January 10, 2010

Seeds of Collaboration

Last week, I offered up several of my wishes for 2010. This was one of them:
  • Let 2010 be the Year of Cooperation between all levels of government including village, town, city, county, region, state and national jurisdictions. They should learn to play well with each other, consolidate services where possible, and think  about what is truly best for their constituents in these trying economic times.
Clearly I don’t pretend that I’m the first person who thought of that – like it says in the song, "...I know it's been said many times, many ways..." over the years. Some of the local folks who said it actually were sincere; others were more interested in being seen as favoring consolidation and cooperation, but less interested in doing anything about it. Sadly, when those two sides butt heads, the constituents are the losers.

But there is hope. A couple of interesting things occurred recently here in Syracuse that make it clear that kind of message is not lost on people.
  • Republican Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney and newly elected Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, a Democrat, had lunch.

  • Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce President Darlene Kerr and Metropolitan Development Association President Robert Simpson had a press conference.

These are important events for the greater Syracuse and Central New York area for a few reasons.

If we are to move forward, and move forward well, it will require Joanie and Stephanie to come together frequently, reasonably, and without ego. It will likely require them to convince their parties, their employees, and both the County Legislature and the Common Council to give up territory, to give up power, to give up titles and likely even jobs, for the greater good.

And, if this level of discussion, collaboration, and progress can happen at the city and county level, maybe folks at other jurisdictions (towns, villages, etc.) would look to find ways to have similar conversations. Of course, they have to pick the right issues to collaborate on - police and fire services seem to be real hot buttons, maybe picking something a little less touchy to start might make sense.

Last, the reason why the Chamber and MDA seem ready to set aside long-standing power struggles and egos is mostly because they have new leaders who are able to see that shared opportunities can be better than separate accomplishments. This is a great lesson which can be expanded across governmental agencies, businesses, and educational institutions.

(They're are also proof that sometimes the folks that have been around the longest may not be the best ones to lead us forward. Hmm…in an election year…where we have lots of stagnant, long-term, short-sighted people in power… Getting any ideas?)

The other thing that’s really cool about this is that changing the way we approach economic development was the one of the cornerstones of Stephanie’s plan for the city. In her 50 Point
Plan for a 21st Century City, the first section of the Plan includes references to us “…need(ing) a new direction and a new approach…cogent regional economic development principles and practices…” The first strategy she outlined called for the city to “work with the County, MDA, Chamber, Convention and Visitors Bureau, MACNY and others…” This collaboration is shaping up to be easier that many thought it might be.

That we’re already seeing this level of cooperation is remarkable. That others besides just Stephanie and me see the benefits is a huge plus. That we're seeing immediate action on a critical strategic issue for the region is exciting. 

Hopefully it’s the real deal, and not just a flash in the pan.

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