Cuyahoga Charter Transition Thoughts

On Thurs­day, after work but before I went to my Applied Quan­ti­ta­tive Sta­tis­tics class at CSU, I spent 3 hours at the Cuya­hoga Coun­ty Ombudsman’s Office mak­ing phone calls to Char­ter Tran­si­tion vol­un­teers. Along with oth­er mem­bers of the Pub­lic Engage­ment Com­mit­tee, I was call­ing vol­un­teers that we’d iden­ti­fied as like­ly to not have heard from a spe­cif­ic work­group. The goal was to deter­mine if they were still inter­est­ed in par­tic­i­pat­ing and offer them some options on involv­ing them­selves, while pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tion about upcom­ing plans for the Eco­nom­ic Devel­op­ment Work­group.

I hate tele­phones. Most folks who know me know this. I don’t even like call­ing my good friends and fam­i­ly. So I wasn’t look­ing for­ward to mak­ing cold calls to strangers. What I was look­ing for­ward to was find­ing out what ques­tions, com­ments and ideas the vol­un­teers on my list would have about the process, the Coun­ty or what­ev­er. I love hear­ing what oth­er peo­ple have to say. That’s just part of my per­son­al­i­ty. After I’ve got that infor­ma­tion, my anthro­pol­o­gy degree kicks in and I try to fig­ure out what all these thoughts and opin­ions mean. I’m used to hear­ing opin­ions about the Coun­ty from my fel­low Coun­ty employ­ees, who have all been around a lot longer than I have, or read­ing about it (espe­cial­ly over the last 2 years) in a neg­a­tive light (typ­i­cal­ly mag­ni­fied in the com­ments) on Cleveland.com.

To some extent I was expect­ing more of the same when I made these calls.

Much to my sur­prise and plea­sure, every­one I called and actu­al­ly got to talk to was extreme­ly sup­port­ive, inter­est­ed in the infor­ma­tion I had to impart and enthu­si­as­tic to get involved.

I’m going to be self-impor­tant for a moment to make a point. For years I’ve been work­ing in ways that I hope will empow­er reg­u­lar folks to affect change in their com­mu­ni­ties. It’s been a bumpy ride, and I’ve learned a lot through tri­al and error. I see this process I’m engag­ing in now as anoth­er chance to make that hap­pen. I con­sid­er myself an open gov­ern­ment advo­cate, and I’ve learned a lot about the wide-spread insti­tu­tion­al resis­tance against these efforts by inter­act­ing with folks at Gov­Loop, work­ing on the eGov­ern­ment Inter­est Group at the World Wide Web Con­sor­tium, and think­ing through things on my own at The Design State. I even based one of my papers for my PAD 600 course on the run-up (and delays sur­round­ing) the Oba­ma administration’s Open Gov­ern­ment Direc­tive. (Some­what iron­i­cal­ly, the OGD was released the day after I turned in my paper.)

The point of all that is that I’ve done some home­work on includ­ing cit­i­zens in the process­es of gov­ern­ment. That’s all great, right?

Not real­ly.

All the work I’ve done on my own, and that the Char­ter Tran­si­tion is doing now doesn’t mean squat with­out pro­duc­tive and con­struc­tive cit­i­zen involve­ment. It was heart­en­ing to me to do the phone bank­ing, because I heard from just a few of the 1000+ vol­un­teers, and they were all ready to get to work. Includ­ing them dur­ing this Tran­si­tion process and doing our best to keep them (and oth­ers) around after it ends can only strength­en the work that the Coun­ty does as an insti­tu­tion.

I have high hopes but real­is­tic expec­ta­tions. I know very well that every rec­om­men­da­tion made by the Char­ter Tran­si­tion work­groups might be dis­missed and thrown out by the new­ly elect­ed coun­cil and exec­u­tive. If that hap­pens, bum­mer. It will be a blow to all of the vol­un­teers who have worked on pro­vid­ing options to improve our coun­ty. The out­come I’m hop­ing for, whether or not the work­group rec­om­men­da­tions are accept­ed, is that both the Coun­ty and its cit­i­zens real­ize that work­ing togeth­er is bet­ter for every­one, and that efforts to pro­vide more infor­ma­tion to cit­i­zens and include them in the busi­ness of the Coun­ty should become busi­ness as usu­al. This Tran­si­tion process can, at the very least, be an exer­cise that lets cit­i­zens fig­ure out how to inter­act with gov­ern­ment and gov­ern­ment inter­act with cit­i­zens.

When I first start­ed work­ing for the Coun­ty in Decem­ber 2006, there were talks about mov­ing to the Amer­itrust com­plex on East 9th Street. I had a vision of rebrand­ing the Coun­ty as “The New Cleve­land Trust Com­pa­ny”. Now’s our chance to make that phrase do more than just sound catchy.

Disclaimer Time

This post is my opin­ion and does not nec­es­sar­i­ly reflect the thoughts, opin­ions, pro­ce­dures or plans of Cuya­hoga Coun­ty, the Cuya­hoga Coun­ty Char­ter Tran­si­tion Advi­so­ry Group, or the Pub­lic Engage­ment Work­group.