10-Year Plan: City's future needs to be our plan, not just mayor's
By Ryan Gleason
During the last election for Mayor of Racine I found myself in a unique position as one of the moderators at the candidate debate held at Gateway Technical College between Bob Turner and John Dickert. This was a role that myself and everyone else involved took very seriously. Many hours went into the preparation and research to ensure that the questions asked were quality and got to the core of how the candidates were defining themselves to the public.
After going through the campaign web sites, newspaper articles, prior debates, interviews and other published material in the preparation for the debate, the candidate choice really boiled down to experience versus vision. Bob Turner brought the experience and John Dickert brought the vision. The cornerstone of Dickert's vision promise was making Racine a top ten city in ten years - and thus the idea of the 10 Year Plan was born. It was certainly bold and something that differentiated him from everyone else. Coming off of a political hangover brought on by the scandal of former Mayor Gary Becker the message of a new vision for Racine with benchmarks, goals and accountability caught the attention and mood of the voters. It was the right message at the right time and people were willing to listen.
What we attempted to do in the debate was flesh out some of the details of this plan. The first and most obvious question to me was: What is a top 10 city? Depending upon the person asked, the response could be quite different so we asked John Dickert the question. The response seemed to indicate that this was some type of national program with predetermined criteria but nothing really specific was offered. We asked for one detail of the plan and again nothing specific was offered apart from generalities about 3 pillars of importance. Both responses were serious red flags. In retrospect I think Dickert was given a pass on the details because it was presumed that a detailed plan would be issued after the election. The impression was given that it was in the works.
Truth be told it probably was not in Dickert's best interest to divulge details of the plan prior to the election because it gives his opponent campaign material. I find it very ironic that our political culture demands answers to questions and then we proceed to demonize those answers so greatly that it becomes a political liability to put anything out there except vague generalities that are neither offensive nor helpful....hence no details of the 10 year plan because it was politically risky.
Well, the election came and went with Dickert prevailing and still no plan more than a year later. Some will be angry in a politically motivated way because they just don't like Mayor Dickert or perhaps they aspire to replace him. Others are angry because they saw the 10 year plan as a great idea and something that is truly needed. This wasn't just a silly campaign promise either - it was the core of the message and a concept that people really bought into. The most tragic part is that it is a promise that is unquestionably deliverable. There is nothing preventing this from being completed except the will to get it done.
That takes me to the point of this commentary. Most of my background has been with projects and project teams so I'm taking a little bit different approach to answering the 10 year plan question. I think we have to take a step back. Before I begin, it is important to lay out some of the ground rules.
1. The government cannot solve all of our problems nor should they be expected to....but they can facilitate and help lead
2. Lowering taxes alone isn't a plan.
3. Success rarely comes without some degree of failure so be patient and flexible
4. Demonizing ideas or people that have them is a guaranteed pathway to dysfunction
5. Involve the community in the conversation and ask them for help
6. We all own the problem and are thus responsible for holding up our end of the deal to fix things
7. There is a difference between being a habitual whiner and a concerned citizen
8. All plans have benchmarks and measurement - this one should be no different
9. Don't be afraid to stop doing something that isn't working
As for the plan:
First, I think what needs to happen is an objective or goal needs to be defined. You cannot achieve something that doesn't exist. Without an end game in mind all we have is a bunch of potentially great but disconnected ideas. We need a concept that pulls it all together. The mayor already began with a solid one - become a top 10 city. Just as in the debate, the first question should be: What is a Top 10 City? I believe this is a question that only the people in Racine can fully answer. The answer will be unique to us and our reality and thereby more meaningful. I would consult with business groups, community organizations, schools, and anyone else willing to participate. We are all in this together so start an initiative that gets that critical feedback and let everyone and their uncle know that we're doing it. Use the vast talent of the people around this city.
The result should be several items that turn into your initiatives. For example:
A Top 10 City has no more than 5% unemployment.
What follows from that statement should be tactics to help get us there. The baseline is where we are at today and then our goals for Year 1,2,3,etc. Government will play a role but so will existing business, future entrepreneurs, and schools. An initiative like this may require rethinking what Racine business will look like 10 years from now and planning on how to support that today. Based on the analysis we may find that the goal is unattainable or unrealistic so you go back, adjust and communicate why. That's called refinement and should be happening at regular intervals as we check in on progress.
This is one of those situations well suited for the Mayor to lead. He can help lay out the groundwork to get us to a plan that has community input and buy-in. Not everyone will be happy but they all will know where we're trying to go. Decisions that are made should be justified against the plan - which should become part of a normal process and way of life for our government. It also helps to take away some of the uncertainty regarding decision making. Some parts the government can help with but many other parts will require actions from within the community. I think the talent and the will would be there to get it done if the people were called upon to do so. That after all is the American way and the most important legacy we can give to the next generation.
I've seen many great ideas already from people that have decided to write in. The missing piece is the process and leadership that brings all of these ideas and people together. No one person can put together this plan for Racine. This is our city and it has to be our plan. The only way to do that is to involve us and then let us run with it. The mayor is naturally talented at selling ideas and motivating others. I think he should play to this strength and use it to develop this concept. It will take personal commitment and political courage but as I used to say at work - just because it is hard doesn't mean we shouldn't do it.