Religion or Politics?

By Winnie Eke

There has to be something I am missing. There appears to be many ambiguities when it comes to protecting and helping the poor in our society.

Let us consider the debates on contraception and abortion on one hand and the legislation to help the children they claim deserve to be born. See Congressman Paul Ryan’s 2014 budget. A new controversy in the name of religious freedom appears to be the focal point for those who do not like the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Why would Hobby Lobby, a company that has previously provided insurance to its workers, suddenly sue for its religious freedom?

Does it mean the workers do not have their own religion or must they relinquish their beliefs for the company owners? The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (Act 42 U.S. Code 21B, ) protects free exercise of religion of individuals. Under Oregon v. Smith the RFRA insists that government no longer has to justify burdens as they are incidental.

Hobby Lobby’s argument that the ACA violates its religious freedom appears to be political in view of the Smith ruling. How can a for profit company that employs thousands of people justify depriving them of health care, knowing fully well that their decision or goal will bring an undue burden to their workers?

It is also ironic, if not comical, that Hobby Lobby invests in the companies that make the products that they now object to. I am wondering if they are feeling guilty for not adhering to their own beliefs, or if they want to make a political statement and at the same time make sure that those who could benefit under the ACA will be penalized.

What do you think?

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The Complexities of Jefferson

By Michael Popejoy

Recently I have been pretty hard on Thomas Jefferson without considering he was a complex man who not even history has finished fleshing out into a man we can easily understand. Jefferson was landed gentry in an era when that was the top of the food chain within the pecking order of colonial society. He was also an urbane intellectual.

With all that, he had a plantation which means in his time, he had slaves. A plantation with slaves represented wealth and status. It also represented a terrible financial burden on the plantation owner. Further, it is difficult to reconcile being a brilliant contributor to what we are today with being a slaveholder whose acceptability was in transition during his time and beyond.

Jefferson, the intellectual, did not approve of the morality or justness of slavery. But, his pragmatism informed the problem of what would happen to his slaves should he free them. He knew it would be a further injustice to call a meeting of the slave population in his front yard as he stood on the front porch of Monticello and say to all; “You’re free! Thank you for your service, now hit the road!”

Where would they go? What would they do? Who would accept them into both the society and the economy of the day?

Most slaveholders with any intelligence, including Jefferson, Madison, and others knew that they owned the slaves monticellobut they also owed the slaves. What did they owe? In exchange for their labor, plantation owners were responsible for their housing, clothing, health care, food and whatever other needs they had as people.

Were slaves abused as current history tells us so often? Yes, of course; however, not as much as history wants us to believe. Jefferson was never observed to have had any of his slaves whipped. Indeed, he fired one of his overseers for whipping one of his slaves. This did not mean that he was not racist; it just means he was a fair one. What a paradox; but, this is not impossible considering his intellectual preparation.

Jefferson spent his life conflicted over slavery. He was also sensitive to the criticisms coming from Europe over America’s slave institution. Colonials then, as we Americans today, do care about what is being said about them overseas. It cut deep for men like Jefferson to hear and read the opinions of others in Europe that America was immoral due to its commitment to slave labor which was seen as necessary to the survival of the southern agricultural economy despite the great European demand for southern agricultural goods.

In surviving letters, one of Jefferson’s young relatives who inherited a plantation full of slaves asked him what he should do about them since he did not want to be a slave holder. He did not know how to do it and also worried where the slaves would go or what they would do if freed. Jefferson advised against divestiture because he challenged the point of where would they go or what would they do if freed? How would they assimilate into a white, urban society as former slaves?

Jefferson knew of his paternalistic responsibilities to his charges who lived and worked on his land. Jefferson also struggled with the rising cost and reduced revenues of a slave based agricultural economy. Slaves were not free labor—although they were not free to leave to find other suns, they were not free to the plantation owner either. Jefferson feared for slaves freed into a society not nearly prepared or willing to absorb them into other sectors of the economy.

So, maybe we give Jefferson a pass. He wanted one thing but had to accept something more real to his times. He could have sent the slaves away and hired white itinerant farmers to work his plantation but the suffering the freed slaves would endure could have been even more insufferable than being slaves in the first place.

Jefferson was a complex man living in complex times. We may call him genius but he was a flawed genius at best. It is possible that is the reason there are so many biographies about him and more to come. We continue to try to understand his complex mind.

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Interpersonal Communications

By Megan Bensatte

The Key to Interpersonal Communications? The Other Person.

InterpersonalCommunicationsOne of the great things about being part of a team is that everyone thinks a little differently. Unfortunately, sometimes this leads to challenges in communications. Whenever this happens, I try to remember that the best way to find common ground with someone is to spend a few minutes in their shoes.

As Henry Ford once said, “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.” So next time you find yourself in a situation where you and your colleague just don’t seem to connect, try one of these techniques.

1) Frame your ask to benefit them. Between all the demands you juggle on a daily basis, you may be tempted to skip this suggestion. But consider this: What if your team member had to back out of a meeting he was directing and asked you to facilitate so he could handle a different project? Now what if your coworker had to back out of a meeting he was directing and asked you to facilitate because he had always admired your facilitation skills and couldn’t think to leave the meeting in the hands of anyone else? When would you be more likely to say yes?

2) Get to know them. If you always have an ask every time you talk to your coworker, she is likely going to think you only find her valuable when you want something. Next time you see your colleague in the break room, casually ask how things are going on a big project, or about her weekend plans? Even if the conversation is short, she’ll appreciate your interest.

3) Genuinely appreciate their feedback… and let them know it. Everyone likes to hear they are appreciated, I know I don’t turn down praise. And the truth is, in the larger scheme of things, we’re always better as a team than on our own. Recognize that your colleague offers a differing opinion that is valuable and that others likely hold. Even if you don’t use his feedback, the appreciation you show for him will buy you some goodwill the next time you work together.

Do you have other techniques for improving communications with colleagues? Share with us!

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Shoot First, Justify Later

Emmett_TillOn August 24, 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till visited relatives in Money, Mississippi. He was accused of reportedly flirting with a white cashier at a grocery store. Four days later, two white men kidnapped Emmett, beat him and shot him in the head.

The men were tried for Emmett’s murder and acquitted by a jury of their peers (an all white jury). Emmett’s mother held an open casket funeral for the world to see the brutal murder of her son. His death spurred the emerging Civil Rights Movement.

Fast-forward six decades later. In the state of Florida, the grieving mothers of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis have summoned the same courage as Emmett’s mother. They are fighting for gun reform and the repeal of Florida’s infamous Stand Your Ground laws (otherwise known as Shoot-First Laws).

According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Florida and 25 other states have passed Stand Your Ground stand-yr-ground-lawsmaplaws. These laws shield individuals who use deadly force to injure or kill, provided that the shooter can convince a judge that he/she had reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily harm. Moreover, there is no duty to retreat from the confrontation before engaging in the act of deadly force.

Before Stand Your Ground laws, the law permitted Americans to defend themselves against a stranger attack inside their home or a public altercation. In most cases, one should retreat. However, since the implementation of Stand Your Ground laws, the American public’s perception of self-defense has changed.

Today, everyone is armed and paranoid that everyone else is armed. America is quickly becoming a nation that would rather shoot first than stand down. With each Stand Your Ground claim, Americans are unconsciously becoming more frightened and more violent while finding it more appropriate to shoot first and justify it later.

The Stand Your Ground laws have taken away the very notion that people have a moral obligation to avoid danger or to safely retreat from a public altercation. Instead, these laws are authorizing stupid, immoral and tragic behaviors. They tolerate reckless behavior of citizens who decide to take the life of another due to their own poor judgment – with self-defense as justification.

Sadly, we have become a shoot first and justify later nation. So, how can the grieving mothers of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis change the dogma of our society?

In all honestly, considering the strong proponents of the Second Amendment (one’s right to bear arms), it will be nearly impossible to repeal laws such as Stand Your Ground. The philosophy of the Second Amendment is one of the foundations on which our political system and society was built.

The only recommendation is to have explicit cooperation and support from both the American people and our leaders to repeal Stand Your Ground laws. But, how many people have to die or fall victim to such laws before that support can be attained?

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Important….But Not Urgent

By Robyn Jay Bage

timeWhether you are a seasoned manager or someone relatively new to the joys and trials of management, you’ve probably been exposed to the Urgent/Important Matrix to help you prioritize, manage your time, or increase your productivity. It is often credited to Stephen Covey. It is also sometimes called the Eisenhower Matrix, attributing this quote to the late president: “Most things which are urgent are not important, and most things which are important are not urgent.”

No matter where you may have learned it, or what it was called, it probably looked something like the diagram below. When you are new to management, this matrix can help you learn how to prioritize the volumes of work you have to do.

Quadrant 1 should include those things that are critical and have immediate deadlines. Since many of us are in roles that are interruption driven, (that is, we routinely have to address critical emergent situations even if we are in the middle of something else) this group of tasks can drive us crazy.

Quadrant 2 is for long-term, strategic projects. Many managers NEVER get to tackle items in this area. When something is not urgent, or there is no specific deadline attached, everything else seems more important. The problem is, if we don’t address these items, our organizations never have the chance to innovate or grow.

Quadrant 3 items have no importance to you, but someone WANTS THEM NOW.

And finally, in Quadrant 4 are those things that have no real value but we find ourselves doing nonetheless.

Unfortunately, it has been my experience that even managers who are adept at using this matrix to prioritize have problems managing each quadrant, and therefore, still have time management issues. Here are a few practical ways to manage these tasks.

Quadrant 1: There is nothing you can do about your deadlines except meet them. Some people are what I refer to as incrementalists—they tackle big tasks a little at a time. Some of you are compartmentalists and tackle big tasks as whole units, forsaking other tasks while the big one gets done. Use whatever style works for you!However, you CAN address those tasks that simply interrupt you.

Do your employees just pop in with random questions that may or may not be important?

Do your clients call at all hours?

Do you feel the urge to answer each email as it comes in?

You can manage these. Meet with your staff routinely—I suggest formal meetings at least twice a month. Empower them to make routine decisions without you. Let them take some measured risks. Set aside specific times to meet your clients. And check email at routine intervals. You don’t have to read it the second You’ve Got Mail.

Quadrant 3: If the someone is your boss, you have to do what is urgent for them. Their priorities are yours, too. urgenttimeBut if this happens too frequently, ask for a meeting to talk about it. Be prepared to present him or her with an alternative. For example, “Would it be possible to meet once a week so I can be informed about your priorities early? That way I can complete them when you need them.” If it isn’t your boss, remember that at least some of the time, you can Just Say No.

Quadrant 4: Gretchen Rubin of the Happiness Project Blog wonders why we bother to do well those things we shouldn’t bother to do at all. This blog may be enlightening.

Try this: Assess each item. If it truly has no importance for you or your role, pass it on to the person for whom it is important. Or file it. Or throw it away. (Yes, I said it. Throw it away.) Of course, if it is yours to do stop procrastinating and get it off of your list: Just Do It.

Quadrant 2. I saved this quadrant for last, because it is critical. Your organization or business will live or die by Quadrant 2. Treat each item here as you would your Urgent and Important items. Schedule time for them. Put them right in your calendar and keep your appointment to work on them.

I recommend that at the beginning of your new week (or the end of the current one) you fill out the matrix for your upcoming week. It will give you a map you can use to tackle tasks of all levels of urgency. I also recommend that you remember no tool works all of the time. Successful managers have multiple tools at their disposal.

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History of Public Administration: Jefferson and Friends

By Dr. Michael Popejoy

Moving on Up!

Thomas Jefferson was a complex man. Maybe not so much different than so many men of history and contemporary times. What makes Jefferson different is that he rose to the highest levels of the colonies and later the new United States. And, he took those complexities with him.

I have written elsewhere (Alexander Hamilton: What if Aaron Burr Missed? (Public Voices) that it is very plausible that Jefferson had a larger role in the duel between Hamilton and Burr than has ever been ventured in the historical literature.

Back in the days, just like today, politicians wore their military roles with pride. The closer they came to combat and the medals conferred seem to attract a number of votes and more than a few pints at local pubs from a grateful nation.

Then, there are those that did not go to war preferring to stay behind and do other work; some important, maybe

some not so important. Jefferson did the former; but, he never was satisfied that he did not earn the honors that

were heaped on others such as Hamilton and Burr. He simply believed he was too important to be lost in a skirmish with the British; so, anytime they came calling, he was hitting the back road on the fastest stead his purse could afford. That did not mean he was a coward; he simply was saving himself for more important work.

He was certainly recognized for the more important work he would do; however, it was not nearly as satisfying as being a hero who never had to pay his bar bill at the local pubs and would be the darling dandy at the various cotillions attended by the babes of the times. Hamilton and Burr were young, intelligent, educated, and they were war heroes; and, Jefferson hated them.

I am certain in his mind, they did not deserve the accolades that he did for the intellectual achievements he demonstrated in his legal and political leadership and his writing of critical documents of the new nation—despite the fact that they got edited a great deal before going to print. Jefferson knew that Hamilton was not a competitor for the presidency since he was not born in America; but, he knew that Burr as vice president could advance to president in the next election.

Although Hamilton was not in line for the presidency, he was an annoying pain in the rear and Jefferson was sick of him. After he completed his tenure as Treasurer, Jefferson commissioned Albert Gallatin to thoroughly, using all available resources,  investigate Hamilton’s work as Treasurer and report any corruption directly to Jefferson. The report, however,from Gallatin was that to do anything to change what Hamilton had established was to do untold damage to the nation’s economy. No corruption was noted.

Once Jefferson realized that he could not successfully discredit Hamilton or Burr on any tangible grounds, he found that the disagreements between them could lead to their undoing. In many books on Jefferson’s character and personality, this approach was not beneath him. Certainly, Hamilton and Burr were very high strung men and Hamilton was an expert at pushing Burr’s buttons.

The most egregious comment or accusation was that Burr was in an incestuous relationship with his beloved daughter. Once that started playing out in the papers (which happened because at a dinner party hosted by Hamilton, a reporter was at the table and nothing was off the record), then Burr was pissed and the duel was on.

It is an interesting aside that the duel was held across the Hudson River in New Jersey because dueling was illegal in New York. Even today, I think people go to New Jersey to avoid things that are illegal in New York. And to think that their governor may be our next president.

What was Jefferson’s plan?

I think it was simple. He knew that whichever one of the two great heroes died (and it did not matter which), the other would be discredited in the public view forever. That is exactly what happened. So, today in Washington, D.C. we have a Jefferson Memorial but no monuments to either Hamilton or Burr who were the hottest properties at the time. Hamilton was dead and Burr never again moved forward in the public sector. Although he was recently “rehabilitated” by historian Nancy Isenberg in her book: Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr.

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ACA Slowdowns Affect Public Administrators

By Ferd H. Mitchell and Cheryl C. Mitchell

Several major changes in implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have been introduced to deal with the operational and political problems facing program administrators. All of these changes provide significant insights into various strategies that may be incorporated into the field of public administration for a range of program activities.

Postponement of the large-employer mandate to 2015 has allowed employers to continue to offer health plans that do not meet the requirements of Qualified Health Plans (QHPs). Political guarantees to allow individuals to keep prior plans for 2014 may be selectively effective where approved by insurance commissioners and accepted by insurance companies. And some people with cancelled individual policies are now being allowed to obtain hardship exemptions for 2014, allowing the shift to QHPs to be delayed.

Further, because of sign-up problems, high-risk pools have also been continued into 2014 to prevent these individuals from losing all coverage.

Some insurance companies continue to offer mini-med plans for individuals not purchasing QHPs. Individuals purchasing such plans may have to pay a penalty.

The combined effect is to reduce QHP coverage in 2014 and to slow down the implementation process. There are several lessons that may be learned from the adaptive changes to ACA regulations.

When political pressures mount, it may be wise to look for accommodation and not try to “hold the line”.However, a price will be paid for such changes.

The result of the adjustments noted above will generally be to slow down the transition to an ACA-based Health Care System. Some of the linkages among organizations, which are intended to be strengthened, may remain less changed than wished.

The slowdown will have positive features, including more time for individuals and organizations to adjust to changes in the ACA.

But, at the same time, the slowdown may have negative aspects, as implementation momentum is lost and ACA “drift” is allowed to develop.

Thus, administrators face tradeoffs when they accommodate outside pressures during program implementation. Positive and negative features must both be examined carefully.

It will be interesting to track how these—and other—changes in the ACA play out during 2014 and future years.


This is installment #17 in the “Affordable Care Act and Public Administration” series.

Previous installments of this series have considered impact of the ACA on the field of public administration from a variety of perspectives. Refer to the archived postings for this blog to review all of these installments and obtain an overview of the combined commentary. (Or search for “health care”, “ACA” or “Mitchell” in the search box somewhat below the top of the home page).

More on these and related ACA topics, including coverage of how organizational reactions affect implementation efforts, may be found in a recent book by the authors that describes evolution of the ACA, and in a new Practice Guide by the authors that addresses funding and access issues in health care.

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