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Thread: Working for a ghetto/corrupt community: would it set a planning career back?

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Working for a ghetto/corrupt community: would it set a planning career back?

    There appears to be one opening for a planning position in the Cleveland area now. It's for a community director position in a very poor, predominantly minority suburb (95%+ African-American) that was infamous for political corruption; they used to go through mayors like Cyburbians through microbrews.

    My question: would working there be a setback in my career as a planner? I don't know how long I could stay there; there's no room for promotion, and if working conditions are rough it would probably be a waystation until something better comes along. Still, if the name of such an infamous city would appear on my resume, would it taint my resume, and hurt my chances at finding another job in the area?

    FWIW, the listed pay is tens of thousands of dollars below both the national and regional average for peer positions; it's even much, much lower than my old job. In all seriousness, it would not be enough to live on; it's probably in the bottom tenth or twentieth percentile for planning salaries in the US. I need to apply as a condition of collecting unemployment, but should I get an offer, I'd attempt to negotiate a salary that's closer or equal to the regional norm.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  2. #2
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    Interesting question.

    I have often wondered the same thing. Though I am not currently in the job market, I still receive many of the emails that get sent out from my university which usually include links to positions in the area, often including positions with the City of Detroit.

    I know that generally the perception is that the blame for problems with corruption is rested upon those at the very upper levels but I know that when I was searching for a job, I never bothered applying for those with the City because I was afraid of guilt by association further down the road.

    I would love to hear the opinions of somebody who has worked for a place like that and how they think it affected their career as well as people who have reviewed resumes from applicants who had experiences in these types of municipalities.
    "Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." - 1980 Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan

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    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I'm not clear who the position is with - the City? a CDC? I think especially if it is an independent group, I would have no worries about it negatively impacting your reputation or career. Obama's political career comes out of Chicago and, for all the reputation of corruption in politics there, it doesn't seem to have hurt him much

    Seriously, though, I think especially if your goals involve future community development/planning work, many employers would view this as experience in a particularly challenging environment that required the development of some top notch skills. Or at least that is the way I would pitch it in an application...

    Of course, I have no first hand experience in a situation like this, so my comments are pure speculation...
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    What good is this job going to do for you? All I've heard is a bunch of negatives (low pay, high stress, etc.). Why put yourself through hell until something better comes along. Life is too short. Like some people have said before, maybe it's better to move outside of Cleveland while your girlfriend stays in town. This job sounds like the bottom of the barrel and I think you are worth more than that.

  5. #5
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    I'm not clear who the position is with - the City? a CDC?.
    it's with a city government. A historically very corrupt/dysfunctional city government; for example, the formerly Nigerian immigrant mayor who was hauled out by the FBI was replaced by someone who killed her husband; I think there's been two mayors since then. All this in the past few years, and there's a similar history further back. There's also history of city councilors and department officials getting arrested or investigated, and so on.

    I'm also wondering if being a white Jewish guy would be a problem; not so much with hiring but with being taken seriously by the current administration and community leaders. I fear that I would always be an outsider in such an environment, and thus not very effective. (For those from the Chicago area, it's a community that is probably akin to Maywood, as far as size, the built environment and demographics goes.)

    Yeah, it seems like it's bottom-of-the-barrel on the surface, and I definitely won't take the job at the asking salary. Still, there's an even greater hardship if I left the area before I got the house repaired into a good-enough condition for rental; not to mention other more personal issues.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    I think nrschmid pretty much hit the nail on the head. You can do way better than this. Sure, go ahead apply to satisfy the unemployment office, but if they actually make an offer I'd go to the stratasphere with any counter-offer. And yeah, I think you'd be doing yourself a disservice to take the position even at a salary comparable to your last one.

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    Cyburbian Plus dandy_warhol's avatar
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    do yourself and them a favor and don't apply. it is quite apparent you don't want to work there.

    they obviously need someone who can help them, not someone who feels they'd be "slumming it".
    In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. -Martin Luther King Jr.

  8. #8
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by dandy_warhol View post
    do yourself and them a favor and don't apply. it is quite apparent you don't want to work there.

    they obviously need someone who can help them, not someone who feels they'd be "slumming it".
    I HAVE to apply if I'm going to keep collecting unemployment. FWIW, I wrote my thesis about such suburbs, and consider myself something of an expert on such places, so I don't see working there as "slumming it". On a salary of $35K for a PD position, though, it would be difficult to consider such a job desirable, especially considering the challenges faced by the community. It could be a rewarding position, but not on such a low wage, and not if it hurts future job prospects.

    Yes, there's better places to work. Thing is, NOBODY around here is hiring. Really, Cleveland is not Chicago or Dallas, where planners can pick and choose from any number of well-paid vacant positions. Despite the many, many municipalities in the area, nobody is hiring a planner. (I had an interview for a PD position a couple of months ago in an outlying suburb. A younger planner with far less experience was chosen over me. At $80K.)

    I'm probably going to follow Maister's strategy; gotta' apply to stay on the dole. If they make an offer, counter-offer with what I feel I'm worth and the APA salary survey, which they probably won't accept given the listed salary.

    Hypothetically, though, let's say they accept, and there is the prospect of a rewarding job at the other end. Would having a historically dysfunctional and corrupt city on my resume, a place with a really bad reputation -- and not just among jittery middle-class folks -- taint it?

    Let me word this another way:

    Those in the Orlando area: would having one's last stint be in Eatonville taint a resume?
    Those in the Chicago area: would having one's last stint be in Harvey or Maywood taint a resume?
    Those in Michigan: would having one's last stint be in Highland Park taint a resume?
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

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    Cyburbian The District's avatar
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    Really, Cleveland is not Chicago or Dallas, where planners can pick and choose from any number of well-paid vacant positions.

    ha! yeah, right.

  10. #10
    No offense, but by calling a community a "ghetto" you aren't doing the people there any good by applying there. Why should they hire a person who doesnt respect them?

    Times are very tough, but this isnt the solution for you or the community.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Those in the Orlando area: would having one's last stint be in Eatonville taint a resume?
    hmm...tough call, but if you gotta apply for it anyways, I mean a job is better than none. I am familiar with Eatonville and if this place is comparible, they need alot of help,, but have their good points. Working in a place like that might be able to raise your profile in the metro area if you want to stay there in the near future. If you do a good job, it will make you look really good and if things dont go so well, then everyone knows the political environment. If you go outside the area where the reputation of the city is not as known, then it just looks like you had a PD job.
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    I HAVE to apply if I'm going to keep collecting unemployment.
    Isn't applying for a job for that reason only, and intending to price yourself out of their market if they offer it to you, dishonest in its own right?

  13. #13
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by digger View post
    Isn't applying for a job for that reason only, and intending to price yourself out of their market if they offer it to you, dishonest in its own right?
    What would you do under the same situation I'm in? Have you ever collected unemployment? Do you even know about what you have to do to keep collecting it?

    * I MUST apply for two jobs a week. There's very little in the area to apply for.
    * This is one of those very few jobs. In fact, it's the ONLY vacant planning job I know of in the area; I'm sending blind resumes otherwise.
    * The salary that is being offered is perhaps the lowest I've ever seen for a PD position, much less Planner I and planning tech positions in the Midwest. Adjusted for inflation, it's even lower than what I made during my very first Planner I position. Cyburbia revenue, more eBay auctions of personal possessions, and so on wouldn't even get me close to the point where I could pay just the mortgage and regular expenses without falling deep into debt.

    $35K for a planning director? I've said it before; planning is a profession, not a vocation. A planner should not have to sacrifice their well-being in the name of improving a community, no matter how distressed and needy they may be. Are we ethnically obligated to accept a very low salary to help a community in need?

    Again, put yourself in my shoes. What would you do?
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    The only time I ever collected was in 1980. I worked on somebody else's payroll for ten months, and one morning they decided my services, and those of my father, were no longer needed. Since I'd been getting a paycheck, I felt entitled to go sign up. (I even worked for a couple of months, under the table, pulling parts in a junkyard, while I was still collecting, until I decided that wasn't a good thing to be doing, so I kept the work, but quit collecting the unemployment.) A week after that, I got a notice that my former "employer" was disputing my eligibility, since I'd been "self employed" when I took their job. It didn't matter that I had no work in my own profession. They ruled that I shouldn't have been paid at all, but fortunately didn't make me pay any back.

    Outside of that, I've always been self employed, so no, I've never had the luxury of becoming familiar with what's required to keep getting paid. When I'm out of work, I'm out of pay. And I have been, a time or two.

    I'll admit that I'm a believer, and practictioner, in situation ethics, so I can't really throw too many stones at you. I just thought it a bit incongruous that while corruption in that government was objectionable, you were willing to play the system yourself. Nobody else had brought it up, so I wondered if I was the only one seeing it.

    I wish you luck in getting something that suits your level of professional expertise, and getting it soon.

    Hey, maybe the salary is so low because the bribes are good enough to compensate?

  15. #15
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Those in Michigan: would having one's last stint be in Highland Park taint a resume?
    I am currently working on my final capstone project and it involves evaluating Highland Park in conjunction to see how they would fare in the competition for some pretty big grants from the state government and some other highly respected sources.

    After seeing how poorly their operations are actually run there, if I were reviewing resumes and somebody and they said that they had worked with the City of Highland Park during anytime over the past few years (since they entered into receivership), I think it honestly would effect how I would look at them. But, by having some inside knowledge of how things go on there, I would be semi-justified in making that judgment.

    I would assume that if that same person were applying for a job in Wilmington, NC after working in Highland Park, and the good folks in Wilmington had no idea about how things were run in HP, it probably wouldn't make that much of a difference.


    The taint probably becomes less strong the further you distance yourself from the source geographically.
    "Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." - 1980 Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan

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    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    ...
    Let me word this another way:
    ...
    Those in Michigan: would having one's last stint be in Highland Park taint a resume?
    Not comparable. My last encounter with their city hall: things were pretty well shut down (2004). State-operated receivership has evolved, and if memory serves, they were re-opening for additional services. HP needs the help, and it would likely be a rewarding job-stop.

    Now, just down the street is another jurisdiction that might more logically be on your list. But it's more like working in the ER of a big city hospital, and adding the extensive trauma care experience to your CV. (My sister the doctor has done this.)

    When I interviewed with Michigan's second-largest city, they were amazed and appalled to hear some of the details about the first. (My department had a staff of about 20, on just one of several floors that comprised one of the planning departments. GR's entire staff is about that size. Yes, Detroit has two planning departments.)

    IMHO, the line on your resume wouldn't hurt. It reads as though the ledger line would, however. Your strategy seems sensible. (I've gotten the occasional referral to another job from someone who saw my resume. Everyone has a network, even the folks at a corrupt inner city underpaid planning department.)

  17. #17
    The perception of such a community -- at least within the region -- will be that everyone is tainted until they can prove otherwise and even then they may be unable to erase the stigma. The political nature of planning will get painted with the same broad brush as the corrupt mayors and councilmen/women.

    If you intend to remain in the area, then, I would avoid employment in this community. If you might relocate again in a few years, outside the region, then it might be a risky palceholder until you can bug out.

    Apply since you must. If interviewed and offered, definitely stick to the APA/OPA salary surveys.
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    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    ...I'm also wondering if being a white Jewish guy would be a problem...
    Strategy One: Apply and counter with a realistic salary if offered the job.

    Strategy Two: Accept the job if offered, and then file a discrimination suit.
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    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    If offered, take the job Dan.

    There may be larger forces in play that want you in this position. You never know what door it could open, or what contacts you could make. Nothing says you would need to stay there for an extended period of time.

    I've had very limited direct experience with both Highland Park and Detroit, but if I was looking at a resume with experience from those cities, I may see it as a badge of honor that that person was able to work deep in the trenches of challenging departments.

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    Cyburbian Tom R's avatar
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    job

    Dan, I'm pretty sure I know the community you're talking about. I would be VERY cautious. Some of these communities chew up planners and spit them out like they were chewing gum. Do what you gotta do to satisfy the unemployment gods but find some place else. My last stint as a lineman (unemployment line, that is) lasted six months. It was a tough time but eventually my current job opened up. Good luck.
    WALSTIB

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    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    Dan, have you thought about that if you got the job and made some progress in this community that it might look like a plus on your resume and not a minus?

    I work for a town in AZ that when I introduce myself and say for what city I work I tend to get more laughs and strangae looks than anything else. I am always asked why do I work where I do. I respond that I have an opportunity to change something for the better, which is why I chose to do economic development. Even if I accomplish nothing of note most people in the region know my situation and in a cover letter and interview I can easily spin my desire for a challenge into an asset instead of a liability.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

  22. #22
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    I'm also wondering if being a white Jewish guy would be a problem; not so much with hiring but with being taken seriously by the current administration and community leaders. I fear that I would always be an outsider in such an environment, and thus not very effective.
    True, you may be perceived as an "outsider" in certain regards. You may be surprised, however, the degree to which this can actually be a good thing. Sometimes the outsider serves an important role as an "independent arbiter" so to speak. Being from the outside can mean you are not caught in the web of power structures and corruption and may be perceived as more trustworthy. Your opinions/ideas might be received as more independent of ulterior motives (ie you are not in anyone's pocket). I say *might* of course, because you never really know how people will react and what may be held against one in one context may ber thought of as an asset in others.

    I am certainly in the minority and a newcomer in the community I work with and, generally, people have received me very well (if with an initial sense of skepticism). Once you start actually working directly with people, I find they get an idea of the kind of person you are and what your "agenda" (if any) is. I do not pretend I will ever be an insider in this context - I can't claim 5 generations in this neighborhood, I am not Hispanic, etc. But that doesn't mean I can't partner with people to do some good work. I find that if I am collaborating with others to make their plans come to fruition, and I bring useful skills to the table, people don't really care about my background too much.

    This scenario sounds a bit more complex given the levels of power you would be working with (it sounds more about working with other governmental heads and less grass roots), but its worth thinking about how your background may be perceived as a positive feature.

    Don't let the ethnicity factor deter you. If the job interests you, go ahead and apply. What's the worst that can happen? You get an interview? They offer you a job (which you don't need to take)? They hire you but you leave if it is not a good fit?
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

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    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    I'm also wondering if being a white Jewish guy would be a problem . . .
    Well, I wouldn't advise wearing a yammakah to the interview or referring to the interviewer as a "shvartze" , but otherwise you are probably okay. Jews do have a long history of living in ghettos.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

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  24. #24
    Cyburbian
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    If you don't want to do it because it is corrupt that is one thing, if you are doing it because it is "ghetto" (not a fan of the use of that word in this situation), then I think it's a little backwards. You clearly wouldn't stay there very long, but you would be able to help turn around an area that's clearly in need. If they do turn out to be too corrupt, then you resign. Worst case scenario is that you made a little money and got some experience in challenging circumstances, which I do not think would look bad on a resume. This argument about how little it pays seems ridiculous given that you are currently on unemployment... take the job, get off unemployment, keep searching for a better job and leave if you find one. And as a white jew myself, let me assure you that if you work hard and show you care, they will accept you... unless you going around calling the place they live a ghetto.

  25. #25
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    I'm with Cardinal and btrage on this -

    apply, interview (lots of interviewing is good practice for you) and then see what happens -

    have your APA salary info ready to justify a salary request - if they can't meet it, then you decide if it's worth taking or not - now is not the time to decide that - I have seen many unemployed people not apply for jobs because they think they don't want to do that

    I was out of work taking "odd" jobs in 1991-92 so I can tell you that no time is wasted, really, I mean it

    the only resume stain is to be let go because of a performance issue that is real - even in those cases, you can improve and move on - another possible resume stain is if a place is corrupt and you stay knowingly and/or are part of the corruption, yeah, indictments don't look great on the background check

    and I will get on a high horse and say to those chastising Dan for not having pure, valiant, and dedicated reasons (say, do I hear horns?) for applying, taking or not taking this job to get real people - Dan likes living indoors, okay?????

    keep us posted, Dan

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