In Dayton, our solution to the big hole in our population is to decrease the number of homes. It’s a rear guard, defensive effort that puts money into the hands of the demolition contractors (who are big campaign donors) and the landfill operators. And although the analogy that starts this excerpt from Thomas Friedman is about digging holes- filling a landfill isn’t the way you dig yourself out of a hole:
Everyone knows the first rule of holes: When you’re in one, stop digging. But people often forget the second rule of holes: You can only grow your way out. You can’t borrow your way out.
One of the best of this new breed of leaders is Atlanta’s inspiring mayor, 41-year-old Kasim Reed. A former Georgia state senator, Reed won Atlanta’s mayoral race in December 2009 by 714 votes. The day he took office, Atlanta had $7.4 million in reserves, an out-of-control budget and was laying off so many firefighters there were only three personnel on a truck, below national standards. A year later, it has $58 million in reserves, and Reed has a 70 percent approval rating — which he earned the hard way.
Reed started his reforms by enlisting two professionals, not cronies, to help run the city: Peter Aman, a partner at Bain & Company, a consultancy, to be his chief operating officer; and John Mellott, a former publisher of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, to lead a pension review panel. Atlanta has 7,000 city employees, but today, says Reed, “you can’t hire a receptionist” without it “personally being approved by Aman.”
Then Reed tackled the city’s biggest problem: runaway pensions, which were eating up 20 percent of tax revenues and are rising. In the early 2000s, the police, fire and municipal workers’ unions persuaded the city to raise all their pensions — and make it retroactive. So, between 2001 and 2009, Atlanta’s unfunded pension obligations grew from $321 million to $1.484 billion. Yikes.
Reed couldn’t cut existing pensions without lawsuits, but he cut back pensions for all new employees to pre-2000 levels and raised the vesting period to 15 years from 10. When union picketers swarmed city hall to protest, Reed invited them all into his office — in shifts — where he patiently explained, with charts, that without pension reform everyone’s pensions would go bust.
By getting the city’s budget under control, Reed then had some money to invest in more police officers and, what he wanted most, to reopen the 16 recreation centers and swimming pools in the city’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods, which had been shuttered for lack of money. “People were shooting dice in the empty pools,” he said. Local businesses have now offered to finance after-school job-skills programs in the reopened centers. Cut here. Invest there.
Reed combines a soft touch with a hard head. I like how he talks about both Atlanta and America: “We are not going to be what we have been for the last 50 years if we don’t change, and everybody in a position to have more than two people listening to them needs to be saying that, because the time we have to make the adjustments is running out. We need to get on with it. Whether it’s the deficit, education or investing in young people or immigration — we are not tackling [them] in the fundamental ways required. We’re just doing it piecemeal. We’re just playing and surviving. And we need to be very clear where just surviving takes you: it takes you to a lifestyle of just survival.”
Note- economic development in Atlanta is hiring more police officers and reopening recreation centers- and then letting business take care of business.
Atlanta is considered a boom town when compared to Dayton. If they are solving problems by improving quality of life- why aren’t we focused on that- instead of the mysterious “economic development” by government?
Tearing down houses doesn’t bring us more social capital. Where is the plan to bring more people to Dayton?
When are we going to tell the world we’ve got a great place to operate inexpensively- then do everything we can to make it true? It’s time to give up control on areas we’ve given up on- and let market forces go wild.
It’s time to guarantee that if you invest in Dayton- you won’t be broken into. That your building won’t be tagged with graffiti. It’s time to cut the bureaucracy – and the overhead of so many watchdogs- who aren’t doing anything except getting in the way.
It’s time to present a vision- and head toward it at full force.
And, I’m not picking on Mayor Leitzell- it’s just using the alliteration of leadership and Leitzell- there are a whole bunch of “leaders” in this town that need to get focused and fast.
Note- I added bold and italics to “inspiring mayor” above. It’s time to inspire Mayor Leitzell.