Guaranteed More Effective Government

Hey.  Roughly a quarter of the city’s population – round numbers, more than 150,000 parents and their children and a good number of older folks too – are in families making less than the official poverty level. If that isn’t the city’s highest priority, we don’t know what is.

On behalf of these families, we have a suggestion that will help the new Mayor and City Council provide much more effective city government in Baltimore. If we were charging for it, it would come with a money back guaranty. We’re that sure of ourselves. Here’s what we recommend…

It’s simple. You’re the Mayor or a Member of the City Council. At the end of every day, or before you finalize a new program or vote on legislation, imagine yourself standing in front of a handful of the city’s unemployed and under-employed parents having the following conversation:

“Hey guys. How’s it going?”

No response as members of the group look at each other, wondering what was so important that you had to talk to them about it face-to-face.

“Well, let me tell you want I’m doing to make Baltimore a better place for you to live and work.”

Still nothing and so, not wanting to prolong an awkward moment, you tell them about the program or legislation on which you’ve been working. Tell them, for example, how you’re going to $74 million tearing down vacant houses. Or maybe about the mandatory $30+ million you’re setting aside to fund after-school programs and childcare. “That’s certainly a good thing,” you think to yourself. Or maybe tell them about the resolution you’re writing as if resolutions actually accomplish anything.

“So,” you ask them anticipating at least a mildly positive response that reinforces your opinion of all the good work you’re doing, “how’s that?!”

There’s a moment of silence and then one of them, an unemployed mother of two, speaks up to say out loud what the others are thinking. “That sounds great. Really, but how exactly does it help me find work?”

And then another person asks, doing his courteous-best to suppress his sense of exasperation, “I’m already working, but what can you do to help me make enough money to take care of my kids?”

And a third person follows up, “Look, I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but don’t worry so much about taking care of my children for me. Just help me, please, get a decent job so I can afford to take care of them myself.”

And now, imagine that there are not just a handful of people in the room hanging on your every word, but tens of thousands. Enough to fill Ravens Stadium twice and then some.

Look them in the face…  Don’t govern at a distance, look them in the face and tell them that your program or law is big enough, fast enough, smart enough to help them – all of them – find work before the negative die of unemployment and poverty is cast for yet another generation.

So that’s it. There you go. If you still feel like the program or legislation you’re considering is the best you can do, tell your constituents that to their faces and do it.

On the other hand, don’t let pride of authorship or the momentum of government affairs or, heaven forbid, politics prevent you from going back to the drawing board. At the very least, in everything you do as Mayor or on the City Council, you need to reflect the courage these families demonstrate every day.

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