Saturday, April 23, 2016

Four votes? Maybe more? Let's see.

We are constantly reminded that it takes four council votes. On Wednesday evening were four council voters inspired to broaden the most important franchise we have - the enfranchisement of the governed? Will they see that they serve that franchise best by empowering it? - A Life and the Times

An action item

It is no longer possible to say "if anything was done wrong it was unintentional." Once the disparate outcomes in city board and commission appointments being produced by the current process have been made clear, those who continue to use that process become complicit in any continued inequities that result.

On this issue, we can move as quickly as the mayor and the council choose. They can take up the work of citizens in the recent community forum and bring it into the deliberative and legislative process of city government. They can enlist us in fashioning productive and positive reforms that broaden and deepen our enfranchisement in our city government. The mayor and the council can do this immediately.

At the earliest opportunity, the mayor or a member of the council should put before the council a motion for the formation of a task force charged with addressing diversity and inclusion concerns in appointments to city boards and commissions.

This task force should:

  1. Consider reforms that bring diversity and inclusion to the appointment process and the pool of applicants; 
  2. Review arbitrary limits on the size of these bodies that may unnecessarily restrict participation; and, 
  3. Provide for transparency and accountability throughout. Obviously, the formation of this task force must reflect the diversity and inclusion it is charged with fostering.

We cannot have an inclusive city if it is not inclusive at its governing core. Those we elect to serve can no longer say they do not know of the disparities this appointment process is producing. They can no longer excuse themselves by saying they do not mean for these disparities to occur.

We deserve more now than their regrets. The mayor and the council can either say that they are determined to reform this process (and then do so); or, they can by inaction or delay or silence seem to say they do not care.

I believe they care. Let's see what comes of it.


If you agree, you can help by saying so.

Contact your councilperson here:

Friday, April 22, 2016

A long conversation that brings us here for now

For the purposes of the pragmatics of human communication, it is again quite irrelevant to ask why a person should have such a premise, how it came about, or how unconscious it may be. - Watzlawick, Bavelas, and Jackson, The Pragmatics of Human Communication: A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies, and Paradoxes


50 years ago
James Meredith hit by a shotgun blast.
A few weeks earlier, James Meredith, who in 1962 was the first black student admitted to Ole Miss, had been wounded by a shotgun blast. He had just begun a solitary voting rights march from Memphis, Tennessee headed down Highway 51 for Jackson, Mississippi. It was called the "March Against Fear" and everyone was scared. - "Itta Bena, Mississippi | Summer 1966"

17 years ago

Back in May 1999 Olmsted County led the formation of a 21st Century Partnership to research and propose what it would take for Olmsted County to be a leader in the 21st Century. 
The 21st Century Partnership Task Force on Diversity called for improving the internal diversity performance of community institutions and ensuring that institutions in the community include diversity as a priority in their own planning and programming. The network of relationships that knit the majority community together should be made accessible to the minority communities in the community as well. Strategies to extend opportunities for greater civic involvement to minorities could include:
  • involvement in neighborhood groups,
  • appointment to citizen committees serving local government
  • recruitment by service clubs
  • involvement in non-profit board
  • involvement in interest groups such as the League of Women Voters, and
  • involvement in committees advising business organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce"

6 years ago

In 2010, Mayo Clinic partnered with the Rochester Public Library to bring the national touring exhibit "RACE: Are We So Different?" to Rochester, Minn. The exhibit was free of charge to the public. 
The RACE exhibit explores the issues of race and racism in the United States and is designed to appeal to people of all ages, interests and backgrounds. It was developed by the American Anthropological Association in collaboration with the Science Museum of Minnesota and funded by the National Science Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

7 months ago

"Dear Mr. Munoz"

Two weeks ago

"I guess maybe ... maybe, we could have done better with a couple more women on that committee to make it a little more equitable," he said. "If anything was done wrong, it was unintentional. We weren't looking to stack the deck, one way or another." "Is 'Heart' committee diverse enough?" Post-Bulletin 04.07.16

Monday afternoon

"DMCC board member Susan Rani asked how the process is working to meet women- and minority-owned business participation requirements, mandated by DMC legislation..... 
Rani pushed for more inclusion of women and minority businesses early in the planning processes, not as an "add-on" to be considered later in the process." "$1.8 billion in infrastructure planned with DMC" Post Bulletin 04.21.2016

Wednesday evening

photo credit: The Med City Beat
More than 50 community members and city leaders packed into the Rochester Public Library auditorium Wednesday evening to discuss the state of the city's various appointed boards and commissions — and what can be done to improve the diversity of each. "Diversity discussion brings out concerns, ideas" The Med City Beat 04.21.2016


In other words, it is no longer possible to say "if anything was done wrong it was unintentional." 

The "An inclusive Rochester: How do we get there?" forum was a remarkable event with great credit to the folks and sponsoring organizations that pulled it together very quickly. A sizable and inclusive turn-out. Diverse across many spectrums. With broad and deep consensus across the smaller discussion groups regarding their concerns and their proposed responses to those concerns.

It is important to recognize that our current system of appointments to city boards and commissions places a heavy burden on whoever occupies the Office of the Mayor. We can raise serious concerns about that process without characterizing the competence or character of its current occupant. The challenges and problems raised this evening were structural and systemic.

The gathering Wednesday evening should not be - as was suggested at its close - the beginning of a "long conversation". Rather it was a moment in a conversation on diversity and inclusion that is already long and will continue. But in the moment on Wednesday evening that long conversation raised a specific concern that can be addressed concretely in its particulars.

Once the disparate outcomes in city board and commission appointments being produced by an imperfect process have been made clear, continuing to use that process makes those who do so complicit in the outcomes it produces.

Bringing us to here for now

It is now time for the mayor and the council to carry this conversation forward. Sooner rather than later. They cannot put an end to it once and for all, but they can act on it here for now.

There were four council members present Wednesday evening. They have heard for themselves first hand what concerns citizens have. They probably heard - as did I - from people they had not heard from before. That should itself say something to all of us. If they heard what I heard they heard people speaking from their heads and their hearts. Speaking frankly and thoughtfully with conviction and passion and a little humor.

On this issue, we can move as quickly as the mayor and the council choose to do so. We can take the work of this community forum and move it into the work of city governance - into the deliberative and legislative process that can guide us toward productive and positive reforms.

We are constantly reminded that it takes four council votes. On Wednesday evening were four council voters inspired to broaden the most important franchise we have - the enfranchisement of the governed? Will they see that they serve that franchise best by empowering it?

Maybe they will come to understand that we cannot have an inclusive city if it is not inclusive at its governing core.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Right on purpose: inclusion requires intention

Gender, race, and age composition of Rochester boards and commissions

"If anything was done wrong, it was unintentional." - A.F. Brede

"This is the place that every person in Rochester owns." - R.T. Rybak

It’s even called the “Heart of the City”. A.F. Brede describes it as “a true center for Rochester, a cross-roads where Mayo Clinic, commercial, hospitality, retail and residential meet.” Sounds pretty special. And not just for downtown business owners and developers and builders; or, the associations that represent the interests of downtown business owners and developer and builders. It’s a place of our own that we all own - "every person".

Quite admirably, the Destination Medical Center Corporation Board of Directors (DMCC) and the City of Rochester (the city) formed a “Community Advisory Committee” (CAC) for the public space design of this sub-district of the Destination Medical Center (DMC) Development Plan. The "public space" of which we have come to hear so much in recent weeks. Those streets and sidewalks and plazas and parks that make a downtown more than a strip mall.

So it was that 9 to 12 chairs were provided to include the interests of a diverse public that comes to this  “place that every person in Rochester owns”. Unfortunately, only 90 or so people ask to sit in those chairs.

"We do rely – and we have to rely – on those people that apply." - A.F. Brede

Of course private spaces abut public spaces. Right now in the Downtown (tm), the private spaces even spill out onto the public spaces. People who own and develop and build private spaces have an understandable interest in those public spaces they abut and those public spaces they have appropriated for their private interests. Be that as it may, public spaces remain public. Or should. If you really want to talk about public space design, you go heavy on the public interest. Or should.

Regrettably, we know that keeping the public interest well represented in public affairs has been something of a challenge for the city. Some in local government and media wonder openly about the wisdom of so much public involvement in civic affairs. Fortunately, in this case, establishing CAC answered the question of public involvement in the affirmative. Unfortunately, forming CAC ran afoul of local outreach practices that produce outcomes which never fully grasp the notion of inclusion.

As recently as December 2015, the issue of diversity and inclusion in appointments to city boards and commissions was raised by members of the city council. A few months later, the city council received an unflattering report on those appointments. So, it's not like concerns about diversity and inclusion in the outcomes of mayoral appointments to public bodies were unknown.  One might have thought these concerns would have been reflected in the appointments to a high profile body like CAC. Not so much.

In March 2016, the issue of inclusion was raised again in a local editorial along with concerns about the transparency of the appointment process. "Since the mayor is the only person privy to the specific details< the editorial observed, "it would be hard to speculate whether the best decisions are always made...." But, with the CAC appointments, we do have the list of the 90+ applicants seeking a deliberative voice in the public space design of the "place in Rochester that every person owns."

It is difficult to review this list of 90+ applicants and not ask a few questions about the mayoral appointment process as it currently exists, the lack of inclusion it continues to produce, and the expanding circle of those complicit in both.

"They want to know that you ... sometimes change your mind." - R.T. Rybak

One can take the mayor at his word that anything "done wrong" was "unintentional". But just as the school district has learned that intent is not needed to produce disparate outcomes, so too the city might come to understand that wrong is wrong whether you intend it or not.

These "unintended wrongs" require intention to be corrected. If doing wrong is to be regarded as some sad accident, then right must be done with purpose, on purpose. Indeed, that's how the right thing always gets done.

What might we do on purpose to improve:
  1. Add more diversity to the appointment process: Establish a "committee on committees" that oversees the appointment process. Give them the authority not just to appoint, but to do outreach. Other governing bodies have made use of this practice. If changing the city charter is necessary, change it.
  2. Add more diversity to the applicant pool: Actively partner with Ready to Lead, a local program to equip people with the knowledge and skills to feel confident in volunteering to serve on community, nonprofit, and government committees seeking diverse voices and representation. Note: seeking diverse voices not waiting for them to show up - or ignoring them when they do (see also). Leadership Greater Rochester is another long-standing program of the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce that prepares people for an active role in civic and community affairs. 
  3. Add more chairs: This will go a long way in doing the right thing now about CAC. There is no virtue in a small group size. The goal should not be some misguided desire for efficiency. Inclusion is the point. More voices, not fewer, and the challenges that come with adding them. Larger groups can function productively. 

"Since we will create it by the seat of our pants, let's provide plenty of chairs for the city we hope to build." - R.D. Beal

About a year ago, how many chairs we provide came up in this blog:
Whenever we provide too few chairs from which these others might speak, we deprive ourselves of the textured diversity that creates the better futures we hope for. Here, for Block, is the "real politics of our lives". Our lives improve as 
...[W]e collectively choose to be together in a way that creates a space for something new to occur. What is needed is for us to choose over and over to more widely distribute ownership  [for creating change] and accountability. These choices spring from the hands of citizens, rather than the hands of experts and system executives. These choices arise when we value, invest in, and recognize the gifts and capacities of citizens. (Block, Community
Though I sat down to celebrate people sitting down with a problem and standing up with possibilities, this day - May 4th - took me elsewhere. I want to come back to that place where I began, people sitting down in a city at the threshold of a bold, unprecedented future. Most of that future is uncharted. Since we will create it by the seat of our pants, let's provide plenty of chairs for the city we hope to build.