Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Insights from the sports pages relevant to local government

Long time readers know that I am not into professional sports generally, and this usually carries over into lack of support for publicly-funded stadiums and arenas. But I do skim the sports pages in the newspapers, although I am mostly focused on stories related to the politics and business of sports, and those related to organizational behavior.

Today's column in the Post by Sally Jenkins, "Washington Redskins 2011: No more false hope," is about the recent success of Washington Redskins football team and has a couple of strong paragraphs that I think are directly relevant to thinking about local government in DC (e.g., "D.C. Council's bickering could be omen" from the Examiner) and Prince George's County, Maryland (e.g., "Prince George’s economic development fund bill advances" and the column by Robert McCartney "Landslide confirms voters' approval of county leader's agenda" from the Post).

Jenkins writes:

“Guys are doing their jobs, showing up and being professionals and that’s what I like about it,” says Lorenzo Alexander. Shanahan “holds everybody accountable no matter who you are, or how much you make. Sometimes around the league you get perception if you make more money you can get away with more. I think he actually holds those guys more accountable, because they’re our leaders and they should be showing up and being a good example for the younger guys. Before, I don’t think you saw that going on, especially here.” ...

The reality is that it’s almost impossible to make 53 grown men cooperate on anything if your basic authority structure lacks integrity. Uneven standards undermine belief in the basic competency of the organization. Seemingly silly penalties lead to long-yardage third downs — which in turn lead to turnovers and sacks. And so on. Rules, on the other hand, even seemingly silly ones, create the orderly environment that leads to attention to detail that in turn leads to success.

It may be too early to say that the Redskins have completed the transformation to a winning organization, but they are certainly a disciplined one. ... Look at the players Shanahan subtracted from the locker room, and look at who he replaced them with, and in every instance his personnel moves bespoke discipline. He went for good value, lower profile and high character guys who were, above all, disciplined themselves.

“He says something and he does exactly what he says,” remarks Hightower. “He always talks about a standard, but it’s one thing to talk about a standard and another to have a standard, and to enforce it on a daily basis. The thing you won’t find in this locker room is confusion, about our game plan, or our expectation of you and the team. There is no confusion in this locker room, it’s cut and dried. You may like or dislike it but it’s something you have to respect.”

DC City Council is out of control. And it's because their "basic authority structure lacks integrity."

And while Robert McCartney thinks that the "Results of primary show [Prince George's County Executive] Baker is off to a solid start," I am actually somewhat concerned for two reasons.

(1) The support of Baker's election team probably was essential to the success of Derrick Davis in winning the primary and while Baker "will have an important new ally on the council" at the same time it reminds me of the quid pro quo operations that happened in DC with Mayor Fenty's involvement in the election to the City Council of his replacement--his choice, funded by his supporters, won. And the exact same thing happened in Ward 7 with Yvette Alexander and then Council Chairman (now Mayor) Vincent Gray.

Maybe Derrick Davis is actually the best, most independent and reliable person to represent that district. I hope so. But you have to wonder is this like what happened in DC in 2006/2007, which has significantly shaped the state of DC's local political environment today?

Is Baker building a machine or just working to get the best people elected? We don't know, but as Robert Michels in the classic political science book Political Parties, published in 1911, the "iron law of oligarchy" rules.

... all forms of organization, regardless of how democratic or autocratic they may be at the start, will eventually and inevitably develop into oligarchies. The reasons behind the oligarchization process are: the indispensability of leadership; the tendency of all groups, including the organization leadership, to defend their interests; and the passivity of the led individuals more often than not taking the form of actual gratitude towards the leaders. (Wikipedia)

(2) Similarly, the desires expressed by the County Executive's team to have limited review of their management of the $50 million fund for economic development incentives, allegedly because of past improprieties by the County Council, is equally troubling, because the executive branch of government tends to manipulate these kinds of incentive programs all the time in other jurisdictions, be it the U.S. Department of Energy and Solyndra, or Gov. Rick Perry and his management of Texas' Emerging Technology Fund, or some of the various tax increment financing deals in DC.

If Rushern Baker truly wanted to build a new structure for ethical activity in Prince George's County, he ought to be the first person calling for oversight of this fund--for both grants and loans.

When either the County Council or the County Executive/Executive Branch have minimal oversight and accountability, problems are more likely, not less likely, to occur.

It's about the "basic authority structure" and "integrity."

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