Home of Lowell Toms for an Open UA City Council
Let’s Reinvent City Council!
Funds spend to date (no donors, my pocket only!): ~$340*
Welcome to the evolving web page describing the ‘whys and wherefores’ for my run for Upper Arlington City Council as your representative. The election for four new city council members occurs on Tuesday, November 7, 2017.
So why run? Well, have you been puzzled in recent years with the large number of yard signs that suddenly pop up in different UA neighborhoods concerning city actions? There was the trash privatization measure (1), (1a - are we paying the consequences now?), the feeder road for the Kingsdale Mall (2), the Fancyburg Park plan (3), and the outsourcing of the 911 calls (4), among others (5). Admittedly, some of these are old issues not related to current council, but for years, council, in general, seems to have had a tin ear for public opinion.
It’s time for change. It seems to me if sufficient information is provided to the people, that is, specifically you, the taxpayer, while also being given the time and the platform to express your opinion and consequently feeling that your voice is being heard, then the sea of signs should never happen. That means dedicated, often difficult, communications, and that is my problem with the current Council. Oftentimes, it appears, they are not listening to you, the taxpayer, and in fact, they might even be suspect of going out of their way to evade public scrutiny
I understand that YOU are busy. You are very, very, busy, working, raising families, and paying taxes. That’s why substantial city issues need to be circulated with suitably long time frames and a mixture of old and new messaging formats. Some people rely on the internet, while others need a letter in the mail. In concert with the dissemination of issues, discussion forums must be set for multiple times and easy access.
So why me? Well, I’m recently retired and willing to invest considerable time and effort toward an open, responsive local government. I have a technical background (see the About page) which appears to be more and more important as the city wrestles with issues such as 911 dispatch and infrastructure upgrades. But, beyond that, is my underlying belief that a representative is just that - a representative for you. Even if I believe that something should be done a certain way, I will express my opinion, but will not ignore your view, and of course, the democratic majority view.
I have noticed that if you, the public, wish to speak at a city council meeting you must fill out a form in advanced stating your topic and then you will be invited to speak. No. Not right. Instead, once a motion or topic is presented, the floor should have time to speak, period. It’s your government. This will be the first thing I’ll push to change if I’m elected. If council must sit though hours of discussion, it means there needs to be discussion. The people should feel welcome to council meeting (not intimidated by a court room atmosphere), and there should be robust debates. Debate is what good, open government is all about. To get it right, maybe we could bring in an OSU psychology class to study and provide feedback on council meetings - we have a great resource adjacent to UA (Go Bucks!). It’s simple:
- You should not need a “hallway pass” to speak at council.
- Council meetings should be set in a non-intimidating space.
- Let’s join 21st century and leverage the internet for live streaming and Skype access.
It’s all about openness and transparency - the trust follows.
Here’s a simple transparency test. Go to the UA website Zoning Board webpage. Now, try to find the names of the members of the zoning board. Try to find their backgrounds. Try to find out if they have connections with any local real estate or construction firms (so you’d know when they should recuse themselves). I couldn’t find any of those things. Not even the names.
Here’s a crazy idea (or maybe not) on how to implement transparency and openness. How about a mass mailing to all of UA requesting volunteers to be assistant city council members? Let’s assign maybe 10 volunteers to each sitting council member and create a website where they login at their leisure (democracy in pajamas), read current proposals from the city, and then vote in terms of ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘need more information’ (i.e. slow down), or ‘proposal not needed,’ and add a 50 to 100 word comment on their choice. These results would then be automatically forwarded to their assigned council member for action/feedback/acknowledgement and also made public (not by name). If the council member voted against the wishes of the majority, a reasoned public statement would be required. The council member would also be required to periodically have a recorded, sit down discussion with their ‘assistants.’ I’m certain a website could be created to scale this effort easily from 10 to 100. Now think of it – every council vote of seven members has 700 resident responses behind it! It is assumed that the assistant council members will talk to their neighbors and all the sudden you have a truly open and much more transparent system! A number of tweaks can be made to this idea including dividing assistants on location and giving assistant votes weight based on proximity to a proposal that is location oriented.
Money and Politics. Here’s something I’ll bet you’re NOT doing right now, and that’s looking for a campaign contribution button. Can we agree that money is the drug that cripples democratic government? You already give enough in taxes, charities, and causes, and I hope you do send campaign contributions to the major political players because the money game is not going to change any time soon at that level. Local government, however, should be a beacon of change. So, my belief is:
- No campaign fund collection for local government positions!
- Limit out of pocket funds for fairness!
Thus, you’ll find no donate buttons on this site and a list of all expenditures to date. Admittedly, that will make winning an election very difficult, but I just think local government is a public service, not a convoluted contest to be won with money. It’s up to me to get out there and spread the word, and not via paid canvassers, thousands of dollars worth of yard signs, and expensive on-line media platforms (this site cost $4 a month, and I think you know know who the webmaster is!). Also, as mentioned, I’m retired, and not rich by American means, but I’m certainly getting by for now, so I pledge to give my Council salary to the Mid-Ohio Food Bank in the name of ‘Citizens of UA,’ because there are a lot of Ohioans that need that money more than me, and at the end of the day, it is a public service.
As an aside, I have been following Bob Foulk, and I do enjoy his musings (and actions!) and agree wholeheartedly with his philosophy of transparency in government, Please have a look at his website. I hope to be able to work with Bob on government transparency! His fight against closed executive sessions was admirable.
Finally, If my very simple (and admittedly idealistic) message resonates with you, at least on a minor level, then please pass the word to your acquaintances. Word of mouth is the only campaign tool I have. You won’t be seeing any mailings and hardly any signs, because my wife says it’s just not in the budget (end of discussion). See you in November, and hopefully before (see Events). Thanks for visiting!
* See ‘Fund Spent page’.