State of the City

I had the honor of being in the studio audience tonight as Mayor Dave Snow gave his State of the City address. The speech was broadcast live and you can also watch the full video replay from Whitewater Community Television on WGTV.

A few things stood out to me:

First, it was unexpectedly refreshing to hear a political office holder speak with such clarity, maturity and specificity about the successes and challenges facing a community. Maybe I’ve been listening to too many state and national politicians talk lately, but I continue to appreciate Mayor Snow’s style of communication as one that celebrates the good, acknowledges the things that are hard, and encourages action from everyone involved, all without the fluff or hyperbole that has become too common in political speech.

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How to run for local elected office in Richmond

It’s a time of increased political engagement for many, and some people are realizing that if they are concerned about the direction their government is heading, one option is to run for office themselves.

I’ve only done it once as a candidate and I didn’t win the office I was seeking, but I still learned a lot about what it takes to run for local elected office in Richmond, Indiana. So, I’m sharing some of that knowledge in hopes that it will help people who want to make a difference in our community in this particular way.

1. Learn about local government, pick an office to run for

Some people assume that the only local elected office that could really make a difference is that of the Mayor, but it’s not that simple. The interactions between the Mayor’s office (executive branch), the Richmond Common Council (legislative branch), various boards and commissions, and the many other departments and divisions of city government are complicated. There are also significant interdependencies between local government, Wayne County government, and even state-level government. Understanding how all of these work is an important first step in deciding to run for office. You might even find that there are unelected positions (as a volunteer or employee) you could take on to tackle the issues that are important to you.

So, read through state and local codes that dictate the power and responsibilities of these entities. Visit the offices in person. Talk to the people who currently work there and ask them what they do every day. Watch the many hours of government-related programming from WCTV. Read through past media coverage. Attend government meetings yourself.

Once you pick the office you want to run for, study it carefully. Research who has held the position in the past, what kind of work they’ve done, where the biggest opportunities and constraints seem to be, and what current issues are facing that position in today’s political and economic environment.

You should also study the calendar and major milestones of local election cycles. The Indiana Secretary of State usually makes available detailed packets of information for candidates and campaign committees with all of the filing deadlines, reporting deadlines and election dates – here’s the 2016 Candidate Guide. The Wayne County Clerk also typically has helpful information for candidates online, and you should visit their office in person to get familiar with their friendly staff and the forms you’ll need to file.

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Tech skills for elected officials

Should basic competence with technology be essential for serving in local elected office?

I think so.

Historically not a lot of the workflow of local roles like City Council member, County Commissioner, or even Mayor have required much familiarity with technology. If you could receive and read through packets of paper, answer the phone and listen to voicemail, speak reasonably coherently in meetings, and perhaps operate a motor vehicle, you had everything you needed to serve the public interest without worrying too much about computers, the Internet, phone systems or other tech tools.

Today, I don’t think an elected official can claim to be truly in touch with the needs and opportunities in their constituent community if they’re not proficient with more modern tools like email, the web, cloud-based document sharing and collaboration, and social media.

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Diversity in leadership

If you don’t regularly attend local government meetings or read the printed newspaper, it can be easy to forget what our elected leaders look like. Here are some photos from a few recent meetings of elected officials in Wayne County, courtesy of the great ongoing coverage by WCTV:

Yep, it’s a mostly male, mostly white crowd. The largest diversity we tend to have in our legislative bodies is 20-30% representation by women. There are parts of our government that are literally run by “old boy networks.” I believe there is only one non-white elected person in all of Richmond city and Wayne County government.

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Rigging elections in Wayne County?

There’s talk on the presidential election trail about whether the upcoming fall elections could be rigged to favor one outcome or another. It’s perhaps tempting to dismiss this as conspiracy theory talk by election losers-in-waiting, and maybe that’s all it is. But as someone who’s been following the transition to electronic voting systems and the challenges and potential liabilities they represent in maintaining the integrity of elections (see here and here) I thought it would be worth looking into the “riggability” of elections, at least at the local level here in Wayne County.

I checked in with Wayne County Clerk Debra Berry, who was very helpful in providing some information about our voting equipment and process beyond what’s available on the County’s voter information website. She clarified that we’re using the Hart InterCivic voting machines, which are used by hundreds of jurisdictions nationwide.

I asked about the specific modules and firmware versions we’re using on these machines, which could be helpful to anyone wanting to make sure we’re up to date with vendor provided improvements that address any known security issues:

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Thank you, Sally

Mayor Sally HuttonFormer Richmond Mayor Sally Hutton died yesterday.

I followed Mayor Hutton’s political career since arriving in Richmond. It always struck me how accessible, genuine and forward-thinking she was in her approach to community-building and city governance.

It felt like her door was literally always open – whether it be her office at the City Building, her house or wherever she found herself around town. Whatever she was working on, she seemed to keep the needs of Richmond’s everyday worker, resident and small business owner at the center of her perspective. Mayor Hutton was of the people, by the people and for the people in a way we rarely see with modern elected officials.

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Help wanted, Director of IT

The City of Richmond needs to hire a Director of Information Technology. The position description is here, applications go to as noted here.

The person in this role will have some great opportunities to help shape how local government uses technology tools to be more efficient and effective. Yes, there are some things about the current infrastructure to clean up and no, IT in the public sector is probably not going to be as lucrative as it might be in the private sector. But it’s important work in the service of a city that can get caught up and then get ahead, and for a Mayor who has a strong appreciation for good technology management and its importance to running the City well.

I hope you’ll share the position opening with qualified IT professionals that you know, and help us get the right person in the job.