Wednesday, October 7, 2009

You can't eat your principles

I declined the biggest project I've ever been offered.

Tuesday, October 6

I suspect that this post may evolve into a small series of essays, as it takes here would be the first installment...

Today, I sent an email to a potential client, declining work whereupon he'd asked me to quote my services. I've never turned down work, so this was a first.

Since shortly before the 2008 election, the trickle of work to my business had dried up. I had a little ray of sunshine in March, which I'd hoped was a trend of better days to come, but proved to be only a blip on the radar screen. In about a three-week span this March, I got 5 projects to work on. I performed the work on all of them, and all but one of those clients paid me. Since that time, however, and until the last week of August, there was nothing.

Then, some of my tireless marketing efforts began to bear fruit. I got a project in NH (which I'm still fighting to get paid for), then two more in PA, then two in TX, and two more in Texas...and then I got a reply from another company in PA, to which I had sent a request that they consider my company to fill a void in their estimating workforce. They'd like me to look at a job called "The Flight 93 Memorial."

On my blogger profile, I say that my profession is "Dirt Counter", but more specifically, I perform quantities analysis on construction projects, some of them very large. A client sends me the paper plans and/or an AutoCAD file, and I analyze the proposed finished product versus the existing "lay-of-the-land" and calculate the amount of earthwork involved. Those people I work for, then apply their own costs and profit margins to the amount of work required, and bid (or negotiate) the construction contract. I invested thousands of dollars on the software to process these calculations, and thousands of hours making individual contact with potential clients. I've helped my clients win projects in New York, Delaware, Florida, North and South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, and New Hampshire. I've introduced over 4000 different companies (one at a time) to my services and abilities.

This year, I've barely fended off the collections and foreclosures, and lived mostly on favors from family. So, it is particularly hard to reject work, any work, for any reason. For most of my projects, the invoices range from $450 -$1,000, but for this one, as I looked it over (238 plans sheets) my proposal would have been $5800. But this morning, I sent the following note to my would-be client declining to perform the work. Names changed for the purpose of guarding their anonymity...


I truly wanted to win your company's takeoff business, but I think I should politely decline this project. Based on what I had read before Mr. ["Smith"] asked me to consider doing this work, and the research I've done in the brief time since, the nature of the memorial's design is a personal affront to me as a patriotic American.

I view those people who died trying to retake control of Flight 93 as heroes for having diverted the plane from a fourth symbolic target. And I suspect that the symbolic weight of the memorial's resemblance to an islamic mosque is the architect's complicity in finishing that mission.

It is fair to say that, "if I do not do this work, someone else will..." But, I do not accept that as validation for contributing to what I feel is a heinous perversion. Perhaps that is your company's rationale for bidding the work. Or perhaps, without the architect's proven or confessed intent, someone involved in the execution of the work (like you or me) can always claim ignorance regarding the design's symbolism. Apparently you and your company have found some justification for proceeding, but I can't square it in my own heart. If the symbolism were reflective of the Jewish Star of David or even the Dallas Cowboys' star, I'd have no reservations at all. I've read that unprompted muslims viewing the artistic rendering immediately identify the drawing as a mosque. That's enough for me.

And for me, it is no less sinister than the notion of chiseling out Teddy Roosevelt's face on Mt. Rushmore to be replaced by Bin Laden's, in an effort to appease the terrorists and those who would do harm to me and my countrymen.

Please, if you have better information than I do, I urge you to share it. The project is more grand in scope than any on which I've worked before, and I'd cherish the opportunity to contribute to something worthy of the victims' sacrifice.

Lastly, I apologize for dragging my feet on this response. I wrestled with my conscience over the decision, and finally came to the conclusion that I'd rather go hungry than abandon my principles. I would say good luck on the job, but if I'm right, I hope your company similarly walks away from it, and it doesn't get built according to it's current design. Personally, if it only takes one person saying "No!" to keep it from happening, then I'll be proud to make that financial sacrifice.

Witness photos of the plans on my digitizing table...

There were a number of articles I had read before being asked to help with the project, but I hadn't exactly bookmarked any of them, and had to try and retrace my steps from memory. Like so many things we read, my initial reaction on reading them was that there was no way such a design would pass scrutiny through to the implementation stage. But it looks like I was as naive as everyone else on this point.

My research on this included the National Parks website, CNN's reportage (sorely uncritical, as you might imagine), and fellow bloggers:

The offensively named "Crescent" has been re-labeled "Allee" and the original design, reported to have included 44 glass blocks (40 of them for the passengers plus four for the terrorists!) has evolved into forty "STONE SLABS WITH NAME INSCRIPTIONS" instead.

More on this soon. Construction is slated to begin within one month...


  1. Congratulations you had the courage of your convictions. Proverbs describes a righteous man as one willing to do the right thing even if it hurts him. I'd say you qualify. You store up riches in the right place.

  2. Thanks for the kindness, MX. I am hoping for a groundswell of resistance to the project, but would settle for someone to publicly hold the architect's (Paul Murdoch of Beverly Hills) feet to the fire regarding the intentions of his design. Would he go on Limbaugh, Boortz, or O'Reilly and answer questions about the design? I'd love to see it happen.

    Stay tuned...

  3. Jeff, as a fellow entrepreneur in this crappy economy, I know how damn hard it must have been to let that business go!! But you would have regretted being a part of that project forever! (The fact that they were going to include markers for the terrorists is madness.) And I bet it would have wound up being a nightmare - payment problems, who knows what else. Stay strong, my friend!!!

  4. You are a beacon to all. Thank you for your selfless decision. It is a terrible design and you could not be bought off. Kudos to you and your family, they must be proud.

  5. Thanks, Anonymous, for the kind words. I don't know about the "beacon" business. Yes, perhaps there's a small measure of courage required in what I did, but nothing in comparison to those who stormed the cockpit. What I did was in response to their heroism, and just represents my refusal to contribute to their dishonor.

    If you agree with the stance I took, call your elected representatives, radio talk-show hosts, and favorite bloggers.

    Let's Roll!

  6. The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

    Remember on which side of this your actions place you. You may not have the opportunity/tragedy to storm a cockpit or an enemy beach, but when the opportunity to do the Right Thing came along, you took it. Thank you for standing up for the Heroes of Flight 93!

  7. I am totally surprised at the design of the memorial to our fellow AMERICANS. I salute you for declining the work and raising the alarm. It takes a true Patriot American to take a stand!