Richmond Matters, a new local blog

I've created RichmondMatters.com, a new site dedicated to commentary about life in Richmond, Indiana.

As I've occasionally done here in the past, I'll be sharing my thoughts about Richmond news, politics, leadership, community life and more. It's a simple site. The name is kind of boring. I've no ambition for it beyond having a place to write with a more narrow focus on a topic that's important to me.

Sometimes I'll cross-post those essays here or tweet out links to them, but usually I won't. I'll continue to post here about all the other random stuff I enjoy writing about, but the posts about local stuff will go in this new site.

So, if you'd like to follow along with my posts about Richmond, I hope you'll use the email or RSS subscription options on Richmond Matters. I'd enjoy having your feedback and comments along the way.

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:

Continue reading Richmond's next Mayor

Shutting down Richmond Brainstorm

20140322-screenshotFive years ago this month I launched the community improvement website RichmondBrainstorm.com. The site allowed users to submit ideas for ways to make Richmond, Indiana a better place, allowed other users to discuss and vote on those ideas, and shared success stories of ideas that had been implemented. I created the site because I think it's important for a given community to shape its own course for the future instead of waiting for solutions from state and national governments, and because I was tired of hearing good, creative ideas from others that never seemed to get the attention or visibility they deserved.

In the time since, some 86 community improvement ideas were submitted and discussed, and a number of the ideas became real projects that were implemented. The site got over 140,000 visits from around 45,000 unique visitors. I've also received contact from people other communities around the country asking for help to create a similar resource in their city, and so the idea of an online community improvement idea inventory seems to itself have become an idea worth spreading.

But, after an initial period of significant activity, the Richmond Brainstorm site had become largely dormant, with no new ideas submitted to it in close to a year. Over the years I've regularly talked to local community development organizations who have said the concept of the site is an exciting one and could even be integrated into their own efforts at prompting further conversations and action, but as yet Richmond does not seem to be a place where most of those kinds of conversations want to happen online, for better or worse. That combined with the time that it takes to keep the site's software current, deal with spammers and perform other administrative tasks has begun to outweigh the value that I think RichmondBrainstorm.com is currently bringing to the community.

So, as of today I'm shutting the site down.

Continue reading Shutting down Richmond Brainstorm

Elements of an effective editorial

Lighthouse stairsIn October I concluded my time as a member of the Palladium-Item's community editorial advisory board, which I joined about two years ago.  I enjoyed the experience and while (as expected) I didn't always agree with the views published by the paper, I felt like I was able to bring a perspective and approach that helped shape the overall conversation.  There have been few other places in my day-to-day life since college where people regularly gather in a room to vehemently but respectfully talk (okay, and sometimes shout) in depth and in person about current events and important issues facing the city.

I was already a fairly close reader of the viewpoints page in the Pal-Item and other publications, but being on the editorial board inspired and required even closer attention to what topics local writers were submitting letters and columns about, and how they went about presenting their views.  As a result, I've put together a list of elements that I found to be present in the most effective and engaging editorials I've read:

Continue reading Elements of an effective editorial

RP&L misses opportunity to engage on energy policy

EnergyIn a guest column in today's Palladium-Item, Richmond Power and Light missed an opportunity to engage in a meaningful discussion about the future of energy and power generation in our region.   Instead, General Manager James French took the unfortunate approach of appealing to ratepayer fears about increased energy costs or drastic lifestyle changes, and the politicization of U.S. energy policy.

If President Obama’s plan is enacted, every flick of a light switch, every running of an air conditioner and every spin of your dryer will cost you more and at the expense of manufacturing jobs in the United States.  Consumers will be faced with either paying more for their bill or doing without several of their everyday conveniences.

Scientific, economic and environmental data all point clearly to the ways in which coal-based power generation is not sustainable, and perhaps more importantly, the public health and environmental risks that it increasingly poses.  As the Obama administration and many other public and private organizations try to work toward policies and practices that are sustainable and practical, it's important to make sure we're talking about the real facts and options in front of us, and to make sure the public is educated about those along the way.

Continue reading RP&L misses opportunity to engage on energy policy

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:

Continue reading Transparency redux, with progress

Shuman on alternative models of economic development

I have a guest editorial piece in today's Palladium-Item, End risky economic games.  I've also reproduced the edited version of the piece below.  I had originally hoped to title it "What can James Bond teach us about economic development?" but I decided that's not actually a question I want to know the answer to.  So instead the article focuses on two different labels for economic development models, coined by author Michael Shuman.

I first saw Shuman speak at a conference back in 2005.  He's an economist, attorney, speaker, author and entrepreneur, and he's written a number of books on the economic why and how for creating thriving, self-reliant communities.  In particular, he posed the labels of "TINA: There is no alternative" and "LOIS: Local Investment and Import Substituting" as shorthand names for the dominant economic development model of today (TINA) and an alternative model that he sees having great success and sustainability on paper and in practice (LOIS).

Continue reading Shuman on alternative models of economic development