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Thread: How do you respond to people questioning your abilities?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian dandy_warhol's avatar
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    How do you respond to people questioning your abilities?

    Have any of you ever had a Council person (or the like) tell you that a college intern could do your work? If so, how do you respond? I know I take it much too personally but I feel so insulted when they say such things, no offense to college interns. I have been there.


    Staff is in the midst of a hotly contested project that we say requires an economic and/or housing analysis and that we don't have the resources to complete one. Council's response, "Can't we just get some interns to help with that?"

  2. #2
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by dandy_warhol View post
    Have any of you ever had a Council person (or the like) tell you that a college intern could do your work? If so, how do you respond? I know I take it much too personally but I feel so insulted when they say such things, no offense to college interns. I have been there.


    Staff is in the midst of a hotly contested project that we say requires an economic and/or housing analysis and that we don't have the resources to complete one. Council's response, "Can't we just get some interns to help with that?"
    I don't know how to phrase it other than, "Do you want someone to cut their teeth on this analysis, with the strong potential for delay, errors, and inadequacy or do you want a seasoned professional to provide timely, accurate and proper analysis?" It is in their best interest that the best (in budget) analysis takes place. While a consultant to work largely autonomous, college interns will require constant oversight and reduce the individual and overall performance of your department harming other projects and daily duties.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    That's a tough one. I have had a council member or commissioner respond with a similar request. While i do not take it personally (rather i feel sorry for them for being ignorant on the subject and tend to look down on them, my way of reflection), I have responded with the following canned response:

    "Although college interns may assist in terms of researching a topic, it is best to have a professional perform the job due to liability, bonding, and their ability to formulate positions for the City while keeping in mind potential litigation issues that may arise since they are already familiar with this type of work, and can also bring experience from working in similar sized cities on similar topics"

    Usually the liability/litigation gives them the "ah-ha" moment. Just keep the whole liability, budget, cost effectiveness, short staff thing going.

    I am sure the comment was directed due to the lack of funds and staff. Planning isn't rocket science, however thrusting students in a "hotly contested project" would add way more fuel to the fire (nothing against students, I have been there )
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  4. #4
    Cyburbian ThePinkPlanner's avatar
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    For matters like this, I usually use it as a learning opportunity for the selectboard/council/AMP. I'll give them a few details of what such a study involves, offer as many long planning buzz words as I can, throw in some dollars, a time line, and smile broadly while offering to invite them to some hearings that xx town next to us is currently holding on xyz study, as well as forward them written copies of the last few studies we've completed so that they can see the depth of time, energy, intelligence, and expertise involved. I'll then caution that there are certain areas where mistakes can lead to substantial repercussions for the City and that, while you appreciate the advise of using interns to help, that it is not a study they are qualified to manage. Turnover is the hardest- the fresh ones often have no idea what they are doing, and have never stepped foot in a public hearing. I heart democracy, but its always tough when you have Joe Public, french teacher by day, essentially running a multi-million dollar corporation without any experience or education in doing such. The ones who have hung on for a few years tend to get it. See if you can get them on your side.

    Now getting people (the public) to question my abilities on a daily basis is whats frustrating me. I've been out of grad school for 10 years and with this particular city for 7 of them. Whenever my zoning admin is on vacation, and I'm here to help people, they tell me that "HE knows what he's doing" whenever they don't like my answer. Thankfully I have an awesome zoning admin who is happy to call them back and tell them they've just delayed themselves because I know exactly what I'm doing. Sigh. I don't even look that young and I can't tell you how many times people have called me "little girl."

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I would not take it as a questioning of the staff's abilities, but rather a means of asking "Isn't there a cheap way we can get this done?" Explaining that the complexity of the task is beyond what could be expected from an intern, and the potential liability (good call) is the best approach.
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  6. #6
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    I would not take it as a questioning of the staff's abilities, but rather a means of asking "Isn't there a cheap way we can get this done?"
    What Cardinal said. They are probably just looking for a cheap and easy approach. And generally the cheap and easy approach only works when you are looking to score at a bar at closing time.

    And keep in mind that you are getting this suggestion from a person who got elected into his or her office because there were enough voters who merely recognized their name on the ballot and hadn't heard anything too bad said about them.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  7. #7
    A bit of a side point, but if I was a council person and didn't want to take a development project seriously and/or relegate it to the dustbin of half-baked ideas, I'd want to use students and/or interns to frame it in an "amateur" light (absolutely no offense to students, again "been there done that").

  8. #8
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    For profit developers hire folks to do marketing studies all the time and much of this analysis is similar to the kind of housing and economic analysis you are looking to do, I would imagine. I say, get a quote from a for-profit company that does such things to show Council what something like that costs. If it was so simple, companies like this wouldn't charge what they do. Or maybe show them a good analysis from another project so maybe they can understand what is actually involved (and how a newbie intern probably lacks the kind of experience to do such analyses)

    I agree that is annoying. Anyone who suggests another's job can be done by the inexperienced is just looking to insult, IMO (maybe you should have said your dog could be an effective Councilor...) I don't work for the City, but I go to EPC, DRB, and Council meetings pretty often. I am often shocked by the ignorance of the different counciors/commissioners on these boards. I was at one recently where two EPC commissioners basically said that our local community-driven sector development plans only served to deter development and just got in the way of growth (and that we should do away with them). These are not legislators and they are charged with the responsibilkity of ENFORCING these very plans. How can we trust them to enforce the plans if they publicly state they are an impediment and should be done away with?! Grrr....
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  9. #9
    Cyburbian dandy_warhol's avatar
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    Sadly the litigation argument has been raised repeatedly but that doesn't seem to be deterring this council person from wanting to push forward with the intern/volunteer approach. When we raise the issue that someone will have to manage the interns, review the work, etc. We are labeled obstructionists. I did a brief resource analysis of implementation of an aspect of this project and concluded it would take over 4200 hours of staff time just from our department the response was, "Yes, well if we did it how you're proposing [through the comp plan] the work would have to be done anyways". *bangs head on wall*

    I got a quote from a consultant to perform such work and presented that information to council. The response, "We've got some great partnerships in the community. Maybe one of the locals will do the study [free] if we ask?" Really? In a struggling economy you want to ask a local business to do a $10,000 out of the goodness of their heart? By all means, you are welcome to ask.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    I would not take it as a questioning of the staff's abilities, but rather a means of asking "Isn't there a cheap way we can get this done?" Explaining that the complexity of the task is beyond what could be expected from an intern, and the potential liability (good call) is the best approach.
    This. And no, there is no cheap way despite all the bogus assertions in some parts of society to the contrary.
    -------
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  11. #11
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    Work with your city manager on this. If your CM is smart he will see this could be a sign of bigger issues from this council person. This is a politcal issue and your CM needs to be addressing these types of concerns.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    I wouldn't take this so harshly. I think they're just looking for more resources. Part of it is that they truly don't understand what your department does. Your planning director should get you all some face time with them. Depending on which state you live in, this may or may not need to be in a public meeting. Either way, something needs to be done.

    To play Devil's Advocate for a second, though. Lets say you do get some interns. Yes, they may not be able to work on the project you're dealing with, but I'm sure they can work on less complex projects and free (and other more seasoned staff) to work on the project more and does the necessary analyses. Just a thought.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Huck View post
    I wouldn't take this so harshly. I think they're just looking for more resources. ... Lets say you do get some interns. Yes, they may not be able to work on the project you're dealing with, but I'm sure they can work on less complex projects and free (and other more seasoned staff) to work on the project more and does the necessary analyses. Just a thought.
    I like that too: 'get me some interns and I'll do it'.

    At least - hopefully - they may be beginning to see what austerity gets them.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    A couple more thoughts:

    4200 hours seems like an awful lot of time. That is more than two people devoting more than an entire year to the project. If a consultant indicated it might cost $10,000, they are probably looking at less than 100 hours for the job. Post the scope of work and I'd be happy to give you a second estimate.

    If this is a project proposed by a developer, why is it the city would pay for the analysis? Many communities would make an impact analysis or market analysis (demonstrating need) a requirement of the development submittal.
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  15. #15
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    If this is a project proposed by a developer, why is it the city would pay for the analysis? Many communities would make an impact analysis or market analysis (demonstrating need) a requirement of the development submittal.
    I’d like to know the answer to this as well. I assumed this was a City project that required the study, but if it’s a private project, why would you need to do it? I WISH our city required market studies for projects over a certain size. We have an 80 unit townhouse development on 7 acres coming online right next door and they have not and do not intend to do a housing/market study. They have developed a lot of sprawl on our west side so they seem to feel confident this product (which is identical to these sprawling subdivisions but in the urban core) will sell. My biggest fear is they don’t, they build a few homes and then abandon the project….

    I had another thought. We have a Bureau of Business and Economic Research that is part of our local state university and they do studies like this. I am sure they charge, but the rates are probably better than the private sector. I am pretty sure they are the ones that do a big periodic study of housing demand in the region. This data – demand for single family, multi-family, price points as a ratio of household income, etc. – is used to determine any changes in zoning (has population growth necessitated opening more land up to multi-family housing development for example), to set targets for use of public money in developing affordable housing stock and is publicly available for developers to identify demand in the regional market (though they would still want to do a more focused study of market demand for their proposed product in a particular area of the region). I remember using this data in a Real Estate Development class I took in planning school.

    From my limited experience soliciting market studies for housing here (and depending on the depth of the information needed), $10,000 doesn’t seem too far out of the park…
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  16. #16
    Cyburbian
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    Be careful to not make it seem like the task is insurmountable by your staff. My first inclination would be "If it's going to take you 4,000 hours, I'm going to get someone who can get it to me sooner..." Especially if they start looking around and see that 4,000 staff hours is close to the amount of time to do an Environmental Impact Statement.

    I would be interested in reading the scope of work, as well.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian dw914er's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Brocktoon View post
    Work with your city manager on this. If your CM is smart he will see this could be a sign of bigger issues from this council person. This is a politcal issue and your CM needs to be addressing these types of concerns.
    I would agree that he/she should be aware of the situation. A decision maker asking to see if there are cheap(er) options is one thing, but implying that a college grad (who is still wet behind their ears) can do your job is another thing. It's hard to tell which one it is, but hopefully you can stress that certain reports require the efforts of seasoned planning staff. The intern could potentially help, but not within the council member's implied capacity. If the council member is suggesting that the intern can do your job, then your future with he/she is going to be more difficult.

    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    A couple more thoughts:

    If this is a project proposed by a developer, why is it the city would pay for the analysis? Many communities would make an impact analysis or market analysis (demonstrating need) a requirement of the development submittal.
    I'll agree with what Cardinal said, at least from the information you have provided thusfar. If you have to foot the bill for all/any studies tied with a proposed project, you're going to potentially create a backlog of work as well as spend more than you'll take in. If you recieve alot of projects, then you will definitely feel the 'heat.' The only time we'll pay for those studies is if: 1) we're proposing the project, or; 2) The applicant had their fee's waived. In either case, the theoretical costs would have been established beforehand. Things could pop up, but 4,200 hours?
    And that concludes staff’s presentation...

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    Here comes one of the "facts of life" that I've memorized. I take no credit for it, as I saw it on a poster in someone's cube many moons ago, but I do think this poster ought to be on several walls. Here goes:

    You can have it done cheap.
    You can have it done fast.
    You can have it done well.

    PICK TWO.


    You can apply this to just about any job situation/project.


    In the case of hiring interns to do a major study... if you want it cheap and done well... it's going to take a while. If you have the time for it, go right ahead, training interns is a noble cause. I doubt anyone wants cheap and fast, because that means done poorly.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Coragus's avatar
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    You know what? I've gotten ballsier as I've advanced in my career. So, if I get called out, I challenege the caller to prove me wrong. It has yet to happen.
    Back home just in time for hockey season!

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Plus
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    Oddball
    Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves?
    Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out here?
    Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?
    From Kelly's Heroes (1970)


    Are you sure you're not hurt ?
    No. Just some parts wake up faster than others.
    Broke parts take a little longer, though.
    From Electric Horseman (1979)

  21. #21
    Quote Originally posted by Reefe View post
    Here comes one of the "facts of life" that I've memorized. I take no credit for it, as I saw it on a poster in someone's cube many moons ago, but I do think this poster ought to be on several walls. Here goes:

    You can have it done cheap.
    You can have it done fast.
    You can have it done well.

    PICK TWO.


    You can apply this to just about any job situation/project.
    The New Economy sez you must pick all three.

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