8 ways for the Wayne County Democratic Party to be more effective

Capitol Dome'Tis the season for political reckonings.  As the national Republican Party performs a messy post-mortem on its failed strategy to get Mitt Romney elected President, the Democratic Party in Indiana is also asking itself what it needs to do to be more effective.  The Indianapolis Star says that "Indiana Democrats have plunged to their lowest level of power in decades after Tuesday's election."

This week the Palladium-Item's editorial page rightly took the local Wayne County Democratic Party to task for being too quiet and minimally effective in local politics. (I am on the P-I editorial advisory board but I did not contribute to that piece.)  Today's edition features some analysis of the local party's current leadership, with about the amount of internal finger pointing you'd expect from an organization in some disarray.  It's the candidates! It's the leadership! It's the unions! We just need to get on Twitter!  And so on.

I've followed local politics for a while now, perhaps never so closely as last year when I was a candidate myself running on the Democratic ticket.  It was an eye-opening experience in many ways, including discovering first-hand the significant organizational deficiencies in the Wayne County Democratic Party (and how well-organized the local Republican Party is, due in no small part to the tireless efforts of its Chairwoman, Misty Hollis).  Unfortunately, I've seen some of those deficiencies come into play again in this year's campaigning.

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Transparency redux, with progress

A month ago I blogged about some specific examples of what it would mean for local government and related organizations to be more transparent in their operations.  I also sent a copy of my remarks to nine local elected officials asking for comment, and only two replied.

But, there have been a couple of noteworthy developments since that post:

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A city in distress

edvard munch - the scream  1893If you live in or near Richmond, Indiana, it looks like you picked the wrong year to stop sniffing glue. (Does anyone get Airplane! references anymore?)

Have you ever scored yourself on the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, which measures your personal stress based on which of 43 major life events (death, divorce, job change, etc) have happened to you in the past year? It's an interesting scale because it recognizes that significant life change - positive or negative - brings with it an increased potential for illness and possibly other problems.

I think if we were to do a similar scoring of events in the life of a midwestern city, Richmond, Indiana would be somewhere in the "freaking out" to "going ape-shit" range. I dare say, we're a city in distress.

Even beyond what's happening at the state, national and global level - economic turmoil, war and other violence, toxic political races, Charlie Sheen's career, etc. - I suggest that the last year in the life of our community has been an unusually tumultuous one here.

Just a partial list of some major events I've observed in the recent life of Richmond in no particular order:

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An anonymous letter about the state of Richmond

Last month I received an anonymous and wide-ranging letter in the mail about the state of affairs in Richmond, Indiana, addressed to "Positive Place Committee, Madame Mayor, Richmond and Wayne County Government Officials, Palladium Item Advisory Board, and Leadership pundits."

I take it that I received it because I'm on the Palladium-Item's community editorial advisory board (though I would much rather reside in the 'leadership pundit' category because it sounds cooler).  The letter was mailed on May 15th, and was sent via USPS to an incorrect version of my office address, but made it to me anyway.

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Against the proposed use of Richmond tech park funds

Cranes In The Sky.A year ago I blogged about the $5 million dollars that Richmond had available to promote high-tech business growth in our city.

An article in Sunday's Palladium-Item reports that the City of Richmond is proposing to use the funds to purchase 14 acres of land and buildings on the city's northwest side, which they will use to create a space for technology entrepreneurs.

For the record, as someone who created a technology business in Richmond, I'm against this use of the Certified Technology Park funds as it's currently described.

There are a lot of things that technology entrepreneurs in our community could benefit from, but a new physical space is generally not one of them. There are myriad available buildings already suitable for businesses of all kinds - retail, office, manufacturing, etc. With the advent of cloud computing, global distribution systems and other niche service providers, few tech start-ups have specialized space needs.

Not the least of the existing structures is the Uptown Innovation Center, originally designed and built to - you guessed it - house technology entrepreneurs looking for space to get their business up and running. I supported that effort and it's a great space with some great possibilities, but as far as I know, that building has not exactly operated at capacity in its lifetime, and when it has come close it's not been with high-tech businesses.

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5 Things I Learned In Antigua

Half Moon Bay

Five things I learned on a trip to the island of Antigua:

  1. When the whole island is a cozy 12 miles across, accurate maps and road signs are not much of a priority. Great for locals, not so great for visitors.
  2. I still get seasick.   At least the expert diver captaining our transport boat, who has taken Mic Jagger and Dolly Parton for tours, was kind about it.
  3. It's worth paying extra for a place with a negative edge swimming pool
  4. Playing Nintendo games prepared me pretty well for driving on the left side of rough, unpaved roads where a goat or donkey might cross at any second.
  5. If you go in the off season and don't stay at Sandals, you get entire stretches of beach all to yourself.

Antigua was beautiful.  Some photos from the trip on Flickr:

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Getting specific about local government transparency

Magnify Glass and MoneyThe idea that we need more transparency in conversations about the future of the city of Richmond, Indiana, especially from government entities and other influential community building organizations, seems to be gaining traction. That's a good thing!  I wrote just a few months ago during Sunshine Week about how important this is.

At the same time, I'm seeing the word "transparency" used in a lot of different ways, some of which skew the meaning in unhelpfully, possibly harmfully.  I've also had a few people ask me for specific ideas of what more transparency might look like in this community.

So, while I've no illusion that any definition I suggest here will be broadly accepted, I think it's worth trying to clear away some of the fog about what kinds of transparency we (those whose futures are intertwined with that of the city) could expect and ask for from our leaders.  I also think it's worth taking stock of how well Richmond leaders are doing at being transparent.
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RP&L, Steve Saum and employee performance reviews

Barbary sheep ~ "head-butting"2012 has been a challenging year so far for the leadership of Richmond Power & Light, Richmond's municipally owned power company.

Most of the strife centers around the firing of RP&L General Manager Steve Saum; the short version is that the Board of Directors unexpectedly removed Saum from his position after a negative performance review, and Saum along with others are concerned that he wasn't given due process.  After the story hit the media, there's been additional concern about the way the RP&L Board has (or has not) communicated the reasoning behind their decision and what it means for the future of the utility.  There's a story in today's Palladium-Item with some new revelations about the proceedings.

Few are in any good position to pass judgment on these matters.  In my limited interactions with Steve Saum I've always found him to be a person of good intent and competence in his leadership.  I also know most of members of the RP&L Board well enough to say they are people of good intent and great care for the future of RP&L and the City.  (Full disclosure: I ran unsuccessfully for election to the RP&L Board last year.)  And no matter what you think of any of their actions or decisions, it's just a painful and messy thing when matters of someone's employment and livelihood (or managerial methods) become a topic of public conversation.

But even with the limited facts available about this series of events, it seems there are some missed opportunities to reflect on moving forward:

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7 Ways to Help Young Professionals Engage in Richmond

IMG_2224.JPGThere's a new group in town - H.Y.P.E. Richmond - that is working to "connect and mobilize young professionals to make the Richmond area an even greater place to live, work, and play."  If you're interested in those efforts, you might consider joining in on the brainstorming session they're having tonight at the Firehouse BBQ restaurant, 5:30 to 7 PM.

I won't be able to attend, but as an employer of some younger professionals who gets to hear some of their concerns and struggles "engaging" in life in Richmond, and as someone who has spent my own young professional life in Richmond, I want to offer a few initial ideas about how to help connect and mobilize that demographic.  (This is in addition to the ideas already being submitted and discussed at RichmondBrainstorm.com.)  My hope is that others will add to the list over time:

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