Bicycle Commute Challenge II

My first bicycle was a Dutch one-speed that served me from the first grade all the way through high school.  I was reminded of that bike a few years ago while reading my grandmother’s diary from the year she lived with us when I was a child in the Netherlands.  Her diary entry just recounted my birthday and noted that I was really excited about the new bike I received from my parents.  The story reminded me of that day and all that the bike represented.

I know my memory is less reliable than I would like it to be, but my recollection of that first bike is that it gave me freedom to explore places that were previously unknown.  I could range as far as a series of old windmills on the edge of town where my friends and I would climb up several stories to survey the countryside.  I also remember a particularly nasty crash on that bike that left several layers of my skin on some neighborhood pavement.  The bike was a little big for me when I received it on my seventh birthday and that allowed me to grow into it as the years passed.

The bike came with us when we moved to Ashland in the 1960s.  I rode it all over town and even took illicit trips out to Emigrant Reservoir, several miles from my home.  I don’t think my parents ever knew just how much freedom the bike afforded me; or maybe they realized that kids need to explore, despite the dangers associated with childhood judgment.  I cleverly managed to get into trouble on my bicycle by riding it in ways and places that its manufacturers never envisioned.  I was stopped once while riding at night by an angry motorist who complained that I didn’t have a light.  I proudly showed him my generator and light without disclosing that I had forgotten to engage it.

The bike’s final years in Bend are a sad story of betrayal by a callow youth who sold his once prized possession for $5 after getting a driver’s license.  I won’t go into all the new freedoms made possible by driving a car, except to say that my range of both approved and indiscreet activities expanded considerably.

Obviously, I have become sentimental in my old age.  The freedoms achieved by biking today are different than those I gained as a child.  There is a kind of silence you sometimes notice when riding a bike that you can never experience in a car.  Bicycles, if you ride them enough, can free you from unwanted pounds and help you enjoy a healthier dotage.

I’ve neglected my bike in recent months; so I’m looking forward to this year’s Bicycle Commute Challenge.  I will be out of town for a week or so in the middle of September, but my goal is to ride every day I’m in Albany.  I hope others will find some inspiration in memories of their old bikes and hop on their new ones as members of the City of Albany team.

Making a Difference

I have really appreciated the kind comments I’ve received lately about this blog and my efforts to communicate with employees and others who may be interested in the city’s management.  I know after writing a column or blog almost every week for the past decade or so, I probably repeat myself on occasion and that I focus on a limited number of themes.  It’s good to know there is still some interest in these themes and that I write to a patient, tolerant audience.

This morning, I received a copy of the following e-mail message from David Shaw, our Human Resources Director:  “Just an FYI.  This question was posted on an HR listserv that I receive.  I am not aware if we have thought about this issue arising in Albany.”

“Our community is beginning to experience H1N1 outbreaks among the homeless population.  The local shelter has approached the City about stepping in to provide housing while individuals are bed ridden as the shelter does not have the facilities to isolate individuals during illness.  Are there other communities facing this and, if so, is the City stepping in or are the local non-profit organizations providing assistance?”

David could have easily read this posting and ignored it.  Instead, he chose to pass it along to people who might be able to do something productive.  Marilyn Smith received the message and sent it on to Frank Moore at Linn County Public Health.  Frank responded with the following message:

“Our planning includes “vulnerable populations”, however most if not all of our providers are required (by ORS, Administrative Rule and/or contract) to have alternative shelter plans in place in the case of an “event”. We do not have anything that I’m aware of that addresses the homeless population or any influence with the shelters to assure that they have anticipated such a need. We can work with them to attempt to obtain/support their planning for “shelter in place” or other alternatives.

This is a valid concern and we should address it in our planning.


Let’s discuss.


Frank Moore”

This brief exchange of messages illustrates a number of important points.  I think it shows that people like David, Marilyn, and Frank believe their actions can make a difference in helping to make other people’s lives better.  Instead of ignoring the issue, each person in the chain recognized its importance and took some action to look into it.  I know Marilyn and Frank will follow up and take responsibility for making sure that Albany and Linn County at least have a plan for dealing with a swine flu outbreak in our homeless shelters.

David’s message also shows how powerful our communication tools have become in a relatively short time.  Yesterday, it appears that the folks most responsible for dealing with a swine flu epidemic in Albany weren’t really thinking about what to do to stop the spread of swine flu among homeless people.  Less than an hour after David sent his message, the issue is being addressed by the Linn County Public Health Director.

A few months ago, Diana Eilers in my office, came to me to ask about our annual employee picnic.  I told her we probably shouldn’t be spending City money for a social event this year; so I assumed the picnic would be canceled.  Someone suggested we could still do the picnic as a potluck, and, thanks to some great work by Diana, our Employee Relations Committee, our local AFSCME Union, and the Albany Police Benevolent Association, yesterday we enjoyed our most successful picnic since I’ve been here.  More than 200 people showed up, and everyone I saw seemed to be having a good time.

Someone once advised me to act on the warm impulses of the heart, and I wish I could say that I always do.  The examples I’ve cited today show that we can make a difference and achieve important results when we take advantage of opportunities to be of service.


Scott Rolen from our Human Resources Department stopped by my office yesterday to talk about our leadership training program and ask if I would be willing to conduct a class.  We talked about some ideas for the subject of the class before settling on a discussion of integrity.  Scott was then subjected to an unsolicited sermon on the topic.

I guess I believe it is a prerogative of age to lecture younger people regardless of whether they need or desire lecturing.  This belief may explain why so many older people spend a significant amount of time talking to themselves.

Self-proclaimed integrity is a little like self-proclaimed humility in my opinion.  If you’ve got it, it should be obvious.  The most important aspect of integrity is doing what you say you will do.  My wife will attest that I have yet to achieve this goal, although I hope she would acknowledge that, thanks to her training, I’ve made some progress over the past 37 years.

Honesty, of course, is another critical component of integrity that is not as easily achieved as we might wish.  I took the following story off an Internet news site, and it should come as no surprise to most of us:

According to World Net Daily news:
A new survey shows the average person tells four lies a day, or 1,460 a year for a total of 88,000 by the age of 60, and the most common is: “I’m fine.”
Others on the list include:
“Nice to see you”
“Sorry I missed your call”
“I’m stuck in traffic”
“Our server was down”
“The train was delayed”
“The check’s in the mail”
“I’ll call you back in a minute”
“This tastes delicious”
and, sadly, “Of course I love you.”

Ethicists have long debated what constitutes acceptable variations from the truth, such as protecting another as opposed to one’s self; and it’s an issue I won’t attempt to settle in a short blog.  I think most of us know that people trust us based on our reliability.  Every time we are unreliable our integrity suffers.

We build integrity by standing for something. Values and virtues that emphasize the welfare of those around us are, to me, the foundation of personal integrity.  Am I willing to sacrifice my own interests to serve, to protect, or to understand someone else?  If we can answer that question affirmatively for a large number of people, I think we are at least trying to live with integrity.

Notions of honor and virtue have changed over the course of my lifetime and will surely continue to evolve in the future.  Reliability, honesty, and selflessness have not changed; and I hope they will remain as important to future generations as they are to us today.