Are We Seeing “The Abilene Paradox” Being Played Out In McKinney

Introduction.

It was within my first year or two in municipal government that I heard The Abilene Paradox Story introduced by a consultant leading a manager training series at the City of Garland. It’s a story I will never forget. With the help of an abbreviated version found in Wikipedia, I’ll share this gem:

The term was introduced by another management expert Jerry B. Harvey in his 1974 article “The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement.” The name of the phenomenon comes from an anecdote in the article which Harvey uses to elucidate the paradox:
On a hot afternoon visiting in Coleman, Texas, the family is comfortably playing dominoes on a porch, until the father-in-law suggests that they take a trip to Abilene [53 miles north] for dinner. The wife says, “Sounds like a great idea.” The husband, despite having reservations because the drive is long and hot, thinks that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group and says, “Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go.” The mother-in-law then says, “Of course I want to go. I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.”
The drive is hot, dusty, and long. When they arrive at the cafeteria, the food is as bad as the drive. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted.
One of them dishonestly says, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?” The mother-in-law says that, actually, she would rather have stayed home, but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The husband says, “I wasn’t delighted to be doing what we were doing. I only went to satisfy the rest of you.” The wife says, “I just went along to keep you happy. I would have had to be crazy to want to go out in the heat like that.” The father-in-law then says that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored.
The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a trip which none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably, but did not admit to it when they still had time to enjoy the afternoon.
Ronald Sims writes that the Abilene paradox is similar to groupthink, but differs in significant ways, including that in groupthink individuals are not acting contrary to their conscious wishes and generally feel good about the decisions the group has reached. According to Sims, in the Abilene paradox, the individuals acting contrary to their own wishes are more likely to have negative feelings about the outcome. In Sims’ view, groupthink is a psychological phenomenon affecting clarity of thought, where in the Abilene paradox thought is unaffected.
Like groupthink theories, the Abilene paradox theory is used to illustrate that groups not only have problems managing disagreements, but that agreements may also be a problem in a poorly functioning group.
I Think This Is Happening in McKinney.

Twice I have seen a bizarre setting, and I’ve blogged about both. See http://www.citybaseblog.com for my perspectives. The first was what appeared to be an out-of-the blue request by Councilmembers Branch and Rogers. The request was for the Council to entertain a proposal from an outside firm to privatize our most significant ball park to be used primarily for tournament leagues. It was not well thought-out nor was it feasible. But the bizarre aspect of the pitch is that the entire council went along with the drawn out discussion and even acted as if they might initiate a study to evaluate the proposal. 

As I listened, my first reaction was why are Councilmembers meeting with a single company on this topic when you’d have to be dumb as a stump to think the idea would fit McKinney and to possibly signal to a business they had an inside track? My bigger question, however, is why doesn’t a Councilmember make a motion to stop the asinine discussion and at least table it. By table the item, I mean take out a wooden stake, grab a mallet and drive said stake deep into the heart of a dumb, time-wasting idea?

The Gift That Keeps On Giving.

And now comes this suggestion of the need for a Restaurant Row in McKinney, the thing stopping major corporations from moving to McKinney, according to the brand-spanking new Mayor-Tem Randy Pogue. This vision came to him days after annointment. I listened to the August meeting today for the third time. There’s something strange about the meeting. First, Mr Pogue got this telepathic message from a number of businesses, it seems. Yet I can’t find where any of the other six Councilmembers got the same message. At least they aren’t trying to share the spotlight with Mr Pogue. Even the loyalists aren’t waving the Pom-Poms.

And just exactly how many businesses have been hounding Mr Pogue. More than 30? Under five? Mr Pogue, since you have set in motion almost single-handedly an initiative that is going to lead to a considerable amount of money just to study this item to death, would you please state the number of reasonably serious businesses that have told you they ain’t coming until they see a Restaurant Row? And provide those names to an independent party to vouch those are real companies without divulging any names?

Here again, it seems to me that we have an Abilene Paradox. Watch the video of the meeting closely. It’s malfunctioning agreement in action. To all of the remaining six Councilmembers, I’d like to ask that you individually state publicly that the time is right and this is a good idea to spend staff resources and eventually taxpayer money to study these issues presented at the August meeting. I dare you! I’ll provide the stakes and mallets. 

Conclusion.

The conclusion I have come to is simple. There is not a single Councilmember who fully understands the Council-Manager form of government, nor do they want to know, nor do they plan to allow that form of government work in McKinney. I cannot for the life of me figure out why the City Attorney has not explained this to them AND stepped up to enforce it. It is clear after having revolving door city managers that you, the Council, assure failure for our form of government you continue to ignore. 
I even challenge the Sheep-Citizens to be insistent and vocal to support the Council-Manager form of government. We have more of a The term was introduced by management expert Jerry B. Harvey in his 1974 article “The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement.”[3] The name of the phenomenon comes from an anecdote in the article which Harvey uses to elucidate the paradox:
On a hot afternoon visiting in Coleman, Texas, the family is comfortably playing dominoes on a porch, until the father-in-law suggests that they take a trip to Abilene [53 miles north] for dinner. The wife says, “Sounds like a great idea.” The husband, despite having reservations because the drive is long and hot, thinks that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group and says, “Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go.” The mother-in-law then says, “Of course I want to go. I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.”
The drive is hot, dusty, and long. When they arrive at the cafeteria, the food is as bad as the drive. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted.
One of them dishonestly says, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?” The mother-in-law says that, actually, she would rather have stayed home, but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The husband says, “I wasn’t delighted to be doing what we were doing. I only went to satisfy the rest of you.” The wife says, “I just went along to keep you happy. I would have had to be crazy to want to go out in the heat like that.” The father-in-law then says that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored.
The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a trip which none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably, but did not admit to it when they still had time to enjoy the afternoon.
Ronald Sims writes that the Abilene paradox is similar to groupthink, but differs in significant ways, including that in groupthink individuals are not acting contrary to their conscious wishes and generally feel good about the decisions the group has reached.[4] According to Sims, in the Abilene paradox, the individuals acting contrary to their own wishes are more likely to have negative feelings about the outcome. In Sims’ view, groupthink is a psychological phenomenon affecting clarity of thought, where in the Abilene paradox thought is unaffected.[5]
Like groupthink theories, the Abilene paradox theory is used to illustrate that groups not only have problems managing disagreements, but that agreements may also be a problem in a poorly functioning group.[6]Commision form of government. Either change the Charter or abide by the Charter. I believe 95% of McKinney’s problems are tied to this violation of our form of government. LFM

Cataracts & Health Tidbits

Cataracts. It’s another 90 minutes before I have to show up for cataract surgery. One eye today and the other next Wednesday. I’m looking forward to getting it done. This is one of those things where thinking about it is probably worse than the event. It’s hell getting old.

Hand Rails. We had a hand rail installed in our shower this week. Linda and I don’t fall very often, but it happens often enough to be concerned. I’m not sure why we didn’t do this a long time ago. I am realizing that it’s more than just a safety thing. Without needing it for breaking a fall, the fact I know it is there reduces the risk of needing it at all. I notice I slightly touch the rail with my arm while showering. Comfort. Confidence. We are in the second class of Baby Boomers, so I highly recommend considering safety aids. Worth every penny. Cheaper than fixing a broken hip!

Hearing Aids. Okay, I’ve put it off long enough. They are a 2016 have-to. I’ve needed them for years. When I am in a group of people or in a loud restaurant like we were last night, I hear only noise. That is why I rarely attend receptions and things with people talking. Even with hearing aids, I will probably still prefer one-on-one conversations. But it’s now a necessity. Well, unless I can go throughout the rest of my life wearing my headphones and listening to Springsteen. Quit dreaming, Lewis.

Heart Stress Test. Way too long since the last one, but I finally went to a new cardiologist yesterday to start the process. But then I had to wait and wait. Most of my docs are not like that any longer. After 45 minutes I got to the first step with the nurse. After the preliminary stuff, including an EKG, the doc was supposed to be next. I asked how long? First it was going to be a short wait. Then after another 45 more minutes I put on my clothes and left. All they had to do at the beginning was to say the doctor is running way behind and give me a choice to wait or reschedule. I won’t be going back.

The Dentist. I don’t dread the dental chair like most people do. Yes, it is mostly due to the nice gas I get when the dental work is serious. However, I am still reeling from the cost of three implants and crowns a few years back. No excuse to take care of business now. But I’ve managed to put it off long enough that I’m sure the next visit will reveal needs that will take care of at least one dentist child’s college education.

Household. I’m up to snuff in this category. In the last 3-4 years we’ve gotten a new roof, gutters, both HVACs replaced and upgraded and a outside lighting system that is both great for security as well as appearance. Coming up: a HD camera security system. After that: a high-end generator that could run the house for days. I’m expecting a future with more than just brownouts. Too many things could put us in the dark. And Linda’s tolerance for being without an air conditioning is somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes.

Vacations. Our cruise a couple of weeks ago was our ninth. Linda got an infection in her legs by the time we started and basically kept us in the room for the entire trip with a few exceptions. That cruise may be our last – at least for a while. I can’t afford to get her in the middle of the ocean and away from docs and hospitals with her compromised immune system. We are talking about a driving trip to places we’ve never been right here in the USA. I need to see those California redwoods before Restland.

Blog Responses. I’ve got several blogs and responses to blogs in my head. I’m getting up between 4 and 5 am ready to go most mornings. My goal is to get them written and out before my workday starts. The McKinney ISD and Addison blogs generated mostly supportive comments but a few criticisms I will address. Never enough time. Thanks for your interest. LFM.

 

 

I Smell Fraud in Addison … In the Fraud Audit

Maybe the Dallas Morning News got it wrong. They must think there’s a hot story here. The story came out March 11 with the headline: “Addison officials, former city manager debate credibility of report on town’s finances.” The same story in print this morning on the front page of the Metro section is headlined “Audit: Millions couldn’t be traced.”

Several things bother me about this story. A forensic auditor was paid $125,000 and did not investigate any fraud. And  did not find any fraud, apparently. I don’t know the billing rate, but it would take 625 hours at $200 to get to $125,000. That’s about 1/3 of a work year for a full-time person. But not just any person. This is a supposedly skilled, experienced, certified professional. How could you spend that many hours and not find any fraud, but whatever was found is purposed to be poor internal controls.

To me, poor internal controls says something might or could happen. Money that can’t be traced is a giant step beyond declaring less than ideal internal controls. One is left to believe something did happen. Did it or didn’t it? You don’t fool around with masquerading facts as suppositions.

If $millions couldn’t be traced, what was the level of effort to trace said $millions? My grandchildren could probably figure out that 95+% of all municipal spending is tied to payroll and benefits payments, debt service payments, construction contracts, professional contracts, insurance, utilities and a handful of other big-ticket items. There are thousands of small items like office supplies and travel that make up the remaining 5% or so. This story, if accurate, simply does not make sense to me.

If this is a professional auditor, then there should be a list of specific findings that have been reviewed by staff in order for them to respond. Did that happen? Are those in the report? Oh wait, not only the money paid for this report, but the enormous weight given to the report by the council and press led me to believe that surely said report would be posted on the  Town’s Web site. It’s not there. Or well hidden. I can find a silly, shallow newsletter by the Mayor that ends with “All is well in Addison.”

It is kind of humorous that the Mayor seems to be wanting to put the toothpaste back into the tube on this audit that he initiated from his comments to the newspaper. Not so fast, Mayor. The audit you commissioned that didn’t seem to find anything concrete has impugned two city managers and about that many finance directors. Not to mention a professional accounting firm that must have completely missed all of those squishy things alluded to by the forensic auditor. As they say in the courtroom, where I am guessing you may be heading eventually, you opened this door. I don’t own any of the Addison bonds, but somebody may be damaged here, too, Mr. Mayor.

I have asked for a copy of this seemingly forensic nebulo-audit in an Open Records Request. I can’t wait to read it. It better be filled with facts and findings that somebody can address. My ORR also includes a request to see the agreement and scope of work between the forensic auditor and the Town. I’m curious just exactly how this scope of work got set and how the need was described by the council. I would also like to know if the Town interviewed other forensic auditors or even had some kind of an RFP/RFQ to determine if the best choice was made.

Surely this was not a sole source or friend of the Council, I wonder? My ORR also includes Campaign Reports to make sure the forensic auditor hasn’t helped out with contributions to the Council.

This smells like a witch hunt. The headline makes for good theater as does the council forum here. But I wonder if the forensic audit should rather have been on the Council itself. I don’t live in Addison, but this stinks. If there was something done wrong intentionally or fraudulently, nail them. However, the entire municipal family is damaged if this is politically motivated as it seems to be. LFM

 

 

 

Announcing My New Blog

To say I am starting a new blog when I have been blogging for 25-30 years may not make sense. Next Saturday is the first day of my 44th year in municipal government. I have decided to update my Web site (in progress) to have a more formal blog as the centerpiece. It will also include a library of just about anything I have ever written or presented, personal or professional, if I can locate everything. That may take some time. I will send the blogs by email and then keep them on the Web. The frequency will depend on my time. I’m shooting for weekly.

I am a “right now” person, so my blogs will contain whatever is on my mind. However, there will be some central themes:

Economic Analyses. Most of you have been the recipients of a vast amount of analysis work that I send your way. A colleague once said that I’ve never met a number I didn’t like. Well, I do get fascinated with data analysis. It’s a strength and a weakness. There is an ocean full of public data in my world – terabytes of data that go unanalyzed. I can’t resist trying to glean the buried stories in public data. While sales tax data is my main occupation these days, my hobby of data analysis is without limits – other than time. I have my own server now and have beefed up my SQL skills after maxing out my good friend Mr. Excel. I hope to advance my research and share those results with you.

Underground Government. I live in McKinney, the center of Collin County. A couple of years ago I wrote quite a bit about Looking for the Good. It was in defense of the city staff against a watchdog group that I thought had stepped over the line. However, I am now in my third year of a closer look at how things really work in McKinney from the governance standpoint. I am convinced there is an underground government, and I intend to expose what I am finding. There are some disturbing staff issues I have – like how could you charge $8 million on credit cards in just a few short years? But my digging has led to much more serious issues I have with the elected officials and boards. My writings will also include the ultimate Collin County Bad Boy, AG Kenneth Paxton.

The Personal Realm. Writing is cathartic for me. I am 68 years old, have been married for 48 years. Our son and daughter-in-law have given us three wonderful grandkids (9, 11 and 13). My wife Linda and I try to go on a cruise a couple of times a year and average a musical or play about once every week or two. We are strong in our faith and have a few really deep friendships. I love to write personal reflections. My blog will be filled with my personal, transparent writings. My hobby also includes photography – mine and the interesting work of others I find. My criteria is simple: if a photograph makes me pause and gaze at the subject, the light or the angle, I might pass some on to you.

While I have a fairly long mailing list of both professional colleagues and personal friends, I will not impose my blog on you. By way of this invitation I will be building a separate blog mailing list. Therefore, if you are interested in receiving Let’s Talk About It, Lewis!, you will need to let me know. Just reply to this invitation. I would also ask for you to consider sending this invitation to anybody you know who might be interested in signing up for this free blog. I will not share my list with anyone under any circumstances. You can also be easily removed from my blog list by simply requesting me to take you off. No explanation required.

I look forward to our chats. I will invite you to enter into a conversation with me. Nothing will be shared without your permission. As an avid reader close to 100 newspapers daily, I view just about every one of the 100,000 stories over the years as a case study. I will be commenting on stories as I have in the past. Better than that, again over the years, many of you have asked me questions, shared your own local issues with me and basically entered into a meaningful conversation with me. I thrive on those exchanges. Many of the articles and blurbs I have written in the past are the composition of my words and your words without mentioning our conversation.

By the way, my informal blogs are usually written and proofed quickly. This is my one and only apology if I blow a grammar gasket or say “pubic health” instead of “public health” as I once managed to do without my spell checker catching me.

Many thanks!
Lewis