Resolutionary Government in Anytown
Rebecca is mayor. City bureaucrats are in shock. Instead of writing up plans and proposals, they attend meetings with camcorders. More than 2,000 people showed up for the meeting about privatizing three public schools, so the meeting was rescheduled and held in a high school stadium.
Everyone who had anything to say on the subject was welcome to speak. The company expecting to take over the schools made a presentation. Then another company rose to explain why they would be better. Then the crowd heard from teachers, administrators, students. The meeting lasted from 10am to 10pm, with a few breaks. Ever on the alert for opportunities, the stadium refreshment stands opened and started selling hot dogs and popcorn (but no beer). At the end, nearly everyone was still there, and an enormous audience was watching on their TVs at home.
Three times, Rebecca summarized what she thought was the will of the people. The first two times, there were too many no’s. The third time, she said, “Let me try again. It seems to me that we want the schools to remain public and under the control of our school board, but we will be happy to allow Kindezi, an innovative charter school project, to take the schools over and apply their model. Also, we have to find a way to take care of the teachers and administrators who will be displaced, including giving them a chance to apply to work for Kindezi. And, we have to find funds somewhere to improve the old school buildings and grounds. Are we satisfied with this general idea?” Unmistakable roar of approval.
“OK, then. I’m going to ask the school board to come up with a detailed plan for finding the funds and implementing this idea. When they come up with their plan, we’ll announce it and post it on the website for comment. You are all welcome to make comments, and I assure you that we will read each and every comment you send in. We’ll do our best to follow the spirit of the decision made here tonight. Is this acceptable?” Roar of approval. “Are we done for tonight?” Roar of approval, and the crowd starts acting like the game had just ended.
The people are loving the new system, and not just in Anytown. This little city website has to graduate to a new server because they jump, almost over night, from about 100 to several million hits a day, including lots of folks who sit there and watch all day. People in Asia and and Europe are eager to see how Rebecca Whyte manages her city. They watch because they can. Every important meeting is there to be seen.
After working out some of the bugs in the new system, Rebecca requests that Mr. Jackson come to her office with the Statement of Economic Interest he used to disqualify her as a mayoral candidate. Before Rebecca can state her agenda, Mr. Jackson says, “We don’t need to discuss what I did. I’ve brought you my letter of resignation.”
“Is this an admission that the attempt to disqualify me was a dirty trick?”
“Yes, I suppose it is. To be honest and open, I met with a small group of people who wanted to keep you from becoming mayor, and disqualifying your SEI was the plan we came up with. Your form did have some irregularities we thought we could defend if necessary, but we thought disqualifying you would be enough to get you out of the race. Even if you eventually took us to court and won, the election would take place without you. That was the plan.”
“Who was in the group?”
“I’m sorry. I’m willing to resign but I can’t hurt people who trusted me when I was part of their group. Anyway, I suspect you already know who most of them are.”
“Why did you and the others want to keep me out of office?”
“We’re used to getting what we want in this town. You were someone we knew we wouldn’t be able to control. We’d lose power, not just the power of the office but control of the local business community, municipal jobs, our economy. No one wants to lose power. Surely you can understand that.”
“Why are you being so honest with me now?”
“For one thing,” Mr. Jackson smiles, “I know I’m on camera, so I have to be on my best behavior. After all, I plan to stay here in Anytown. And, I’ve been watching how you operate. I can see you meant it when you said you’d make city government transparent and take money out of our politics. I’ve seen already how openness puts all of us—officials, staff, and citizens alike—on our best behavior. In fact, you’ve already, in a few short months, created a new culture here where the vast majority of us are genuinely trying to do what’s right for the city, not just ourselves or a small subgroup. And, we’re all treating each other better because of that. It’s more fun. It’s less stress. Frankly, I’ve been enjoying what you’re doing, and I wish you every success.”
“In that case, I hope you’ll take that letter of resignation home and tear it up.”
“Really? I was involved in a dishonest conspiracy against you. Even I think I should be punished for that. Besides, I can feel the people around me keeping their distance, like I’m a dead man walking. I doubt I can be an effective manager, given my public humiliation. I think it would be best to put me out of my misery and out of your way.”
“The last time we met, I knew you were being dishonest. I felt sure my SEI was fine, but more than that, I could feel you were avoiding me. You were hiding something. We both knew it, and so did the voters and everyone else who saw that video. But today, you’re completely different. I feel like I’m talking to the real you.
At first I thought maybe your resignation letter was a gimmick, but now I’m convinced that you think resigning is the right and natural thing to do. Maybe it is, and if you do deeply want to resign, I’ll accept your letter.
But I want you to stay. You’ve understood and articulated exactly what I’m trying to do, and you enjoy it. As you know, not everyone here in City Hall has come to that understanding. I know I’m interrupting a system of bribery and cronyism that has made certain people rich. Some City Council members, some staff, especially high-level staff, want me out. I feel like I’m swimming every day with sharks. That being the case, I need as many friends as I can get, and I believe you and I are now friends. If that’s true, and if you are willing to stay on, let’s go back to your office together. What do you say?”
“I’m surprised and delighted that this meeting is ending this way. It’s true your approach has plenty of enemies, and if you think I can help, I’ll be more than happy to stay and try. Let’s go.”
Mr. Jackson opens the door to the Administrative Operations Department, and Rebecca walks in ahead of him. Conversations fade quickly, as all eyes turn toward Rebecca.
“Let’s gather in the conference room.”
The conference room is full. Everyone is standing. Rebecca absorbs the tension, taking a few deep breaths to calm herself and get centered.
“You’ve all seen the video starring Mr. Jackson and me, the one that helped me win the election with write-ins. I called him in to see me today thinking I would be asking him to leave, and he arrived with a letter of resignation. Then we talked. During our talk, I came to understand that he has a deep, sympathetic understanding of the kind of city government I’m trying to achieve. I have come to believe that he sincerely regrets his role in trying to disqualify me, but more importantly, he actually prefers the total transparency and egalitarian fairness we’re working toward. He is smart. He has a lot of experience. He knows the players and how this system works, so I’ve asked him to stay on. Now I’m asking you. Is there anyone here who thinks I’m making a mistake?”
“How can we trust him?” asks Billy of the Events Section.
“Good point, and I salute your courage, asking that about someone who is likely to remain your boss. And I guess it is a risk. Maybe he’s tricking me. Maybe he’ll undermine me and serve his previous group. But let me point out two reasons I think we can take this risk. First, I have a strong feeling he’s on our side now. He understands and wants personally to make the changes we’re trying to make. I think he really wants to see what happens. Second, you are all free to film your interactions with him, and he will certainly be filming you. We’re all being filmed a lot around here these days, so let’s use that to keep each other honest. Use it on me, too, whenever you want. We’re governing under a microscope that’s broadcasting to the whole world. If he turns out to be a bad guy, he won’t last very long. So are you willing to give him, and me, a chance on this?” General agreement.
“Thank you. Gotta get back to work. Please let me know if you have any problems. That goes for you, too, Jackson.” When Rebecca flashes her famous smile and calls him Jackson, Mr. Jackson grins like a kid on Christmas Day. The whole room softens into a collective smile. As she leaves, Rebecca sees Mildred approaching Mr. Jackson, her eyes brimming with relief, for which Rebecca is grateful.