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.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Why inspector generals often don't seek the whole truth...

In today's Post, "Sad failure of 2 inspectors general," education journalist Jay Mathews* is shocked that neither the DC Inspector General nor the Inspector General of the Department of Education want to look too deeply into massive cheating on standardized tests while Michelle Rhee was the Chancellor of DC Public Schools.  (* An illustration once again that most journalists don't think about the world in terms of systems.)

I'm shocked that he is shocked.

From "Book review: 'Radical: Fighting to Put Students First' by Michelle Rhee" in yesterday's Post:

Early on, already hearing concerns about what those reforms might cost him, Fenty called his staff together. “There’s only one person who’s allowed to say no to the chancellor and that’s me,” he told them, according to Rhee. “Anyone else who does will be looking for a new job.”

Ultimately, inspector generals aren't fully independent, because they work for, in the case of the DC IG, for the Mayor, and in the case of the Department of Education for the Secretary of Education and the President.

Michelle Rhee was lauded by DC's Mayor and by the Secretary of Education. Not unlike how Rod Paige's purported success as a school superintendent in Texas--he was Secretary of Education under George Bush--was found to be the result of serious fraud ("The 'Texas Miracle'" from CBS News), people who should know better don't really want to know what happened because it would embarrass them and call the question on their theories of urban education reform focused primarily on testing and teacher firings.  (Although by this point this can only be called "implausible" deniability.  cf. "plausible deniability.")

This is why I suggest that DC reposition the Inspector General position into a popularly elected Public Advocate/Ombudsperson office, complemented by a Civil Grand Jury process.

From the past blog entry "Continued musing on restructuring DC's City Council (mostly)":

Building and extending ethics infrastructure

I haven't thought this through enough, but the way that things "work" in DC is piss-poor.  Also see "The system of corruption: when you don't understand "systems", of corruption or anything else, you don't understand outcomes" and "DC ethics legislation misses the point: focus on what produces corruption as a regular outcome, not monitoring."

Toronto has both an Ombudsperson and an Integrity Commissioner.  In New York City, there is the Office of Public Advocate which functions similarly to an Ombudsperson, which is a position that is supposed to provide citizens with a vehicle to investigate alleged violations of rights or malfeasance in government.  This positions are set up to be independent of the Executive and Legislative Branches, giving citizens an alternative when other venues aren't responsive, and allowing findings to come out without being "edited" before release by agencies or elected officials.

California jurisdictions also have what is called a Civil Grand Jury, which is made up of citizens, but rather than focus on criminal or civil matters that normally are heard by juries, they address the operation of government agencies.

DC does have an Auditor who reports to City Council, in a similar way to how the Government Accountability Office is one of the agencies, like the Congressional Budget Office, and the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress that provides support to the US Congress.  Similarly, the  Inspector General is a unit of the DC Executive Branch.  Neither the Auditor nor the Inspector General are able to freely operate independent of their respective branches of government.

Electing a public advocate/ombudsperson

DC doesn't have a Public Advocate/Ombudsperson position.  We need one and the person should be elected, with a three term limit.  In a kind of way, like how in Michigan public colleges and universities function as a fourth branch of government, a public advocate should function similarly.


Creating a Civil Grand Jury process in DC

An Office of the Public Advocate should augment its processes through the creation of a process similarly to the Civil Grand Jury process in California.  For example, in Los Angeles:

the main function of the Civil Grand Jury is to investigate county, city, and joint-power agencies. This is a significant civil function. The Grand Jury acts in a "watch-dog" capacity, by examining carefully and completely, the operations of various government agencies within Los Angeles County.

There the process is heavy duty, requiring a one year commitment (my grand jury service right now is slightly less than 30 working days), so it would have to be tweaked, but putting such a process in place in DC would demonstrate a new commitment to ethical, open, transparent, and forthright government.

Certainly, a Civil Grand Jury investigation into the test cheating scandal at Noyes Elementary School and other schools would be a worthy pursuit.

But there could be so many other great investigations...

-- LA Civil Grand Jury information forms

Note that I haven't figured out how to integrate the judicial process of a Civil Grand Jury into a Public Advocate Office, which is an odd kind of legislative-executive justice position.

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