Richmond's next Mayor

Pemaquid Point LighthouseWe're still some time away from the next Mayoral election here in Richmond, Indiana, but whoever is going to run and win to keep or take office in 2016 will have to begin their initial preparations this year.

(A number of people have kindly suggested that I would be a good candidate for the job. I appreciate this and I'm honored by it. But to be clear: I'm not running for Mayor in the upcoming election.)

Before the candidates announce themselves and the conversation becomes about those individuals and their qualifications, I want to share my own hopes for what Richmond will see in its next Mayor.

The legal requirements for running are pretty basic: "A candidate for the office of mayor...must have resided in the city for at least one year before the election." Hopefully we'll set the bar a little higher than that.

The below list is not meant to be a critique of our current Mayor or of any past person who has held the title, but rather a forward-looking inventory of what I think the city needs most right now:

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Our complex relationship with revolution

I've been thinking about the complex relationship that mainstream U.S. culture has with the notion of revolution.

In the abstract, we seem to celebrate the possibility of wide-reaching changes in some government or other system that affects the lives of many people.

We like things that provide a chance for a clean slate, a fresh start, a putting aside of ways that aren't working well. When we think about other countries that may have been living under oppressive regimes and then hear that they are in the midst of revolution, we probably assume that this change is leaning toward kinds of freedom and opportunities that are good for the people there. We have ourselves spent many billions of dollars on facilitating "regime change" or other dramatic shifts in power around the world. And we know that our own history as a country is full of revolutions - some peaceful, some bloody - and we take it as a given that these kinds of struggles and shifts are milestones to be remembered, if not honored.

When revolution is in the past, or in distant places, it's okay.

But when we think about revolution in the context of our own present, everyday lives, it seems we are much less tolerant of revolution.

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On the healthcare.gov rollout failures

Low DangerThere's already been much armchair quarterbacking of the botched rollout of healthcare.gov, so I doubt I have much new to add to the mix.  But as someone who's led or programmed the creation of web tools for much of my professional life, I can't help but share a few observations:

First, I must give thanks that whatever times in my work I thought I've had a client who was difficult to work with or a painful "design by committee" situation that was getting out of hand, at least I've never been hauled before a Congressional Oversight Committee to answer questions from bureaucrats about the intricate details of website development. NIGHTMARE. However badly they may have messed up, I still feel a little bit sorry for the people who now have to go through that grilling.

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I have read and agree to the terms of service

NSA Seal

As revelations continue about the US Government capturing and monitoring online activities and communications, I'm glad (and, ok, only a little bit smug) to see that more conversations are happening about just what privacy expectations we should give up by using modern Internet tools and services.

Most of the mainstream conversation has been focused on what information "big data" companies like Google, Twitter, Facebook and Apple do or don't hand over to the government and under what circumstances, and debating where those lines should be.

The built-in assumption here is that it's inevitable that these are the companies that will continue to have access to our private information and communications. I grant that it's a pretty safe assumption - I don't foresee a mass exodus from Facebook or a global boycott on iPhones - but I do think it's important to note that this is a choice we are making as users and consumers of these services.  We are the ones who click through the "terms of service" and "privacy policy" documents without reading them so we can get our hands on cool free stuff, we are the ones who are glad to entrust our intimate exchanges to technology we don't understand.

A certain amount of naiveté about the security and privacy implications of the tools we use is understandable here.  When I've given presentations on email privacy and security issues, some attendees are legitimately gasping at the new understanding that their e-mail messages are traversing the open internet as plain text messages that can potentially be read by any number of parties involved in the management of those servers and networks.  The average user probably assumes that the Internet was designed from the ground up to be a robust and secure way of conducting financial transactions and sending suggestive photos of themselves to amorous contacts.

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State and local government websites as wikis?

MontreatI'm intrigued by websites powered by wikis, where the content can be added, modified and deleted by the users of the site.  When the people who are affected by the quality and structure of the content presented have some control over that content, you sometimes have an opportunity to get more useful, relevant, current material than if the site is maintained by a small number of content administrators.

At Summersault, our entire company intranet is a wiki.  Anyone who works with us can edit the content on it, add new pages, delete stuff that they think is out of date or unhelpful, and so on - from small typo fixes to multi-page documents and images.  If someone makes a change that needs to be un-done, the wiki software lets us "roll it back" or otherwise incorporate only partial changes.  All of this gives us the opportunity to have an intranet "by and for" its users and our staff, instead of something built and maintained solely from a management point of view.

Wikis aren't appropriate for every kind of website, or even most kinds, but I've been thinking lately about what it would mean to have wikis power city, county and state government websites.

If these sites are primarily meant to be informational tools for use by the people who live in a given geographical region (and who are theoretically paying for the site's creation and maintenance), could governments give those people some control over the content on those resources?

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Blogging about economic development in Wayne County

I'm excited to see that Valerie Shaffer, the new President of the Economic Development Corporation of Wayne County, has started a blog about her activities in that role.  The blog is complemented by a "frequently asked questions" section on the EDC website, which tries to address some of the common questions (and misperceptions) about the organization.

Whatever your take on the EDIT Tax, the EDC and their role in economic development efforts, this is a new and welcome level of transparency.

Shaffer's posts so far are authentic and to the point, bypassing some of the marketing spin that it might be tempting for an organization of the EDC's prominence to engage in when they know site selectors are looking.  She links to related resources, encourages questions and feedback, and makes repeated commitments to opening the lines of communication between her office and other voices in the community.

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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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