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Palo Alto welcomes new urban forester Walter Passmore

Original post made on Jul 22, 2012

Nine weeks into his new position as Palo Alto's first city urban forester, Walter Passmore eschewed a stuffy City Hall office interview and instead chose his number-one place to hang out: amid the trees.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Sunday, July 22, 2012, 10:02 AM

Comments (40)

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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 22, 2012 at 10:55 am

Nothing personal against Mr. Passmore, but here is yet another example of our city leaders and elected officials creating a management position that certainly would fit the bill as a luxury item, desired but not essential job. We're in the midst of a fiscal crisis, face annual budget deficits, have no way to pay for our vital infrastructure needs, are eliminating firefighter and police officer positions, but yet we can afford to create a six-figure paying management job for an urban forester. Unreal.

On top of that, these same city leaders seemingly have no legitimate fiscal plan to solve the budget crisis and pay for our vital infrastructure needs other than proposing another bond measure and tax increase. The budget crisis was created from many years of irresponsible and frivolous spending, just like this move to create an urban forester position.

I also have to believe that this move was very much spurred on following the controversy that was created after the trees on California Avenue were removed. Once again the city has chosen to ignore the greater good, and buckled under to another vocal special interest group. I am quite sure they created this urban forester position in part to smooth that over. Unfortunately the tax paying base as a whole will suffer from the financial consequences.

I'm all for Palo Alto to be a destination city to live, work, and visit offering a myriad of special activities and interests, but can we please first get our house in financial order and pay for our basic needs without another tax increase.


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Posted by Ditto
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 22, 2012 at 12:29 pm

> here is yet another example of our city leaders and elected officials
> creating a management position that certainly would fit the bill as a
> luxury item, desired but not essential job.

Ditto ..

Another unbelievable decision by our City Council.


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Posted by Unbelievable
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 22, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Agree with Marrol!


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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 22, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Wow -- this man will earn $107,869-a-year to decide on which trees we should plant or determine how to preserve the ones that are already there?

Would it be cheaper to simply contact someone for advice? Or is this a cost-effective move?

Maybe the city should hire a new expert in playground equipment to determine which playgrounds would be better for our local parks or how to preserve the ones that we already have?


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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 22, 2012 at 3:42 pm

The cuts in animal services could be covered by this position ($160,000 per year salary + benefits), the "assistant to the city manager for sustainability" ($150,000 per year salary + benefits), and cutting back on the number of attendees the city sends to various environmental conferences & league of cities conferences, and the auto benefits that some of the management staff receive.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jul 22, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

A perfect example of where an RFP would have yielded a better and cheaper result - if such a result were even necessary and affordable.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 22, 2012 at 4:00 pm

> "He will coordinate all city departments dealing with trees and tree management, and he will oversee the city's Urban Forest Management Master Plan program."

How come the city needs so many high-priced people to "coordinate" and "oversee" what other people/departments are doing? Can't people in different departments work together without someone coordinating them?


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Posted by Ditto
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 22, 2012 at 5:59 pm

> A perfect example of where an RFP would have yielded a
> better and cheaper result

Actually.. this is a perfect example of a person who is not really needed, and probably is a friend of someone at City Hall. It's kind of hard not understanding why having the trees on a data base might not solve this problem.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jul 22, 2012 at 6:14 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Ditto - if you are going to quote me then use the entire quote:

"A perfect example of where an RFP would have yielded a better and cheaper result - if such a result were even necessary and affordable."




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Posted by John
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 22, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Unbelievable!

So far the urban forestry program has been to clear cut California and San Antonio Aves and any other tree that looks "old".

Another department coordinator to coordinate the coordination of tree removal.


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Posted by tpar
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 22, 2012 at 9:26 pm

this is the same guy that hacked all those trees down on cal ave .... great job lalo alto


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 22, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Looks like we all agree this time.
... what an outrage.
Sure would like to know who approved this job.


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Posted by Jim H.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 22, 2012 at 9:40 pm

What's the fully loaded cost, including future cost, including pension? Thought the city was extremely concerned about pension costs.

Betting those increased utility costs will help fund this paycheck.

And, now the city can brag that it's one of the few cities in the US with an urban forester. The city should have to list all of the things they can do with employment costs on any new hire before they're allowed to hire people, especially when they just make up positions.

Can I be the Urban Lightbulb Planner? How much does that pay?

Shocking, but par for the course around here.


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Posted by tree
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Jul 22, 2012 at 9:43 pm

1) Mr. Passmore wasn't here when the California Ave. trees were cut.
2) There are 34,000 city owned trees in Palo Alto, plus many more privately owned sidewalk trees that must be managed. Palo Alto's trees are as much a part of our infrastructure as the sidewalks, streets, and road. This urban forest contributes to the health of our economy, sense of well being, and property values. Letting it decline is a waste of previous investment.
3) I'm not sure what benefits a RFP would provide.
4) One wonders why Mr. Carpenter, a resident of Atherton, has so much to say about the governance of Palo Alto, often at great length, not just in this thread but in many others, as well. Does he not have enough to complain about with the seemingly permanently disfunctional Atherton city government. Palo Alto has a nearly endless supply of homegrown critics and has no need for an auslander's comments.


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Posted by or not to tree?
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 22, 2012 at 10:07 pm

It would be great to know how many other towns our size have a full-time, on staff "urban forester" Austin, TX, where this gentleman came to us from, have a population of over 800,000, well over 10x our size. We already have a city arborist, right? You can rationalize that a high-paid staff position is an "investment in infrastructure" - but it's not, right? Only actual projects count.

Any amenity or staff position is fine, the question is whether the spending is appropriate for the benefit. Childrens Theater frequently comes up not because there is anything wrong with it, it's just that we spend wildly more than any other town our size - while, as the infrastructure commission pointed out, we fall behind every year to the tune of several million dollars on needed maintenance.

We need to eat our vegetables before dessert, just like mom always said.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Jul 23, 2012 at 6:42 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"One wonders why Mr. Carpenter, a resident of Atherton, has so much to say about the governance of Palo Alto, "

I am, as every citizen should be, concerned about dysfunctional government where ever it exists.

I lived and or worked in Palo Alto for almost 20 years, served as a Palo Alto Planning Commissioner for 4 1/2 years, served as a council appointed member of the Palo Alto Airport Joint Community Relations Committee for 19 years and served on the Board of Leadership Palo Alto for 5 years.

Perhaps "tree" would enlightens us as to his/her community service.

" I'm not sure what benefits a RFP would provide."

An RFP for this service/function would provide a fully burdened free market price for the service which has been purchased without any competitive bidding and which currently involves significant unfunded and unaccounted for pension liabilities.


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Posted by paloaltotreewatch
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Jul 23, 2012 at 9:15 am

the article states Mr. Passmore will oversee all city tree activities.
To which department is he being hired?
1)planning
2)public works
3)community services
4)admin above all of these departments.
5)other

Not sure with what authority he will manage all city tree activities.
Looks to be a form of matrix management.

Welcome. PATW support new blood in the CPA urban forest management.
Of course actions speak louder than words.


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Posted by California Urban Forest Fan
a resident of another community
on Jul 23, 2012 at 9:43 am

Trees increase the property values and commercial spending in a community and therefore make a significant financial contribution to the health of the City. There is a wealth of scientific, peer reviewed research published on this topic.

Trees also provide us with significant social, environmental and psychological benefits that make a community worth living in. There is a wealth of scientific, peer reviewed research on these topics, too (for more, go to www.catrees.org).

The City's trees and urban forest is the only piece of infrastructure that increases in value with time and care. I think Palo Alto made a visionary investment in the future by hiring an urban forester. An investment that scientific, peer reviewed research shows will return more than its cost to the citizens of Palo Alto.

Good luck, Mr. Passmore!


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Posted by Joanne
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 23, 2012 at 10:00 am

All of these trees in Palo Alto are nice but one downside is that they give many residents health problems such as chronic allergies, bronchitis, and asthma. Our city has one of the highest rates of bronchitis in children due to pollen related allergies. The pollens in this city are horrible and I wish the arborists would be mindful of planting too many trees that dump loads of pollen into the air we breathe.


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Posted by Living-In-A-Loony-Bin
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2012 at 10:22 am

> There are 34,000 city owned trees in Palo Alto, plus many
> more privately owned sidewalk trees that must be managed.

Really? And what does "managing trees" mean? Trees appeared on the planet hundreds of millions of years before man did—and seem to be doing just fine until we came along.

The Weekly mentions that this "urban forester" has vision, but fails to ask him what is vision might be. So, what role does he see for himself that the trees are calling out for? Will be interesting to see how many people he will be asking for to build a "strong, vibrant, effective" department of urban forestry in PA?

Maybe there is some work to be done, and maybe not. It would be a lot better if the City Manager were to put together a "position justification", coupled with at least a two-year work plan, before hiring these sorts of people. A close review of the new hire's performance would help to determine just how appropriate the person is for the job, and a review of the work plan, as well as the creation a work plan for the following two years (best estimate), would help to determine the long-term need for such a position.

> Among his responsibilities, Passmore, who was selected over
> eight other candidates, will act as a liaison between the city
> and the community.

So what does the City Arborist do then? Why do we really need both?

> Passmore said he wants to improve notification when trees
> must be removed in Palo Alto

The City has paid an obscene amount of money to catalog the trees on City property, and it has paid an fairly hefty amount of money to maintain the GIS system. Why in the world can't the GIS be linked with a database of resident address/emails, and emails sent to people in an "impact zone" when trees have to be removed, or trimmed, or whatever? How is it that we are in the middle of the Silicon Valley, and our vastly overpaid City employees can not use the tools that we have built for them, and then paid taxes for them to be purchased?

> Sometimes, trees in Palo Alto's aging forest will have to be
> removed – a sensitive topic. Passmore said he will work on ways
> to replace the old, dying forest with new trees in a timely way
> so the lush canopy will remain.

Things die, and they have to be replaced. Seems like we have a bigger problem with Palo Altans, than we do with the trees—which will reseed themselves, given time.

Palo Alto clearly has too much money and too little leadership.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 23, 2012 at 10:52 am

Well said Living in a Loony. Our current financial crisis was brought on by many years of our city leaders and elected officials frivolous spending, poor planning, buckling to special interest groups, and lacking financial priorities. What did they think was going to happen? Seriously?

What has this practice left us with? A multi-million dollar and growing annual budget deficit and inability to fund our cornerstone civic needs in infrastructure and public safety. Furthermore, the only solution these same city leaders have managed to come up with to address these critical problems is to suggest another bond measure and tax increase. If that weren't enough, all in the same breath, they have the audacity to continue to spend on non-essential expenditures such as park makeovers, bike bridges, an urban forester, and the list goes on.

It is unwise in my opinion to continue to make cuts in the police department for example, presumably due to the severe budget crisis, and then somehow justify creating an entirely new, six-figure paying management job as an urban forester. We've done just fine without an urban forester for a long time. We'd be just fine continuing to work with the city arborist that we already have on the payroll.


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Posted by Peter Mueller
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 23, 2012 at 11:52 am

Interesting news. Seems like the newspaper needs to publish something that provides an understanding and balance about the issues raised by the comments to date.

Also there is probably a record of City Council proceedings and City Manager evaluations establishing this position that could tell us the about the underlying motivations, costs and benefits.


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Posted by agree-with-living-in-a-loony-bin
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 23, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Agree with people here that this is another unnecessary and expensive position..


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Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 23, 2012 at 12:44 pm

As a taxpaying citizen, all I can say is, "What a ripoff".

For the exorbitant wages we are paying this guy, as well as his pension, etc, what will we get in return? How will Mr. Passmore be evaluated? What deliverables will be be accountable for producing?

There is zero justification for this position (and about half the others in city hall for that matter).




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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 23, 2012 at 12:52 pm

How does a city balance an important feature such as an urban forest along w/a sensible budget in these times? The trees do intersect w/public safety, environmental & public health & ecology. What do other cities of similar size do?

Unfortunately, when I read this, I remembered the poor woman who died after stumbling on tree roots & hitting her head, in Palo Alto.


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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 23, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Again, I have no doubt that the motivation for creating this position was brought on in large part due to the fallout from the tree removal on California Avenue. Our city leaders and elected officials knee-jerked and made this move solely to appease the critics. Never mind that we have an unprecedented budge deficit, inability to pay for our vital civic needs, and are eliminating positions in public safety. We don't have the funds to pay for those things, but have no problem allocating millions of tax payer dollars for an urban forester, bike bridges, new playgrounds, park makeovers, and the list goes on.

This is just the latest example of irresponsible spending, lack of foresight, and not exercising even a hint of establishing some financial priorities. It's business as usual at city hall. Cater to the critics and special interest groups with frivolous, non-essential spending and ignore logic and common sense.


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Posted by Corey Levens
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 23, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Does anyone know if this job is in addition to the City Arborist, or superseding the arborist position? And if it is not the same, what is the difference in the job descriptions?


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Posted by Beck
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 23, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Arguments can always be made about money spent here versus there, but the bottom line is trees are vital to our very existence. Ensuring their well-being should be a priority.

I applaud the city's decision to invest in such an important endeavor - that of keeping our city trees healthy and plentiful. I wish Mr. Passmore all the best in his new role.


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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 23, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Beck, the financial crisis that we're in involves much more than a "money spent here versus there" scenario as you so mildly put it. As if it were that easy. Please consider the big picture here. Our city is mired in an unprecedented financial crisis. We face a deepening budget deficit that shows no sign of reversing. There are absolutely vital and essential civic needs in public safety and infrastructure that remain unfunded. Our city leaders and elected officials have already made it clear that they will propose another bond measure and tax increase to pay for this essential work that quite frankly should have already been paid for. Why hasn't it? Because they have and continue to spend millions of tax payer dollars on non-essential positions like this.


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Posted by WilliamR
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 23, 2012 at 6:32 pm

@ Marrol--

When are you going to run for City Council? Or are you just content to sit back and lecture everyone?


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Posted by Citizen
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 23, 2012 at 7:05 pm

I see an unfortunately typical trend here. Proponents of responsible govt (Marrol, Peter C.) making Reasoned arguments backed by facts and figures, after which overpaid city bureaucrats or other defenders of the status quo resort to personal attacks.

The privileged class will resort to anything to keep the taxpayer trough full, it seems.


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Posted by WilliamR
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 23, 2012 at 8:57 pm

@ Citizen,

If you are referring to my comment immediately above yours, I am NOT defending the status quo, and I am NOT affiliated with the city government. I am simply calling out 'marrol' for his continuing lectures about civic finances. He is obviously an intelligent, articulate, passionate person, but I'm getting tired of his commentary here, and challenging him to do something more constructive with his concerns.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 23, 2012 at 9:11 pm

Living-In-A-Loony-Bin: You beat me to it re what does "managing" trees mean? And how many people does it take to do it?

As Peter Carpenter points out, an RFP would save a ton on money while keeping the trees healthy and happy. There are several excellent tree companies in the area, e.g., S P McClenahan's, a local family-owned business that's been around for 100 years.

> It would be a lot better if the City Manager were to put together a "position justification", coupled with at least a two-year work planů

> How will Mr. Passmore be evaluated?

He won't. Neither the city manager nor the city council has a clue about work plan or evaluations. Just go to the current budget Web Link and look through the goals and objectives for various departments. Nothing is measureable, which means no accountability.

> I have no doubt that the motivation for creating this position was brought on in large part due to the fallout from the tree removal on California Avenue.

The fallout for that fiasco should have been firing someone, not hiring another person.

> Sometimes, trees in Palo Alto's aging forest will have to be removed

Will they be moved into the new dense, traffic-oriented micro-apartments where all the seniors are projected to live?


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Posted by Mattie
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 23, 2012 at 9:43 pm

Well. If there are 34,000 trees, and let's say you want to think about each one every four years, that's 8500 per year to review. ~225 works days, that gives ~38 trees to ponder per day, if my quick math is right. That sounds about right when you consider how many of them are clustered (on the easy side) and time for writing up notices, responding to requests, communicating with residents and city personnel, going to sensitive trainings (on the tedious, time-consuming side).

... Punch line... sounds like there's enough work for a good city arborist.


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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 23, 2012 at 10:25 pm

@ WilliamR:

I can't speak for Citizen, but I don't think that we should complain when someone shares their perspective or views. After all, that is the foundation of a government of consented representation.

If more people would speak up (or speak out), then perhaps our representatives -- at local, state and national levels -- would make more of an effort to listen to the taxpayer instead of acting in spite of us.


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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 23, 2012 at 10:32 pm

@ Mattie:

I don't doubt that someone like an "urban arborist" could stay busy. I just wonder if such a position was so pressing that the city needed to hire one at a time when the city is concerned about its budget. I also wonder if it would have been more fiscally efficient to have simply hired an arborist on a need basis.

While the city can talk about the 34,000 trees, I don't think that 34,000 of them have problems that a good gardener couldn't fix. There are some trees with more serious problems...but I don't know if the problem is pressing enough to justify a full-time tree doctor earning a fancy six-figure income/pension.

So, my concern is with efficiency. Maybe the problem is more pressing and I am simply unaware of it. However, I just seem to think that there may be more pressing needs of taxpayer money right now.


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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 24, 2012 at 9:47 am

To William R, with all due respect sir, I happen to be of the belief that anyone should be able to freely comment on this forum, just so long as they do so respectfully and within the rules. That's all I'm doing is stating an opinion. I'm not trying to lecture or sit back contently hoping to irritate everyone.

What is concerning however is when people attempt to discourage and squelch others simply because they don't agree with their opinion. I should be able to express my opinions without anyone placing a cap on the number or expecting me to run for public office. Seriously, listen to yourself already. I do have a simple solution to your problem though. If you don't like what I write, then don't read it. What a simple yet poignant illustration of free speech. I have the right to express an opinion. You have the right to ignore it. I respect your right to do so. Please respect mine.


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Posted by Forester
a resident of another community
on Jul 25, 2012 at 6:39 am

The criticism above is quite telling of your typical, ignorant, desk-bound machine.

Why don't you consider what our society as a whole has built itself upon; or even for that matter, what the basic human needs are?

Forests. Trees. And the innumerable values associated with them. Forests have supported human existence since the beginning. Man has looked to forests for food, clean water, shelter, protection, recreation, and ultimately happiness. Native Americans found a spiritual way of life in forests, and looked to them as a resource for life. Our forefathers built a society using forest resources; and visionaries like John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and Aldo Leopold helped us continue to build our society while sustaining the resource. Do you think you would be in this exact position without conservation and protection of forest resources? No.

Urban forests are no different. Amongst a impermeable surface with storm drains, refuse, toxic and soluble air particulates, urban forests are the only surfaces that support our global cycles.

Get your priorities straight. You exist on Earth, on land that supports human life. The land owns you. You benefit from everything that forests provide. Where does the water in your water cooler come from? Have you had an Orange or Almond or Apple or Walnut lately? Do you hunt, fish, hike, trap, gather, grow, climb, or gaze at things other than concrete and steel? And do you realize that the values you are provided are not solitary in their existence?
Forest soils store the majority of our fresh water resource. They are the main proponents of our carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen cycles. Do you drink low-pH, turbid, warm water? Did you know that trees transpire water, release it to the atmosphere in the form of vapor, which drives the global the hydrologic cycle?
Have you heard of erosion? Did you know that a soil can be 10 times more erodible without a forest canopy above?
How does a berry bush grow bountiful fruit each year? Pollinators. Bees, birds, even small mammals can pollinate. And for an example more obvious to the ignorant, what is your house built of? We weren't blessed after the big bang with local lumberyards.

Your taxes pay for government programs, some of which are absolutely essential. Taxes are essential, and we as Americans understand that. But have some perspective. Remember where you came from, and how your father, grandfather, great-grandfather and so-on got you here.

Foresters manage trees, stands, forests, and ecosystems, and the millions of organisms within them. Have you heard of Chestnut Blight, Dutch Elm Disease, Blister Rust, Mountain Pine Beetles, or the Gypsy Moth? How about acid rain? Ozone? Wildfire?

Forests must be managed by someone with knowledge of the disciplines of Biology, Ecology, Dendrology, Geology and Soils, Hydrology, Chemistry, Entomology, Pathology, Economics, Sociology, and Zoology, to name a few.

What does it take to manage notes of monetary value? For that matter, what is money? Would you really rather pay someone $107,000 to argue "law" in a courtroom, a politician to argue "policy" amongst his constituents, an athlete, a pencil-pusher? Maybe, because these values are important on the surface of your life. I'd rather pay someone who manages land, something that undoubtedly fosters your existence and benefits you on a much deeper level.


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Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Jul 25, 2012 at 7:18 pm

Yet another manager!!!! the city already has arborists!! There are many managers who pretty much manage one or none. City can't fix what they already have and now add another manager.


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Posted by Arborpower
a resident of another community
on Jul 30, 2012 at 9:24 pm

I just happended on this item while staying up late researching. I am an Urban Forester in another state, city about the size of yours. Before I started this position the city had no forester, no urban forest plan, no real involvement in the urban forest. My first plan of action, as is most when comming into a community was Hazard Tree Identification. The city had spent, on average about $212,000.00 each year settling claims (some death related) on litigation over tree hazards. I know of Mr. Passmore, do not know him personally, but by reputation only. You have a great man with a passion for his work and if you review the cost associated with NOT having an Urban Forester you might be suprised. I wish him all the luck in the world.


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