Getting a response from local leaders

Sometimes our community leaders don’t do what we want them to.

When we’re frustrated about this, it’s easy to generalize and say, “people in power don’t listen, they just do what they want.

It might even be tempting to think this is always true based on our worst imaginings about people who hold office, lead departments/organizations, or who otherwise have influence over the world around us. We see powerful and corrupted villains all the time in movies and on TV, and indeed there are some prominent people around the world right now who seem to be living out incredibly harmful versions of leadership and holding power.

But leaders with truly villainous intentions are probably pretty rare in Richmond and Wayne County, Indiana.

I suspect most people who have sought or been placed into positions of power — especially at the local level — are not sitting around thinking about how many people they can oppress or rubbing their palms together while laughing maniacally about their latest evil plan. They are probably not looking for the darkest, smokiest, most back of back rooms in which to devise new ways to make your life miserable.

They might have the wrong priorities, bring the wrong qualifications, or just be ignorant, but they are probably not malicious in their intent. And for better or worse, they are in a position of influence or power that affects you.

So what do YOU do when they’re not doing what you want?

If you disagree with local leaders, or have questions and concerns that you want them to address, it’s important to follow through on that and actually work to engage them directly on the issues you care about. If you assume they don’t care, or that others have tried and failed to get them to take action, and if everyone else assumes the same, then nothing will ever change for the better.

If they truly are abusing their power or not listening to the people they represent, it’s important to get that on the record sooner rather than later.

Not sure where to start? Here’s one path of “escalation” for getting a response from local leaders:

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Community calendar fragmentation

In any given week it seems there are many different kinds of events happening in Richmond and Wayne County. Sports games, lectures, art shows, educational events, government meetings, not-for-profit community meetings, outdoor adventures, book clubs, theatrical performances, events for kids and families, neighborhood meetings, block parties, live music, festivals, fairs, fundraisers, bingo, club events, sales and specials at local businesses, worship services, and much more.

There is a lot going on here, and that’s something to celebrate!

The challenge is that someone casually looking for “something to do” might have to search several different places before finding an option that appeals to them, and to get complete information about all of the events going on. If they don’t look in the right place, they might miss out. Doing a thorough search of all the local calendars could take hours, and each one has strengths and gaps in the info they provide.

For example, the Pal-Item events calendar has a lot in it and is the main source of info if you search online for “richmond indiana events,” but because they highlight regional items at the same level as local items, the “Popular Events” listings all take place outside of Wayne County. The WayNet calendar tends to be frequently updated, but only allows non-commercial events to be posted. The City of Richmond’s “things to do” calendar mainly features city government meetings. On some of these sites it can be very difficult to share the event details with friends and family, even just to generate an email with a link, let alone to re-share it on social media with all the needed details. And as you search through calendars hosted by our various not-for-profits, colleges/universities and other entities in Richmond and the surrounding cities, the trend continues.

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Richmond, Indiana Podcasts

I’m always on the hunt for new and interesting podcasts that help me learn, understand and laugh.

Most of the ones I listen to regularly tackle national or global topics, but it’s been great to see a small resurgence of podcasts that are local in origin and explore local issues and news. (You may remember that from 2006-2008 I hosted a weekly podcast called The Richmond News Review, one of the first local podcasts around.)

Unfortunately there are no results if you search on “Richmond, Indiana” in popular podcast directories like the iTunes store. But, if you’re a podcast listener (or can consume audio in some form – no fancy Apple device is necessarily needed) and looking for some local flavor, here’s a list of podcasts around Richmond Indiana:

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Feedback requested: what should I write about?

The writing here is largely driven by my own personal passion and free time. When there are things happening in the community that I feel I can add some useful perspective about, and I have the time and focus to do that, I publish. When I get busy with life, go on vacation, or otherwise just don’t feel like writing, I don’t publish. For something I do voluntarily and mostly for fun, I don’t really want to change that arrangement.

But I’m also grateful to have gotten positive feedback online and in person from folks who find this site and my writings about Richmond useful. Some are careful to point out that they don’t always agree with me, but they appreciate the insights and conversation. Prompting more conversation and action is the point, and I want to honor the two-way nature of that.

So, a simple question for those of you following along: what would you enjoy seeing more of here on This poll will be open for about a week, and then I’ll share the results. Vote for your top 1 or 2 choices here:

And thanks for reading.

Sell off our future before it’s too late

What are we waiting for?

If all Richmond needs to do is raise some cash to take care of a few things, we have some great options! There are tons of companies out there waiting to take over management of our land, our green spaces, our parks, our roads, our buildings, our fiber optic network, our landfill, our jails, our healthcare, our water, our power generation, the very air we breathe.

All we have to do is sign on the dotted line and promise to let those companies act in ways that always, always maximize their profits, no matter what the impact on our community or our way of life. Simple!

Who cares if every household sees an occasional bump in our utility and trash disposal costs? Who wouldn’t mind paying a small toll to use US-40 every day? Who’s really going to notice if we store some toxic chemicals under Glen Miller Park? Who would really mind additional semi truck traffic coming in to town at all hours? It’s cash in the bank, folks!

And as long as the private companies agree to hire current city employees initially, we can just awkwardly look the other way a year or two from now when those jobs are eliminated or transferred out of town. Thanks for your service!

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The future of news reporting in Richmond

Yesterday it seems the Palladium-Item newspaper laid off four more of its news department staff, leaving only a small handful of people to report firsthand on what’s happening in the area.

At a personal level, we should send words of care and support to those who have just lost their jobs. Going through a professional transition of any kind can be hard and stressful, and doing so involuntarily with little notice can be gut-wrenching. We should appreciate the time and energy that these folks (and all of the paper’s former staff) have given to bring light, texture and understanding to the stories and news of our community, and hope that they are able to land on their feet with new opportunities ahead. We should also think of the staff who are left behind, almost certainly expected to do more with less.

Sometimes layoffs happen because an organization needs to restructure in order to grow or meet longer term goals. In this case it seems the paper’s trajectory for some time has been toward shrinking its local staff in favor of content assembled, edited and published from elsewhere. There doesn’t seem to be any sign of a rebirth or resurgence in its future, though the advertising dollars and current subscription revenue can probably sustain a meager existence for some time. But we should probably expect the staff reductions to continue until the paper is either sold, closed altogether or significantly changes in format (e.g. becoming a weekly, becoming a section of the Indianapolis Star). My understanding is that when we hear the news that the Pal-Item has been donated to the Gannett Foundation, the company’s charitable giving arm, we will know that a sale or closure is imminent.

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Valerie Shaffer on measuring success, combating negativity in economic development

Almost every conversation about the future of our community eventually circles around to issues of economic development, job creation and quality of life. At the center of many public efforts on those fronts is the Economic Development Corporation and its President, Valerie Shaffer. I think and write a lot about the EDC’s model of building up our local economy, and Shaffer graciously agreed to sit down with me for some conversation. We talked about how things are going, the challenges along the way, and what it’s personally like to be working on such high-profile efforts. (This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)

Chris Hardie: Let’s say you meet someone who knows nothing about the EDC and what it does. How would you describe it to them?

Valerie Shaffer: We are a 501(c)3 not-for-profit development corporation contracted by the Wayne County government to provide economic development services. We get our funding from the Economic Development Income Tax, which is a quarter of one percent local income tax paid by working Wayne County residents. We really have three main priorities that we’re focused on: business retention and expansion, new business attraction, and workforce development.

CH: People can understandably be pretty sensitive about how their tax dollars are used, and the concept of public/private leverage ratios does’t always hit home for folks looking at their household budgets today. What’s the best case that you can make for why the EDC is here, the value that it brings, and why it should continue to do what it’s doing?

VS: Just about every county throughout the state, throughout the nation, has an Economic Development Corporation. If we’re not at the table, we don’t have a chance to compete for new private investment. While I don’t always agree with the way we have to use incentives in order to win projects, it’s just the nature of the beast. I understand it’s hard for citizens to grasp why a corporation may not have to pay 100% of their taxes, while as an individual they do.

Being in a smaller community and a more rural part of the state, we oftentimes have to offer more incentives [to prospective employers] than a larger, urban city would have to offer to land the deal. Our labor pool is smaller, which means [employers] have to go a further distance to get the number and types of qualified people needed to support their organization.

CH: It seems like economic development efforts can devolve into a rollercoaster of hit and miss…one day you’re announcing a great win with new jobs, another day you’re seeing a business close its doors or relocate. Other cities around the country are going through the same thing. How do you know if you’re on the right track and that we’re actually making progress over time?

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