People love to complain about City Hall, how nothing ever changes and how disappointing the political process is. Oddly enough, that’s the exact opposite of what I’ve found to to be true. I’ve only cared enough to get deeply involved in public decision-making twice (my other issue was bike and pedestrian issues in 2008), but both times I have been amazed by the talent, sincerity, and committed intelligence of the people who work there. If I put in the time to learn and don’t give up, my government listens.
This week, when City Council returned from summer recess, was particularly faith-restoring. My goal was to be the first in their doors to try to focus some political will on how we make development decisions in Cincinnati and my first appointment was with P.G. Sittenfeld. Of course, PG is your dream politician. He’s really smart, articulate, takes a good picture, thrives on the back-and-forth of public debate, and is very comfortable being in the public spotlight. But if you spend much time at City Hall at all, it doesn’t take you long to figure out that the real deep-thinking in political life happens on a staff-level. It’s the legislative aides who are responsible for researching issues and helping our representatives develop intelligent positions and strategies.
Lucky for me, I arrived half an hour early for my appointment and then PG was a little late. So Elida Kamine, PG’s cracker-jack legislative aide, and I decided to go ahead and start without him. Even though Elida only came on board a little over a year ago, there’s already an almost mythic quality to the way people talk about her around town, especially among young policy wonks. She’s the one who gave up a six-figure income in the corporate world to make a difference in the public sector.
I’d seen Elida a couple of times before our meeting – always across a crowded room, sitting quietly and taking notes, offering information when PG asked for clarification. But something impressed me from the beginning of my exchanges with his office. She made me feel like she really remembered who I was, cared, and was actually reading my work and trying to figure out how to best address my concerns.
After a few minutes of introductory chatter, she pulled a piece of City of Cincinnati letterhead from a nearby file and pushed it to the middle of the small laminated desk she must share with P.G. when he’s in the office. “We’re entering a motion at tomorrow’s Council meeting,” she said quietly. “Its just for a report, but everybody has signed.”
She talked about it in such a quiet humble way, that I almost missed how important it was, this little motion she’d drawn-up.
We move that the Administration provide a report to Council setting forth the policies in place to determine appropriate financial assistance and incentives for businesses locating in and creating jobs in the City of Cincinnati;
We move further that the Administration provide the guidelines it uses to evaluate proposed incentives or other financial packages to Council; and
We move further that the report include updates from the Tax Incentive Review Commission: and
We move further that the Administration provide the report by September 8, 2014.
And at the bottom, the motion was signed by every single Council member: Sittenfeld, Mann, Flynn, Young, Simpson, Smitherman, Winburn & Murray.
It seems so little, so nothing. It’s not partisan, not progressive or conservative, not urban or neighborhoods, not cars or bikes. No ballot initiatives. No charter amendments. No big money investments. It’s just a simple request for our City Manager on day one of his new job to focus Cincinnati’s attention on how we make decisions about how to build a city together.
It might not seem like much to you, this simple little motion. But I’m pretty sure it’s all we need to start to make better, more informed decisions in Cincinnati about a very complex issue. Because I have complete faith in us as a community, that we all care deeply, all want a good life for everybody, that we already have everything we need if we just use it effectively and that we are smart enough to figure it out together. When we focus our collective attention and work together, we do amazing things on a regular basis.
Thanks, Elida Kamine. This simple little motion is all we need to get us started in the right direction.