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2012 Election

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A New Way Forward & A Consensus Approach to Public Policy

The honeymoon is over. The dust has already settled on the President’s Inaugural Address and the State of the State for many Governors. The Mayors have returned from their winter conference and special interests already staked out their positions on legislative agenda’s across America. Over the next legislative cycle, what issues will be tackled, which ones will be resolved and which issues will our government leaders punt to the next session will depend in large part to how well our legislators can get along.

We elected our leaders to represent a common mission not a party platform. Yet in legislating, most often it is politics that trump sound public policy.

It is time to shift how government decisions are made and for our elected leaders to find:

a new way forward while seeking consensus instead of controversy.

It is time our leaders lead us forward, not back. This starts by reframing the problems plaguing our state or nation in a way that each side could identify with. Once we find a connection to an issue, we are most likely to work hard at finding a resolution. In doing so it is hard to look beyond the politics, but as long as we can agree to concepts and work to make small steps towards building or rebuilding trust in finding a common agenda, our lawmakers can eventually find common ground and those difficult issues, the ones that kept getting put off or “re-authorized,” will move off the agenda so we can focus on the next great challenge.

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Who can help Detroit and Michigan Find Resolution Throughout all the Chaos?

I am extremely frustrated by how partisan politics has become. In talking with lobbyists and lawmakers about the good old days of lawmaking, in both Washington and Lansing, it used to be that during the day, legislators would fight like crazy for their issues, they would debate and argue for what they thought was right and in the best interest of the people. And after a hard days work, they would shake hands and grab a drink or have dinner. In fact that model still works in various Parliaments, including the EU in Brussels. Not today and not in America. In the Michigan Legislature you are lucky if they know each others name. In Washington, Members of Congress take their cues from their party leadership and everyone points fingers at the other person to say why they are not making progress. And that is in a non-election year.

So in Washington, you have a highway transportation bill that expired a few years ago that still has not been authorized -- only extended for two years. The education bill also expired and has not been authorized, leaving a generation behind instead of "no child," punctuated by an election year that brings little hope of progress to a bitter end, at least and until sometime next year.

In Lansing and Detroit we are still discussing bridges and transit. In fact, in 1976, President Gerald Ford offered funds to build a rail transit system in southeast Michigan. Instead, we just got the People Mover and today, we are still talking about the need for regional transportation.

Today, there is a lack of progress in moving forward on the difficult decisions that affect our nation and impact our state. Some would call it an impasse while others just chalk it up to politics. However, these are issues that can be resolved and resolved in a way that preserves the relationships, maintains the political differences and helps move the agenda forward collectively.

The use of ADR processes by the courts and federal government has been widely celebrated as a more efficient and cost effective method of conflict resolution. Mediation is a voluntary, confidential process in which a trained, impartial mediator helps people examine their mutual problems, identify and consider options and carefully consider possible resolutions. A mediator has the experience to bring disputing parties together and help them draw out a successful resolution while preventing an impasse during the negotiations, or otherwise prevent the discussions from breaking down. Unlike a judge or arbitrator, a mediator does not make the decisions nor do they offer solutions. They help separate the politics from the process, help the parties find a common ground, build trust and identify potential solutions to agree on.

Public policy dispute resolution focuses on the resolution of issues affecting the public, such as: Transportation; land use, special education, election districts and healthcare. With public policy disputes, the issues tend to be a bit more polarizing, emotional and there are often a number of stakeholders from the community, including non-profits and business groups, and governments at a local, state and federal level.

Whether it is a public policy dispute or a dispute between neighbors, the goal of public any dispute resolution is to save money, preserve relationships and take control over the decisions. When it involves a public policy dispute, it is helpful and most effective if it creates the opportunity for all voices to be heard. It is a process being used in the planning process of multiple projects, including economic development projects in Austin, Texas and Salt Lake City Utah.

In any mediation, the first step in the mediation process is to get both parties to agree to use a mediator. That is actually the first agreement both parties make together and we are on the way to developing trust and building a relationship.

While many states have dispute resolution clauses in key legislation or dispute resolution centers at universities, the State of Michigan does not. The ADR Section to the State Bar of Michigan, continues to talk with universities about creating a "Center for Public Policy Dispute Resolution Services," and continues to talk with legislators. However, since no university has yet to step forward in creating such a center, in part due to funding, The ADR Section is trying to show by example, the benefits of ADR.

The National Policy Consensus Center has found that legislators are becoming problem solvers, facilitators and conveners of issues vital to their state. Yet in Detroit and throughout the State of Michigan, we still cannot accomplish enough to move the state forward. It is time to rebuild and repair relationships in the City of Detroit and throughout the State of Michigan. It is time the people we elected to lead our government and help move it forward. It is time that they ask for someone, or a team of neutrals to step in and help find resolution throughout all the chaos.

Policymakers can avoid making difficult decisions on controversial issues by creating a process by which public policy disputes can be resolved. Through a facilitated consensual process, issues such as consent agreements, transit, new infrastructure projects, transit and councils-by-district can be avoided and we can all move on to other issues to help our city, state and nation move forward.

If we just talked earlier and learned about the real issues underlying the bigger ones, than perhaps today, we would be talking more about basketball instead about a bridge, debt ceilings, transit or a consent agreement. It is time we brought in neutrals to help resolve the bigger issues plaguing our nation.

About Daniel Cherrin

Daniel is a public relations + affairs executive who just happens to be a lawyer. Cherrin also is a certified, SCAO-trained mediator. He served as the Communications Director for the City of Detroit and Press Secretary to former Detroit Mayor, Kenneth V. Cockrel. He also has served as spokesperson for an 1800 MW off shore wind farm in Southwestern Ontario and also for Mackinac Island. He also led efforts to support a deep injection well in Romulus, Mich. He currently serves as a spokesperson for The Ann Arbor Art Fair and advises a number of clients through a variety of crises, B2B marketing, brand development and lobbying. This includes the Detroit Windsor Tunnel, Detroit Wayne County Port Authority, City of Windsor, ONT, Grand River and Mentor Ohio (on a proposed Lake Erie ferry project between Ohio and Ontario), Cassidy Turley, Vistage International and Guardian Industries among others. For more information, see http://fraserlawfirm.com/ourlawyers/lawyers/profile/daniel_j_cherrin.

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City's Learn to Peel Away Assets

Over dinner this past week, my 8-year old daughter asked me “Why going to public school is free?”  I told my observant daughter that public school is not necessarily free and that we pay taxes to send children to school.  (In full disclosure, we send our children to a private school despite living in a great school district and close to a fantastic neighborhood school).   I told my daughter, that it also is the job of government, in part, to provide our children with a solid education.  I told her that taxes are used for a variety of other resources, such as police and fire, trash pick-up, snow removal on city streets, funding for the library and also to pay the lifeguards among other things. I know not all cities enjoy the same services, but I was trying to give her things that she could identify with. That same evening, I picked up a recent issue of Governing magazine only to find that the City of Dearborn, Mich., a community just west of Detroit, home to Ford Motor Company and a town recently made famous by TLC’s “All-American Muslim,” bought and built a building, appropriately called “The Dearborn,” in 1960 in Clearwater, Fla.  The building, located near Clearwater Beach, one of the best beaches in America, was an added perk for Dearborn retirees to use throughout the year.

To be able to use the city’s apartment, with its own pool, private fishing dock and marina, you have to be at least 62 .  However, due to the wait list you can apply as early as 50.

Since the turn of this century, it turns out that most Dearborn residents either did not know about this perk or just lost interest. Or perhaps they preferred South Beach and Miami, than Clearwater and Tampa.

In 2007, Dearborn residents voted to see the building and in 2010 the city put its’ Florida property up for sale. The sale is expected to be completed sometime this year. According to Governing, the Towers were listed for $7.5 million in 2010. The City says it found a buyer but will not disclose who the buyer is or the sale amount.

The City has said that it has not been a drain on the city’s finances and even account for it and its sale in their 2012 budget.  Well I am not sure what they paid for it in 1960, but it seems like a great city service whose time has passed…unless the City bought an airplane. Nonetheless, if any city is interested in America’s North Coast, I can find some great buildings in the Detroit area, maybe even Dearborn for you. So call me, okay!

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Change is upon us - Do you have the relationships to make it happen?

Last week, more than 400 people filed to run for the Michigan House of Representatives, alone.  That does not include the State Senate, Congress and the various county seats now open, not to mention judicial races and the various county elections. Some will withdraw their names before the ballots are printed and others will vigorously campaign over the next several months, before the August primary and November general election. Earlier this month, the French elected a new President, voting for change over the incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy.  In Greece, after a May 6 election, voters could not decide on a single ruling party to turn that country around and now Greece is at a political impasse.  In Russia, Dmitry Medvedev ceded the Russian Presidency back to Vladimir Putin, despite recent protests. In China, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao wil handover the presidency in 2013 and the Prime Minstership to Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang. Also in 2012, the following countries will host elections: Mexico (July 1), Venezuela (October 7), Egypt  Kenya (August 14) Taiwan (January 14, 2013).

In November, we too will have the opportunity to select or re-select whom we want to run the United States of America. Just as we voted for “Change” in 2008, by selected Barack Obama as President, voters in Democracies world-wide are now starting to vote for Change – Will Change come to America again?

We can see in some pockets, “Change” is already occurring. For example, in Indiana, long-time U.S. Senator Richard Lugar lost his election, in the primary.

Just as political incumbents are starting to fall, so to are our corporate CEOs. The CEOs of Yahoo, Best Buy, AOL, Avon and JPMorgan have all left or resigned. There is no doubt that we will see new faces in places that will impact us and where our daily and professional lives collide.  And as we move forward, so to must our relationships with key decision makers who have influence over us.

But how much do we really know about these people? What is their agenda? Why and How did they get into this position? What motivates them and how can we develop meaningful relationships with them before we need their assistance? How much do they about me, about my company and about my agenda?

Campaigns are all about raising awareness, developing name ID, exchanging ideas and debating solutions for problems we face. It is time that we start using campaigns to educate the candidates on what we do as businesses, as unions, as entrepreneurs, educators and the like. Just as a candidate will approach you asking you for your vote, take them aside and start telling them about you.

Start now by developing a relationship with them. It does not matter if they are a Democrat or a Republican, if they drink tea or even something else. Relationships are built around trust, around issues and around ideas. It is time we start exchanging them so that we stay on top of the change, develop the relations and take an active role in the future direction of our city, county, state, country, business, industry and family.

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On Tuesday, Detroit becomes irrelevant despite Michigan taking center stage

Let’s face it -- Tuesday’s Michigan Primary is all about the GOP. Those living in Detroit will most likely not vote. In fact, Detroit’s Bureau of Elections predicts just 10-12 percent of Detroiters will vote – And Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum know it. In fact, the entire GOP Presidential candidate’s know it. That is why, other than separate appearances at the Detroit Economic Club, Romney, Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul all stayed out of Detroit, instead focusing on raising money and building support in Detroit’s suburbs and out-state areas.

In an election, victory is built on dollars and votes, so who can blame them for doing what they have to do build support – They are not going to find it in Detroit. However, although money and the votes rest outside of Detroit, it is Detroit and its history that should take center stage.

Detroit serves as a beacon for the soul of the American Spirit. Romney, Santorum, Gingrich and Paul should each spend more time in the Motor City. Even though Detroiters will most likely not vote in the GOP Primary, their individual stories represent what is both right and wrong with America today. So each should’ve sat down at American Coney Island or Lafayette Coney, in Eastern Market or at Slow’s BBQ to talk to Detroiters about the issues plaguing their lives, as I guarantee it is the same issues affecting those in Milwaukee and Mesa, Portland and Providence Town and communities in between.

In fact, the candidate’s journey to Detroit should’ve started at Ford’s Rouge Factory Tour. There, they would’ve learned about an entrepreneur who spent his evenings after work trying to perfect the automobile. Once that was done, the entrepreneur, Henry Ford, revolutionized how cars and other products were manufactured by creating the modern day assembly line.

Ford did more than just improve the automobile and the process by which he made it. He doubled the wages of his employees and found a way to make a quality car cost effective. By doing so, he improved the lives of millions of ordinary people, by creating the middle class. A group of people that could now afford to not only pay for their first home, but also drive the very car they helped build.

When the Great Depression rocked America, Henry Ford kept the lines moving and kept the employed working. When President Franklin Roosevelt declared war on the Japanese, Ford and the other auto companies stopped car/truck production almost immediately, to fund and support the war industry by creating the Arsenal of Democracy. Finally, during the 1970’s Ford and the other auto companies did not just give up, they found a way to reinvent themselves and made cars more fuel efficient.

Love us or hate us, Detroit are America, and represents what is wrong and what is write with it.  Detroit is the soul of America. Detroit is a city that remains flexible and resilient. In fact, no matter what challenges Detroit faces, we face them together. Take that away and you take away the American Spirit. On Tuesday, Detroit must not become irrelevant it must become the central focus of the campaign, even after the election is over.

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Managing Political Risk in an Election Year

There are some things we can control and others we cannot. But we are all susceptible to risk. Some are natural, like the Tsunami that ravaged the pacific, the Quake that destroyed Japan or the Tornado that ripped through the south. Others are economic, such as the credit crises or the recession.  While others are political. While we may not know when we will be hit by a crisis, we can plan and prepare for them by monitoring the news, engaging our business, political and economic leaders, meeting with our employees and vendors on a regular basis and talking to others to  see where are vulnerable. With 2011 now behind us, we need only look forward, yet a new year brings new crises. In fact, on January 3, Iowa voters will turn out to support their candidates for the GOP Presidential nomination and so beings a year of extreme political risks. Candidates will say anything to win a vote, promise to make key decisions without the advise and consent of a Congress, while we have a Congress that will delay important issues only as to avoid any political fall out, leaving the issue yet again for another day. As business owners, we need to be mindful of the politics behind the policy, the issues behind the people and the issues that affect our bottom-line and ability to build a sustainable company. It is our job as business owners to ask the candidates the difficult questions about job creation, business development, creating a sustainable economy, long term solutions over short-term fixes and holding those that we elect or that are elected, accountable for improving our economy.

However, with all these uncertainties, it is important to identify and asses risk across the country. Public affairs plays a vital role in identifying, managing and avoiding risks.  Public Affairs professionals can spot risks that may be overlooked. They are familiar with the big picture, know the politics behind the issues and the key influences behind them. Public affairs professionals are able to offer a company a broad view as to how they fit or could fit into the big picture and where risks may exist now or down the line, so companies a can better prepare and plan.

They can also communicate the companies key messages to key decision-leaders and influencers in the political sphere, as well as to the public through the media. Companies can mitigate risks by improving stakeholder-relations with government leaders and through community engagement. Risks can emerge whenever decisions are made.

A New Year and an election year is the perfect opportunity and excuse to become more engaged in the political process, and develop deeper relationships with the candidates or elected officials. It will help a company protect and enahnce their reputation in the media and before the public, while raising awareness for the products or services it provides. To begin, we suggest:

  • Building relationships before you need them
  • Monitoring legislative, regulatory and political action
  • Attend fundraisers for candidates you support -- not to win influence but to develop relationships and expand your network
  • Talk openly about the issues that matter to you personally and to your company
  • Invite candidates to visit you in your office or plant to see first hand the work you do, the jobs you create and the benefits you provide to the community

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