The cheap bastards in Dayton City Hall

When I first got involved in my second career as an unpaid citizen of Dayton, I found our city to be overly bureaucratic. We had our neighborhood organization, that got things done- and then we had the mysterious “Priority Boards” which were a huge bureaucratic buffer zone between the neighborhood and the City Commission. They had offices, staffed with several full-time employees, who made pretty decent money. More money than the city commissioners who were part-time, and supposedly the brain trust that was steering our city to prosperity.

When I, or anyone else would go to the City Commission with a complaint, they’d say “have you been to your priority board about this?” As if it was a crime to actually talk to and expect action from those we elect.

The city patted itself on the back often for being such a model of “citizen participation”- when in fact, it was just another place to hire people into patronage jobs. It really didn’t require any skill to work for the priority boards- it was all about who you knew.

So, each neighborhood had to have its own organization- a neighborhood association, which ideally was a non-profit (a 501 c-3 by the tax code), and had to hold elections to have at minimum a leader, a treasurer and a recording secretary, and then, depending on the size of your neighborhood elected representatives to your priority board seats- which could be anywhere from 1 to 4 in our case. The problem was that the neighborhoods, planning districts and precincts didn’t follow any of the same boundaries- making for coordinating the many heads more like a Hydra than a true democratic process.

At one point, to make sure the neighborhoods had a say- additional seats were created per organization, be it a full fledged neighborhood association or even a block club. Throw out proportional representation- just try to fill the rooms- to keep the patronage pogues looking busy.

The system was expensive- with offices in the seven “districts” of the city. Southeast held about 40% of the population- and always seemed to have the most “representation.” The downtown priority board was an afterthought- and didn’t even have a full-time staffer. The historic districts were split between all the priority boards- when in fact- they, along with downtown, were the ones who were most alike- and could have had a really strong voice if they hadn’t been segregated.

While the city was still flush with cash- thanks to corporate headquarters like Reynolds & Reynolds, Mead, Standard Register, NCR- it was easy to blow money on the priority board patronage jobs- which could be counted on around election time to help the Democratic Party have an Army to make sure their chosen candidates got elected. All was good and fine…

Until, well, the system broke and a Republican managed to get elected Mayor. Mike Turner, managed to tick off Reynolds & Reynolds CEO David Holmes- getting Holmes to put a ton of money behind Tony Capizzi to challenge Turner- and when Turner won again- Holmes took his company to Kettering.

There were other things at play, some pre-Turner, with Tom Danis buying off Police Chief Tyree Broomfield to step down, games played with an “Architectural review committee” slowing down the city-funded Arcade tower project- so Danis could get his Cit/Fed tower built first- and who knows what the Beerman family was doing to keep their real estate deals going- where they were making a fortune off the construction of 675, and CJ McLin and his daughter Rhine were doing the same with the 35 West deal.

The priority board system was a way to make the poor citizens of Dayton think they mattered, when in fact, they were just there to keep the party in power so that the friends and family of the Monarchy of Montgomery County could continue to kiss the wealthy asses of those who really were supporting our city.

I’d advocated for getting rid of the priority boards from day one- to have neighborhood presidents meet directly with the city manager 4 times a year. Note- the city manager- not the mayor or the commission, they aren’t supposed to be the ones running our city, but we’ve long forgotten that.

So, in today’s paper, we find out that what’s left of the vaulted citizen participation system is about $96K a year thrown out to the paupers to play pretend with- compared to a budget that used to run close to $8 million a year:

The city provided about $13,000 for 27 neighborhood festivals this year.

The city also awarded $83,046 in mini-grants to 20 neighborhood projects this year, three times the amount in 2014.

Source: Dayton pushes policy reforms

I always found it odd, that 25 years ago- our neighborhood thought it was a privilege to get to ride around on the back of a trash truck once a month on a Saturday morning to pick up the garbage that our overpaid trash collectors skipped.

People in other communities would wonder why would you pay your taxes to spend your Saturdays doing “community service” without a court order.

This is the travesty of Dayton. While the people who are still here fighting to make their community a nice place to live, and paying the 2nd highest income tax in the county, the cheap bastards in city hall are bragging about “awarding back less than $100,000 a year” to help those who volunteer- while giving multi-million-dollar tax breaks to General Electric, while raising trash and street light fees, and still having no problem buying buildings for half a million each- for which there is no public use.

Yeah. “Cheap bastards” is actually a nice name, for people who are really taking a crap on the people they represent. And, one other thing, you shouldn’t have to work so hard to have a great, safe, clean neighborhood. You should be able to spend your time living your life.

Data, Dayton and developing our City 2.0

When I first ran for Mayor, I talked about an ombudsman who would enter all complaints into a central database and then we’d evaluate how well we closed the issues. Each and every week.

Now, with the internet, mobile apps, and all kinds of social media, we can develop a web enabled system of tracking and prioritizing our issues.

I’m not the only one thinking about this, but, while so many of our other politicians are still talking about “economic development” and “land banking” I want to be talking about how we build the city of the future- and that doesn’t just mean faster internet pipes or wi-fi. From the site DIYCITY.org

Our cities today are relics from a time before the Internet. Services and infrastructure, created and operated by the government, are centrally managed, non-participatory and closed. And while this was once the best (and only) way for cities to operate, today it leads to a system that is inefficient, increasingly expensive to maintain, and slow to change.

What is needed right now is a new type of city: a city that is like the Internet in its openness, participation, distributed nature and rapid, organic evolution – a city that is not centrally operated, but that is created, operated and improved upon by all – a DIY City.

This is the DIYcity Challenge: can we, working together, define and build a version 1.0 of the Do-It-Yourself City, a city that operates on open data flowing through decentralized, open source tools, that actively engages residents not only as users but as participants and owners of the system?

Can we build this not only for our own individual cities, but for cities everywhere? Can we build an open toolset that any city, anywhere in the world, can access, modify to suit their needs, and deploy on their own terms?

via DIYcity.

And then take a look at the application CitySourced– and it’s overly long video Sorry about the autoplay:

CitySourced claims:

CitySourced is a real time mobile civic engagement tool. CitySourced provides a free, simple, and intuitive tool empowering citizens to identify civil issues (potholes, graffiti, trash, snow removal, etc.) and report them to city hall for quick resolution; an opportunity for government to use technology to save money and improve accountability to those they govern; and a positive, collaborative platform for real action. Our platform is called CitySourced, as it empowers everyday citizens to use their smart phones to make their cities a better place. CitySourced is powered by FreedomSpeaks, the leader in interactive civic engagement.

Hmmm, makes our old priority board system seem antiquated and overly complicated, doesn’t it.

If we’re looking to say Dayton is changing, and leading the way to creating Dayton 2.o with things like www.bcycle.com and tools like this, we may actually start seeing some people believe in Dayton and move here.

The informal movement

In 90 minutes or so, I’m going to be standing in front of a group of Dayton marketing professionals and presenting a “Big Idea.” This isn’t the Dayton Ad Club (now, unfortunately mis-monikered as the “Greater Dayton Advertising Association) or the Dayton Chapter of the American Marketing Association or the IABC (I can’t even remember what those initials stand for) or the…. countless other “formal” organizations with chapters, bylaws and tax IDs, but an ad hoc group founded by my friend David E Bowman. The “Dayton Marketing Community” is open to all, without dues, a set agenda, or all the rest of the trappings of formality- it’s basically just an online hub facilitated by Ning.

Like minded people, getting together, to get something done. As David said, we don’t have to ask permission to have a meeting.

It’s the same thing Dr. Ervin has done with his Oregon Arts District initiative. He didn’t ask permission, he just did it.

The Pinewood Park Athletic Association probably started the same way. Like-minded people coming together.

The highly organized campaign to elect our president, for all its structure and process, still felt ad hoc to many. The message boards are still there, but they aren’t as alive as they used to be.

Some efforts are carried by momentum, some by shared vision, some by an immediate purpose, but the question I ask today is- are all the trappings of formality really what gives a movement status? Is ad hoc the new way to get things done?

I think about this a lot, when I come to things like the Dayton Priority Board system, which seems to run parallel to the neighborhood organizations. I think about this when we look at unions and management battling for position, when both should be more worried about survival (car companies and firefighters/city hall for example).

Institutions are places of higher learning- and places we send crazy people people who can’t cope with regular day-to-day life within societies norms (to be PC). I find the dual use of the word almost ironic.

I’d like to hear your thoughts- do formal organizations always get more done?