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Because We Aren’t Meant to Do Life Alone. Grand Rapids Business Mentoring Connection

January 19, 2018 Leave a comment

On occasion, I post about how I mentor elementary school-aged boys with difficult family backgrounds.

The truth is that kids with hard family backgrounds are not the only ones who need mentors.

The quote in the photo from New City Initiative in Portland, Oregon is revealing in a lot of ways. Homelessness may, by and large, be a product of a lack of relationships.

MTM

Applying this statement to the regular working class person who isn’t in jeopardy of going homeless, a lot of our problems could be stymied by the presence of authentic relationships.

 

The truth is, we aren’t meant to do this life alone.

Yet we so often do just that.

As for me, although I am interacting with many people on any given work day, I find myself too often dealing with concerns, problems and frustrations in a vacuum.

I recall having a conversation with a friend of mine a while back, another business professional. He commented on how, although he knows a lot of people, he doesn’t have anyone that he regularly confides in. He doesn’t have “close friends”.

I think my friend is in good company with many others.

So then why so often do we find ourselves living in a vacuum?

My thoughts:

It is hard to be vulnerable with others.  Our tendency is to hide our imperfections.  We can brush aside the reality that we lack relationships by telling ourselves, or others “I just don’t have time“. I believe that is just a smokescreen for the real issues:

It is hard to admit our weaknesses, failures or shortcomings.

The bottom line: we need to be in authentic relationships.

We need mentors, confidants, people willing to walk along side us.

On the flip side, we need to be pouring into other people as well.

There are excellent resources in our community, I think of an excellent one like the Jandernoa Mentorship Program (JEM).  Unfortunately, I am sure JEM and other groups would readily admit, those resources are limited.

 

I hear this theme in my work life, in the business community, non-profit service, I hear this when I go to church: call it mentoring, discipleship, or “sharpening iron” – we need to be in authentic relationships to build each other up.

So, I decided to do something about it.

Yesterday I created a Group on LinkedIn: Grand Rapids Business Mentoring Connection

I created this Group simply to provide a forum to make it easy for people to connect in meaningful ways.

1. Professionals who recognize their need for a mentor;

2. Professionals who are established in their career and are willing to share their experiences and failures with others, at any level; and

3. Professionals seeking authentic community and peer relationships.

My goal isn’t that Members of this group have any formal obligation. My hope is that those who join this group are willing to add value to others and connect on a personal level.

 

So my question and charge to you reading this post:

Who are you pouring into?

 

Established Professionals: You have something to offer. Consider joining this group and being available to connect with peers, younger professionals on whatever time you have available in your life.

Younger Professionals: Join this Group. Get others to join. Reach out and ask for help. You are the future leaders, but you cannot succeed in life on your own.

 

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

www.dwlawpc.com

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Michigan Law Update: The Neighborhood and Commercial Corridor Food Initiative. Community Revitalization Now Includes Downtown Grocery Stores.

January 17, 2018 Leave a comment

 

Several years ago ago I took my family to New York City. (and took the below photo).

Even amidst the chaos of protecting my 4 young children from darting out in2015-11-26-13-04-02to oncoming traffic – we absolutely loved the City.

 

We loved the walk-ability of City life –

that you could walk down a block to a grocery store and get all of your household needs.

 

I love downtown Grand Rapids.

 

(Below, photo I took this morning from my office)

If Grand Rapids wants to encourage urban living, it needs to continue to support growth in downtown grocery stores.

 

This is not a novel concept.

There has been recent exciting development in Grand Rapids on this front – see Meijer opening a grocery store on Bridge Street.

Also, Russo’s International Market opened last year as well.

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“Neighborhood and Commercial Corridor Food Initiative” – Public Act 229

Last March, House Bill 4207 was introduced in the Michigan house. Known as the “Urban Food Initiative.” (re-named “Neighborhood and commercial corridor food initiative”)

This Bill intended to provide incentives for community revitalization that would include a downtown Grocery Store.

Specifically, HB 4027 would make “Urban Food Initiatives” allowable to receive funds under the Michigan Community Revitalization Program

 

Passed into Law

On December 28th this House Bill was given immediate effect and assigned as Public Act 229 . 

 

The law provides incentives to “new neighborhood” food initiatives. That is why, per the new law:

a new neighborhood and commercial corridor food initiative…is not eligible for a community revitalization incentive if it is located within 1 mile of an existing retail supermarket, grocery store, or produce market…that offers unprocessed USDA-inspected meat and poultry products or meat products that carry the USDA organic seal, fresh fruits and vegetables, and dairy products for sale to the public.”

 

Hopefully this law will spur development of urban grocery stores in Grand Rapids, and beyond to places like Detroit. There is wonderful community development work going on right now in Detroit, as the article below highlights.

 

Healthy Food Options – Essential for Urban Living

Clearly having available and healthy food options in a downtown are necessary to City living. Check out this recent article from Non-Profit Quarterly about Communities of Color Developing Residents-Owned Groceries.

According to the Article:

“Grocery stores…often anchor “neighborhood economies, recirculating local revenues through wages and nearby businesses. They can also be neighborhood hubs, where people go to buy good food as well as employment centers and sources of community pride.”

“Alas, the lack of these hubs can be damaging, notes Malik Yakini, who directs the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. Yakini is one of a host of activists across the country who are working to foster community ownership of food businesses in communities of color.”

 

We should be encouraging Malik Yakini and others and supporting community ownership of food businesses in communities of color. Hopefully the new law will attract such local ownership.

 

Parting Thoughts

A downtown grocery store is necessary if a City wants to attract urban living – it is also necessary to provide healthy food options for those living downtown without readily available transportation.

I think particularly of the under-employed and the homeless who receive services from organizations like Mel Trotter Ministries. In Grand Rapids, we are confronted everywhere with the need for Affordable Housing. It would be great to see grocery options as well.

I am also encouraged by the many businesses in West Michigan honestly asking the question: “How am I building a better community?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

 

Business Law Update: Concerning Current Politics and Non-Disparagement Clauses

January 9, 2018 Leave a comment

Today I read an interesting article published by the ABAJournal.

The ABAJournal article asks an interesting question (all politics aside):

“If Trump sues Bannon for violating a nondisclosure agreement, what are his damages?”

Again, all politics aside, the article presents interesting questions that comes up in business transactions: when faced with entering a business relationship should you enter into a non-disclosure agreement? (NDA)

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The thought that comes to mind when I hear the word “Politics”

What if the NDA contains a non-disparagement clause? Can you even enforce it if breached? If so, what are your damages?

Going back to the ABAJournal Article, one legal scholar quoted in the ABAJournal article opined that such a lawsuit would be problematic, given damages are speculative (my paraphrase). University of Arizona law professor Jane Roberta Bambauer stated:

“It’s difficult for litigants to claim large damages when the nature of the award is that they expected to be less embarrassed (as opposed to NDA cases involving trade secrets and other financially valuable pieces of information that the protected party expected to exploit himself)”

Regardless of the damages argument, in general, such agreements are enforceable. That was the opinion of Yale Law Professor Stephen L. Carter who stated:

 

“We can put aside nondisparagement clauses buried in the boilerplate of consumer contracts, which companies sometimes try to use to prevent those who buy their products from posting negative reviews. Most courts have understandably held such clauses unenforceable,”…“But when non-disparagement clauses are included in employment contracts or separation agreements, they are enforced more or less routinely.”

 

Non-Disparagement Clauses…With a Penalty?

Would you sign a non-disparagement clause with a penalty attached to it in the event of breach?

A few years ago an interesting story emerged regarding a non-disparagement clause involving a settlement entered into by the City of Lansing.

As a lawyer, if I was approving my client’s signature on the City of Lansing Settlement agreement, I’d want to be sure that my client fully understood what constitutes “disparagement”

 

What is Disparagement?

Michigan courts have held that “disparagement” is plain in its meaning. It is not ambiguous. Therefore, when signing a non-disparagement clause you can have some reasonable certainty in your conduct.

Often times as part of a confidential settlement agreement, the parties to a dispute will agree not to “disparage” each other.

Disparage – as you will see below – has a fairly common meaning.

‘Disparagement’ is ‘a false and injurious statement that discredits or detracts from the reputation of another’s property, product, or business.’ Black’s Law Dictionary (7th ed. 1999).

stated another way:

(1) To speak of in a slighting or disrespectful way; belittle. (2) To

 reduce esteem or rank.’ . . . American Heritage Dictionary (4th Ed. 2000)

2. Michigan Case Law Concerning “Non-Disparagement Agreements”

Rarely have I ever seen a non-disparagement clause become an issue. In fact, a review of Michigan case law supports this – I found only a handful of cases in Michigan where the parties litigated over one party’s alleged “disparagement” after a settlement agreement was entered.

One such case was the 2011 case of Sohal v. Mich. State Univ. Bd. of Trs. & Davoren Chick M.D., 2011 Mich. App. LEXIS 915, *12-14, 2011 WL 1879728 (Mich. Ct. App. May 17, 2011).)

There the Court held: “the term “disparage” in the non-disparagement clause is not ambiguous. While plaintiff attempts to ascribe several “reasonable” meanings to the term “disparage,” and thus the non-disparagement clause, the term fairly admits of but one interpretation.” Citing Meagher v Wayne State Univ, 222 Mich App 700, 722; 565 NW2d 401 (1997).

As the Court noted, “Other state courts have determined that the term “disparage” in non-disparagement clauses of settlement agreements are unambiguous.” (citations omitted).

 

In closing – non-disparagement clauses are standard clauses (but not universally used). Courts have consistently held that “Disparage” is a plainly understood term. It isn’t an ambiguous term.

Disparagement clauses may be enforceable. Most often, I would presume they would at least serve the purpose of deterring a party from speaking disreputably after a settlement is signed. However a good question to ask before entering into the agreement; unless you have a stipulated damages provision, how will you calculate damages in the event of a breach?

 

Questions?  Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Legal Update: Legislation that Real Estate Investors, Landlords and Veterans Should Keep Tabs on in the New Year.

January 4, 2018 Leave a comment

It is a beautiful and cold afternoon in downtown Grand Rapids today.

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We head into 2018 with some Michigan Bills that affect Real Estate Investors, Landlords and Veterans.

Veterans.

The Michigan Legislature is pushing hard to protect those who have served our country.

Yesterday MLive posted that the Michigan Legislature is taking up some 50 bills that will affect Veterans

One such bill I highlighted in a post last summer. On August 16, 2017 HB 4872 was introduced into the Michigan House.

The Bill would amend the “Elliott-Larsen civil rights act,” and would provide that veterans are included in the list of those protected by Michigan law against housing discrimination.

The Bill would define Military Service as:

“STATUS OF BEING AN ACTIVE DUTY MEMBER OF THE ARMED FORCES OF THE UNITED STATES OR A VETERAN WHO RECEIVED AN HONORABLE OR GENERAL
ADMINISTRATIVE DISCHARGE FROM ACTIVE DUTY WITH THE ARMED FORCES F THE UNITED STATES.”

The Bill brings two thoughts to mind:

  1. Our Veterans and those who served our country deserve to be treated fairly in housing and all other areas of life.
  2. This Bill brings up a fundamental question: are Veterans being discriminated against in housing? Does it happen?

 

According to statistics recently published in the Bridge with insight from Dennis Van Kampen of Mel Trotter Ministries, there are fewer homeless veterans than ever in Michigan today, but more homeless youth.

The Bill was sent to the committee on Military and Veteran Affairs. No action has been taken on this bill since I posted in August, but I will continue to track this bill.

I look forward to hear comments from the public on this issue: are we in Michigan protecting our Veterans access to fair housing?

 

“Nuisance Property”: Bill Would Protect Those in Affordable Housing from being penalized for calling 911.

On November 28, 2017 Senate Bill 667 was introduced.

The bill is intended to prohibit local units of government from penalizing tenants, occupants, or landlords of rental dwellings for contacts made for police or emergency assistance in certain situations.

Presumably, the Bill is intended to restrict those municipalities that have ordinances that punish landlords and tenants by labeling a rental property a “nuisance” when a certain number of calls to police or emergency assistance.

The Bill in its current form, generally, holds a “reasonableness” standard – meaning the emergency call must be reasonable under the circumstances – the person making the call must reasonably believe they, or a person they are calling on behalf of, is a victim of a crime; and the intervention is needed to prevent a crime, or respond to an emergency.

 

This appears to be one of several Bills that would potentially address the affordable housing crisis.

As a reference, I would highly recommend reading Matthew Desmond’s book “Evicted” It is no secret that Michigan, particularly Kent County, is experiencing an Affordable Housing Crisis.

One potential way to address this crisis is providing Landlords and Tenants security that their local government unit will not unreasonably label properties as nuisances if the police are called for real emergencies. It appears this Bill is attempting to address such a scenario.

 

Questions? Comments?

email: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka