Groups seek to shape Muriel Bowser transition using New York City model

Mon, 2014-12-08


A coalition of nonprofit groups has launched a novel effort to advise D.C. Mayor-elect Muriel E. Bowser on her transition, importing a model recently used in New York City to tap the views of the majority of District residents who did not vote this year.

The centerpiece of the effort is a 23-question online survey that asks residents to rate the city on education, housing, transportation, service delivery, quality of life and other measures. A parallel effort from the Urban Institute is developing policy recommendations in five areas: housing, education, transparency, economic development and “social and economic mobility.”

The data is set to be presented at a large-scale town hall that has yet to be scheduled. It will be organized by the National Institute for Civic Discourse, a group at the University of Arizona whose executive director, Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, organized large “citizen summits” for mayors Anthony A. Williams and Vincent C. Gray.

The town hall will prioritize issues for action by Bowser, said Kimberly Perry, executive director of D.C. Vote, one of the organizing groups. A Bowser transition official said Tuesday that the mayor-elect is aware of the effort but has not yet agreed to participate.

Perry said the effort is about a “platform to elevate citizen voices.”

“We’ve struggled in this city to get participation at the ballot box or, really, participation in any civic discourse,” she said. “This is an opportunity to get people to weigh in. What are their opinions about the direction of the city?”

Talking Transition” was first deployed a year ago, before the inauguration of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), with the backing of the Ford Foundation and other blue-chip philanthropic groups. The District’s version was launched Monday by groups including D.C. Vote, D.C. Working Families and the Urban Institute.

Among the funders of both efforts is the Open Society Foundations, an organization founded by billionaire investor and financier of liberal causes George Soros.

About 177,000 D.C. residents cast ballots on Nov. 4, out of 461,325 registered voters and a voting-age population estimated by the Census Bureau at 514,080.

In New York, more than 70,000 surveys were collected, Perry said. In the District, she said, the goal is to collect 10,000 surveys by Dec. 22 through the group’s Web site, a 20-person canvassing team or walk-in visits to the D.C. Vote offices downtown.

Another town hall will likely be scheduled for summer, she said: “We don’t want it to go on the shelf and sit by the wayside. We want to see it incorporated.”

The effort is otherwise taking place apart from Bowser’s transition organization, which includes eight committees, a paid staff and dozens of volunteers. That effort has sought to solicit input from the public, including a series of public forums.

 

On Tuesday, Bowser announced one of the most consequential decisions in her young career as a public executive, naming Alexandria City Manager Rashad M. Young to be her city administrator.

Young, 38, has served Alexandria for the past three years; he was previously city manager in Greensboro, N.C., and Dayton, Ohio.

Bowser said she had encountered Young through regional government circles and mutual friends.

“What was very important to me is that I attract a person who has run a city and who has shown the skills to work on budgets, to lead employees, work with labor unions, and have a good sense of listening and giving feedback to the public, and Rashad has demonstrated that he has all of those skills,” she said. “I know he’s up to this task.”

In the District, Young will manage a budget more than 10 times the size of Alexandria’s city spending plan and a workforce nearly 10 times as large.

“I have a very healthy respect and appreciation for the size, skill and scope of this responsibility,” he said. “I don’t take that lightly.”

Bowser made the announcement in front of one of the city’s mountains of road salt, emphasizing her commitment to continue improving basic city services including snow removal. But she also discussed making new advances in government.

She said she would reinstate CapStat, the data-based agency accountability system established under former mayor Adrian M. Fenty, and she reiterated plans to hire a “chief innovation officer” to focus on technological advances in D.C. government.

Among the problems she pledged to address were the chronically long lines outside the city’s social service centers: “How can we change that? How can we look at technology so the person who wants to access health care or food stamps or other benefits doesn’t have to make those trips?”

Young is required to move to the District and will be paid $295,000, Bowser spokesman Joaquin McPeek said, the same as outgoing city administrator Allen Y. Lew. When he was hired in Alexandria, Young was paid $245,000 — a salary that generated some criticism.

While serving in Dayton, his home town, Young was also the subject of a controversy surrounding an employment bias case.

A city technology administrator whose 2006 firing Young supported subsequently sued him, alleging racial discrimination by Young, who is black, against the administrator, who is white. The official also alleged retaliation after the official sought to reprimand a relative of Young’s.

The case was settled in 2009 for $145,000, according to a report by theDayton Daily News.

Young said the settlement was made by the Dayton City Commission to “dispose of the case” and involved no admission of wrongdoing.

“I’ve always operated with honesty and integrity, and I’ve had four, now, employers look at that issue, and none of them have found those allegations to be of any merit or substance,” he said.