The Importance of Culture in Democracy

(CommunityMatters) It’s been a long time since I was here, on this site, but I’ve certainly been Maslow red white blueimmersed in community matters. We’ve since elected Donald Trump as America’s president – in part because Ds offered a candidate who would have made a good president but ran the worst campaign in decades, and because the Russians (likely in collaboration with the GOP presidential campaign) microtargeted voters in key states. Among these voters the Russians increased the intensity & vote for Donald Trump and disillusioned many Ds, resulting in lower turnout. In this post, I’m not going into what this means, or the spiral we witness.

An editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal captures my attention – The Democrats’ Biggest Problem is Cultural – written by a supposed 40-year Democratic operative (he’s more a 20-yr flunky turned bitter pundit). Ted Van Dyk claims Great Society overreach – that cultural issues and political correctness have overtaken the party’s commitment to jobs, economic growth, the cost of living, education, public safety and a healthcare safety net.

Sometimes even vinegary rumblings prompt worthy thoughts.  What’s the term for equality of opportunity (not promises of equal results) . . . for equal treatment, equal respect regardless of race, faith, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation? If the term was American equality, I guess we wouldn’t be in today’s dilemma. We need a term so that our message can again be distinct – that we stand for Americans who value jobs, economic security, education, public safety, healthcare and equality (is that it, or does it connote promises of equal outcomes rather than opportunity?).

Why the red, white & blue Maslow’s Hierarchy? Because I’m convinced our answers lie there. In case you can’t read my writing, I define basic needs as inclusive of physiological and mental, the next category as the need to belong and for connectedness, and finally the need for self actualization.

I haven’t had time to synthesize these comments, opinions and theory. But, it’s what I’m working on. I’m to spend time on an airplane today writing bout culture and leadership. I’ll be reviewing the insights submitted by 8 of my favorite entrepreneurs as well as articles by several academics. This will contribute to my political thoughts.

And, I’ve been reflecting on the stories and lessons in Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land, J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Ellegy, and Katherine Cramer’s The Politics of Resentment. I haven’t yet red Christopher Achen’s & Larry Bartel’s “Democracy for Realists” but have listened to an audio summary. It doesn’t spur hope for thoughtful politics but reinforces the importance of symbolism and tribalism, the efficacy of dog whistles.

We must do more than speak effectively of serving America’s working class and middle income families, more than just promoting the symbols of this unity. We must deliver the infrastructure that generates jobs and opportunities and ensures equality of opportunity for everyone in America . . . and, these words & symbols matter.


Fortune: Why Austin Is the Rockstar of Small-Business Cities

(Community Matters) mostly posting to capture some great stats. Full article.


7% — The growth in the number of small businesses based in Austin from 2010-2013, which led the nation by a large margin (Provo, Utah, came in second at 6.8 percent).

Austin had 44,163 small businesses in 2013 — or 2,342 for every 100,000 residents, a ratio better than most of the 106 metro areas studied.

Austin’s gross metropolitan product (a version of gross domestic product, measuring all goods and services produced) grew 18.2 percent from 2011-2014, second in the country behind Dallas.

Part of Austin’s formula for a small business surge is fairly well established: create an environment with the right pieces, including investors, good business schools, incubators, not too much red tape, and a critical mass of people with a business idea and big aspirations.

While corporate America has been cutting jobs, employment at small business start-ups has increased. Since 1990, as bigger companies cut 4 million jobs, small businesses added 8 million new jobs, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Today, the 28 million small businesses in the U.S. account for 66% of all net new jobs, 54% of all U.S. sales, and 30-50% of all commercial space, according to the SBA.


Mayor Adler’s State of the City (includes full text)

(Community Matters) loved the humility and the forward vision of Mayor Adler’s State of the City speech last night.adler image 0216 aas

The nerd in me recorded all the applause lines and noted that the overarching theme as Big Cities Do Big Things. Highlighted in the speech: importance of innovation and iterative leadership in solving our problems and the prioritized problems are affordability, mobility, the spirit of East Austin, workforce development, fix permitting and fix Austin Energy.
lines that drew most applause during the speech:
1. And because of decisions this Council made, our utility
will soon become one of the biggest users of solar energy in Texas and in the world.
2. Monument to last minute amendments
3. If time is money, then Austinites are spending an awful lot of money stuck in traffic
4. Cities are great b/c they do great things
5. Ideological positions – doesn’t believe in taking ideological positions. Believes in solutions.
6. Austin needs to build a firebreak that will stop the gentrification or forced displacement of our neighbors in a way that will actually achieve opportunities for permanent affordability or we will lose people and communities all together.
7. Proud to serve with my council colleagues
8. Thanks to Diane Land
9. Determined to make Diane’s sacrifices worth it
10. Thank you to Marc Ott
11. The 200,000 people we cannot lose without losing something of ourselves
12. 5k+ affordable housing units already approved by council
13. Approved neighborhood preservation plan
14. Tens of millions into affordable housing trust fund from towers (& how they are great for the city)
15. Crowdfunding using Austin mini-bonds
16. Will allow us to become an Austin that we imagine by becoming an Austin that we recognize
17. Even those of us who don’t want to get out of our cars will welcome those who get out of theirs
18. Austin needs more mobility choices
19. Transit, bikes & pedestrian options
20. We need urban rail
21. You can also help people make more so they have more to spend
22. a strategic plan for workforce development
23. Economic incentives for jobs for people already here
24. Permitting – file plans and make payments on line
25. Work on music industry better protecting our artists
and one of my favorite lines: “We can do big things if we as a City Council take a lesson from the startup culture and adopt an iterative leadership style. . . ”
(. . . “I believe that to best address the new challenges of mobility and affordability, we must become comfortable with trying new things and adjusting when we receive new information. I want us to creatively and innovatively deal with the problems that fastgrowing cities are facing even if other cities have never figured out the answers.”)
Full text of Mayor Adler’s Speech: 

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Word for 2016

(Community Matters) Happy New Year!10603425_10207113573291088_8570812005472658807_n

much fun ringing in the New Year in Marfa again. Our dear friends Kim & Kyle Hughes helped us host this year’s festivities which included a Pizza Foundation party on 12/30, McDonald Observatory star parties on 12/29 and 12/30, private McDonald Observatory telescope tours, a Julie Speed Gallery/Studio Party, and a Ft. Davis State Park hike as well as the Rock Hudson suite NYE party and NY Day at Dick & Janie DeGuerin’s (me here w/ the fabulous Barbara Hill).

Such a fun year w/ so many dear guests including Dustin & Megan Wells & family, Gerardo & Anysley Interiano & family, Kim Taylor & family, Mayor Adler, Diane Land, Sarah Adler, Zach, Molly & friend, Joe & Tana Christie, Eli Smith & family, Stephanie Dodoo & Micah Barber, David Richards & Nancy Novack, Cameron Lockley, Chase Pilat, Joel Robbins & Kevin, Mark & Monica Cravotta & the girls, Senator Shapleigh & Joyce, Gary Cooper & Richard Hartgrove, Autumn Rich, Will Roman, Jason & Lori Heffron & family, Ian Carracio & Evan Sisley, Chad Dedman, et al

My word for 2016Eloy. That’s my late dad’s name. Meant to remind me to be more like my father – someone who always thought before he spoke, wasn’t compelled to always share his opinion, who never spoke ill of anyone, and who saved what he wanted to share for the right moment. Big hill for me to climb but I’m gonna try in 2016. Remind me when you see or hear otherwise, just by mentioning “Eloy.”

Steven’s – Communion

Will – Uninhibited

Stephanie Dodoo – Spontaneous

Micah Barber – Yes

Jon – Feedback

Michelle – Community

Ian – Education

Evan – Kinder

J0e – Breathe

Tana – Calm

Richard – Patience

Gary – Balance

Stephanie – Patience

Peter – Present

I need to remember/collect others’





es st xmas 15.jpg

Consensus – Austin as a community, not just a political jurisdiction


(Community Matters) Civics once taught us to look for the intersection of interests and sensitivities of the minority in crafting public rules. It hurts my head and tears at my heart that we’ve become such a divided society where consensus has been replaced with a Ninja fighter, Samurai warrior, adrenaline-winning strategy – how to beat the other side, execute the win-loss strategy and make it hurt. Ha, I hear myself and acknowledge I have subscribed to that path in business and find it unhealthy in civics – hmm questioning whether always right in business but that’s another post.

The echo chamber we hear in national politics is alive, appears growing, in local politics, even Austin’s. Since so many of our friends and colleagues are from rather homogenous communities (industries, economics, educational attainment, geography), it’s too easy to confuse the echo chamber for a jurisdiction’s consensus. I hear dear friends proclaiming . . . but we’re the high tech/entrepreneurial city . . . not realizing that this moniker is not proudly shared by all Austinites – certainly not by many struggling under income inequality, rental pricing spikes, a slowing growth (or decline) in wages, gentrification and other worsening affordability. And, friends who resent any regulatory obstacles, any questioning of their entrepreneurial ambitions. . . Austin didn’t become the city you love without pushing the limits of regulation, ordinances allowed under Texas jurisdiction and public/private partnerships. If neighborhood and environmental activists hadn’t won SOS, there’d be a whole lot less green space. If government, the universities and businesses hadn’t collaborated and intervened to bring to town IBM, Tx Instruments, IC2, ATI, MCC & Sematech, and the various fabs, it’s doubtful we’d be the high tech hub you see today. Nor if artists and musicians (several who resent our, the high tech community’s arrogance, and who endure the spikes in prices we’ve brought) hadn’t built such a thriving arts and creative arts scene, it’s quesitonable whether we would be such an attractive resettlement location given the reputation of our state among young progressives where it not for a very progressive local government, green spaces, the thriving economy and the arts scene.. And, hey, yes, these other stakeholders are enjoying some of the fruits of the high tech/entrepreneurial world’s labor. Before we take such strong positions, shouldn’t we consider the other side – who are the least empowered in this argument and which decision might favorably impact their outcomes? Those most enthusiastically arguing the other side, what, how can we understand their perspective, is there something other than a win-loss here? What’s the win-win? The questions might or might not yield different answers, different positions, but what if in Austin we strived for consensus over an up or down, win/loss. We must tend to our civic culture as it were a delicate, precious living creature – it is.

[edit: a friend pointed out the inconsistency of framing our state as neaderthal-headed in an essay about civility]

Shrinking American Middle Class

(Community Matters) I’d forgotten this NYTimes study: during the last 8 years rise in lower income, shrinking middle & upper – percentage of households in high income have declined while those in low income has risen. The middle class has been declining since the late 70s but since 2009, so has been the number of Americans in upper income. Younger are doing worse, education even more important, race matters.

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 3.40.36 AM

I learned from a friend who does business globally (more overseas than here), there’s two ways to think about this.

While millions of Americans have slipped from the middle class into low income, hundreds of millions of Asians have risen from absolute poverty to middle income. There are a lot of super rich who consider their economic constituency global rather than domestic.

The American middle class is shrinking And, there are a lot more Americans living well today than ever before. Nevertheless, there are more on the top side and more on the bottom side of income/earnings in America, fewer in the middle (in the 60s, 61%, today only 50%), according to Pew. 

“The share of middle-income adults who are ages 65 and older doubled from 9 percent in 1971 to 18 percent in 2015,” the Pew study finds. 

study by New York Times which is more illuminating of the last decade:

“The Mad Gardener’s Song,” by Lewis Carroll

mad gardner Vasquez on behance

(Community Matters) how could I not post Steven Robert Tomlinson’s favorite poem as a kid

The Mad Gardener’s Song

by Lewis Carroll


He thought he saw an Elephant,
That practised on a fife:
He looked again, and found it was
A letter from his wife.
‘At length I realise,’ he said,
‘The bitterness of Life!’

He thought he saw a Buffalo
Upon the chimney-piece:
He looked again, and found it was
His Sister’s Husband’s Niece.
‘Unless you leave this house,’ he said,
‘I’ll send for the Police!’

He thought he saw a Rattlesnake
That questioned him in Greek:
He looked again, and found it was
The Middle of Next Week.
‘The only thing I regret,’ he said,
‘Is that it cannot speak!’

He thought he saw a Banker’s Clerk
Descending from the bus:
He looked again, and found it was
A Hippopotamus:
‘If this should stay to dine,’ he said,
‘There won’t be much for us!’

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In Honor of Mrs. Rosa Parks

ROSA_PARKSreprint: (Washington, D.C., Sunday, Oct 30, 2005)

Standing in line among so many proud Black women, proud Black men, proud men and women of every color…

After reading on Friday that Mrs. Rosa Parks would lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, I booked a ticket for Saturday.  On Sunday, I was in line to honor this woman who by taking a seat taught us how to stand.

Eventually there were tens of thousands in the line.  But, by noon there were only 31.  I was number 29.  The doors to the Capitol finally opened at 8:40pm.

It wasn’t easy finding the line on the Capitol grounds Sunday morning.  Only a non-Black person from a city as white as Austin would assume that two Black women standing near the Washington, D.C. Botanical Gardens were forming the line for Mrs. Parks.  Me–I’m guilty.  And, only after reflecting on this did I realize why Ruby from the Detroit Free Press hadn’t thought to ask these women if they were the line.  I introduced them.  Ruby interview them, especially Ms. Joyce Cox who grew up a bike ride away from the Capitol and told me her story of riding her bike on the grounds as Queen Elizabeth’s motorcade drove by.

Eventually, Ruby found the line and called, telling me it was a few hundred yards away, near Third Street.  When I arrived (11:30), 28 others had gathered.  Once no. 30 and no. 31 arrived, I walked up and down the line talking to each person.  It will not surprise my friends that I have lots of notes on index cards.   

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Eloy Vela Sepulveda (1935 – 2015)

eloy gloria dance(Community Matters) Dad (80yo) passed away on October 15, 2015 at his ranch in Sealy, Texas surrounded by family after battling kidney disease and cancer. Dad always reminded us, he lived a longer & richer life than he ever expected or deserved. We dispute that it wasn’t deserved.

One of 15 children born to Beatrice Vela Sepulveda of Allende, Coahuila, Mexico and Alfredo Sepulveda of Seguin, Texas, Eloy was born in Aqua Dulce, Texas on May 19, 1935. Eloy spoke Spanish until entering the first grade in Houston. He left high school to join the Army (35th Infantry, 769th Medical Detachment). After four years of service, Eloy met Gloria Gomez at a dance in Houston. He and his best friend married the two women they met that night. Until his death, both couples remained happily married.

Eloy joined Stern Empire Dental Laboratories in 1958 at an entry level, working his way up to President of (then) the world’s largest dental laboratory, becoming Executive Vice President of a public, acquiring healthcare conglomerate – until he retired for his third time at the age of 70. A self-taught man, Eloy read voraciously and mentored friends, employees, his children, nieces, nephews and 14 godchildren. Eloy said, “godchildren are a stepping stone to Heaven.”

Eloy & Gloria owned property in Sealy, Texas – affectionately known as “the ranch” or “the farm” – where they retired in 2005. Over the 44 years, they hosted family, schools, churches & friends, 2 to 400 at a time. Most of Eloy’s 60+ nieces, nephews, and godchildren grew up spending memorable weekends at the ranch camping, fishing, riding motorcycles, tractors, golf carts, horses and the dreaded Shetland ponies.

Eloy is survived by his wife of 55 years, Gloria Gomez Sepulveda and their children: Eugene & husband Steven Tomlinson; Bridget Marie Lewis and husband Eric; and Eli Ronald and wife Luci. Eloy was especially proud of his three grandchildren: Shaun David Holifield, Eli Joseph Sepulveda and Paulina Q. Sepulveda. Surviving siblings include Gilda Cuevas and husband Santos, Roy and wife Lorraine, Ramiro, and Alex and wife Minerva – as well as Fred Alvarado, Vera Sepulveda, Karl Thomas & Joe Palomares. Eloy considered Gloria’s siblings his own and survivors include Lily Martinez, Lula de la Isla and husband, Javier; and Yolanda Gonzales and husband Robert – Sarah Ann Chavez a niece like a sister. Godchildren: Benjamin Gonzales, Brian Gonzales, Diane de la Isla, Sylvia Martinez, Norma Jean Mckeown, Joel Palomares, Roland Alvarez, Zachary Gonzales, Jaime Sepulveda, Jennifer Gurka, Julie Zimmerer and Alma Zimmerer Montelongo (13 & 14?). Plans are underway for a memorial service and celebration of Eloy’s life at his ranch on Saturday, October 31. Information at

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Culture & Employee Engagement Issues No. 1 Company Challenge

deloitte culture engagement(Community Matters) Culture is how you manage a company of over 500 or 1,000 employees. Mission is the north star.

Deloitte’s 2015 Global Human Capital Trends: Culture & Employee Engagement Issues No. 1 Company Challenge.

In an era of heightened corporate transparency, greater workforce mobility, and severe skills shortages, culture, engagement, and retention have emerged as top issues for business leaders. These issues are not simply an HR problem.  

Culture and engagement is the most important issue companies face around the world. 87 percent of organizations cite culture and engagement as one of their top challenges, and 50 percent call the problem “very important.

Organizations that create a culture defined by meaningful work, deep employee engagement, job and organizational fit, and strong leadership are outperforming their peers and will likely beat their competition in attracting top talent.

Given the harsh spotlight of this new transparency, an organization’s culture can become a key competitive advantage—or its Achilles’ heel.

Culture and engagement are now business issues, not just topics for HR to debate.

Employees are now like customers; companies have to consider them volunteers, not just workers (ha! My all carrot, no stick story might finally resonate!)

Leaders lack an understanding of andmodels for culture:

Today’s workers have a new focus on purpose, mission, and work-life integration

Research shows that a variety of complex factors contribute to strong employee engagement, including job design, management, work environment, development, and leadership. Today, more than twice as many employees are motivated by work passion than career ambition (12 percent vs. 5 percent), indicating a need for leadership to focus on making the work environment compelling and enjoyable for everyone.

While most leaders are measured on the basis of business results, organizations must begin holding leaders accountable for building a strong and enduring culture, listening to feedback, and engaging and retaining their teams.

Citing a specific example, noted a five-year transformation program, a key component of which was to build a sustainable, values-driven culture across the organization. (hmm, I keep focusing on mission driven cultures and forget to note values. I think I take that portion too much for granted)

Where companies can start:

  • Engagement starts at the top

  • Measure in real time

  • Make work meaningful

  • Listen to the Millennials

  • Simplify the work environment

Full report here

Entrepreneurs Foundation’s Culturati Summit January 31, 2016 – February 1, 2016. Underwriter: Deloitte

Baby Sonya

(Community Matters) love this . . .


sonya baby