Opinion and Forefront

DAVIS: Advice for the mayor and new council

December 10, 2011

Kathy DavisDear Mayor Ballard, Council President-Elect Lewis, and members of the City-County Council:

Congratulations on your electoral victories. You have a lot of work ahead of you. The voters of Marion County decided, in a calculated or unintentional way, that you will lead together. How valuable it will be if you make the most of it.

No one-party dominance, no my way or the highway. The only way we can have progress is if you work together and lead together. You have to share information and ideas, listen to and persuade one another, get things done.

Indianapolis can differentiate itself through the fruits of your leadership. People and businesses will notice. Could we be so bold and successful that folks in the statehouse and halls of Congress take notice, too? I hope so.

Help us see the big picture—as clearly and simply as you can. What are the trends that we should be watching, how are we doing making this city what we want it to be? Help us see where we are, where we are going, and the plan to get us there.

Set the vision. What will Indianapolis be like in five, 10 years or more?

• Our economy—How do we see our life sciences, information, manufacturing and agricultural edge faring? How does our economic activity map with the rest of the world? And our skills? What does that mean for us?

• Transportation—How do we get around? Within the city and away? Who can do without a car? Who needs to do without a car?

• Health and education—How healthy are our children? What are they learning? How are we working together for their safety, good health, engagement in school and skill development?

• Our environment—Are we getting the sewage out of the rivers as planned? What are the opportunities for our waterfront?

The mayor and council members represent Indianapolis to the outside world, set the rules for living and doing business, influence the market through what you buy and how you contract, keep our parks and neighborhoods clean and safe. Help us get around. Contribute to people, neighborhoods, schools and industry so we achieve our potential.

The mayor controls the operations of city government. Make it an organization that does not compromise on strong core values, and that respects each employee. Equip your employees to decide and innovate, to do the right thing in the situation and make things work better for the long term. Be an engine that works on behalf of the customers, the citizens and the values.

When mistakes happen—and they do—fix them. It’s OK to say “oops” if you react. Let us know you respect our day-to-day needs. Make the necessary inconveniences as convenient as you can. For example, don’t shut down East 10th Street at the Interstate 65 underpass in mid-summer, then leave it closed months into the school year, diverting city buses and school buses to the railroad tracks on St. Clair street, while the contractor sits idle because he doesn’t have paint. Reopen the street until paint arrives.

That’s your job. What must citizens, organizations and businesses do to help engage kids, build skills, be fit and innovate? It’s not all on government. What are our roles as mentors, learners and community members that make our city go?

Mayor Ballard and Councilor Lewis, you are in politics at a time that cooperation is most demeaned and suspect. Yet the world demands more from us. We know it, we say it, we need to do it. You are in the best position to lead the conversation. Show us how to connect. We elected you to lead.

Redistricting is a hard place to start. We’re being politically “business as usual” about it so far. Please come out of the box on Jan. 1 with something more breathtaking for our city.

Your legacy starts now.•

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Davis is a former Indiana lieutenant governor who owns and operates the Indianapolis technology firm Davis Design Group LLC. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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