The 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. Continue reading "Getting specific about local government transparency"→
Today's Palladium-Item editorial "Politics cheats citizens" calls out the ways in which local political maneuvering can do a disservice to voters, in this case with the less-than-transparent approach that was taken to handling the unfortunate health issues affecting Richmond City Council's District 5 representative, Bing Welch, during the recent election campaign:
Whether it is the 2009 Christmas Eve Senate passage of a huge, and hugely controversial, health care reform measure by Democrats narrowly controlling the U.S. Senate or, closer to home, Republicans and Democrats waiting until after a general election to craft their respective political handiwork, this is the stuff that alienates and isolates the public from those who have sworn to represent their best interests.
Through any such conversation we must of course be sensitive to Mr. Welch's experience along the way. I certainly wish him the best in recovering his health, and appreciate the years of time and service he has given to the Richmond community and the residents of District 5. It's not easy to be a political figure in the public spotlight even when you're healthy, and so we know that it must have been particularly hard on Bing and his family to have health concerns and questions about his ability to serve in that role all mixed in together.
In today's election, the citizens of Richmond made a choice about who they want to help shape the future of this community in the coming years. While I am of course disappointed that I was not elected to City Council, I am grateful for the votes I did receive and for the amazing support I've had along the way.
2,717 of those voted for me to be one of the three members of City Council At-Large, 201 votes short of a win
This has been my first foray into politics, and it's been an incredibly rewarding journey. As I've walked through neighborhoods in Richmond, I've had a chance to hear from residents here what issues matter most to them. As I've sat down with community leaders and decision-makers, I've learned about the complexities of building a thriving city in tough economic times. As I've talked with supporters and members of the media, I've enjoyed being challenged to communicate my hopes and views concisely and authentically. In these last nine plus months I've come to appreciate how much important work there is to do in this great town, and how many opportunities we have to make it better.
I congratulate the winners of today's election, and wish them the very best as they take office or continue in their existing roles. I ask each of them to stay true to the promises they've made during this election, and to hold themselves accountable to the ideas and vision that they set forth in their campaigns.
My campaign would not have been possible without the gracious support and enthusiasm of those who have lent their time and talents in many forms:
I want to be careful to say that I don't write about this trend in this space with any promise or implication that my election or anyone else's could prevent individual crimes or save lives. We know that no elected official and not even the best trained and funded police forces can prevent individual violent crimes when there are so many other background factors that go into these horrific events.
But I think our reaction to this trend as a community will speak greatly about our future prospects for building a version of Richmond that is safe, vibrant and thriving.
As a part of conversation amongst candidates for office in this election, some of us found that there was a common theme emerging about our emphasis on and commitment to honoring and upholding basic principles of elected office.
That conversation has resulted in the creation of "A Pledge to Voters" - a promise that myself and several other candidates - including Libertarian candidate Matt Hisrich and Republican candidate Misty Hollis - are making as a way of indicating our commitment to honesty, diligence, transparency and respect. We might hope that these values are a given for our elected officials, but in today’s political climate I think it’s important to reaffirm our commitment to them, especially as we ask for the public trust in return.
The full text of the pledge is below. I thank Matt and Misty for their commitments today, and I would encourage all of my fellow candidates for Council to sign on to this pledge, even at this late stage of the campaign, to show their commitment to these values if they are elected or re-elected. Continue reading "A Pledge to Voters"→
One of the things I've gained during this campaign is a new appreciation for how challenging it can be to produce and facilitate a meaningful and substantive political debate that is valuable to voters. Between the spring primary and the general election, I can think of at least eight events where myself and some combination of other candidates for office were asked to debate (or converse, or discuss) the issues facing Richmond and Wayne County for an hour or more.
At each event, as a candidate I've tried to balance a series of (sometimes competing) goals for my participation, including:
A recent editorial in the Palladium-Item again called for candidates in this City election to provide more detail about the specific changes and tasks we will take on if elected to improve City finances and the community as a whole.
I feel confident that in my own campaign I've provided a thorough look at how I would approach my role as a member of City Council. I've posted a consolidated list of my views on a number of issues facing the community, I've continued to post updates and more thorough commentary on the topics that have emerged in this election, and part of my history in this community as a volunteer is some extensive writings on my personal website about Richmond and our approach to governance and community building.
Last night was the second scheduled event during the general election cycle when candidates for an at-large position on City Council got together to answer questions from people in the community about issues facing Richmond. More so than the Chamber-sponsored debates last week, I thought the questions posed by attendees revealed a lot about what's on the hearts and minds of members of our community.
We were asked about education, access to affordable housing, how to pay for proposed improvements in City government, the local Latino population, the community's relationship with its workers, what we can do to keep more college graduates here, whether Council members should be injecting themselves into private business decisions, and more.
But I think the one question that was probably most piercing for all of us was from Toivo Asheeke, who asked what we as Council members would do to restore a sense of hope and empowerment to people who live in Richmond. It's a huge, important, emotional question, and as Toivo was quoted as saying in today's Palladium-Item, our answers as candidates were indeed "insufficient."
As candidates running for one seat on a 9-seat local legislative body in a small city in the Midwestern U.S., it might be tempting to shrug off the call to play a role in restoring hope and empowerment in our citizens. And politicians should rightly be careful to make promises they can't keep - if you believed the statements that sometimes came out of President Obama's election campaign, for example, as soon as he was sworn in there was going to be so much hope and empowerment flowing in the streets we'd choke on it; how's that working out for us?
But I do think restoring hope and a sense of empowerment is something City Council can impact here in Richmond, and that's what I said last night:
As complex human beings, it can be hard to communicate all that we stand for and all that we've experienced in casual social interactions. "Hi, I'm Chris, let me tell you about the past 34 years of my life in the next 2 minutes...." When it goes beyond communicating to trying to persuade someone of something - that they should vote for you, for example - it can be even harder to efficiently sum up what you're about in meaningful, authentic ways.
This is surely part of the utility, then, of having political parties: "Democrat," "Republican" and "Libertarian" (to name a few) are labels that help us identify a set of beliefs and values that a particular candidate might stand for and bring to their approach to governance.
But in recent years, the wordsmiths of the political machine have diluted many of these labels, and candidates and politicians who say they stand for one thing and then do other things have further made those labels less meaningful to voters. And just because we have labels to help us, we can't forfeit our responsibility to truly understand what a candidate stands for and how they would represent us.