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Archive for the month “January, 2012”

“If i were king…”

The year was 1981 or 1982 and i had just finished a racquetball game with then president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO president Dave Roe. We were sitting in the steam room talking about organized labor and a comment was made about worker’s compensation and the sorry state it was in. I asked him one of my favorite lines and it went something like this: “if you could rebuild it from the ground up, would it look like it does today?”

Funny, that question always brings a smile to their face. Seems very little that evolves over time ever ends up looking like we think it should. Band-aids atop broken arms seldom results in well healed fractures.

Consequently, it was no surprise yesterday when i stopped for coffee (geez Starbucks is over priced, too bad we don’t have a community living room eh?) with an old friend who is like minded and he twisted the question just a touch to me. In fact, he started the conversation with tag line you see in the header: “If i were king, i would…” It was the exact variation i love to use in looking at what is and wondering what could be done to make it better.

What was so interesting/challenging is most of the things we talked about is doable. Let’s be blunt; Sun City is a great place to live, but i have to believe there are things almost anyone living here would love to do (or have done) to tweak it to be even better. It’s the human nature for some of us, to want to tinker and improve on what is in front of us.

I suppose some of you are quite contented with the status quo; nothing wrong with that by the way. What was the old line from Sly and the Family Stone? Different strokes for different folks. Just some of us are wired differently and feel a sense of accomplishment or purpose when we can make something work better than it has in the past: Akin to the old car collector who can take that rusted out 27 Ford and make it sparkle and purr like a kitten.

The good news is is Sun City is more like a really great 57 Chevy that just needs its engine tuned. Over the years boards have “fixed” problems by simply adding to the documents, changing direction or ignoring the intent and sometimes the content. Nothing evil or sinister, just internal combustion and inertia working over time.

Seems only fitting to end this metaphor filled blog with yet another (or is it a simile?). We know in Sun City, chiropractors are very busy. Seems almost everyone i bump into has been or is going in for another realignment. You know, that slight adjustment to get their old spine straightened out. So we stay in everyone’s comfort zone, let’s look at this like a trip to good old doctor Friendly.

I’m proposing we start now laying out suggestions to improve Sun City. Nothing too dramatic, we have enough of that going on already. I’m talking just common sense approaches to tweaking either the RCSC or other organizations that will make them more user friendly. Or if you really are daring, why not get out the robe, scepter and crown and see how it feels to be king for a day. Fun.

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One of the keys to our future…

I’ve written volumes on the history of Sun City and always attempt to get readers to appreciate that the past can be a blueprint to our future. I know that sometimes is an over simplification, but ignoring what has worked for others is a fools game, at least in my humble opinion.

There is no more concise roadmap to why Sun City exploded under John Meeker’s direction from 1965 through 1978 than to look at his aggressive Play and Stay package. It was brilliant and anyone thinking that was then and this is now only need look around the country at new age restricted developments. It’s still the technique of choice for selling a lifestyle directed at seniors.

The reason it works is there has always been (and in all likelihood always will be) a stigma about moving to a location filled with “old people.” It was the greatest challenge for the Webb Corporation back in the 60’s and remains so yet today. The beauty of the program is in the simplicity of it. Once people visit an age restricted community they often find it to be a great way to age.

Enough of the past,  this blog is about Sun City’s future. I have suggested the RCSC should look at allocating up to a million dollars from the Preservation Improvement Fees (PIF) and buy properties for short-term rentals. There are rentals available in Sun City but most are looking for 4 to 6 month agreements or long-term leases. For this to work, we need properties that are available for 3, 4 or 7 day bookings.

I’ve talked to Sun City residents who think this is a bad idea; that PIF shouldn’t be used in that manner. We can and will debate its merits in the years to come because in reality the funding couldn’t happen until the board acted on it in a coming budgetary year. I wouldn’t want to just jump into it without some close scrutiny and the program built in a way that insures it has the best chance for success.

With that said, we have other options in the short-term. We are in the process of building a website with the express purpose of “marketing” Sun City. It would seem to me to be a no brainer to include a Play and Stay page with every available rental in the community listed. We would simply get the information on available rental properties from owners and post up a picture and the contact information. As properties rented, we would take the info down.

It does a couple of things: We become and instant resource for those looking at Sun City and we provide a value added service to those who have purchased a home here but don’t live here yet. It is a wonderful opportunity to deal with some of the angst created by decisions made in the recent past and directed towards owners and buyers who don’t fit the exact parameters established by boards.

Let me be more succinct: There are angry folks who have purchased properties in Sun City but live within 75 miles of the community and cannot use the facilities unless they buy a punch card. We have owners living in Sun City who have been denied cards even though owning multiple properties because of the way they were deeded or that it was not their primary residence. We know some of the changes in card allocation back in 2008 angered a number of residents and coupled with the situations above resulted in residents and owners with a bad taste in their mouth regarding Sun City. Hardly the way to create a stronger sense of community.

My point here is as we look to the future we need be willing to “fix” some of the problems that have come from trying to address concerns by previous boards. It’s not unusual to see overkill to solve a problem, but all too often it results in other issues popping up. I’ve been told the decisions weren’t about trying to squeeze a couple of extra dollars from people based on odd situations so if that is the case, looking openly at these challenges to creating a stronger sense of community shouldn’t be a problem.

I know some cringe at the idea of rental properties in Sun City; in my opinion, that is short-sighted. If we build this program right (Play and Stay), rentals will be the backbone of marketing Sun City and helping re-establish higher property values and selling properties in far greater numbers (which ultimately drives the PIF). We need to start looking at absentee owners in a more fair and favorable light.

So much of life is circular. There are always connections and ties that bind if we are just willing to look at and for them. This is the classic example: Taking what Meeker did then and being able to refit it to today’s lifestyles now just makes perfect sense.

Hope…continued

In the Independent newspaper dated January 18, President Coleman of the RCSC had an article printed entitled “New year brings hope.” It was spot on. The essence was simple; Sun City is a great place to live because there are so many ways to grow as a person. Beyond the clubs and the athletic options, we also have an infrastructure based on volunteerism. Giving back is just as important (maybe even more so) compared to what we take away from this carefree way of life.

Just for the heck of it, let’s dig a little deeper, and drag this discussion into the open air where we can consider the “bigger picture.” I’ve long argued Sun City is a “sum total of its parts.” There is no one thing that makes Sun City great, it’s everything that lends to the joy of living here. The challenge is we all tend to focus on what we see and know. If we just look around, we quickly come to understand there is a myriad of things going on that we don’t see.

Let me give you some examples just how far-reaching Sun City gets: Do you know how many music type clubs there are in Sun City? How many card clubs. Where you can volunteer to drive a golf car transporting visitors or help out raising money for animals at your local thrift store? Have you been in all 7 rec centers or had a bite to eat in the 5 golf snack shops? Did you know there is a food shelf you can volunteer at just outside Sun City? Bocce anyone? How about a spin around the dance floor?

You get the picture, the list is near on endless for ways for Sun City residents to spend their time. With that said, life outside the walls is impacting the way we live inside the walls. More people working later in life, less free time, and in many cases, less disposable income. The pressures of what is happening societally is causing some rupture within Sun City. The oddity is, those same pressures make Sun City even more appealing than it already is.

So, as i see it, we have a bit of a conundrum. We can ignore what is happening or we can face it straight on and find ways to make it work for us. I always would opt for the latter. Problems never just go away, unless one doesn’t give a rat’s behind about the outcomes. Our ability to help shape the future is directly related to the choices we make; and i don’t just mean those elected to positions that have some authority attached to them.

In my humble opinion, the Rec Centers of Sun City is at the crossroads regarding the future. Vance’s column hit the nail on the head…this is “our community” and we are the ones that can make it a better place to live. There is no single organization in Sun City than the RSCS that can help insure we remain a great place to live, help establish a stronger sense of community. By working together we can bring about changes that will solidify our future for decades to come. The RCSC is in a great position to be the glue that holds it all together.

While a minority of others feel they can sue Sun City to a better place, most of us know better. Working with one another is far better than working against the common good. I see nothing but hope for this community. For 51 years we have succeeded because people love living here and are willing to give back. Like Vance, i would encourage you to find a way to fit into the greater good of Sun City’s awesome lifestyle. Lend a hand, be a friend and together we will have nothing but hope and successes for years to come.

Mr. Optimism…

As a kid i loved to watch “professional” wrestling. The theatrics of it all were what intrigued me; the story lines and the promotion of characters was over the top and of course you had to love how emotionally attached some of the fans came to buying into the good versus evil schtick. That fascination followed me late into life when just a few years back someone told me it was all fake. I was devastated. Stop laughing…i knew all along, i’m just a sucker for anything well done and some of these men and women had the capacity to entertain in a wholly different way.

Coming from the midwest, one of my favorite wrestling names and accompanying character developments was for the now deceased Curt Henning. His father Larry was a bigger than life main attraction bad guy in the Verne Gagne hey days of the AWA (American Wrestling Alliance). His son Curt was cut from a different mold; smaller in stature, much quicker and a pretty good athlete. When he jumped ship and went to Vince McMahon’s WWE, he developed a new persona and became “Mr. Perfect.” His promo video’s were awesome; they showed him participating in a half a dozen different snippets of sports doing them all to perfection. Pure camp.

So why this interlude from the good old days? It’s hardly because i’m trying to pass myself off as Mr. Perfect, my wife would be the first to shoot that title down (as well she should). Nope, hardly anything so grandiose, though you may have noticed the header on this blog…Mr. Optimism. Since i sobered up way back when, i have come to believe we all have the capacity to be able to accomplish just about anything we set our minds to.

Let me be clear, the use of we above was intentional. A single person can make a difference in their own life, but impacting bigger picture changes in a collective setting takes more than one person to do so. One of the reasons i fell in love with Sun City was because of that collectivism that exists here. The more we do, the better Sun City survives. Therein lies the problem we have faced in the past 5 years. Fewer people have been expected to do more and the outcomes become less broad. From that comes a more narrow focus.

That doesn’t make anyone bad or evil. In fact, i would argue human nature tends to focus inward or at least in the areas we excel or participate in. Yesterday at the member exchange, we had a bigger turnout than normal. No idea why but it was good to see; unfortunately it was well below what it should be. I won’t speak for the board, but i think to a director, we all understand the need to grow the circle.

Now to the larger point of this all: I wasn’t sure what to expect at the following work session. I won’t go into details, but there was some angst starting out. Once getting by that, we started taking care of business and began looking for common ground and ways to increase participation. I found it both interesting and challenging to work towards something that can and will make Sun City a better place to live. Don’t get me wrong, we have lots of work to do, but i don’t see a single board member who doesn’t understand the need to get more residents involved in the process of governance. Suffice to say, i left the meeting totally optimistic about the next three years.

Of late we have had more than our share of crap from the poster who loves to ruin and rain on every thread. Too bad as that kind of negativity turns people off and drives them away. Most people want to be associated with winners, not losers and whiners (just more human nature coming out). I’m asking that each of you living here make that commitment to get more involved in the community. We have a lot to do, but it is the kind of work that is rewarding, can be quite fun and ultimately keeps Sun City the best retirement community/value in the country.

Just call me Mr. Optimism.

Member exchange…

Dateline January 16, 2012: It’s just an hour and a half before the start of my first member exchange meeting (beginning at 9 am) at the Lakeview Recreation Center social halls and i find myself a bit curious…will members show up? Will it be the usual cast of characters who follow Sun City’s governance? Are there others out there who have quit following or perhaps never did?

That is of interest to me because i ran on the premise we absolutely need to grow the circle of those involved by one hundred to two hundred percent. Seems not everyone feels that way, especially given at least one of the comments during the interview process. As someone pointed out in the past week, changing the culture of any organization is a real challenge. Like a recovering alcoholic, they need to want to change before they can actually begin the process of evolving to something better.

The funny thing is, the blueprints to becoming an even better place to live are right in front of them. John Meeker’s transformation of Sun City into one of the most dynamic communities in the country should be a class taught entitled Sun City 101. From 1965 through build out in 1978, his efforts to energize, mobilize and revitalize the community are legendary. The problem is, very few have taken the time or care enough to study and then incorporate his model.

The RCSC appears quite content to stay in the business as usual mode. Over the past 5 years there has been a flurry of issues that have aggravated residents and driven them further away. Rather than address that, we simply respond by saying we have great communication and really don’t need do anything more than we are doing. In my humble opinion we need to look at the results and perhaps think about doing it different and see if we don’t/can’t reach more people and bring them to the party.

There is a board work session following our member exchange. Apparently the board will have to try to deal with the fact i am doing this blog; seems they weren’t happy with my last post. Should be interesting, the only really bad part of this is i had to miss the third day of our lawn bowls tournament…guess that is the price you pay to get involved. Stay tuned, i may have the first ever double post in a days time.

Just what i expected…

Funny; i’ve been on the RCSC board for 12 days and it’s exactly what i expected. I feel like i’m trapped in a time warp from the old days stuck in organized labor. I could have written the script two weeks ago and looked like i was clairvoyant; but i always have high expectations of people so i elected to bite my tongue and bide my time. Looks like this year is going to be about playing the waiting game.

If there is one quality that is always prevalent in organizational structure that overrides all others, it is control. And typically the older the makeup, the more they want to hold on to it. Letting go is just too damned frightening. It’s always about the right people in the right places to keep the reins held tight. It’s about squelching ideas that aren’t part and parcel of how they have always operated.

The pragmatist in me says to be patient and let’s see how things play out; the realist tells me to just look at what has happened to date. We’ve had two meetings and the outcomes were as predictable as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. There wasn’t a shred of drama, not even a hint of breaking ranks. Four guys marching arm in arm to insure we stay the course.

Here’s the ultimate question: What is that course? What’s their vision for Sun City? I keep hearing about new rec centers and new amenities, but how does that factor into the changes that are going to come flooding over this community in the next ten years? Not one candidate had an answer to how we get more residents involved in the governance of the community…but them why should they…neither has this board been able to begin to break that problem down. I guess it begs the question…does it matter?

Stay tuned…it clearly is going to be one interesting year.

The second step…Meeker and a look back.

It’s 4 am in the morning and the “curse” that has bothered me most of adult life woke me with a nagging sense of urgency. Falling back to sleep wasn’t an option, the computer was my only source for relief. I needed to find the keyboard and vent a bit. Seems i’ve always found people getting screwed to be a bit of a problem.

You read in my last blog about John Meeker’s involvement with Sun City via his oral history. In my opinion, once the concept was started, his actions in leading DEVCO to a whole better place resulted in Sun Cities unequaled success. As is said in my last post, there is no better chronicle of how it evolved than his journal summary in A Look Back.

I’ve posted this document before and i know some of you have read it. Frankly, if i could, i would make it mandatory reading for every board member and staffer in Sun City. I would bind it and give a copy to every Sun City resident wanting one so they could see up close and personal how and why Sun City came together as well as it did. It wasn’t an accident, Meeker and the people working for DEVCO and especially for him, did the right things.

They forgot about the corporation and focused on the people. Imagine in that in today’s society and in the modern spectrum of business practices we see from corporations where the almighty dollar is all that matters. In 1965 Meeker walked into a community where the divisive actions by the community leaders had fractured relations and left residents fighting with each other. It was a recipe for failure.

If you recall, there were two rec centers by years end 1964; the older Community Center (now Oakmont) and the newer, nicer Town Hall (the old Fairway). One paid a mandatory yearly fee, the other a voluntary. It resulted in one of the facilities open to all and the other used only by a portion of the community (unless Community Center was closed for repairs). Meeker called it the mini-Berlin Wall. It divided the community that bad. Within two years and behind the hard-working Owen Childress, they found a solution (and one to this day that has served the community well).

DEVCO had a policy of non-involvement (so much so that it was one of the three founding tenets from 1960 to 1965). It was standard practice for a builder to turn the keys over to the new buyer and then forget them. Meeker instituted a 60 day home warranty program that people loved. It built brand loyalty. Residents in those early years still talk about Del Webb as if he personally handed them the keys to their house.

John started giving great prizes away a club meetings (and according to his journal, most of those clubs were all but dead from lack of interest). Once he did that people turned out in droves and in his words: “When the first television set was given away to one of the ten or so people attending a club function, the next month’s meeting drew a very large crowd looking for that big prize, but instead found friendship and companionship. Of course other expensive prizes were given away, but this certainly indicated a need for DEVCO’s participation and direction to promote interaction between residents. Promotion of companionship, a most important human need, became a valuable sales tool for DEVCO.”

This concept of residents becoming a “sales tool” was the boiler plate behind Sun City’s growth. Home sales from 1968 though build out in 1978 were phenomenal; averaging nearly 2000 homes per year. In fact he described how it worked in this paragraph: “The only contact the salesmen were allowed was to give the vacationers a slide presentation , their free golf passes and a box of cactus jellies. No high pressure salesmanship was allowed.”

Picture that in your mind when you get the offer for the free gas, grill or whatever the gimmick is to get you to attend a seminar in buying into a “vacation condo special.” All you have to do is be pounded on by sales people trying sell you that time share for few hours or days. Meeker did it by letting potential buyers interact with those living here. It worked like a charm because people loved the community, loved the company and wanted it to succeed.

Page 19 has a section on Community Relations. It’s long and i won’t reprint it other than this portion of the opening paragraph:”DEVCO made it’s commitment to become more involved with residents for one very simple reason; to sell more homes. With prospects making several visits before buying and resident contact inevitable, it was imperative to make present residents enthusiastic spokespersons for the Sun City way of life. This naturally meant spending money on a variety of activities to promote companionship , happiness and security beyond expenditures for those physical facilities already provided by the recreation centers, golf courses and shopping centers.”  

Let’s read that last sentence again: “This naturally meant spending money on a variety of activities to promote companionship,  happiness and security beyond expenditures for those physical facilities already provided by the recreation centers, golf courses and shopping centers.”  Damn, spot on, the community was more than just buildings and golf courses. Sure he’s blunt they did it to sell more homes, but the fact is, it worked on every level…nothing but win/win.

I could go on for hours but i know the more i write, the more i lose people. The point here is we have seen just the opposite tack of late. The corporation is making decisions with their eye more on the money than on the people. In an email i received last night i was questioned how a dead man’s estate was back billed for a trust transfer made back in 2003 and now when the home just sold somehow the RCSC was paid two PIF and transfer fees.

There are two things we know: First,  we know Meeker’s plan worked. The other thing we know is the more divisive issues we put on or in front of residents, the more they dislike the things the RCSC is doing. You can’t build a stronger sense of community by driving wedge issues between the residents. The reason i can’t sleep at night is we are on track to keep trudging along the same failed paths we started going down in 2008, but more on that in the next week.

The first step in an interesting journey…

The date is January 1. 2012; it is a thrilling time for me as a whole new adventure is beginning. The past three years on the board of the Del Webb Sun Cities museum has been as enlightening a period as i have ever been party to (and that is saying a lot). Since sobering up some 36 years ago, i have always looked at the turn to a new calendar year as another opportunity to grow. My working years were filled with changes, but these past 8 years of retirement have been ever better.

I try to live me life one day at a time. That’s not always easy, but it does help keep me grounded. Funny thing is, i find the best opportunity to grow comes from looking back, studying those who were good at what they did and how they did it. Some see that as a foolish waste of time; i don’t. In fact, the very essence of life is having the capacity to learn, to understand how to become more effective and better at what we do. I look at it a continuing education, it’s just there are no CEU’s that go with being self-taught. That’s quite alright, i found those plaques on the wall to be little more than dust collectors.

My plan today was to write this lengthy piece about John Meeker and his remarkable personal journals called “Sun City: A Look Back 1959 – 1981.” In my humble opinion, there is perhaps no better treatise on how and why Sun City worked. It is that good. The two-volume set was given to the Del Webb Sun Cities museum by his daughter shortly after John died in 2002. Inside on the first page is a post-it note that says; “If you plan to throw this away, please contact his daughter Suzanne Meeker Jones.”

Throw it away? It should become Sun City’s bible and mandatory reading for every board member of the RCSC and anyone even remotely interested in this community. I personally want to thank Suzanne for bringing it to us and allowing it to become part of our archives. Hopefully some day people will fully understand the remarkable role her dad played in making Sun City and Sun City West the communities they are today. I would go so far as to say without his intervention, they may not be even close to having the impact they did on our society.

However, in beginning my research on this project, i was sidetracked (nothing new there for me). I came across John’s oral history on the Del Webb Sun Cities Museum web site. I started reading and couldn’t stop. It has been transcribed and his recollections during the interview are simply too good to ignore. The challenge is it is 32 pages in length and while there some typo’s, it too is well worth the read. I toyed with posting one or two of his quips to hook you, but felt it was more important that you read it because you wanted to, rather than because i think you should. Here is the link .

I won’t belabor this, you either will or will not read his oral history. Personally it will be your loss, but not everyone has the same interests or yen to learn. I found reading the transcript a whole new level of respect for those who took a failing Sun  Cities (Florida, California as well as the original here in Arizona were all but dead by the mid 1960’s) and turned it around. In the coming week i will elaborate more from his journal, but for now, anyone having the slightest inclination to understand why or how Sun City was transformed will take the time to read this.

The journey? Tomorrow is my first meeting as a member of the board of directors for the Rec Centers of Sun City (RCSC). I have found the lack of interest in the history of this community to be disconcerting. I guess only time will tell if they can get their arms (and heads) around why it matters. Stay tuned!

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