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Jan 2001 / from the editor :: email this story to a friend

Schemes A-Plenty
By Thomas Crone

As Mike Jones aptly points out elsewhere in this month's issue, there are plenty of folks who want to change the city, all possessing lots of wonderful and wacky ideas to accomplish the task. But cash? Not always in as great supply as you'd like it to be.

So, with that in mind, let me kill the proverbial two birds with one e-stone. An idea that would lead to broadened role of the Mayor's office in building civic trust. Through the creation of a new job. And... hey, I need a job! What a neat coincidence!

Nonsense aside, in addition to serving as this month's editorial, this one goes out as an open letter to all the candidates running for the Mayor's job in the City of St. Louis, either Democratic or Republican. The election's right around the corner and it's not too early to begin the transition process, gents. (Or, in one candidate's case, smoothing out what's already in place.)

Think about this at your leisure. I'm patient.

Dear Gentlemen,

Thanks for having the guts and courage to run for Mayor. It's obviously a job of great responsibility and dedication. Best of luck in your primary races and may the issues (rather than personalities and sideshow topics) stand in the center of the debate in the coming months.

From a position decidedly on the outside-looking-in, it appears to me that a good deal of the Mayor's time is spent meeting. With members of the Room 200 staff. With leaders of the corporate and religious community. With parties interested in seeing large-scale developments take place, the movers and shakers.

Obviously, meeting with staff and the upper-end members of our community is important in furthering the aims of the City: to increase our tax base, to spur residential and commercial development, to keep in constant touch with the players.

However, I'd like to propose a position of your staff that may not currently exist, at least not in this type of overt form.

Please consider such a title coming into being: Director of Civics.

What would this DoC do, exactly? Well, here are some possibilities.

  1. Attend community meetings, whether secular or religious, formal or loose. This way, even though you won't have the time to be present at all of these meetings, a member of your administration would be there, on the job. This would serve as both a symbolic gesture (City Hall cares enough to send a representative) and a way to really, honestly keep tabs on what issues are important in particular areas. Obviously, this knowledge would not only help your knowledge of the grassroots issues that have currency in the community, it would allow you to know where your base of power lies and where troubles lurks, politically-speaking. Again, these meetings, whether formal monthly events or just block party barbecues, provide tremendous opportunities to hear people out.

  2. Organize news and notes from these meetings. Aldermen, committee persons and NSOs will tell you what's going on their wards or other districts of responsibilities. However, human nature suggests that their words will be coded, to some extent; their own takes on the issues may supersede other issues being discussed in their wards. In effect, the DoC would keep a direct line into the communities, allowing you to break the filtering of feedback.

  3. A way for people to blow off steam. Don't underestimate people's frustrations with City Hall. By offering up a thick-skinned representative with ready answers and an willing ear, you diffuse a lot of the problems that people have with the office. Your office is on the scene. People feel a sense of feedback occurring right there. Not all the right answers will be at hand, but folks often just want the ability to vent. The DoC's your sounding board in the field.

  4. Information, information, information. Not unlike a beat patrolman covering a few square-miles of territory, the DoC would have a handle on where the hotspots are at, and where they might develop. By talking to people that don't often have a direct line to City Hall (merchants, storefront pastors, people out mowing their lawn in an otherwise decrepit block), the Director of Civics would be privy to conversations that currently aren't taking place. Where are the drug houses and why are they developing in certain neighborhoods? Where do hookers stroll? What blocks have been hit by graffiti? Where are little pockets of the urban renaissance cropping up? What types of official action would those residents like to further their gains? Where are dumpster fires a problem? Where do you see packs of wild dogs? What's the cleanest block in the City? What do Bosnian, Vietnamese and Mexican immigrants need to become more a part of the civic program? Let me repeat: information, information, information. A lot of it new, a lot of it essential and currently flying under the radar.

  5. Developing relationships with leaders that don't hold official titles. The local barber, the bartender, the corner store proprietor... these are the people that often have not only a high degree of information, they're held good regard by the people in the immediate community. By talking to folks that don't have vested titles, but do have influence in their areas, you widen the civic net. The DoC can tell you where to grab a beer on the way home, where to buy lunch, where to shop for some knick-knacks, all the while cinching up your ties to the community by discussing issues with people who have the pulse of their communities.

  6. Promotion of the idea that the people count, in a major way. Right now, our City needs a major infusion of positivity. Though the Mayor's Office lacks certain powers that are held in other offices around the country, the Mayor has a tremendous ability to shape the overall vibe that the City is projecting. The DoC could be a person that would help you shape the messages (if not the policy) that could connect with people inside and outside of the City limits. There's too much dire news; spread some sunshine!

  7. Outreach and simple boosterism through established and alternative media. Though these go hand-in-hand with a variety of the points listed above, the DoC would serve as a link to school and church groups, able to articulate the role of City offices, the powers of each department, and the basic responsibilities of the Mayor's office. Kids in the City schools could get a does of City politics, something they may be lacking in at present. The job would also entail remaining upbeat about City projects and serving, along with the media relations staff, in a role that promotes the good stuff happening in a very forward way, rather than just relying upon reflexive spin control. Promoting very basic messages of what's going right, that's a big part of the role, too.

I'd be happy to further discuss these issues with each and every one of you between now and March. Drop me a line.

Thomas Crone

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