The Politics of Dancing

We got audited at the city last week.  Well, the project did.  Out of nowhere, though we knew it would happen sometime before the project closed.  I felt incredibly anxious.  I mean, what if I missed some of the payroll issues?  Why didn’t I implement a subcontractor tracking system to know when they’d be onsite?  Why didn’t my predecessors?  Where is that CFDA number anyway?! Aaugh!

It got me thinking.  We try so hard to always do the right thing and make no mistakes.  Yet we do make mistakes.  Sometimes they happen very publicly, in fact.  All we can do is put in our best good faith effort and stay positive, trusting we’ve done enough.  I figured I could do no more, so I surrendered the whole mess to God.  I cooperated with the auditor. I withheld nothing, I gave honest appraisals of myself and the circumstances.  My boss did the same.

But…we passed!  The auditor had no findings.  In the common vernacular, it’s the equivalent of “no news is good news”. The good report still makes me a little giddy.  I am thankful the original grant administrator set up the files so well, and the interim gal before me took care of a few missing items from the monitoring visit. They put their time and expertise in, too. As for me,  I plan to finish well. This put a little pep in my step, I must say.  Hence the the song.

I wanted to dance on the spot – just a teensy jig – but it seemed politically incorrect. Or maybe just goofy. Plus I don’t know any jigs, anyway. God came through.  Hallelujah!  I’m dancing now.

 

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Hammer Time

Here’s a tuneful thought.

However, I know you were thinking this.  Nuh uh.

Or perhaps this…

My job, for all intents and purposes, involves enforcing federal regulations and calling people on it when they don’t follow the rules.

I’m not keen on this.  I don’t like being the bad guy. But there it is. I’m making friends all over the place.  My fellow project workers love me.  Not!

But this is the crux, the meat if you will, of my job.  We gotta follow the CDBG guidelines.  We gotta post wage rates in the job trailer.  We gotta make sure each worker gets paid the highest wage possible.  We can’t release the final 5% of federal funding until the job is totally, completely, every-i-dotted, every-t-crossed completed.  Them’s the breaks.

Hammers have a negative reputation.  They’ve become a euphemism for force and destruction.  The appearance of a hammer usually means something is about to break. I’ve used hammers to break up ceramic and glass tile for mosaic projects.  Nothing works better.  We used hammers to break up old roofing. Yet hammers also foster creative things.  Hammers help build houses.  Hammers jam nails into wood, helping two pieces to join together to create something new.  Hammers enhance building.  That’s a good thing.

At times I’ve come up against God’s word and it’s broken me into pieces, much like a hammer does to brittle things.  It’s designed that way, a “double-edged sword”, cutting as close as marrow and bone.  Transformation happens under the hammer.  Old mindsets and expectations bite the dust, sometimes painfully. But the Lord in His infinite goodness puts me back together with the nails of His lovingkindness. He doesn’t leave me in pieces but fashions something new for His glory.

I strive to be a “velvet hammer” of sorts at this job.  I need to uphold the regulations entrusted to me but in a kind way.  I’ve already made some mistakes myself on this project.  I want to give others grace for theirs, even as we clear up the debris together.

The LORD will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore.
 – Isaiah 2:4

 

 

 

 

 

Newsy Tuesday

Lovely welcoming gift?

Bizarre welcoming gift?

I started my new job at the city yesterday.  Yay, verily, I did.

I like it.  I like my new boss.  I like my huge cubicle.  To make the gray rectangle homey, a box of rolled-up drawings stands on one corner of my desk.  I share the space with the comb binding machine, circa 1960. No, it’s not electric.  Muscles required. Additionally, I gained a lovely bottom drawerful of Taco Bell sauce, salt packets, sporks and sundry savory condiments.  Perhaps rashly, I dumped it all into the trash. My cube still smells like French vanilla creamer. Not a bad aroma, kinda like an edible air freshener. The shriveled tangerines, front and center(above), added a pop of unexpected color.  I did wonder if it was some sort of hazing ritual, in lieu of shrunken heads.  What does it mean?!

I’ve gotten the CDBG notebooks and files mostly sorted.  A boatload of subcontractor payroll reviews  loom before me.  I’m slowly meeting my coworkers.  Folks, I’m on the payroll. I’ve got keys to the kingdom and (allegedly) my own parking spot out back. Let’s go!

I ran 5 miles this morning.  I wasn’t into it, but I am learning not to over-think the whole process.  It seems to help.  The weather was warmish, in the high 40s, and dry.  The lilacs bloom now, blowing their scent all around me.  The lilies-of-the-valley add their fragrance.  It’s too wonderful outside to spent much time inside.  Rex agrees.  He found his way downstairs from his napping eerie, nosed open the screen door and plopped on the driveway.  Bliss!

I spoke to a friend today who told me her house sold within 50 hours.  God is moving them on.  They’re moving out of state. Exciting times.  Tis the season, methinks.

I’m excited to see what this phase of life has to offer.  Running is fun again.  Springtime beckons outdoors, celebrating fresh starts.  So far, in my adult life I’ve worked for private companies, nonprofits and churches, on a contract and now for the government.  I’m ready for new beginnings.  The best is yet to come.

This is what the Lord says—
    he who made a way through the sea,
    a path through the mighty waters,
 who drew out the chariots and horses,
    the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
    extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
 “Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.” – Isaiah 43:16-19

 

 

 

Bend in the Road

The view keeps changing.  Photo by travellersphotoblog.blogspot.com

The view keeps changing. Photo by travelersphotoblog.blogspot.com

This morning, I turned in my very last timesheet for the shelter project.  As of this week, I am done being the CDBG Grant Compliance Coordinator.

I’m a little sad.  I’ve grown  attached to these crazy people, putting up a building during the rainiest season of the year.  I’ve learned so many new words (glacial spall!). I gained a greater appreciation for the way good communication facilitates cooperation. My boss treated me well and I learned a lot from her. Insert moment of silence here.

Okay.

A couple of weeks ago, I found out the city employee who was managing the project got a new job. Her last day was April 8.  Due to some severe budget cuts, nobody else was able to pick the project up.  My boss at the shelter put forward my name to finish it, like she has for the entire project.  She thinks I’m the bee’s knees.  Which I am.  If bees had knees.

Well, the big supervisor at the city listened.  He asked me in person if I’d like it.  I told him I have no background in contracts like the other gal had.  I did have to think about, though I must confess I’m always highly flattered to be offered any job.  Yes, I’m *that* kind of girl. I dropped off my updated resume. We emailed back and forth about responsibilities and salary.  Starting Monday, I’m the one who will be directing the shelter project closeout procedures.  I am a city employee now, for the short-term. I got (nearly) a 1% raise, too. Woot!

Gulp.  I really, really, really don’t want to screw this up.

I’ve got a few key weapons in my arsenal.  I have the 4″ manual handy.  I can contact the project manager at COMMERCE any time with questions or concerns.  I get my own computer and all the old e-files I might need to revisit. I will have access to all the city’s notebooks containing subcontractor information as well as the original plans and specifications.  Kinda like an old IDC project, I guess, but slightly less paperwork.  Instead of  the standard 4,000 drawings on those building projects, I think we’re around 100.

I will work one full-time day a week.  I probably will pick up a few other duties like archiving old projects.  Nobody has done that in a long time, either.  Not my favorite thing to do but I can hang for one day per week.  Who knows what will happen?  I can see God’s timing in all of it.  His favor opened doors for me.

I would really like my life to be more linear. I want explanation and purpose front and center.  I’d like to see what’s coming up next, straight to the horizon.  But life doesn’t happen that way, at least not for me.  It opens up before me like a road.  Some of it is familiar and well-traveled.  Some of it I’ve never seen before, like this portion in front of me now.  I’m at another juncture, and I’m ready to go around the bend, in a good way.

As of this morning, this blog has 200 subscribers.  Thank you, thank you, readers!  Some of you have been with me from the very beginning in October 2011, when I had no idea what I was doing.  Not that I necessarily do *now*…but I appreciate you so much. You honor me with your time.  Your support means so much to me. Blessings to you all.

Missing Restitution

It's not just about the Benjamins.

It’s not just about the Benjamins.

I’m spending this sunny Thursday afternoon in late summer reading up on my Davis-Bacon Labor Standards.  What?!  You’re not?  So far, I’ve reinforced a lot of what I knew already.  This particular manual is aimed at contractors, specifically prime or general contractors.  I am not one, but it was handed out in the Seattle training I attended back in July.  I’m keeping it.  Don’t try to dissuade me.

Here’s your free Davis-Bacon lesson.  Are you ready?  During the construction process, the general contractor employs several subcontractors.  These subs submit their payroll to the general contractor, who submits all the payrolls to the grantee, who then passes them along to the federal government to secure payment, or “drawdown”.  Sometimes, due to  misclassifying employees or simply not having a classification listed for the type of work a laborer is doing, a person can be paid the incorrect amount.  The payroll must be corrected.  Have no fear!  There’s a whole section on it, in this manual and the CDBG manual.  Huzzah!

The problem is usually underpayment.  Some poor schlub has been making significantly less than he/she is supposed to.  Let’s say Johnny-Susie (fictional person) has been paid $28/hr pouring concrete slab, when in reality J.S. should have been making $40/hr.  Poor thing should have 1) checked the online prevailing wage rates, and 2) raised a stink.  But let’s say J.S. is a quiet-living sort and doesn’t know the options available to them. The contract administrator – the government official assigned to the project – raises a red flag.  She calls the contractor to initiate a solution.

“Hey, ABC Contractor, Johnny-Susie McKenna is getting paid $12 less than they should.  Fix it, pronto!  You have 30 days.”

“Yes, ma’am!” ABC Contractor-man says.

The $12 per hour (known in federal-speak as the “adjustment rate”) gets multiplied by the hours J.S. worked, and a total gross amount due to Johnny-Sue is calculated.  This is known as restitution.

res·ti·tu·tion
noun
  1. the restoration of something lost or stolen to its proper owner.
    “seeking the restitution of land taken from blacks under apartheid”
  2. recompense for injury or loss.
    “he was ordered to pay $6,000 in restitution”

    But what if, by the time the discrepancy appears, J.S. is long gone?  Maybe they  moved on to another job in a different state, or maybe they returned to their home planet.  The general contractor makes a list of names, provided Johnny-Sue’s missing coworkers suffered similarly, Social Security numbers, last known addresses and amounts due.  If unable to locate them by the project’s end, the money, their money, is placed in a deposit or escrow account.  It’s equal to the total gross amount of restitution.

    Now it’s the contract administrator’s job to continue the job of attempting to locate Johnny-Sue and compatriots.  This goes on for three (3) years after the project is completed.  After that, if the former employee can’t be found, the money gets forwarded to HUD.

    I was blown away by the thoughtful gesture of holding the money in a separate account.  And for three years!  Holy toledo, that’s a long time.  The money waits for someone to claim it, that someone being its rightful owner. It’s just sitting there.  How many people claim their money? The act of restitution isn’t complete until the something lost gets back to the owner.  In this case, the second definition of “recompense for injury or loss” applies, too.

    While we usually think of restitution in monetary terms, I am reminded of what Christ did for us. We once enjoyed unbroken fellowship with God.  Then, as humans, we went our own way, and decided to take care of ourselves.  Jesus provided the way for us to be restored back in fellowship with God.  Other ideas spring to mind.  I wonder. In addition to relationship with the Almighty, what else have we lost or been robbed of, that God longs to restore to us?  Our innocence? Freedom?  Peace? God holds all those for us, in a separate account of sorts, waiting for us to claim them.  I want it all back.  Pronto!

Wednesday Widget

Yesterday I attended a CDBG Home Conference in Seattle, which is why I didn’t get a chance to blog.  The grantee from the city attended with me.  We drove and drove and drove…traffic was atrocious.  It didn’t matter which way we tried.  We ramped up to the 5th floor of a parking garage.  We marched to the building and started peeling off our personal items for the security checkpoint.

“You’re looking for 909?  It’s across the street.”

Argh!

The room itself was at the end of a long, rabbit-tunnel like white hallway.  No markings.  Just an open door with people sitting at tables, listening to someone talk about a PowerPoint presentation.  Finally!

We learned all about getting a grant, bidding out a project, all the way up to managing payroll.   I also learned a new word from the presenter.

“You’re gonna want to get that figured out in the beginning of the project.  You don’t want major blunderage.”

I swear I saw George Washington (depicted on the flag in the room) roll his eyes.

Huzzah!  Good clean fun for everyone. Glad I had my iced coffee.  My cohort in crime and I did learn a few things.  It was worth going.

Seattle was beautiful yesterday.  The sun shone.  A light breeze blew.  The people smiled and laughed.  Some crazy folks ran downtown Seattle’s evil, evil hills. Amen.

IMG_20130717_073921_647

Moving on…If you can guess what this is (above) – only two people know, and they’re excluded – I will give you a sticker.  A sticker of my choosing.

You want a hint?  Okay, okay.  It’s not a vegetable or a mineral.

Does anyone care if Rachel Bilson’s neck tattoos are real?  Anyone?  Me neither.  And who is she, anyway?

Sorry about the disjointed thoughts today.  Call it a CDBG hangover.

What would George Washington say?

Under Construction

construction site

And now, back to your regularly scheduled program:  rain. Oh, and wind.  And just-barely-out-of-winter temps.  Sigh.

We had our first construction meeting for the new shelter yesterday.  Yay!  We met in the trailer.  That in itself should be some kind of milestone.  Do I get a hard hat for attending it? I’d never been in a site trailer before. It all seems official now.

Anyway, we all sat around mismatched chairs at a folding table. There were a lot of us for this first meeting.  Ten, to be exact.  The number of attendees will ebb and flow on the project, but there’s a core there of at least a half-dozen who will always need to come.

We still have some issues to resolve, but I learned some new words.  No, not those.  Ahem.  I’ll share them with you!  Firepipe. Catch basin.  Sanitary and storm sewer conflict. Stubbed out.  Pump trucks.  Infiltration system.  Groundwater (and there’s a lot of it!).  Nine-inch anchor wedge.  Use the swale!  Easement.  Rebar.  Dog-leg the wire. Retention pond.

To be honest, a few of these terms I’d heard before.  But not all in one discussion.  Several challenges have come up on the site already – and no actual excavation has begun yet.  So, that’s where they’re starting first.

It appears that I will be attending meetings until the CDBG funding runs out. It should fall significantly before the end of the project, so October or November, I’m guessing.  I will also need to be on hand for audits, to guide and massage and keep things running smoothly.  “More coffee, sir?  No?  How about a pastry?”  Probably not quite so 1950s-era secretary, but you get the idea.  Also, retainage is part of closeout. The general contractor won’t get the final pay out until the project is 100% finished, everything accounted for. Look it up!

This project is complicated.  We have state funding and federal funding.  We have evergreen standards we must meet in order to pass state inspections.  We have to pass federal audits, well, at least one.  Every time we jump through one hoop, another magically appears.  It can make you crazy.

I am praying.  We need favor, wisdom, understanding, discernment, patience, grace, synergy…It’s a long list.  In a way, we are all under construction.  We’re not who we will be yet.  Several entities and personalities have to interact and intersect at this juncture.  We will rub along together for the project’s duration, making new connections and strengthening old ones.

But for now, I’m excited to be a part of something bigger than myself.  The completion of the new shelter and the low-rent apartments will help folks get back on their feet, reclaim a little dignity.  It will be a brand new building.  They won’t get flooded out at the new property.  It feels really good.