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Dr. Viji George and Community Members Form George & Associates, a Boutique Consulting Firm PDF Print Email

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By Staff


Nov. 15, 2017:  When Viji George was elected the eighth president of New York’s Concordia College in 1991, he sought advice on how best to lead a complex organization, but the help available was far beyond the college’s financial reach.

As a result of this experience, he and a group of like-minded professionals pooled their talents to launch George & Associates Consulting, a boutique firm designed to help mid-sized nonprofit and educational organizations. 

“During my tenure as president, I often found myself in need of external advice and guidance on complex matters that faced organizations like ours,” said Viji George, CEO of George & Associates Consulting.  “Though such help existed, it was beyond our means, and, furthermore, consulting firms often practiced in functional silos and did not offer holistic solutions. So, shortly after stepping down from the presidency, I decided to launch a firm that adopted a multi-disciplinary approach providing world-class solutions at real-world prices.”

To accomplish this vision, Dr. George enlisted the help of seasoned professionals in the community he had come to know over the years with experience in issues that confront nonprofit and educational institutions. The team at George & Associates will offer consulting services in the following areas: strategic planning, leadership development, talent acquisition, board assessment and development, fiscal management, and resource development.

“Nonprofits leaders juggle so many urgent operational, fundraising, and program issues that we often do not take the time to step back and ask the critical missional and strategic questions,” said Tim Hanstad, co-founder of Landesa. “Yet those questions are the biggest keys to success. A multi-disciplinary firm like George & Associates provides a cost-effective means of arriving at solutions to these issues.” 

Recognizing that in smaller and mid-sized nonprofits it’s all one can do to keep up with day-to-day operational challenges and respond to each fire as it flares up, the firm's goal is to offer systematic, transformational solutions customized for each individual organization so it can discover its true potential.

One of the associates, Pat Drew, commented that “Viji has brought together a great team of talented individuals who together can offer comprehensive solutions to help organizations succeed.” Pat is joined by the following members of the greater Bronxville community, Dr. Jack BierwirthGreg ColemanMary Anne DennistonPaul Grand PreGuy MinettiMarcia Lee, and Irena Choi Stern. For a fuller listing of associates, please go to https://www.georgeassociatesconsulting.com/ or contact Viji George at CLOAKING .

Pictured here:  Dr. Viji George, CEO of George & Associates Consulting.

Photo by A. Warner

 
From the Mayor: What Makes a Good Leader? PDF Print Email

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By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville


Nov. 8, 2017:  When this column appears in print, it will be the day after Election Day 2017. The whole run-up to Election Day caused me to reflect on what makes a good leader, be it in the political arena, corporate setting, sports team, or even fifth-grade student council.

So much has been written and I confess, I am fascinated by the subject. The following is just a distillation of some salient points that resonated with me and I thought had wide and intergenerational application.

Not surprisingly, honesty is the keystone. Respect goes to a man or woman of his word. Eisenhower said, “The supreme quality of leadership is unquestionably honesty, integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a football field, in an army, or in an office.” Honesty also requires telling the hard truths even if uncomfortable for many to hear. Winston Churchill was a master at being a pragmatist who dealt with grim realities but still had the optimism and courage to act. After the devastating defeat at Gallipoli, which resulted in over 100,000 casualties during World War I, Churchill took complete responsibility. He had the ability to endure setbacks, face reality, and yet inspire his countrymen to a better vision.

Focusing on the political arena, a politician must extend his or her honesty and integrity to remove ideological blinkers and seek common ground, as leadership is truly not about the next election, rather, the next generation. 

All studies agree that a good politician stands above any specific personal views and expands to include everyone’s beliefs. In that vein, judgments should be made with reliable and unfiltered information with the intention of good for all. The need for power, publicity, attention, or personal agendas must be left at the door.

Right after honesty and integrity is the need for excellent communication skills. Most experts agree that a skilled communicator emulates Aristotle’s classic elements of rhetoric – reaching people through logic (logos) and what is rational, appealing through emotion (pathos) and their sense of value or ethics (ethos).

The real gift seems to be the ability to distill a message, however complex, into something that is accessible – a talent for simplicity and brevity, and the ability to convey complicated concepts in just a few phrases. President Ronald Reagan and former GE CEO Jack Welch are considered the gold standard. 

Another critical component of effective leadership is humility. Knowing one’s area of weakness does not make one weak. It actually allows a leader to delegate to others who have the abilities and complement rather than supplement her skill set, lay the groundwork for others' success, and then stand back and let them shine. As Henry Ford said, “Never find fault, find the remedy.” In essence, a good leader does not take others down in order to go up. President John Kennedy was a master at this.

A leader is humble enough to own his mistakes, give credit to others, relate downwards as well as upwards, respect his colleagues, and empathize with them as people.

My favorite leadership advice is from Joseph Plumeri, the vice chairman of First Data, in a recent New York Times article, “Play in Traffic.”  Simply put, it means push yourself out there, participate, get involved and be curious, question everything, accept challenges outside your and your staff’s comfort zone, have boundless energy, and don’t be shy about having a passion. But in the end, also be decisive enough to make decisions, even amid some ambiguity.

Said so often but always true, lead by example. In my small sphere, I would add have a sense of humor and the ability to laugh at yourself. In my case, it is needed on a daily basis.

Perhaps the most profound leadership advice was articulated by Ruth Simmons, former president of Brown University. “You have to be open and alert at every turn to the possibility that you’re about to learn the most important lesson of your life.”

 
From the Mayor: The Community Restorative Justice Initiative PDF Print Email

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By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville


Nov. 1, 2017:  Approximately one year ago, I wrote of the ground-breaking new program in the Bronxville Justice Court, the Community Restorative Justice Initiative ("CRJ"). I am proud and grateful it has been a success and a model for many other progressive communities.

First conceived by our senior justice George McKinnis, the program was designed to give our justices an alternative to incarceration that has a reasonable opportunity to change a criminal defendant's anti-social behavior for the better in a manner that incarceration in today's prison environment is highly unlikely to do. Studies have documented that many, many prisoners come out of incarceration more anti-social and more dedicated to criminal behavior than when they began their incarceration.

As a result, Judge McKinnis saw the need for an alternative/substitute for prison time that offers therapies and interventions calculated to change behaviors.

As assistants to our two village justices, George McKinnis and George Mayer, Doris Benson and Mary Mackintosh have been made volunteer members of the Bronxville Court staff to assist in the operation of the CRJ program.

With the cooperation of the prosecution, defense, and the court, a candidate will be identified if a good fit for the CRJ program. The individual is usually a person who plea-bargained from a felony to a Class A Misdemeanor, as this takes the defendant out of the New York State Supreme Court System and places him or her under the auspices of our village justice court.

The village received enormous assistance and encouragement for this program from the district attorney's office in White Plains, and Janet DiFiore, now our state's chief justice, was instrumental in the formation of CRJ program.

After a worthy candidate is identified, the candidate is interviewed by court staff with the prosecution and defense invited to attend.

If all agree, the court orders the defendant to meet with TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safer Communities) staff members at the Westchester County Department of Health, which deals with drug, alcohol, and mental health issues that a criminal defendant may exhibit.

TASC then expands the analysis of the defendant with the aid of therapists and doctors to determine issues in his or her background--mental, educational, or physical disabilities, drug or alcohol abuse--and if existing, whether these problems can be cured or eliminated and lead to significant change in the defendant's behavior.

If a positive recommendation is received, CRJ staff and the village court, with TASC's aid, will draft a one-year program for the defendant and circulate it to the prosecution and defense. The prosecution has the authority to drop the misdemeanor charge if the defendant successfully graduates from the program. Once a month, the defendant must meet with the village court justice, CRJ staff who have been mentoring the defendant each step of the way, the court clerk, the assistant district attorney, defense counsel, and a representative of TASC.

The defendant is either praised or admonished, and at the end of twelve months, a private graduation ceremony is held--often the first moment of positive praise and honor for the individual.

Two defendants have already successfully graduated from Bronxville's program.

As one can see, the program is extremely labor intensive and requires unrelenting dedication on the part of many in the legal pipeline. But a human life is truly at stake, and I can think of no worthier and more rewarding endeavor.

On every level, this program makes sense. If any other institution in America were as unsuccessful in achieving its ostensible goals as our prisons, we would shut it down tomorrow. America passed the point of negative return long ago. We now lock up seven times as many people as France, 11 times as many as the Netherlands, and 15 times as many as Japan.

The U.S. Department of Justice reported that national prison recidivism was at 67%. Most experts with knowledge of the field agree that the American justice system has been reduced to a gratuitously expensive system of punishment.

Behavioral and rehabilitative therapy methods, as exhibited in the village's CRJ program, have been proven to reduce the recidivism rate by 10 to 30%, but according to one study, only 5% of American prisoners have access to them.

When you think about it, an inmate while confined does not work, support his or her family, or pay taxes. Because of incarceration, families are broken up and ex-convicts become unemployable, resulting in an increase of the American poverty level by a staggering 20%.

The village is so fortunate to have such a visionary, compassionate, and enormously dedicated court team that is now setting the standard for local and state courts--yet another example of the dedicated citizenry we have in our special village.

Editor's Note: The Reformed Church of Bronxville is holding a Restorative Justice Training workshop for anyone interested in learning about it today (November 1) from 1:00 to 6:00 pm and tomorrow from 8:00am to12:30 pm.

 
From the Mayor: Shall There Be a Convention to Revise the New York State Constitution? PDF Print Email

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By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville


Oct. 25, 2017:  Every 20 years, New York voters must be asked per the state constitution (Article 19, Sec 2) the question, "Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend same?" The question will be on this November 7 ballot, and if passed, a full two-year process begins, culminating in ballot referendums on proposed amendments. 

As background, the New York State Constitution is the fundamental governing document of the state. At 60,000 words, it is more than seven times the length of the U.S. Constitution. It consists of a preamble followed by 20 articles. 

Nothing in a state constitution can diminish rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, but being much more detailed than their federal counterpart, state constitutions can adopt rights and policies not contained in the federal document, including anti-discrimination provisions, education rights, and care for needy persons and persons with disabilities.

New York State has had five constitutions adopted: in 1777, 1821, 1846, 1894, and 1938, with the 1938 version remaining the current central governing document of the state. The last time voters cast a ballot on the subject, they rejected the call for a constitutional convention.

Seemingly innocuous, this vote to have a deliberative discussion vis-à-vis the formation of a convention is now a major focus of most lobbying groups in Albany.

A consortium of groups including public and private organized labor, environmentalists, and conservationists who did not want to see the "forever wild" provision ever repealed, social welfare advocates and fiscal conservatives who wanted to keep existing state debt limits in place, and government watchdog groups who just didn't want to "spend millions of dollars to hold a party in Albany" were the forces that tipped the scales against a positive convention vote last go-round. Again, the strange bedfellows of unions and conservatives are united in opposition.

Those in favor of a constitutional convention believe that only a constitutional convention can deal with the fundamental structures and powers of the state legislature that, in their view, are long overdue for reform.

So depending on where you sit, a "con-con" so named is either a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring our state constitution/government into the 21st century or an expensive waste of time that could result in the loss of hard-won fundamental rights.

The proponents of a convention and ensuing amendment recommendations argue:

  • Lobbyists will have less influence over most of the delegates, who will never run for a public office vs the current influence on sitting legislators.

  • The cost of $5.00 per resident is relatively de minimis.

  • Issues that historically the state legislature won't touch will be addressed only via constitutional amendments: creating a truly independent redistricting commission; a total ban on gerrymandering of any type; term limits for legislative members, party leaders, and committee chairs; real campaign financing reform; and the legalization of marijuana.

As an example, a constitutional amendment could establish a permanent commission on public ethics that would have real investigatory and penalty powers that would apply to all branches of state government and public authorities.

The New York State Bar Association believes a convention is a way to streamline New York's court system, which has 11 different trial courts and is widely viewed as one of the most complicated in the country.

Those against the idea of the convention cite the following:

  • It could be a Pandora's box – outcomes can't be predicted, everything could be fair game, and change would be affected by the political environment du jour. Given the outcome of the 2016 election, concerns have heightened.

  • There is already a mechanism for the existing legislature to pass any needed amendments. If they receive support from two separately elected state legislatures, individual bills to amend specific language can be put forth. If passed, such bills would then appear on the following November ballot as a referendum. Most recently, this process was undertaken in 2014, and it has been used 200 times since the last major constitutional revision in 1894.

  • The same lobbyists who control Albany now will control the convention as well.

  • Sitting legislators would dominate the convention as they do state government, so in essence same old, same old. (Only 13 out of 186 delegates in 1967 were sitting legislators, but the 13 were all of the important legislative leaders.)

A wide coalition of organizations and labor unions have united to oppose a convention. The disparate groups include Planned Parenthood and the Right to Life Committee, the Working Families Party, and the New York Rifle and Pistol Association. This anti-convention coalition is almost entirely bankrolled by labor unions, which have contributed over $1.2 million to the cause.

Of primary importance to some constituents are the prohibition of a reduction in public pension benefits, the right to workmen's compensation, and the right to be a member of a union and bargain collectively. Currently, all of the above are part of our constitution and some fear provisions could be diluted.

Conversely, many groups who seek change in New York see a constitutional convention as a chance to upend business as usual. The leaders of both the state senate and the house are on record opposing change via a convention.

This referendum vote could very well be the most far-reaching and impactful decision made in the state for many years to come. According to the most recent Siena College poll, the margin is 44-39% in favor of a convention, but the margin has tightened significantly in the last few weeks.

The referendum is one of three that will be on the back side of your November 7th ballot.


 
From the Mayor: 'In the Course of Time...One of the Finest Villages Along the Line' PDF Print Email

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By Mary C. Marvin, Mayor of the Village of Bronxville


Oct. 18, 2017:  I decided to take a literary break from blacktop, sewer relining, and flood mitigation topics--though they may be scintillating--and just relate some interesting fun facts about our very special one square mile.

  • From the outset, not everyone could even agree on the name of our hometown, which was named after Danish farmer Jonas Bronck, who owned huge tracts of land in Southern Westchester and the Bronx. Folks "objected to the influx of visitors on Sundays who thought the Zoological Gardens were here" due to our name. Others wanted to call it Gramatan, Gramatan Hills, Lawrenceville, or Swainsville after an early tannery owner or to keep the early 19th-century name of Underhill's Crossing.

  • Our village functioned for its first year of incorporation (1898) with no ordinances.

  • Our very first ordinance (1899) protected us from public nudity, brothels, saloons, gambling, riots, and profane language, all punishable by fines of $10 to $50. Other first-generation ordinances prohibited ball playing on Sunday; "hallooing or yelling after dark"; and gunfire "between the setting and rising sun (apparently daytime gunfire acceptable!).

  • In a bit of high aspirational thinking, fire escapes would be required on all opera houses but churches were exempt.

  • In 1899, houses could be built with no notice to the village and without regard to size or placement, as it wasn't until 1922 that our first zoning ordinance was enacted. Legend says village resident and television personality Jack Paar was responsible for our first fence ordinance. As a result of his extreme penchant for privacy, he erected a high stockade fence on Studio Lane without planning board notification. Very soon after, the trustees enacted height and density rules for village fences.

  • Two of our early "postmistresses" were maiden sisters who carefully read everyone's postcards and magazines and if they thought the information of urgency, they dispatched local boys to share the messages of often upcoming appointments in New York City. Needless to say, they were deemed "authorities on all village news."

  • Our first school in 1870 looked no different than rural structures in the Midwest. Built on a small plot of donated land on the Value Drugs space on Pondfield Road, it was a little red wooden building with a cloakroom and a potbellied stove.

  • Parental involvement in the PTA was always a signature trait in the village. Early meetings concentrated on an effective method to monitor the content of motion pictures, fearing a negative impact on our community, but, more important, a deleterious effect on our diction.

  • At a period around the turn of the 20th century, we were also home to an insane asylum, the Vernon House Retreat for the Insane, near the intersection of Pondfield and White Plains Roads. Limited to ten patients, one could be treated for "mental and nervous diseases and cases of Habit."

  • Our hospital and nearby Sarah Lawrence College were thanks to the generosity of our founder, William Van Duzer Lawrence.

  • In 1908, Mr. Lawrence's son, Dudley, was stricken with an appendicitis attack that would be fatal without an operation. He was transported on a baggage car attached to the first train heading south from White Plains furnished with a box spring and mattress from the family-owned Gramatan Hotel. Dudley survived after a twelve-hour ordeal, and his father contributed $250,000 to inaugurate the hospital's capital campaign. Monies were supplemented by the performance of a "pageant" at Sagamore Park to which thousands attended, including the sitting governor, Charles Evans Hughes.

  • Mr. Lawrence envisioned a junior college for women and enlisted the help of the Vassar College president, Dr. Henry McCracken. Named after his beloved and recently deceased wife, Sarah, the members of the first board of trustees of Sarah Lawrence College were actually those of the board of Vassar College.

  • We had the same population--approximately 6,500--in the 1930s as we do today. Stores were closed on Wednesday afternoons and a home valet truck patrolled the village. Sporting the slogan "Would you spare your appearance for fifty cents?" a gentleman came to the door and ironed your rumpled suit.

  • In 1928, in honor of his 25th jubilee, Saint Joseph's beloved pastor Father McCann was treated to an around-the-world trip thanks to donations from the entire village.

  • The village seal has a bumble bee as its symbol but no records exist explaining its origin.

  • Holding dance classes at the Gramatan Hotel, Ms. Caroline Covington, proprietress of the Miss Covington's School of Dance, started each class off with the sound of castanets and stopped immediately if "wallflowers" were minus a partner.

Clearly, we have always been a unique community, and trustee William Kraft early envisioned even greater things for us, writing on village stationery that "in the course of time, we will have one of the finest villages along the line." 


 
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