When the Crowd is Wise

What happens when an Italian restaurant in Washington, DC gets 80 bad Yelp reviews and boasts a one-star rating? The Washington Post sends out a writer to see if it’s a case of “Yelp bullying” or if the poor reviews are earned. Based on the resulting story I’d say there was some wisdom from this Yelp crowd:

You could argue that Pasta Italiana, like that tackling dummy, has been designed for abuse. The place sets itself up for a fight before you take a bite: It trumpets the word “organic” on the front door. Its wait staff may or may not, depending on whom you ask, claim the pasta is made in-house.

The place all but has a “Kick Me” sign taped to its back.

And kick it you will once the food arrives. The garlic-cream sauce draped over flabby, overcooked cheese ravioli was chunky and lukewarm; if there was garlic in the sauce, only a beagle could detect it. The gnocchi was a mountain of gluey pasta covered in a meat sauce many degrees shy of hot; the gnocchi sat on the plate, solid and immovable, as if molded from clay. The lobster ravioli came stuffed with a stringy mixture speckled with tiny dices of the advertised crustacean but tasting more like crab sticks.

Sounds like you can safely keep this one off your dinner list the next time you’re in DC.

The Importance of Good Governance

News broke today that the former CEO of the Piedmont Triad Partnership is being investigated for financial irregularities stemming from his time at the organization. From the Triad Business Journal:

In a prepared statement released at noon today, the regional economic development group said the following:

“The Piedmont Triad Partnership has provided law enforcement authorities information about financial irregularities involving former CEO David M. Powell. When PTP learned of the irregularities following Mr. Powell’s resignation earlier this year, it immediately began its own assessment of what had happened and what amount of money is at issue. That assessment is ongoing.”…

“We’re taking this issue very seriously,” said Stanhope Kelly, who took over as CEO of PTP from Powell. “We will get to the bottom of this, and ensure it does not happen again. At the same time, the Triad needs jobs, and the Piedmont Triad Partnership’s primary goal is to attract jobs. And we’ll keep working to make good things happen in economic development.”

This caught my eye for a few reasons. First, PTP’s office is literally right across the street from where I work so it hits close to home. Second, I work for a non-profit and am in the equivalent role for my organization that Powell was for his.

Total aside – I was curious what Powell made and what kind of budget PTP had so I pulled up their 1099 from 2013. I’d say they took good care of him, because with salary plus benefits his compensation came to a little over $325k from an organization that had about $1.8 million in revenue that year.

Third, I know who’s on this board and if it ends up that there were financial irregularities with that board overseeing the organization then you can rest assured that it can happen to anyone.

Because no one owns a nonprofit the members of the board play the critical role of representing the interests of the organization as a whole, and by extension the interests of all of the organization’s constituencies. As you can imagine one of every board’s primary functions is to make sure that the organization’s resources, particularly financial, are sufficient enough for the organization to fulfill its mission. With some nonprofits that can be a challenge because the board members may not have the financial or business acumen necessary to truly understand what’s going on. A prime example would be a local food pantry with a board made up of passionate, mission-focused people who may have never seen a balance sheet in their lives.

The board for the PTP is the opposite. It’s comprised of business VIPs, mayors, bank executives and the like. If any board is loaded with people who are sophisticated enough to smell a financial rat this is it, yet they might have had money misappropriated on their watch. Now this story just broke and there could very well be a good explanation for whatever they found, but it’s also a healthy reminder that any organization can fall victim to malfeasance.

In the nonprofit world the topic of governance often gets the groans and eye rolls you usually associate with discussing taxes or budgets at home. We all recognize it’s important, a necessary evil if you will, but we usually dread doing anything about it. That’s too bad because from the perspective of the nonprofit executive and staff it really should be something we embrace. If nothing else it protects us from ourselves; if we make an honest mistake we stand a good chance of our board catching it before we get too far down the road. If we have a staff member that is taking advantage of a weakness in our systems we stand a better chance of catching it if we’re constantly vigilant because our board is demanding it of us. Is it drudgery sometimes? Sure. But in my mind the whole purpose of governance is to acknowledge the inherent weaknesses we all have as humans and to protect our organizations from them.

Now, I’m gonna go do a double check of the books at work to make sure I’m not casting stones while living in a glass house.

What Interests Moms vs Dads

So I was invited by a friend to sign up for the Flipboard magazine “Interesting Stuff” which I appreciate because it does look interesting. As part of the sign up process you’re asked to pick areas of interest so I was scrolling through the page, clicking away on topics that interested me, when I got to the category of “Kids.” Under that category four topics were listed – Pregnancy, Fatherhood, Motherhood, Parenting Teens – and when I clicked on Fatherhood this is what appeared:

Flipboard_Fatherhood

So clicking on Fatherhood added four suggested categories that included Child Support, Child Custody, Family Law and Child Psychology. As a bonus the Child Support category is accompanied by what looks like a mugshot of a man and the Child Custody category is augmented by the picture of a dead cat with blood running from what looks like its head, although the head is thankfully covered by a black box. So apparently people interested in fatherhood as a topic are assumed to be seriously effed up.

Here’s what was served up when I clicked on Motherhood:

Flipboard_Motherhood

The suggested topics are Birth Control Pill, Surrogate Mother, Stillbirth and Pregnancy Test. Doesn’t appear as bad as the Fatherhood topics, but taken in total the whole parenting thing seems kind of depressing doesn’t it?

That’s One Expensive Comma

My 10th grade English teacher would have loved to have this real-world evidence that grammar truly matters:

In May 2014, Medfusion sued Allscripts, alleging breach of contract and other claims arising from an agreement to create and market an online patient portal for health care providers. Medfusion claimed Allscripts didn’t meet its commitments under the contract and sued for more than $4 million in damages…

According to the court’s March 31 ruling, the contract stated that “in no event shall either party be liable for any loss or damage to revenues, profits, or goodwill or other special, incidental, indirect, or consequential damages of any kind, resulting from its performance or failure to perform under this agreement …”

Allscripts argued that the comma before “or goodwill” is an Oxford, or serial, comma that sets apart three independent categories of damages barred by the agreement: revenues, whether direct or indirect; profits and goodwill.

Medfusion, on the other hand, argued the “or other … consequential damages” language modifies “revenues, profits, or goodwill,” meaning these categories of damages are only excluded to the extent that they are considered consequential, or indirect.

I’ve read this three times and I’m still confused, but truth be told I’m one of those rare English majors who wouldn’t recognize a prepositional phrase if it sat in my lap. Suffice it to say that law firms might want to employ a strong copy editor just to be safe.

Where the Buck Stops

A big part of being a good leader is doing the right thing when things don’t go right. Today I’d say the chief of the UNC-Greensboro campus police department is providing a small example of how to react when things go wrong. Here’s the story from my particular point of view:

Last night there was a shooting at an off-campus student apartment community. My son happens to attend UNCG and lives in an off-campus apartment, but not in the community where the shooting occurred. Knowing that his parents might hear about it and might be concerned for his safety he sent me a text saying that a shooting had happened near his apartment, but that it wasn’t in his particular apartment community and that he was fine. We definitely appreciated it, but it also caused me to start monitoring the news about the shooting. As always I turned to Twitter because that tends to be where I get news the earliest, including from the various local news outlets, and sure enough that’s where all the freshest info was coming from.

That’s why I was able to see these Tweets from UNCG:

UNCGTweet

See that top Tweet that includes a suspect description of “B/M, 6′-6’2″, Red Shirt, Red hat, Goatee and a large bottom lip”? Well that predictably struck many as a racist description and generated the responses you’d expect online. So what did the chief do? Well, among other things he sent a message to the UNCG community which my son received by email and forwarded to me:

To the UNCG Community,

On behalf of the UNCG Police Department, I want to apologize for what many considered a racially insensitive description included in one of the alerts last night. We give our staff a great deal of latitude in crafting emergency messages because safety often depends on timeliness.  Sometimes that means just repeating descriptions provided to us, as we did in this case.  However, we know our community and should be able to filter information in a way that reflects our values but still provides the information you need to stay safe.  One of our core values is Accountability, and, ultimately, I am the head of this agency, and I am accountable for the actions of those who serve you at the Police Department.  For that reason, I apologize to those who were offended. We can do better, and we will.

Jamie Herring
Chief of Police
UNCG Police Department
P.O. Box 26170
Greensboro, NC  27402

I truly can’t tell you anything about the department or the chief outside of this event because I haven’t had cause to pay any attention to them, but I can tell you that this is a very good response to a screw up that happened on his watch. It’s nice to see a leader accept the buck instead of passing it along.

“Professional” Education

For my day job I work for a local trade association and one of our core services is to provide professional education for our members’ employees. We spend a great deal of time trying to make sure we provide the best training and continuing education possible. We have a staff member who, along with a committee of volunteers from the industry, spends a tremendous amount of time recruiting instructors for the various classes and seminars we provide, staying on top of emerging trends in the industry, organizing instructor training and anything else necessary to make sure we have a top-shelf education program. In other words, it’s something we pay a lot of attention to.

Perhaps that explains why I was irked when a friend shared a link to a calendar item on a chamber of commerce’s website. It’s a free seminar on social media that the chamber and a small business center are hosting, which on the face of it sounds pretty straight forward. The problem comes when you do a search on the instructor, which my friend did, and find out that the instructor’s Facebook page only has a few dozen “likes”, the instructor has fewer than a handful of Twitter followers and has a website that can best be described as looking like the campaign page of a kid running for junior class president in 1998.

As I said to my friend I have nothing against the person trying to build a social media business (I think that’s what’s happening), but I have a huge problem with a chamber or other business association not doing its job well by providing quality professional education opportunities. Normally I’d dismiss it as a one-off mistake, but I’ve suffered through some of this particular chamber’s educational offerings in the past and I can tell you this is not the first time it’s happened.

You might argue that it’s unfair to judge the course, or the instructor, without sitting through the seminar. My reply would be that in the world of social media you can’t simply teach theory out of a book – experience matters – and there are SO many people in this area who do have that experience and could teach this course that there’s no reason to recruit someone who clearly hasn’t walked the walk.

Doing a seminar just to say you did it, or because someone raised their hand and said, “I can do this for free” is a terrible idea. You end up diminishing your value to your members, and before long they start running away. Obviously a chamber is more than just education, and this chamber in particular has long seemed to see their small business members as a necessary evil, but if you’re going to do something you might as well do it right or not do it at all.

A Tale of Two Forsyth Counties

If you set up a Google news alert with the keywords “forsyth county” you’ll get a lot of news about two different places – Forsyth County, NC (where I live) and Forsyth County, GA. Today I saw a story about each from their local news outlets with the following headlines:

  1. Forsyth County Remains Healthiest in Georgia (GA)
  2. Forsyth County Slips Again in Health Rankings (NC)

If you read the articles you’ll see that Forsyth County, GA ranks first in its state and Forsyth County, NC ranks 29th in its state. So is my home county significantly less healthy than its counterpart in Georgia? If you look at a comparison of the two (see table below) using data from the countyhealthrankings.org you can see that Georgia has better numbers in many categories, but they really aren’t that far apart when you take into account the population size of each county. According to the US Census North Carolina’s Forsyth had 360,221 in 2013 and Georgia’s had 195,405 so even if you looked at some raw numbers that look pretty bad for NC, the population difference changes things. For instance:

Premature Deaths: NC 7,218 vs GA 4,234 but if you adjust for population size you see that NC’s is 2% of its population and GA’s is 2.16%. Still a decent difference but not as stark.

Then there’s this number:
Sexually Transmitted Infections: NC 755 vs GA 91

No amount of adjusting for population makes that better for NC (and gross!), and as you can see we in Forsyth of NC fare worse than GA based on our behaviors in general. Luckily we’ve got an awesome doctor/resident ratio to help deal with the consequences of our sins:

Ratio of primary care physicians to population: NC 945:1 vs GA 2,506:1
Ratio of dentists to population: NC 1,657:1 vs GA 2,677:1
Ration of mental health providers to population: NC 406:1 vs GA 2,246:1

Probably the biggest difference between the two counties, and a huge contributor to the health differences, is that Forsyth, GA appears to be far more affluent than Forsyth, NC.  In addition to the numbers in the chart below (NC’s child poverty rate 3x greater, single parent homes 2.5x greater violent crime 2x greater per capita) you have this data from the US Census: median household income (2009-13) in Forsyth, GA is $86,569 and in NC it’s $45,274.

Money may not buy love, but it sure does help on the health front.