Monthly Archives: July 2011

Eminent domain case illustrates the power of words.

July 25, 2011

Today, a Hinds County, Mississippi judge will hear arguments in a case regarding Initiative # 31, which is summarized as follows: Should government be prohibited from taking private property by eminent domain and then transferring it to other persons?  Initiative # 31 will appear on the November 8, 2011 election ballot unless the courts strike it down.  My purpose in this blog is not to argue for or against the initiative, but to point out how words matter.  Words can be powerful because of the ways in which they are interpreted.

“Take” is a strong word. It is strong because for most people it evokes image and emotion in the mind of the hearer.  The synonyms listed in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary for “take” are as follows:  take, seize, grasp, clutch, snatch and grab.  The comments section of an online article in today’s Clarion-Ledger illustrate the emotional reaction to the subject.

Yet mention the word to an attorney and there will probably be less negative emotion because attorneys know that in the legal sense a “taking” is referring to the condemnation process.  Wait.  I just used another word – condemnation – that has one meaning to the legal world, but a different  meaning in the public world.

To condemn is to “…to declare to be reprehensible, wrong, or evil usually after weighing evidence and without reservation,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.    But according to the legal dictionary at, condemn has the following meaning:  ” 1) for a public agency to determine that a building is unsafe or unfit for habitation and must be torn down or rebuilt to meet building and health code requirements. 2) for a governmental agency to take private property for public use under the right of eminent domain, but constitutionally the property owner must receive just compensation. If an agreement cannot be reached then the owner is entitled to a court determination of value in a condemnation action (lawsuit), but the public body can take the property immediately upon deposit of the estimated value. 3) to sentence a convicted defendant to death. 4) send to prison.”

If I “condemned” your property would I be expressing disapproval of it or would I be taking it?

According to Merriam-Webster, “take” is defined as follows:

1 : to get into one’s hands or into one’s possession, power, or control: as

a : to seize or capture physically <took them as prisoners>

b : to get possession of (as fish or game) by killing or capturing

c (1) : to move against (as an opponent’s piece in chess) and remove from play (2) : to win in a card game <able to take 12 tricks>

d : to acquire by eminent domain

“Take” is nothing if not the operative word in Initiative # 31.

In some of the public hearings held on this issue citizens were heard to say that they were against the government “taking” private property.  Yet when told that if a property was “taken” only after the government paid the owner fair market value, and that if the owner disagreed with the government’s offer then the price to be paid would be decided by a juror these same citizens often replied, “Well, that’s different.”

So words matter.

By the way, the LEGAL issue before the court is not about eminent domain.  It is whether the initiative and referendum process can be used to amend the Bill of Rights of the  Mississippi Constitution.

Using Technology at Conventions and Conferences

This week I attended a conference where tweets were displayed in real-time on a large screen to the right of the front of the room.  The moderator even invited audience members to tweet their questions and comments.  At first I thought it would be distracting, but soon realized that at conferences most people can do several things with their minds during a panel discussion or a speaker presentation.  In contrast, three weeks ago I attended a conferences where less than a third (according to a random sample of the audience) even had a Facebook account.  I think I was the only one tweeting at that conference.

Both conferences are at the extremes of technology use at conferences and conventions.  I suspect such use will grow, although it seems that there are an increasing number of conferences that urge attendees to turn off the technology.  Generally, it seems that the larger the conference the greater the use of technology.

Technology certainly improves productivity for event and conference managers.  On-site laptops and portable printers make name badges instantly and professional-looking.  On-site registration using PayPal and credit card devices is becoming more common. And for all its criticism and misuse, PowerPoint, the ubiquitous technology tool of presenters, is still the staple of conference presenters.

As a regular conference attendee and presenter I find it fascinating to watch technology use at meetings.  And yet, there is nothing like sitting at a roundtable with a few other people and just talking and listening.

Goals for THE SOUTH

A group of Southern leaders and thinkers gathered in November 2009 to develop a forward-looking agenda to create a better South. Here’s a summary:

NURTURING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND EDUCATION To compete in a 21st century global economy, each Southern state must increase its high school graduation rate and have 60 percent of native Southerners and new residents with post-secondary degrees, including associates’ degrees from technical colleges, by 2020.

BOOSTING WELLNESS Each Southern state should increase life expectancy to levels on par with Canada.

IMPROVING ENERGY EFFICIENCY Each Southern state should develop a state energy plan that improves per capita energy efficiency by 20 percent in 2020.

REFORMING TAXES Each Southern state should adopt or change tax structures by 2015 that expand the tax base while lowering the rate to help ensure revenue sources match or exceed the state’s growth rate in the state’s overall economy.

INVESTING IN INFRASTRUCTURE Each Southern state must invest 90 percent of its capital budget spending on priorities identified in its infrastructure capital planning process.

CULTIVATING GOVERNANCE Each Southern state should develop and implement a benchmark citizen trust survey by 2011. By 2015, each state’s levels of trust in state government should increase by 20 percent over the benchmark.

ENSURING OPPORTUNITIES Southern states should reduce disparities in the treatment and well-being of different groups to foster a more inclusive, creative, productive and prosperous South. By 2012, each Southern state should adopt measures to drive significant reduction in identified disparities within at least five major categories.

FOSTERING SAFE COMMUNITIES Each Southern state should reduce the rates of violent crime to below the national average by 2020.


NPR’s Planet Money Misfires on Local Economic Developers

“They are not creating jobs. They are just moving jobs around.”

With those words Adam Davidson, an NPR reporter on Planet Money, set in motion a chain of events that resulted in a stinging rebuttal by International Economic Development Council President Jeffrey A. Finkle, apologies of a sort from Planet Money and the reporter and rather pointed criticism by NPR’s ombudsman.  Here’s the link to the NPR ombudsman.


Another post on the subject:

Try something new for 30 days.

One of my favorite places on the Internet is TED Talks.  I subscribe to it on my Google Reader so that I get a link to the latest talk.  TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design.

One of the latest postings on TED is Matt Cutts short talk entitled “Try something new for 30 days.”  The promo for it reads as follows:

Is there something you’ve always meant to do, wanted to do, but just … haven’t? Matt Cutts suggests: Try it for 30 days. This short, lighthearted talk offers a neat way to think about setting and achieving goals.

Check it out.  I think you’ll like it.