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On this 4th of July it’s appropriate that some of BFD is devoted to discussing the reform of local government.

Here’s a modest proposal for BFD readers to consider: Promote the idea of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County and Northeast Ohio as global leaders in open governance. Establish the BFD Open Governance Project to start.

Portland, OR recently sent a delegation of civic leaders to Scandinavia to learn the best practices in sustainability for cities. Learn more.

It seems to me that it would make sense for Cleveland to send a delegation to Estonia (a leader in e-government) to learn how to leverage our One Community project. Estonia even runs an e-Governance Academy. Learn more.

Pushing for more openness, transparency, accountability and responsiveness makes more sense to me than pushing for a reduction of council seats. (Reducing council seats — a zero some game — will likely lead to gridlock.) Here are some suggestions on how to move forward.

  1. Expose patronage ties through social network mapping using Valdis Krebs’ expertise. Use the information on Frank Russo’s payroll from the PD to start. Or, map the connections on the Med Mart deal, or the airport, or the Port Authority. (Or, we could simply map Roldo’s brain. :-) )
  2. Research and draft a model reform of a reverse “open records” statute in Ohio. (Translation: All records should be public and posted on the Internet, unless the government makes the case that this information should be withheld for very narrow exceptions.) Open access is major opportunity that raises some difficult issues. The challenge is to keep adjusting old approaches to new technologies. Read more. Get some smart law students from CWRU, CSU and the U Akron to start. The Fund for Our Economic Future could even establish a Joint Center on Open Governance to promote its agenda of “government collaboration and efficiency”.
  3. Invite Steven Clift to address the City Club. An Ashoka Fellow, he has been pushing e-governance issue for long time. Download some of his articles here. He gets practical. While he’s here, get CoolCleveland, Youngstown’s Thinkers and Drinkers, E4S, Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams, University of Akron President Luis Proenza, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (and anyone else who gets it) to sponsor a NEO gathering to share some of the best practices in e-governance.
  4. For inspiration, read The Brilliant Solution this month (it’s short). It occurs to me that we are in the midst of an emerging consensus that our City and County governments don’t work very well. It’s similar (on a much smaller scale, of course) to the realization that moved leaders forward in the spring of 1787. The story reminds us that democracy is a process requiring continuous innovation to avoid the hazards of impasse, greed, and concentrated power.
  5. Establish an on-line workspace (The BFD Open Governance Project) to move forward. If enough people e-mail me to say they are interested, I’ll set up a workspace using our collaboration between I-Open and Near-Time, a leading Enterprise 2.0 firm based in Research Triangle. Recruit high school and college students to help run the workspace with internships funded by local businesses and foundations.

I’m reading Theodore Rex, Edmund Morris’ masterful biography of Theodore Roosevelt. TR had a wonderful quote: ““Do what you can with what you have, where you are.”

E-mail me, if you are interested in this modest proposal.

Here is a report on government costs in Cuyahoga County I prepared in 2004. Download a copy.

Last 5 posts by Ed Morrison

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11 Responses to “A modest proposal for the 4th”

  1. kyle julien Says:

    Always a good day to talk about democracy, Ed. A few quick thoughts, respectfully submitted.

    1. From your headline, I thought this was going to be satire in the vein of Swift. I was wrong, happily.

    2. Re: point #1, network mapping will reveal connections, but what will it say about the quality of those connections? How will such an outcome differentiate between patronage and healthy networks of the sort that you have promoted in other posts?

    3. How will such a project, which aims to empower and enfranchise through wise use of new technologies, avoid disenfranchising due to unequal access to technologies based on race, class, and age? The ultimate outcome of such a project could conceivably be ‘Patronage 2.0′.

    If the Constituional Convention of 1787 will provide inspiration, some lessons could also be learned from the mixed legacies of the Progressive Era of a century ago, and that movement’s efforts to improve governance.


  2. Ed Morrison Says:


    1. Network mapping: The quality of the relationships can be included. We’re not talking about one map. Rather, we are talking about using maps to gain insights. See Valdis Krebs’ site here.

    2. The disenfranchisement issue is a red herring in my view. Today, over 80% of the world is covered by mobile networks. This connectivity gives rise to many new opportunities at the “bottom of the pyramid” (See Prahalad’s book here.

    I-Open is working with Community Renewal in Louisiana which is pioneering network based models for inner city renewal.

  3. J Murray Says:

    Ed, it all sounds good at this level, but the devil is always in the details. The open records thing, for instance, can interfere with certain activities. State entities invest in private equity and are required to maintain confidentiality in order to be admitted into those partnerships–as are all other partners. If the investment activities of those partnerships were subject to open records, state entities might not be invited into those investment opportunities, which would disadvantage state pensioners.

    I’m certain that there are many other aspects of government business that require specific approaches, rather than the blanket statement that “more openness is better.”

    I’ll also add to the discussion the concept that the total government burden on the regional economy, measured in dollars and cents, should be kept within a target zone as defined not by goverenment itself, not by politicians, and not by reference to spending levels of other government entities, but by me, you, and Brad Whitehead–or some other such group of citizens.

    Finally, Kyle, the U.S. is a “democratic republic,” not a “democracy,” and thank God for that.

  4. Ed Morrison Says:


    I implied in the post that these rules are evolving and that there are some challenges ahead. But the fact remains that in a networked world, our presumptions on information shift. Federal and state policy need to keep up in this fast evolving area. Why not think of this region as a laboratory for these new approaches?

    On the issue of government overhead, I have been advocating this approach since my days at REI. I like the idea of headcounts. Several years ago, I did a report (which I presented Joe Roman and his assistant Dan? at the GCP) on the need for these type of measures. Nothing much happened. You can download the report here.

    At the same time, this metric is a good one for FFEF to follow in their “government efficiency” work.

    To Vince:

    Thanks for alerting me to the failed links. WordPress does some funky stuff sometimes with links, and I need to pay more attention to what I am doing.

  5. Ed Morrison Says:


    I put the link to the report at the end of the post. WordPress doesn’t like links in the comments.

  6. lmcshane Says:

    We already eat our children in NEO. Ed, can you use, rather than Sign me up.

  7. Ed Morrison Says:

    You bet. Thanks for the link to WorldCat. I’m signing up.

  8. TimFerris Says:

    I would imagine that your modest proposal would be as well received as Swift’s ( by the people presently in leadership positions around here; it’s best that you’re advocating doing an end-around, bypassing them entirely. Do you think they even know it’s coming? Would they acknowledge it if they did? Will their arrogance allow them to see?

    It seems to me that what you propose will result in a parallel world of governance, until the current one collapses of its own accord, and dies.

  9. Ed Morrison Says:


    You have caught the spirit of the post. At the same time, I see this idea not as a confrontation, but as an opportunity to leverage our assets (like Lev Gonick’s work with One Community) and develop new regional networks.

    The responsibility of leadership in today’s economy is to prepare us (and our children) for a more complex, dynamic and uncertain world.

    How do we create a more agile region? Some answers are emerging. Innovation in government services is one of these answers.

    As the study I posted shows, we have a big opportunity to reduce the upward pressure on taxes by improving local government performance and effectiveness (and holding people accountable).

    There are some excellent models and even a handbook to guide local government innovation (The Reinventor’s Fieldbook).

    I’ve participated in these efforts before, and I know it’s possible to bring more responsiveness to local government through focused citizen engagement and stronger citizen networks. Now, in addition, we have Web 2.0 and new, more powerful tools of collaboration.

    A couple of weeks ago, I-Open and our partner the Edward Lowe Foundation conducted a three day workshop for regions from Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Indiana, and Louisiana.

    Within our own region, we are seeing some impressive collaborations forming in Lorain, Akron and Youngstown. Cleveland and Cuyahoga County are slow moving, to be sure, but that can change.

    The question, of course, is whether enough people are tired of costly, patronage-driven sinecures, the incivility of leadership rants, the back room deals of “fixers”, incomprehensible and unaccountable “strategies”, and the propensity of our leadership to think that somehow, somewhere there’s got to be a consultant with some answers.

  10. TimFerris Says:

    Some people around these parts want to pay for consultants who give them the answers they want to hear; they don’t want to hear how they’ve just about totally killed the goose that lays the golden eggs. Dissonance in the party-line refrain is drowned out; dissidents are exiled.

    That’s why you’re working elsewhere, and that’s a good thing. I’m sure you’ll be back soon.

  11. Rob MacKay Says:

    Thoughtful ideas, Ed. Differences on the details are inevitable, but e-government can certainly introduce new efficiencies to the public sector just as e-business is doing in the private sector. Even the capability to renew my auto registrations online is a breath of fresh air and makes life a little easier, though I wonder if it has resulted in any improved efficiencies or reduced expenses within the registrar infrastructure.

    The report on government costs in Ohio and Cuyahoga County is particularly fascinating. It is wonderful to find clear information like this. It would also be interesting to compare the number of counties in Ohio per capita. I wonder if any similar government efficiencies are achieved through scale in the Southern states.