Dad. Assistant City Manager. Surviving.

Category: Politics Page 2 of 4

Regular Exchanges of Ideas

We encourage you to engage us in regular exchanges of ideas or thoughts about approaches to curing or mitigating the hugely suboptimal political culture of the United States. Nothing less is required to pay homage to Valley Forge, Cemetery Ridge, Omaha Beach, and other places of great sacrifice.

Letter from Edward Snowden’s Father

Regular exchanges of ideas. This is what the debate over national security versus civil liberties seems to be missing.

Challenge to Remake Our Government

From President Obama’s 2013 Inaugural Address:

We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time.  We must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government…

Social Media in the Aftermath of Sandy

Before Sandy hit, I wrote briefly about Google’s use of a crisis map to help residents and responders.

Since then, we have seen actions across the social media boundaries that have helped those affected by Sandy.

And then there is Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, New Jersey. I’ve written before about Mayor Booker’s use of Twitter. During Sandy and the ongoing recovery, Booker has tirelessly worked to respond to citizens and deliver necessary supplies to those in need. And when a woman messaged him that her power wasn’t on, he invited her and any other residents to stay at his home. He provided wi-fi, his DVD collection, power outlets to charge phones, heat, and food. Pretty incredible in this day and age. For a collection of his best tweets, check out this link.

I think folks, and governments and companies, are really seeing that social media is a two-way street that can work in their favor. But in most of these cases, it seems as if one or two dedicated individuals go beyond the call of duty to help people. And I wonder if the responses would have been the same without these vital employees.

The Need for New Tech in Voter Registrations

Canada, which already uses modern technology in this way, has 93 percent of its eligible citizens registered at a cost of less than 35 cents per voter to process registrations. By comparison, an in-depth study of one state found that Oregon taxpayers spent $4.11 per active voter in 2008 to process registrations and maintain a voter list.

Technology for a 21st Century Democracy. Scary.

The Need for Will to Get the Important Projects Done

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed spoke at the POLITICO Pro Transportation launch event recently. I found Mayor Reed’s talk interesting, especially since recently Governing magazine published a piece on the five biggest infrastructure projects that might not get finished. I mentioned it at the time, but pointing out the ten biggest projects and that half of those might not get finished is extremely discouraging. We need these projects, and we can’t get them done. And one of the biggest (Denver FasTracks) is right here in Denver.

One of the five biggest projects (and I’m sure it isn’t the only one) might be finished later than 2030. Does anyone realize that we are spending money and we don’t what the need will be twenty years or more in the future? We need light rail, water and sewer improvements, transportation improvements, today. Who knows what we will need in twenty or thirty years? That’s why I keyed on Mayor Reed’s talk.

Mayor Reed had this to say about the need for infrastructure projects and the failure to get them finished (12:30 into the video, emphasis mine):

I don’t have a problem with our ability to compete with the Chinese. I do have a problem with us sticking our head in the sand. Other people are making infrastructure decisions so much faster, getting them done, and getting them built out. We have the same capacity to do it. We have a will problem in the United States of America. We know how to figure out the financing, we have political leaders certainly at the local level and at the state level who understand that this is critical and we’re watching our country decay.

Our country has an incredible need for infrastructure improvements right now. Our infrastructure is in decay. And we desperately need to put people to work. Yet we can’t even find the will to get the most important problems fixed this decade (or the next).

That’s why I’m discouraged.

Madeleine Albright on The Daily Show

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had a great interview on The Daily Show last week. Make sure to check it out.

There Should be a Conversation

Even though everyone might not agree, I think it is great to see city managers interacting with Occupy protesters. There should be a conversation, like what happened in Lynchburg, Virginia:

Payne said he applauded anyone who took an interest in civic issues and got involved.

“One thing that is frustrating to city officials is more people aren’t involved,” he said. “… We are big on community engagement. If someone wants to get involved, we want to support that.”

Manning said the demonstrators have been very pleased with the Parks & Recreation Department and most police officers.

Social Media Lessons from the Indian Gulch Fire

Mayor Jacob Smith of Golden, Colorado, has posted an excellent overview of the lessons learned from the Indian Gulch Fire that began on March 20th. Specifically, he speaks to the communication lessons having to do with social media. I watched the news of the Indian Gulch Fire closely because it burned within sight of my office in Golden, Mayor Smith was one of the most important voices hitting the Twitter hashtag search for the fire.

Mayor Smith was one of the (unofficial) point people for the Indian Gulch Fire online (he’s @jacobzsmith on Twitter). Another was Golden City Councilor Bill Fisher (@goldenbilfish). Both utilized Twitter, Facebook, and their personal websites to communicate to the citizens of Golden.

Mayor Smith speaks directly to the intricacies of working with professional emergency managers (and their public information officers) during a crisis situation like the Indian Gulch Fire [original author’s emphasis]:

Bill and I occupied an interesting space. We weren’t official voices of the City of Golden, but we had enough credibility that our information was taken seriously. We were both diligent about checking our facts before hitting ‘send,’ and we always tried to make sure the info we posted was accurate. Nonetheless, for any future emergencies we’ll need to think about how to keep the accuracy level high without slowing things down. Ironically enough, the only error I’m aware of was the result of an error on one of the official news releases.

An interesting point Mayor Smith makes is that emergency response personnel (from the City of Golden, the Jefferson County, and the Federal government) were able to concentrate on the fire, enabling he and Councilor Fisher to concentrate on communicating with their communities:

This enabled us to communicate with staff about issues that needed more attention or about information gaps that might not have been as important from the “protect people and homes” perspective but helped reduce the uncertainty among residents.

More important for followers of social media, Mayor Smith identifies that Twitter and Facebook were the fastest methods to get information out quickly, while email newsletters allowed him to communicate with residents who weren’t on social media.

His conclusion:

Communicating across such a wide range of tools required a great deal more effort than simply relying on the traditional news release-driven approaches, but my sense is that the effort was worthwhile.

My conclusion? It is pretty clear that governments need to make use of social media (and new technologies) to enable quick information exchange with citizens. I have long been a fan of using social media in emergency situations as an alternative form of communication: just last fall, the City of Boulder’s reverse 911 system failed to get out a timely evacuation order during a wildfire. At the very minimum, local governments can post to Twitter and Facebook the same information they are giving out to media. And at the most, governments can inform the media as well as residents.

Great News for Kansas City, Kansas

Yesterday Google announced that Kansas City, Kansas, would be the first city to participate in the Google Fiber project. The Google Fiber project seeks to bring 1-gigabit internet access to every house.

Google will have to reach an agreement with the Unified Board of Commissioners, but when that is completed they will work to roll out access to 50,000 to 500,000 residents of Kansas City, Kansas, at a competitive price.

You can read about the news from the New York Times, Government Technology, and the press release from the Unified Government of Kansas City, Kansas (pdf file).

I couldn’t be happier for the residents of Kansas City, Kansas. I worked for a year at the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas, and it is a place with great citizens and great workers. Kansas City was hit pretty hard by the end of the industrial boom, and the city has never really recovered. I think Google Fiber will give them a leg up on other cities in attracting new businesses and great residents. I am extremely proud that Mayor Joe Reardon and the staff at the Unified Government won this project for their citizens.

The Effects of Social Networking on Revolutions

Fareed Zakaria:

But clearly today’s information technology has the effect of disintermediating. It breaks down hierarchies. It breaks down monopolies. That’s got to be good for the individual, and it must be bad for dictatorships.

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