Cuyahoga Charter Transition Thoughts

Saturday, 27 March 2010

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.