An Open Letter to President-Elect Trump

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An Open Letter to President-Elect Trump

Dear President-Elect Trump,

elks_us_flagHey Don (do you mind if I call you ‘Don’?).  It’s DK. I hope you and your family finally got a few seconds to absorb this contentious and grueling election cycle, take a moment, and rested a bit. Because what’s about to happen next, well that’s going to make what you just went through for 18 months a little walk in the park.

I know friends, donors, and members from the “Washington Establishment” both Rs and Ds are probably beginning to circle around you looking for jobs, appointments, cushy ambassadorships and all the like. Trust me, I lived right in the heart of Washington, DC for 15 years – I totally get it.  But I hope you don’t mind getting this here note from Yours Truly with an idea that maybe would be something to consider – if not for just helping you steer into a solid direction for your policy rollouts… but to help heal America a bit.

Okay, first thing’s first. Full disclosure: I totally didn’t vote for you.

In fact, I pretty much thought from the moment you jumped on your golden escalator that this campaign was more P.T. Barnum than U.S. Grant. I had no confidence in you, your ability to govern, your experience, your sensibilities to issues, your personal bankrupt moral compass, your xenophobia, your misogyny, your knowledge of Geo-political situations, the works.  Oh, and I think your “TV celebrity” just makes you no better than a Paris Hilton in terms of true substance (other than that, I’m sure you’re a swell guy).

But… you won. So that’s a thing.

Now you are about to take the oath and get rolling. I have a suggestion that might be something that you – and only you – can be massively qualified and positioned to take on (yes, I’m not kidding. After listing a billion thing I think you lack, I am saying you have something super rare and advantageous for this idea to work).  Wanna know what I think you should hit the ground running on immediately following your swearing in?

A War on Infrastructure.

Don, you are perfectly aligned to make a massive, country-wide “New Deal-esque” frontal assault on the crumbling infrastructure of our nation. We have talked literally for years about how our country is falling apart from the inside with very little national push from the top out to the countryside. Roads, bridges, airports, trains, the entire transportation system is due for some serious facelifts. But not just words, placating a typical talking point every political office holder promises into every microphone and rubber-chicken dinner speech. Nope, a full-on WAR on Infrastructure. Why? Well there are a number of reasons why you are best positioned for this:

  • Divided Nation, Unifying Project: Don, you know that this election was split. It may “appear” you have a mandate because the Electoral College numbers were surprisingly one-side more than most thought, in addition having the House and Senate both Republican-led is a nice thing. But HALF of the popular vote went elsewhere. In fact more people voted for Secretary Clinton than you.  Tensions are high, nerves are shot, anger is boiling over in many parts of the land. But you know what many, many Americans can get behind? Fixing that pothole.  Rebuilding that bridge that looks rusted out. An actual real-deal national tain rail system that isn’t Amtrak’s joke of a fleet. This is not only super needed.. it could be super unifying.

 

  • Get People To Work:  Tons of people who voted for you are blue collars workers having it tough over the last few years. Few years?! Hell, since President Reagan working class jobs, manufacturing jobs, builders, construction-based jobs… all have been melting away. With a massive push to infrastructure, you can rally these workers and get them back on the job. And not just direct line workers, committing to this large-push for large projects means work for work clothing, equipment (assembly & maintenance), urban planners, architects, developers, catering/food trucks, event management pros, energy workers, etc. PLUS, new infrastructure means new places to start new jobs, new businesses, and new employment opportunities.  New projects? New jobs.

 

  • Um, You’re A Builder: This is your thing, isn’t it, Don? Consider yourself the General-Contractor-in-Chief.

 

  • We Need To Unite, Literally: You know what I think might be the best part of this idea, Don? This doubling-down on infrastructure could bind us closer to one another more than anything. Look at the final Electoral College map. See those red states in the middle? Okay, now check out the coasts? All blue, right? Part of the common language that we use speaks to this split in the nation, blue and red. Many call it “flyover states” or the “liberal coasts” when talking about us. How about this: let’s connect everyone more directly by creating an actual trans-continental rail system. Let’s have people go THROUGH the flyover states and travel across the liberal coasts. If we move through and interact, we might even start seeing what is means to live in other areas of OUR country, and then begin to understand and LEARN from one another.  There was a time when traveling cross-country meant experiencing the many sights and sounds of our diverse nation. Today? It’s flight with some bad food and terrible movie. Gate to gate, no experiencing other parts of our collective culture.

 

  • Everyone Hates You: Here me out, Don. This could be a not-so-bad-thing. What I mean is that your campaign ticked off everyone. Democrats and Republicans alike were horrified, shocked, angered, confused, and every other emotion to you. You have allies and foes from both sides of the political fence. But….. BUT…. that also means you are not held to a “follow the party line” standard like many others face once they take the Oath of Office.  Political promises to leadership or party? Forget it. You can use this to your advantage by pushing both sides to invest the political and financial capital to make this happen. Put is this way: everybody needs and road and a pothole doesn’t care if you’re a Dem or a GOPer.

 

  • Your “America First” Talk Could Be Realized Without Being A Dick:  There’s a not-so-subtle dog whistle about your yapping on about “America First” that is unsettling. Xenophobia, religious intolerance, the fear of “others” makes you look weak., ignorant.  But by saying we will rebuild “America First” – you show willingness to unify and connect. Metaphor AND Reality. Boom-shaka-laka.

 

  • Let’s Make A Deal (without the stupid costumes like on theTV show): You think you can make the best deals? Cool, hire some guys to fix I-80.  Feel like you can negotiate quality contracts? Awesome, let’s connect everyone to smart rail and ties our rural/suburban/urban corridors together. Put that NYC-contractor-relations to good use.

 

  • Talk Tech, Nerd: Infrastructure work will need the necessary tech savvy people to make the system hum. We can’t have a 21st century full-transportation and run on computers from the 1980s – yet in many place, that’s the reality. Trust me, I worked on a FAA contract in the 90s about the Air Traffic Control System and so much of it (radar system, traffic control hardware/software) was ancient… ANCIENT. Like Pong-looking displays. Scary. Recruit our top tech minds to back a huge (you say “yuge” when I mean huge, don’t you Don?) implementation strategy, and voila! High speed rail, driver-less vehicles, HOV lanes, modernized airport systems… check and mate.

screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-3-24-51-pm

So there you go, Don! There are so many things that you will have to address and tackle as our new President. You said some outlandish things, hateful speech, and honestly… some flat out un-American rhetoric.  You need something that shows off your skills, knowledge, and core work experience… infrastructure is the thing!

You’ve got a mountain of worries and concerns from a whole lot of America, Mr. President-Elect. My advice to you is to do what you say you’re the best at:  Building.

First, build America’s Infrastructure…. then start to think how you could help rebuild America’s broken soul.

I’ll let you go now. Thanks for your time, Don.

Sincerely,

~DK

PS — Just a quick logistical question: Will there be a “White House Hair Wrangler” on staff? I’ve got to think you’d need a well-trained person on staff to manage that lettuce atop your head, and someone to travel with you at all times, kind of like a body man who carries your luggage. Just wondering.


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The .gov Role: The Hub for Community Development

allabrdAhh… local government. The place where we pay taxes that we complain about the most, the place we pay our parking bills that we complain about the most… actually come to think about it, for many of us City Hall is a big “complaint box” where we all gather (if ever) and complain about stuff.

Local government is WAY more than that, of course. It is truly where public policy affects us the most. From ordinances to tax plans, budget decisions to administration priorities, local government is the place where our community establishes its foundation and framework.

But here’s the thing our local politicians are missing and it’s due to their collective “traditional way” of thinking about the role of government.  They miss the importance of being The Hub.

Um, DK… what’s “The Hub?”

Good question and thanks for asking, Mr. or Ms. Reader.  Let me introduce you to the idea of the Connection Economy and The Hub.

I believe we live in a new era for our economy where the emphasis is placed on connections. That is to say that for a community to thrive in this new economy, the importance is placed on collaboration between organizations and businesses now more than ever. Why? The internet has shortened the line. Worldwide commerce isn’t just for Import/Export companies any longer. I can order meats from Omaha, Nebraska the same as I can order meats from Osaka, Japan. Both while sitting at my laptop in Anywhere, USA. Because of this, local businesses need to not only provide great product and service.. they must also entice connection. The scale also pushes the need to work together to form a cluster of stores and businesses that can benefit from each other’s impressions (i.e. store visits) from customers and guests.

Another reason for the need to work the Connection Economy? The era of the big box store is coming to an end. Small, unique store with niche marketing is the lifeblood of so many cities in the midst of revitalization. And it makes perfect sense why. Cost and Risk. The big department stores are dying off anyway, but with this reduction, they also hedge their bets when it comes to plopping down a store anywhere. They are WAY more selective (if they are expanding at all) and usually emerging markets or communities on the rebound just aren’t good enough of a risk to take with their limited money. They would rather double down in the suburbs than risk a neighborhood they “think” might come back from the brink in a city center.  Small Mom & Pop stores, stores started by a couple of friends and a dream… this is what is moving the revitalization needle in many mid-size and small cities, and it is this kind of small business owner who has the right mix of risk and capital to buy into a small shop in an area that is not booming.. but could boom.

This is ready made for The Hub.

Governments at a local level should think of themselves like Incubators. Their role is to protect and nurture. Too often we are wrapped up in the political and not the policy when it comes to our local governments.  Like former Speaker of the US House of Representatives Tip O’Neill used to say, “All politics is local” – I tend to think what is truly should be is “All policy is local” because at the end of the day, how we execute on political stances and public policy comes down to ourselves and our local governments.

But coming back to the incubator and Hub. In the most traditional sense of government operations, decision are based often by two factors: budget and staffing.

Do we have the budget?

Do we have the staff?

Honestly, both of these presumptions speak to how I believe the role of government needs to be looked at through a new, innovative lens.

It isn’t the role of government to always take the lead in money and manpower to design or manage an innovation or to implement a public policy.  There are others ready, willing, and able to carry a good portion of the load for these.. and they will do it willingly and with passion…

I’m talking about the nonprofit sector.

Nonprofiteers are built with public policy in mind. Whether it is healthcare, environment, arts/culture, education, human development (places of worship, support services, etc.) and all things in-between, the nonprofit sector is designed with impact in mind…and people at the ready. And this is the big miss made by so many local municipalities. Local governments look at the nonprofit sector as, at best, a support service along the sidelines; and at worst, a nuisance of organizations that hurt the overall community’s outlook or financial pocketbook.   Why do I say this? What are some of the issues being talked about today?

With budget cuts happening at the local (and state) levels, governments feel like nonprofits only TAKE from the treasury of cities. Wanted money is the main reason, they see, that nonprofit talk to city council or mayors. Take. Take. Take.

Similarly, local governments feel that with the rise of so many nonprofit-owned buildings and facilities in a town, nonprofits are simply BURDENS on the local economy. “They” don’t pay taxes on property, so it lowers the amount into the treasury but “they” still are given the services of a city to their facilities (this is the always-used “if a fire breaks out at your building, we as a city are still obligated to provide assets and resources even though “you” don’t contribute to the taxes paying for them” argument).  **SPOILER ALERT: Nonprofits are job creators, pay payroll tax and inject people (and their $) into communities (including out-of-state dollars via grants and foundations that would never arrive in a community).**

It’s the perception that leads to the lack of strong usage of the sector in public policy. Too much to spent on these old positions of “charity” and “funding” and “PILOTs” (Payment in lieu of Taxes) and less on the actually work that could be done if local government and nonprofits/social enterprisers got together smartly.

This is the HUB.

2-union-stationAt a train station, there are tracks leading in all sorts of directions.  Each track is filled with trains of various sizes, shapes, amounts of cars, etc. Each train car is filled with people, things, commodities, ideas, thoughts, feelings, the works.  How does all of this work? The train station. The HUB that moves the trains, the people, the tracks, the maintenance, the announcements….. the HUB is what makes it all happen. Now ask yourself,

“How are the trains running in your town?”

Nonprofit organization compete over the same grant money from that ONE BIG DONOR, every corner of the city has a neighborhood group tackling homelessness in their own way, crime is discussed in a town hall in City Section 1 while a lack of educational opportunities lead to crime realities in City Section 2. Silos develop. Funding, marketing support, advocacy are all dispersed, and then diluted due to its disconnection to one another.  Businesses, large and small, are asked to support worthy causes; but seem to feel like the impact isn’t being made enough or fast enough to show movement.  Everyone is asked to do more with less. Turnover occurs. Bureaucracy bogs down innovation. Stagnation leads to less and less “new blood” coursing through business and nonprofit veins. Apathy and, worse off, neutrality, sets in. And our communities just hobble along, hoping for change “next budget cycle” or “when the economy picks up.”

Local government can drastically assist in all of this simply by redefining its role. Be that HUB. Be the part of the equation that is the unified entity seeing how this all shapes the community. Here’s a basic example of The HUB in practice and see where your community follows this path, and where it fall off the mark:

During the “State of the City” Address, Mayor Smith announces her goal to reduce homelessness in City X by 10% over the course of this next year. “We cannot, and will not, allow our fellow citizens to not have a safe place to live and a place to begin to reshape their path to success in their lives,” she states as the applause reaches a fever pitch.

Immediately following the address, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff briefs the Deputy Mayor on Community Impact (the nonprofit liaison to the nonprofit community) on the charge and sets a series of update check in points over the course of the calendar year (tabbing this along with major community events and showcase events happening in the city, including its signature event that raises funds for the city’s General Fund).

city_hall_boardroomDeputy Mayor, along with the Marketing Director and Community Outreach Manager research in the city’s database of nonprofit organizations, and cross references the “homeless” action-ing nonprofits in the City and sends a group invite to City Hall to meet in one of its Conference Room – a War Room on the Initiative to Tackle Homelessness.

Members of the nonprofit community – all with specific missions on fighting and reducing homelessness – attend these coordinating meetings, suggest other group who need to be in on this action (example, the mentoring program at the local high school that is addressing homeless youth and how to work with them in their education and life skill training) and set waterfalls (deadline markers to show progress, update city council and administration).

Grants are researched and EACH AND EVERY ONE is sent out with a full-throated endorsement/support letter from the Mayor encouraging fiscal support of this multi-organizational, multi-level strategy to reduce homelessness by 10% in this year.  Media is made aware of this initiative and periodic visits to tv stations always includes members of the administration AND a member of the nonprofit “citizen staffing” team. Social media is coordinated to make large impress effect, corporate sponsorships and other fiscal support is “trafficked” by the citizen staffing team to best (strategically) deploy assets into the participating organizations for maximum impact, and coming with strong support from the city’s political leaders.  Events to co-branded and shared. Volunteer groups are called and unified for support. Etc. Etc. Etc.

See what’s happening? Nonprofits are doing their mission work, businesses are impacting with support to make them proud and “feel” their contribution grow, local government is there to shepherd, defend, support, endorse, and watch the big picture… and most importantly, impact is seen, felt, and succeeding at a higher level.

Is it this easy? Of course not. But again… what is? (and more to the point, is the alternative of “everyone for themselves” working any better?)

This is a case of wanting political leadership to recognize an adage that is said here at Connect The Dots Movement which is:  “Innovation Begins By Kicking The Ass of Intimidation.”  It will take political leaders to see the value in opening their doors of City Hall and little bit wider, viewing their staff as being not just those who roam the halls with city ID badges, but also includes strong nonprofit organization who are in the business of GOING OUT OF BUSINESS TO TACKLE THEIR MISSION’S CAUSE (ask a person who runs a homeless shelter: wouldn’t it be nice to have NO ONE need a bed for the night in your town?).

It take leadership. Real, true leadership to bring together sectors of the city – crossing political, socioeconomic, influencer, racial, denominational, and economic barriers – to create a legion of “Citizen Staffers” to cause massive impact on a community and its challenges. All these pieces are in town. It take someone – some entity – to be the Hub that keeps the trains running on time and in good order throughout the system. And that can, and should, be the role of local government.

~DK