to get their cash upfront when doing business with her. Her campaign, say representatives of the two companies, has stopped returning phone calls and e-mails seeking payment of outstanding invoices. One even got no response from a certified letter.

Folks, this is my industry. This is a low profit, highly competitive industry. Payroll is by far the largest annual expense, and that means cash flow is key. Holding off on payment for 30 days is one thing, but some of these events were held in February, that 30 days have past.

In looking at the Clinton Campaign’s most recent disclosure, filed on 3/20/08, I count $418,487 in outstanding debts for the item Event Expense: Equipment, or about 4.8% of her total outstanding debt ($8,733,603) for that report. Of the companies listed, I found seven that I either have, or regularly do business with. They are owed a total of nearly $81,000 (19.4% of the total owed for production expenses). Additionally, the campaign owes a total of $7650 to two I.A.T.S.E locals. I.A.T.S.E. is the stagehand union. This sum represents money that would go to union member payroll.

These are, by and large, small businesses, in some cases family businesses, that compete nationally for work in an industry that has to be one of the most competitive service oriented industries you’ve never heard much about. While $80K may seem like a lot spread over seven companies, one company is owed nearly ¾ of that total for events held in the March 4th primary.

I’ve contacted the owner of that company to find out the status of the invoice. Obviously, if the balance has been paid I will amend the numbers. Still I cannot stress just how important it is, for both the companies as well as the full time and freelance people they employ.

Often freelancers are held hostage by the payment of event invoices in order to receive their pay. This happens in just about every industry that employs freelance employees. As a freelancer, I know just how financially damaging and stressful it can be, having to wait 30+ days for payment on a job. Unlike some industries, you cannot get your product back (your time) and many individuals have not had the good fortune I have and are basically living paycheck to paycheck.

If the Hillary Campaign is really looking out for the little guy, as they have consistently claimed, they need to pay up now. Being small business friendly means paying your bills on time. Get the checkbook out and get it done.

Mar 29 2008

They Aren’t Going Anywhere

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized

That’s what the headline said at the top of Huff Post this morning. The headline, which could have more than one meaning, was in response to calls yesterday that Democrats should tone down the rhetoric or are facing devastaing consequences, or that the solution was for Clinton to drop out of the race.

That’s an awful lot of “hatin’ on” for one day, and that’s from people in her party. Peggy Noonan, never one to miss a Hillary hating moment, used the opportunity to cut clean to the bone in her WSJ screed.

Damn, that’s a rough day.

By the end of it, Todd Beaton from MyDD had enough. To be honest, so had I. I scrapped my 1000 word screed and started thinking about this in a different slightly way.

Quit is not a word that is in the Clinton vocabulary. It just isn’t. Sometimes that works for them, sometimes against. Either way, it’s a lifestyle choice, and once it’s a part of you, it isn’t going away.

This behavior pattern has played out throughout their time in the public eye. From Hillary’s refusal to back down on her Iraq vote, all the way back to Bill’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” moment, or the “Hillcare” debacle and that’s just the bad stuff. The Clinton family’s refusal to quit also made sure that the Republican controlled Congress in the 90’s didn’t run roughshod over the will of the will President. Bill consistently got the better of a bad deal by skillfully maneuvering, and it worked, by and large, at least in the media.

It is the refusal to quit that has made the Clintons a force in our political discourse for the past 30 years. And like so many things that involve the Clintons, it is this tenacity that has been at once an asset and a liability.

Looking at the contests ahead, there is little chance that the current lead enjoyed by the Obama camp will be significantly diminished. There just aren’t enough states out there, with enough delegates to make the difference. However, in the mind of a Clinton, this is not a reason to back down, this is a reason to fight even harder, think outside of the box, work like hell to make it happen, damn the consequences. That’s where we’re at right now.

Calls for Hillary to give up the ghost will only serve to make her hold on even tighter. She’ll fight harder, and the wounds suffered by the eventual Democratic nominee will just be deeper. Like it or not, right or wrong, that’s the reality. From my perspective, the task is not to try and get her to bow out, but to motivate her to stop attacking her nomination opponent in a way that ultimately hurts the party.

Hillary is under the false impression that she is running for the Democratic nomination. While this is technically correct, in all reality, she is running for office of the President of the United States. By focusing primarily on the nomination battle, she actually diminishes her campaign. Both Obama and Hillary should be focusing on the campaign through November, instead of making the end game in August. By making the end game August, the resulting standoff will create the mutually assured destruction that is the only way John McCain can win in November.

It’s not mathematically impossible for Clinton to get the nomination, and until it is, she will fight with every fiber of her being to make sure that she doesn’t get marginalized by anyone, be they media, other politicians, or the party apparatus. By shifting her campaign to a full on presidential fight, she has three weeks to see how her electability against McCain fares in the umpteen polls that will certainly come out before and after the PA primary. Further, in the four contests that come after PA, just two weeks later, she has the opportunity to shift her rhetoric from beating the party up, to taking John McCain down. Ultimately, defeating John McCain is the goal of both the Democratic candidates in the long term. It’s way past time for both of them to adopt that strategy.

I don’t think this will happen, because I don’t think Clinton is really running for President. She’s running to be the head of the Democratic Party. She’s running to regain some of that standing that the Clintons lost when they left the White House under a cloud. On some level, I think she feels cheated that she couldn’t run in 2000. It’s a psychologically messed up place to operate from, but that’s basically what she’s been doing since her campaign for Senate in 2000.

Nope, the Clintons aren’t going anywhere folks. We can’t make them give up either. We do have a responsibility to our party and the country to express, in a way that is basically tough love, our displeasure with her rhetoric against her nomination opponent. It is our duty to put pressure on her to stop raising up John McCain over Barak Obama. It’s hurtful for our party, regardless of who wins the nomination. This isn’t a zero sum game. What is said now has a huge impact on what happens in November.

The time to ratchet up the pressure to drop out may or may not come on May 7th. In any case, the way to get a Clinton to disengage is not with a stick, but a carrot. It’s time for the party to start thinking about what those solutions might be now, so they’re ready when and if the time comes. I hope it comes soon.

Mar 29 2008

Still Born Conspiracy

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized

Some of you may remember the “vast white wing” conspiracy against Mayor Herenton that came out last June. If you don’t remember it, good for you. It seems, aside from some free publicity, that it was a non-event. Now, 9 months later, I’m left wondering how this baby’s gonna come out.

According to today’s Commercial Appeal, the independent prosecutor on the case says Nick Clark did nothing illegal. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement, but it doesn’t bode well for the accusations set forth by the Mayor and Ms.Smith.

Further, the article notes that political martyr and subject of ire from nearly every corner of the political spectrum, Richard Fields. From the article:

Also on Friday, Fields’ attorney, Randy Pierce, said, “I’ve been in touch with Baugh the last few days and I’m left feeling positive about it as far as (Fields) is concerned. My sense is we’re bringing this thing to a conclusion and I feel positive about it.”

My question is, are we ever really gonna know what happened with this thing or is it going to be swept away and forgotten? At this point, if Ms. Smith played the Mayor, we have a right to know. If there was a plot of some sort, we have a right to know. If this was just some silly event that was hatched up for political gain, we have a right to know.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out, but right now, looks like we got played.

Mar 27 2008

Leading Memphis…

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized

In light of our city’s distorted sense of what leadership is, and despite my attempts to highlight this distortion over the past few years, I thought I would condescendingly link to the Wikipedia definition of leadership.

One of the differentiating factors between Management and Leadership is the ability or even necessity to inspire. A Leader, one who can instill passion and direction to an individual or group of individuals, will be using psychology to affect that group either consciously or subconsciously.
Those who seem to be “Natural Leaders” and effectively inspire groups without really knowing the strategies or tactics used are considered Charismatic Leaders. The conscious Leader on the other hand applies a variety of psychological tactics that affect the “reactions” of a group to the environment they exist in.

Leadership is not about you, it’s about the people you are leading. It’s about inspiring them to do better, not thriving in the spotlight. Charismatic leaders can get a lot done, if they are willing to take the hard medicine that is sometimes necessary.

That is not happening right now. In fact, NOTHING is happening right now from the top floor of City Hall.

More than anything Memphis needs a conscious leader, someone who is purposely driving the conversation in a positive We do not need a rhetorical bully, calling those who disagree with him stupid, or racist.

In reading the initial recommendation from the $700,000 “efficiency” study the problem didn’t start with Willie Herenton, but goes back 50 years in some cases. Still you don’t have to pay someone $700,000 to come to it’s initial conclusion:

The City does not have a well-documented set of strategies and objectives to guide its future plans and ongoing operations. This situation results in a lack of direction and clear priorities to guide management and align services with operational and financial goals.

No kidding.

The reason that crime is high in Memphis is that we don’t have a comprehensive strategy. We may have a strategy to catch criminals, but we don’t have a strategy to head crime off at the pass. We aren’t educating our kids, offering opportunities to our citizens, or providing any career training that people aren’t laughing at. We have some of the highest levels of infant mortality and teen pregnancy in the nation. WHAT IS THE STRATEGY?

What is the strategy to beautify Memphis? There are parts of Memphis that are absolutely stunning…and then there are the other parts. What’s the city strategy for dealing with the blight that exists in just about every corner of the city?

Go down the list, and I guarantee you will not find any strategy from Mr. Mayor on anything but staying in power. Let’s fill the city with cronies, sit back and enjoy the ride. That’s vision.

Maybe the people of Memphis, you know, you guys who have lived here longer than me and as such, know soooo much more than I do, are just too tired to do anything about it. Maybe you’re content to just sit back and watch as it keeps crumbling around you. Maybe you like living in a city that is becoming more and more toxic with each passing day. Maybe that’s ok with you, but it’s not ok with me.

Quite frankly, it makes me mad that so many people in Memphis just think that nothing can change. Everything is permanently messed up in their worldview. As long as we, as Memphians, are content to take that attitude, we have done it to ourselves. The reality is that Herenton has no vision for the city outside of his ego, so it’s time for us, the citizens, to take over.

No one is going to heal the divisions, fix the crime, educate our kids, stop the cycle of poverty, or lower teen pregnancy and infant mortality for us Memphis, we have to do it for ourselves. As soon as we start taking ownership of our city, all of us from Whitehaven to Cordova and everywhere in between, the solutions will become self-evident. Until we start thinking about the benefit of the whole instead of the benefit of our neighborhood, or group, or whatever, the solutions will continue to elude us. Until we stop relying on people intent on upholding or worse, exploiting the mistakes of the past, we’re stuck. Until we agree that we are better working together as a community, nothing will change.

It’s way past time Memphis. Whaddya say?

Mar 27 2008

Lack of Vision and Strategic Planning

Posted by Steve Ross in Uncategorized

Mayor Herenton’s re-election, resignation threats, and other shenanigans aside, at least we know we have a Mayor, who just yesterday proclaimed:

“I want to tell you I had no other choice but to run for re-election. I had to run for office to protect what I had invested in this city in 16 years as mayor.”
“I had to protect the progress of this particular city from individuals who I thought did not have any wherewithal or ability to take this city to the next level.”

That’s all well and good. I’m glad that the Mayor feels responsible for the “investment” he has in Memphis. It’s too bad that his investment seems to have no direction or vision.

From the article:

“The library system’s lack of strategic direction on issues such as locations, facilities and service offerings is symptomatic of the lack of overall city strategies and priorities for the delivery of services to its citizens,” said the report, commissioned in August 2006, conducted by Deloitte Consulting LLP and delivered a year ago at a cost of $700,000.

Ahh, that’s what I like to hear about a guy who went out of his way to make sure that the city wouldn’t move too far away from his legacy of blindly driving this city…umm, forward?. Ugh! This stuff drives me nuts.

I’m sure there will be more on this…there always is.