Politics and Politicians

Right now, people are getting ready to run for office in local elections.

Here in PA, this means County, Township and Borough positions will need to be filled. The primary and general election turnout in “off-years” like this one have the lowest turnouts, but people in these positions have the largest effect on your daily life. These are the folks who are in charge of making sure the roads are maintained, the Library is funded, planning for projects like fixing dangerous intersections or whether that new housing development meets all the codes and will fit into the community, just to name a few. Their decisions will affect how efficiently paperwork gets processed in the Courts, the direction of economic development, the preservation and use of open space, and, of course, how are schools are run- and these examples are just the tip of the iceberg.

While a lot of attention is being paid to the folks lining up to run for President, remember how important it is for those folks to understand how Government works at the very lowest levels.

My objections to the celebrities and billionaires thinking about running for office has more to do with the fact tat they understand very little about Government in the first place, although like all of us, they certainly have their opinions about it.

The first thing everyone should realize is that Government is a fiduciary responsibility. It’s not a for-profit or even a non-profit enterprise- it is a public trust. That means we all agree to pool our resources (taxes) and give it to the Government entity in the hopes that our daily needs will be met on the macro-community level. Government needs to be a responsible steward of those tax dollars, making investments in the community infrastructure so we can go about our daily lives and not think about it too much.

At our Township level, that means making sure we have a plan in place for how our community is predicted to grow into the next 15-20 years, and trying to make decisions now about how we’re spending tax dollars to meet not only today’s needs but those out as far as we can see. It can be about preservation of land for parks, schools, and simply as open space, to prevent our area from becoming a giant strip mall. But it’s also about looking at what sort of growth can be expected, and making sure when we take on a project, such as fixing a dangerous intersection, we look at changes with that anticipated growth in mind.

Just think how many times we’ve seen road projects and thought- that’s going to be outmoded as soon as they’re finished? The job of government is to take all available data, and try to predict the future, making the best possible decision- but also not over-plan or over develop- because this stuff is expensive, and no one wants to see their taxes go up.

The decisions have to be made to benefit every citizen- not just the rich or the poor. Improving sidewalks and ways to get from Point A to Point B, for example, help connect a community together and make it more accessible to everyone- and that’s a quality of life improvement that benefits the community as a whole, just like having a great school benefits all the families, but also helps hold steady and even increase property values over time.

I’m skeptical of the business moguls wanting to get into politics, because they just don’t have the experience to understand how regulations aren’t about slowing down business, they are about making sure there are decent guardrails in place to help shape the development and growth of an entire community- and making sure our futures aren’t compromised by the eagerness to make a profit in this quarter or the next.

The horizons for government success can be measured in years and decades. And that kind of long term planning and careful management is not what these folks are really known for- they are known for looking for ways to make things profitable- but they aren’t always looking at the long term preservation and investment that is part of Government’s duty to each and everyone of us.

I admire the successful entrepreneur. I congratulate them heartily. But I would love to see them have some true experience of working in Government at a local level where the decisions are sometimes difficult, and it’s literally where the rubber meets the road. Then I would have some faith that they really understand what Government is all about. It’s not about letting a developer streamline the approval process for their next project, it’s making sure the next project is something that will benefit the community long term. And that’s a crucial difference that I expect everyone running for office to understand.

While it’s “sexy” to run for a high visibility office, the bottom line is that government is complicated, and requires a seriousness of purpose to do the job, not just attract attention and applause. If all you want is attention, I suggest show business or stand up comedy. Take up blogging. How about becoming a Youtube or Instagram star? You can get all the attention you want, and the rest of us won’t have to live with the consequences of your lack of understanding of the responsibility that goes along with being an elected official. It is a huge responsibility to be in charge of the future of your community or country, and it deserves to be taken with the utmost seriousness.

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What I want in a Candidate

I had lunch with a good friend the other day, and we naturally started talking about politics. This happens a lot, especially since I am technically a politician.

As a local elected official, I *guess* I’m a politician by definition or default, but I can’t say I’m comfortable with that term, given what many of the elected folks in DC are like. I’ve often felt that way about being a lawyer as well- there are many folks in the profession who give all attorneys a black eye, and it doesn’t feel fair to be tarnished by their bad actions, just because I went to law school and passed the bar.

Anyway, we started to talk about other statewide and national political figures, and we agreed on a couple of core things:

-The people we liked the most were those that seemed comfortable in their own skin and authentic to who they were, even if they weren’t perfect. The ones who sound like everything they say is a talking point, sound bite, or poll-tested catch phrase are the ones we trust the least.

-You can hear whether or not they believe what they say in their voice. Hey, I can’t stand Rick Santorum, for example, but at least I know that he believes everything he says, because you can hear the conviction in his voice. Marco Rubio, by contrast, sounds like he has never been off a tele-prompter in his life. Everything he says seems vaguely robotic and pre-screened for his voter’s (or the party’s) pleasure.

-The “new” faces in the Democratic party need to understand this. If you look at why people love Joe Biden, Chris Coons, Julian Castro, or even Bernie Sanders, it’s because they always are giving it to you straight. As much as I love many of the things Elizabeth Warren stands for, her delivery just sounds like she’s talking to a class of very adorable yet slow elementary school children.

-What’s happening in DC is so incredibly toxic, yet has such far reaching implications, it’s more important than ever to stay involved and make a difference. That means helping elect local candidates you believe in, especially in off-off year elections like those happening locally in 2019. Get to know the folks who are running to be your councilmen, supervisors, prothonotaries, clerks of court, etc. Canvass for them. Invite them over to meet your neighbors and ask them questions. These folks do more to affect your day to day life than many people higher up the political food chain, so help make sure the good folks end up in offices where they can really make a difference.

Remember these things, and the life you can improve will be your own.

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Blogging For Myself

I have about 10 blog posts here in draft form, things I’ve written because I just needed to get them out of my system, but things I’m not sure are ready for prime time, so to speak.

The problem with being elected to office- even a small local office, is that I feel I’m on stage more of the time. When I asked a group about how they got their news, one of them remarked they just checked out my Facebook page. While that’s great on many levels, it does make me think more about the impact of my posts and that there are always potential consequences to being as freewheeling as I have been in the past.

The current President and his twitter habits have made it painfully clear that taking to social media any time you have a petty disagreement or frustration can lead into dangerous territory. It’s something we should all think about a bit more. Finding the balance between unleashed Id and honest communication can be a challenge, especially for those of us who are writers by nature.

It’s Fall here in Southern Chester County- While it’s a few weeks before we finally feel a chill in the air and see leaves start to change, the quiet of having the kids back in college is starting to sink in, and the peace gives me more time to think.

I love my community. It’s full of people who care about each other, care about how to preserve what’s best in our community, and how to make changes that help us grow and be even better. Balancing growth and maintaining the things that make our community special isn’t easy. People are suspicious of change, but we need a bit of oxygen in order to keep things vibrant and alive.

One of the things we started a while ago was a project we call “Office Hours”. It was meant to be a bit of a stripped down business-oriented podcamp- with presentations that are about sharing information businesses need to know- social media trends, legal issues, banking opportunities that can save money- all the little things we’re supposed to keep up on, but that can get overwhelming.

From my point of view, this was meant as a light weight way to try economic development. It’s meant to support small business owners, and people considering opening up their own businesses, by providing that information you might not think about, but learning for an hour over breakfast or drinks is a decent investment of time and effort. It’s also let small business owners get together and meet each other, and that’s helped to draw our community together as well.

I look at many of these things as experimental- something to try, and if does well, we’ll do more. If it doesn’t, we’ll try something else instead.  So far, between Office Hours and the Holiday Village, our experiments are continuing, in large part because people like them and want more things like this in the community- events, opportunities to get together, and exchanges of ideas that come from a place of giving, and finding ways to work together towards something bigger.

There are tons of ideas out there like this, and I love hearing about them all. Please comment, share your ideas, and together, we make communities all over better, one small experiment at a time.

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The Art of Writing in the Digital Age

As many of you know, I started the LD Podcast when my kids were small, because they had learning struggles, and one went to a school for kids with learning disabilities for a number of years. Along the way, I read, researched, and even wrote a book, on top of producing a podcast about learning and learning differences, so that as I learned about how to help my kids, I could help other parents and kids at the same time.

One of the issues my boys struggle with is HORRIBLE handwriting.  There are fine motor issues, and even throughout their schooling, there have been debates about whether handwriting is important, something schools should spend valuable time on, or skip in favor of teaching kids keyboarding skills at an early age.

Well, there are even more studies coming out that say taking notes by hand help strengthen your memory and mastery of material.  When I spoke to handwriting and learning experts a number of years ago, they explained that the process of handwriting meant that you had to take information in auditorily, then transform it and determine the most important points, and write it down- and in this process, you were doing several things using your short term and long term memory that helped retention, better than just writing down everything the teacher said, like taking dictation. You had to take information and the physical act of writing seemed critical in that process.

This is why I have notebooks everywhere. I have driven my husband crazy with all my notebooks, and I am surprised the Moleskine company hasn’t added me to their christmas card list.

Then, in 2016, I discovered Bullet Journalling, where I could keep all of my notes in one journal, rather than having one for every subject. It has an indexing system which makes it convenient to use, but I am still tied to paper.  In fact, I recently needed to share my notes on a subject with my boss, and he laughed- in part because of the paper, and how inefficient the method was in sharing information.

So this year, for my birthday, my husband gave me a new ipad pro and an apple pencil. I have been gradually giving up paper in favor of the ipad/apple pencil pairing, and I hate to admit it, it is working.

While I love the notability app where I can take notes and audio during a meeting or interview, the Nebo app for ipad lets me take handwritten notes and with a click, transforms them into typed text that I can export and share in anyway I need to.  This now frees me to write, draw, and do anything I need to with the Apple Pencil, and still let the text be useful to export into blog posts, landing pages- whatever I might be working on.

And if I ever need or long for a Moleskine and things like the storyboard pages, the Moleskine app provides this for me as well, although it does not have the handwriting recognition I get in Nebu.

While ditching paper is still a challenge for me, my love of handwriting and the efficiency of transferring that information into a useful and searchable digital resource is finally at hand. I’ll let you know how it goes, but so far, my world is becoming less and less dependent on paper.

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Being Helpful

A long time ago, there was a pretty famous book entitled All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten. It was cute and seemed quaint, but it is so true. To be happy and reasonably successful as a grown-up, you can get quite a long way by just starting with be helpful and kind to everyone.

This week, a couple of people have asked for help in the job search. For some reason, I have been getting a ton of emails from different recruiters lately, so I have been passing these on to people who have asked for help. It’s up to them to apply to these jobs, or sign up with the recruiter themselves, of course, but sometimes, all someone needs is the key to the next door to find a treasure trove of opportunity.

I obviously don’t have the time to be everyone’s personal job concierge.  But I do like meeting people, and like passing on opportunities- If I can’t solve someone’s problems, maybe it came to my desk so I could pass the opportunity on to someone who needs it more than I do. And if something works out, then it was a moment worth taking.

We all get stuck sometimes, and aren’t sure where to go next.  Where’s the next rock to cross the stream? You can feel trapped and unsure, and it’s a miserable feeling for sure. Asking for help is important, but you also have to be as specific as possible, so you get the kind of help you want.  General pleas don’t have enough information so someone can say- well, I can help you with that!! And its important to remember spending a few minutes listening to a problem can make a world of difference to someone else, even if you can’t help.

There are times things seem complicated and messy. Take the time to be kind, help out, be fair, share, and surprisingly, you feel better as you help make others feel a little better too.  If nothing else, it’s good karma.

And here are the rules Robert Fulghum came up with. I would add – don’t forget to hold hands and help someone who looks lonely make a new friend.

“These are the things I learned (in Kindergarten):

1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don’t hit people.
4. Put things back where you found them.
6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
9. Flush.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first worked you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”
Robert FulghumAll I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

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