Sep 29, 2011 Walt Shepperd Uncategorized
With a chill in the air and the young folks settling back into school, with festival tents wrapping up for storage and protestors gathered outside City Hall chanting opposition to the closing of a senior center, it seemed an appropriate time to give Mayor Stephanie Miner a pause for reflection on her performance so far in the city’s top job.
My suggestion for a report card format — with names for subjects and a grading system varying from numbers and letters to other symbols of evaluation — initiated a pleasant and efficient negotiation of the interview process. I would name the subjects, she would provide a narrative assessment of her performance and the wording on achievement would emerge from the process.
Subject: Ecomonic Development
“With economic development, we really are the low man on the totem pole. Economic development is really a function of the region, and a function of state policies, and as we all know, New York State has policies which really hurt economic development upstate. We’ve seen these trends since 1950. We have worked very hard to have a regional focus on economic development, working very closely, sharing an office with the County Economic Development, and we’ve had some real success stories. There has been a burgeoning construction downtown, more cranes in the air in the past two years than people have seen in a long, long time.
We’ve seen tremendous construction and development up on the Hill. Despite a United States recession, the University Hill has really been blossoming. Part of it is you’re fortunate enough to catch the trend at the right time, but also part of it is saying, ‘We are going to live and die as a region.’ So let’s start making decisions that are regionally based and regionally focused. But ultimately, where I think we have done well is seeing development downtown. We know that a strong downtown will result in a strong city and a strong region.”
“This is the most pressing issue that faces me as a mayor, and the one I have spent the most time thinking about. Government, as we know it, is going to be very different two years from now, four years from now. Our resources are drying up. At the same time our liabilities—our pension costs, our health care costs — we can’t control because of policy decisions made in Albany. I’m going to be lobbying a lot in Albany. I already have been, talking to our legislative delegations. But we’re also thinking all the time about what is the most efficient way to provide services, and what services can we provide and what services can we no longer provide.
It is unfortunate, and I, as a Democrat, really cringe when I think about it, but it is the necessary part of being a good leader: trying to manage the change instead of the change managing us. The traditional way is to stand up, blame others and engage in hand wringing and say this is somebody else’s fault. I’m just not going to do that. We are in a place where everybody knows, we don’t have money anymore. We have to decide, do we want to be the masters of our own fate, or do we want to let that fate control us. This kind of change is going to be very difficult. In a democracy, in particular, it’s going to be messy.
I’m going to explain the decisions I make, and move forward.”
“Schools are the focal point of where we see all of society’s problems, and where our failure as a society really shows itself front and center. We have too many families that are struggling, too many children who are falling through the cracks. There is great opportunity with Say Yes. I have been a constant supporter of Say Yes and will continue to be. I think there’s great hope for the new superintendent.
These are daunting challenges. What keeps me up at night is they don’t seem to be challenges that anybody else has found a solution for. We are in uncharted territory, and it is the most important task that we have. We have very well-meaning bright people all putting their shoulders together to try to solve this dilemma. It is the most important issue that we face as a community.”
Subject: Quality of Life
“I was at a meeting recently where a gentleman said, ‘It is a blessing to live in the City of Syracuse.’ I told him the first three times I used it I would give him credit, and from then on I was going to take advantage of it. I think in most neighborhoods people do feel that way. There are certain neighborhoods where people are struggling. When you have the kind of density that cities have, you’re going to end up having quality of life issues. But in exchange, the kind of vibrancy and diversity and creativity that comes from that density, and comes from different kinds of people living together, is fantastic.
I tell people all the time that one of the great advantages of being Mayor of the City of Syracuse is you are always 30 seconds away from a dynamic different neighborhood. Our quality of life is very strong. I continue to worry about how we provide the services that people expect, deserve and need in this tremendous financial crisis we find ourselves in.
A mayor herself alone could not do the kind of work that needs to be done. A mayor in combination with a committed city workforce, and committed community leaders and grass-roots organizations can move us in a positive direction.”
Subject: Getting along well with others
“In the best case you get along with everybody. But traditionally in politics and government, when you don’t get along with somebody, you can use money to sort of paper over those differences. You can say, ‘OK, you don’t agree with me on X, but if I can get you halfway there, I’ll give you a little something to help you, guide you toward that decision.’ But we don’t have money to do that, so we don’t have the kind of resources to help people get to the place that they need to be to make hard decisions. The easiest way to say it is there is no quid for the quid pro quo.
You have to get along with everybody, but at the same time, part of being a leader means that you won’t always get along with everybody. If I got along with everybody, I wouldn’t be a leader, particularly a leader in dynamic times like we live in. Instead of focusing on do I get along with people, I focus on do people believe that when I provide them information, I’m providing them accurate information, that when I say what I say that I’m being open and honest as I see the facts.”
“We are in a time of tremendous change in how we view government. We’re on the front lines in cities, and in Syracuse in particular. There is going to be change. I believe it is my job to manage that change, and to think about how to manage that change with the interest of the people of this city first and foremost. But you will not see an administration that engages in futile indignation. As a community, we can longingly look backwards, which I think we have done for far too long, or we can make hard choices and move forward.”
Subject: Future orientation
“I see five to 10 years in the future. In the best case, what I would like for it to look like, what I’m pushing for it to look like, is to have a real region that functions together as a region, makes decisions as a region, but also has enough autonomy that individual entities can make their own decisions. The City of Syracuse, for example, is very different from Clay, is very different from the Village of Elbridge or Jordan. The sun shines on all of us when it comes up. But we have to be able to make decisions that help us all move forward and at the same time make decisions that might be good for the City of Syracuse, but not the Village of Elbridge — that’s why they live in Elbridge and we live in Syracuse.”
Question: Metropolitan government in 10 years?
“That’s a loaded term. I think right now that communities believe the want metropolitan government, but they don’t. I think that we can have a government that functions better, and moves better, and when you look at certain areas, economic development being a prime example, that we make decisions based on that. Zoning would be a different example. Zoning in the City of Syracuse would be very different from zoning in Clay.
I know the County Executive feels the same way, and where we’ve seen natural synergies, we’ve worked together, for example the purchasing department, economic development, sharing employees. There are other opportunities. I always talk about our having a professional, Class One fire department, that I think other places could take advantage of.”
Grade: Still having vision.
Subject: Celebrating tradition
“We are very rich in tradition. It is ingrained in us. There is something that we identify as Central New Yorkers, or people from Syracuse or Onondaga County. We celebrate that tradition through events that we have, through recognizing our own classic history, and also by not trying to recreate things. Looking at our architecture, talking about the history of the Erie Canal — we have a Creek Walk now. All of those things give us a tangible way of talking about our history.
Talking about the invention of air conditioning here. Talking about the Emancipation Movement, the Human Rights Movement and Equal Rights here in Syracuse, and now in New York State, with gay marriage. We are always on the forefront of saying we are progressive, we believe in inclusion, even if it makes a little friction once in awhile. We also have a tradition of allowing people to protest, allowing people to speak their piece without having violence.
People outside of Syracuse know the Berrigans as important movers for social justice. I know the Berrigans as neighbors.”