Shaking Up City Hall!

Bill Schrier served for 30 years as an employee for the city of Seattle. For the past ten years until his recent retirement Mr. Schrier served as the Chief Technology Officer for Seattle.

As part of a Seattle newspaper series, Schrier was asked if he were Mayor of Seattle, what three actions would he take immediately to improve City government and improve quality of life for the people living and working in Seattle?

Schrier’s responses are interesting:

First, I’d appoint a Chief Innovation Officer(CInO) to reach out to the technology and start-up communities in Seattle, harnessing their ideas and technologies for use in City government. Taking advantage of these technologies will help to build the city’s economy and promote locally developed products. The CInO would also find innovative ways to cut through the bureaucracy entrenched in City departments, and help them find new ways to deliver better, cheaper, faster service.

The second thing I’d do as mayor is hire a COO, a Chief Operating Officer.

Mayors, by design, are the “outside” face of government. They need to be actively working with community groups, businesses and the wide variety of constituents the City serves. But City government is also a giant “company” with 11,000 employees operating a number of sprawling City departments. These departments — utilities, public safety, parks, etc. — are businesses that operate very independently, each supporting its own motor pools, facilities, information technology and other internal services that often duplicate and overlap each other. This duplication wastes millions of dollars a year. The City needs a strong COO to break down the walls between City departments.

Finally, the Mayor needs to vastly improve the way City government interacts with its constituents.

When the City seeks input on proposed policy and ordinances it usually holds public meetings or committee hearings. That approach has major shortcomings.

First, only the NIMBY’s (“not in my backyard” crowd) show up to protest whatever proposal is being discussed, which turns the public meetings into a marathon of short, disjointed speeches by one citizen after another. Today we have technologies that offer far more efficient ways to get input and don’t require people to come to a meeting and wait hours for their turn at the microphone. The City should take advantage of video conferencing, Facebook apps, and cool locally developed technologies.

We live in a phenomenal City in a beautiful natural environment and a stimulating hub of technology and innovation. But too often our City government operates in a traditional, bureaucratic, siloed “business as usual” fashion. With this mayoral campaign, let’s shake that up.

While every city is unique the problems identified by Schrier are common issues in many cities. As communities across the country are electing Mayors, perhaps Mr. Schrier’s ideas should be considered outside of Seattle. What do you think about Schrier’s ideas?

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