05.01.14 Pure Midwest with John McCarter

Posted on May 1, 2014

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Midwest ELGL presents… the Local Government “Evening Buzz”

images (1)Hello everyone! After taking a few weeks off to wrap up my final Semester at Oakland University I’m back for my final installment of Pure Midwest. As much as it saddens me to be leaving the place I’ve called home for my entire life I’m so excited to be joining the staff at the City of Sugar Land, TX.

For my final week in the Midwest we’ll take a look at the disastrous tornadoes in the southern Midwest, how our mental biases shape our decision-making process, and three groovy non-profits duking it out in Dayton in the name of funk.

The Headlines


1. Tornadoes rip through the region

After an uneventful start to tornado season, bad weather reared its ugly head this week taking at least 16 lives in the southern Midwest and the Great Plains. Arkansas was hit particularly hard; the cities of Mayflower and Vilonia lost 10 lives. Both cities are actively supporting residents in the wake of the disaster by accepting donations, spreading FEMA alerts, enforcing a curfew and communicating with residents on their website. You can help the victims of the storms! Prayers and positive thoughts are appreciated as well.

2. You gotta fight for your right to be Funky


In the grooviest legal battle in recent memory, three separate state registered funk music fan groups are fighting to create a funk museum in the City of Dayton, OH; aka, the “Land of Funk” (seriously). The Dayton Funk Dynasty Group, the Dayton Land of Funk Museum and Hall of Fame, and the Funk Hall of Fame Museum are all jockeying for the right to put up the museum in Dayton. Legal action may be taken over the name “Dayton Funk Dynasty” and, separately, over claims that the idea for the funk museum was stolen.

3. For the love of smog…

downloadHalf of all Americans live in counties where ozone or air pollution makes air unhealthy to breath, according to a report issued by the American Lung Association. 14 Counties in in Indiana were said to have unhealthy air quality. Before you start holding your breath, bear in mind that the nation as a whole has seen consistent improvement in air quality over the last several decades. So what can be done? Most of the ALA’s suggestions involve emission standards usually set at the State and Federal levels but municipalities can improve pollution monitoring systems, adopt resolutions in support of the Clean Air Act, develop non-motorized methods of transportation and mass transit systems, use less electricity, and ensure buses are efficient. It’s not all gloom and doom; Duluth, MN ranked as the #8 cleanest city in the nation. Get the full report here.

4. A gassy tax

The Iowa Legislature passed on an opportunity to increase revenue on their state fuel tax this week after an amendment was left off of a bill passed by the legislature 97-0. The amendment would have increased a tax on wholesalers by 5% while cutting the per-gallon fuel tax for consumers. The revenue from the fuel tax would have gone to funding a juvenile home in Toledo, which will be closed and the girls housed there will be transferred to private homes. In Michigan there is controversy over the gas tax as well. In Michigan, gas tax revenue goes to the general fund and is used for a number of different things. Under a new proposal, the 19 cents per-gallon tax would be replaced with a 6% wholesale tax and all revenue would be dedicated exclusively to road funding. The tax, along with a few other aspects, is projected to generate $456 to $494 by 2018.

5. Toyota on the Move

Toyota for Sale

Toyota announced this week plans to move its headquarters from Erlanger, KY to Plano, TX. Toyota has been a centerpiece to Erlanger’s economy for the last 18 years. The move will not only result in 1,600 lost jobs in the Midwest but the ripple effect will have a much larger impact. The State of Texas offered an impressive $40 million incentive package; the State of Kentucky was not offered to opportunity to counter that offer. While the 1,600 jobs lost will undoubtedly damage the local and regional economy, Kentucky remains an integral played in the production of Toyotas, with 8,200 remaining in the state after the move.

It’s Raining Jobs, Hallelujah


Reminder: Submissions for Resume Book due May 5.

Village Administrator. Bloomingdale, IL

Assistant to the City Manager. Ithaca, MI

Summer Intern. Cambridge, MN

City Manager. Lincoln Park, MN

Neighborhood Revitalization Coordinator. Peoria, IL

City Administrator. Ashland, WI

City Manager. Springfield, MN

Community Development Director. Muscatine, IA

Director of Parks & Recreation. Cumberland, IN

Grants Coordinator. Peoria, IL

Thoughts from the Mitten State


This week’s Thoughts come courtesy of one of my favorite podcasts, You Are Not So Smart. Host David McRaney describes the podcast on his website saying, “Like lots of people, I used to forward sensational news stories without skepticism and think I was a smarty pants just because I did a little internet research. Little did I know about confirmation bias and self-enhancing fallacies, and once I did, I felt very, very stupid. I still feel that way, but now I can make you feel that way too.” If that description doesn’t get you listening I don’t know what will.

download (1)In the most recent edition McRaney looked at survivorship bias. Essentially, survivorship bias refers to our tendency to focus on, and model ourselves after, success stories rather than failures; in doing so we miss important lessons and pitfalls.

McRaney uses a story from WWII to illustrate survivorship bias. During WWII the US government hired teams of mathematicians to assist in the use of new technologies (radars, torpedoes, etc.). One particularly terrifying problem was the abysmal survivor rate of bombers at the beginning of the war; it was around 50%. Generals brought data to statistician Abraham Wald in the form of the surviving aircrafts. The data showed that the most holes were clustered around the wings, the body, and the gunner area. So, where should they place more armor?

imagesI said the wings and moments later I learned that I am not so smart. Wald pointed out, almost immediately, that the generals were looking at the problem from the wrong perspective. These were the successful aircrafts thus the places where they were hit didn’t need any additional armor; the places where they hadn’t been shot needed more armor. This story so perfectly illustrates survivorship bias because the generals’ perception of the issue was based entirely on the survivors. I, like many others, do this all the time. When I pick up Harvard Business review or GOVERNING magazine the articles are almost entirely, with some exceptions, about success stories. After all, who wants to write about their failures?

To bring this back into the realm of local government, think about how you conduct research when you’re drafting a policy or an initiative. What is the first thing you do? If you’re like me you look up best practices because understanding what is working in other communities is important to understanding what could work in my community. However, in doing so I’m framing my view of the policy with success stories and not taking into account the fatal mistakes made in communities who have not been successful. This is not to say that learning from success will lead to an inept view of the world, but understanding what led to failure is just as important.

Be sure to check out You Are Not So Smart. Rather than focusing on a particular situation or event, the podcast frames the conversation around how we process situations, events, and experiences in our daily lives. McRaney puts it best, “The central theme of You Are Not So Smart is that you are unaware of how unaware you are.” I would argue being more aware of our unawareness will not only allow us to understand the gaps in our own perception but also the gaps in others’ perception which will make us better managers in the long run.

Parting Shot from the Mitten State

Making the decision to leave Metro-Detroit was a difficult one. Not only am I blessed with incredible family and friends I can see any time I want but being in the public sphere in Metro-Detroit has given me a front row seat to the decline and resurgence of the City of Detroit.

Last week’s webinar with Mark Binelli got me thinking more and more about the City of Detroit. I’ve been a metro-Detroit suburbanite since I was 5 years old. I spent most of my childhood 3 blocks from Detroit. I’ve never lived in the City but as an aspiring public administrator I understand how the well-being of the region hinges on the well-being of the City.

Last year I co-founded and led Pure Michigan at Oakland University, an organization aimed at attracting college graduates to the City of Detroit. When we started out I expected to be met with an onslaught of soon-to-be-graduates preparing to flee the State the day after graduation but I found the opposite to be true. There is a palpable excitement about the future of the City among young people inside and outside the City. I don’t know if this excitement will translate into a truly livable City. I don’t know if the City will be able to end the socioeconomic segregation, aka “tale of two cities”, that plagues its neighborhoods; my biggest concern is that development, gentrification, or whatever you want to call it will not benefit those living in the poorest neighborhoods. I do know that this excitement about the City of Detroit among my generation is new and that’s a start. Wherever my career takes me I’ll keep a close eye on the City.

Thank you all for reading. I have truly enjoyed writing this column in my “spare time” between work and school. I hope to be back with a new perspective from Texas as soon I get my bearings in the Lone Star State. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go update my Twitter bio. See you in Texas!


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