If I Were Mayor

For more of my commentary on life in Richmond, Indiana check out RichmondMatters.com.

I was glad to see today's article about the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns` "If I Were Mayor, I Would..." contest (PDF link on that last one). Such things can only improve the quality of dialogue about what we want for our communities. Local elementary school student Ross Mathews took the prize in the statewide contest for his essay; his plan focused on a few key areas: 1) making sure children in Richmond had better funding for school books and educational field trips, 2) adding more staple businesses to the West side of Richmond to save gas for those living there, 3) decreasing poverty through charitable giving events, and 4) keep Richmond clean so it looks nicer. Hats off to Ross for thinking beyond his years and looking selflessly at the big picture. If only mayoral elections took place on the true merits of such plans alone.

I haven't yet received my entry form for the "If I Were Mayor" essay contest to be held amongst myself and other local adult citizens, but in the greatest tradition of blogging, I shall now commence to ramble on regarding something about which no one has asked me:

If I were Mayor, I would...

  1. ...create and refine (with significant input from citizens) a list of concrete goals (and methods for achieving them) for my time in office. They would be ambitious and far-reaching, but achievable. While they would closely mirror other plans already in place (a City-wide comprehensive plan, for example), they would guide my personal decision making in the Mayor's office, and provide a quantitative metric to which voters could hold me accountable.
  2. ...have regular public meetings with the citizens of Richmond so I could listen to their interests, concerns, needs, and hopes for the City. These meetings would be broadcast on WCTV and transcripts would be available on the City website. I would take questions submitted in advance via postal mail or e-mail from those who couldn't attend the meetings.
  3. ...move my office desk into an open area where I could sit alongside the heads of the major departments in my administration as we tended to the city's business throughout the day. My work would be done out in the open for all to see, and I would be able to stay in close touch with the quality of work being done by my fellow civic administrators.
  4. ...find ways for myself, my staff and other interested community members to have regular conversations about the politics of power and privilege in our community. Who has power and how are they using it? How are the dynamics of power and privilege helping our community, and how are they hurting it? Who is disempowered, and why? What segments of our population are under-served or left behind by our current systems of governing? What can we do better with this information in hand?
  5. ...write a weekly guest column in the local newspaper updating readers on events and items of interest for the week from the Mayor's perspective, and perhaps responding to questions received from citizens during the week.
  6. ...have a regular call-in show on a local radio station, allowing citizens to again engage me about their questions and concerns and hopes for the City.
  7. ...hold regular workshops that would help interested citizens become more involved in their local government and local neighborhood communities. These would be facilitated by entities already expert at such things, and would eventually be turned into course material reusable by other city governments and/or future Richmond Mayoral administrations.
  8. ...conduct thorough and regular budgetary review sessions with experts from the City and from the public, so that systems of spending and revenue generation were scrutinized and evaluated for possible inefficiencies or errors. I would create documentation for the public that explained the City's budget and why it is set up the way it is, and then create multiple channels for soliciting feedback for improvements
  9. ...see what the small business community in Richmond needs to thrive. What tools, what resources, what public exposure, what conversations need to happen? What barriers are in place and who is putting/keeping them there? What do you need from your city so that you can continue being the lifeblood of our community?
  10. ...create systems of knowledge documentation and learning whereby turnover in City staff (either within my administration or between my administration and the next) would have minimal impact on the important work to be done in our community. This would include financial management, information about what kinds of staffing structure and administrative processes are most efficient (and which ones don't work at all), and just general "things to know" that would let anyone coming into an existing position take advantage of the work done before them.
  11. ...update my City's website so that the list of things to do in Richmond wasn't so narrow, and so it was much more standards compliant and search engine friendly.

Those are a few things that come to mind for me. What would you do?

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Chris Hardie

Chris Hardie is an Internet tech geek, problem solver, community-builder and amicable cynic.

7 thoughts on “If I Were Mayor”

  1. Such a big project. I cannot undertake it on this fine afternoon (other things call out from the stack), but I will comment on your plans. First and foremost, I commend your ideas about making the city executive more available (and thus, maybe answerable) to the general public. That would go a long way towards convincing people that the town is not being run by a conspiracy of powerful elite (a rather popular view in this town, for some reason).

    However, I think you can have too much availability. Being open to all takers at any time of the day means that your time will be primarily consumed by a handful of "squeaky wheels" in town. The bulk of the citizenry have a generalized need for competent local governmental services, but no specific concern that needs to be addressed. There are, however, a few folks who are consumed with the performance of city government, making it their daily task to note and complain about things like the time of day the trash guys come. You would not do the community at large much good spending your time listening and handling the complaints of this vocal minority.

    I think the big thing is to open up the records of government, making them available online, and providing an easy means for folks to find pertinent information quickly. It took the city law office almost a decade to get the city code online (during which time, they were not even putting out the code in print form, so only a few select insiders even know what the law was).

    I think putting up meeting minutes within 24 hours of a meeting should be required. Also, the text of any rule made by a government board should be available online. There is almost no way to research those determinations now, other than paging through the entire file (hopefully you can start with a timeframe).

    But the real answer to the question "what would you do if you were mayor" is "not much," as the position carries little real power. Yes you have "the office" and that gives you a voice. You can makes some appointments, hire and fire a few department heads, change the way your office does business, but most real change goes through council.


  2. If I were Mayor of Richmond, I'd require internet businesses to pay higher taxes to increase the not-so-virtual contribution to the community.

  3. Dayna: dude, ouch! Check it: http://www.summersault.com/community/local.html.

    Thomas and Eric: part of the point of my list was that, as a city that's really dependent on the decisions of the council, a good Mayor can be a focusing point for the interests and needs of the community, in an effort to bring more weight to bear on those issues when they do come before the council. I agree completely that too much access is a burden to the office and to efficient government, but I also have a sense that if you ask the average citizen how they feel about how well their elected representatives communicate with them about A) what's going on in local government, and B) why, they would say "not well enough."

    Of course, it's always fun to discuss hypotheticals of governing; I'm sure the day-to-day reality presents its own unique set of challenges and needs - possibly quite distant from the ones I was thinking of when I wrote the original post.

  4. Chris,
    Your ideas are generate thought...and that is a good thing.

    I too agree with Mr. Kemp that the access would create a problem that would erode your effectiveness. You can maintain your effective schedule and give access through organized appointment process (you set the standards your people give your time away with, so if you want to make sure that everyone has access you can do so) which allows you to control how much someone can abuse your time with bs. You can be very visibile and accessable in the various departments and to the public they serve by sitting in on department meetings, walking through the departments....giving both employees and citizens the opportunity to "bend your ear".

    I, unfortunately, also agree somewhat with the concept that a Mayor is somewhat powerless. However, as has been demonstrated by Bart Peterson in Indianapolis, the Mayor has a very powerful pulpit from which to pronounce, cajole and encourage. It doesn't matter if a Mayor knows everything about how everything in the city works....that is what you surround yourself with competant advisors and department heads for. The Mayor is (or should be since that is not the case currently) a visible and accessible leader who cares about the community and has a vision about where they want to take their community. There are plenty of experts who can fill in the blanks and the details......a Mayor needs not know everything about IT to have a great, responsive, informative website to serve the citizens...there are lots of very good computer wizards available (such as Chris and his staff at Summersault) to make that happen. Someone just has to want to make it happen.

  5. obviously, I should proofread before I hit the sumbit button....
    first line should read....Your ideas all generate thought...and that is a good thing.

  6. All of the suggestions are good, however there is some real "hands-on" type of leadership needed in this town;

    1. Take the road repair leadership to task about the "drop-offs" at utility man-hole covers and meter covers left in the roadways after repaving,

    2. Repair and maintenence of park facilities, specifically Glen Miller bridges and drinking fountain areas,

    3. Real budget cuts where needed, ie; police manpower, reduction in the number of city parks,

    4. Better traffic control at intersections, overhead signs in lieu of arrows painted on roadways(painted arrows dissappear when the first covers the arrow)

    The Mayor's power is limited, but good leadership skills and good use of the Mayor's "bully pulpit" can get a lot of things done. If one wants to see a demonstration of how this can be done, just take a look at what strong Mayors has accomplished in Lafayette, IN. With strong Mayors, a sound tax base and personal drive, the city of Lafayette has become a very progressive city and a good example of "how to get it done". In 1975, Lafayette and Richmond were very close in population and tax base....Lafayette acquired many new industries and businesses while Richmond continued to lose the same. Has anyone analyzed why this happens? Where do we find the leadership to bring this city up and out of the depression it is in currently?

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