Campaigns are about ideas and how to build upon the present. Once elected, politicians ideally become policy makers, but today many of these politicians never make the transformation. 

Stephen Henderson, the Pulitzer Prize winning editor of The Detroit Free Press, recently wrote in an editorial Do you want better politicians? Change the way they’re chosen.  In the editorial he gave us many reasons why we should be frustrated at the politicians in Michigan -- a lack of movement on road funding and making discriminatory laws regarding adoption just to name two  examples from 2015, today we can add the water crises in Flint and the condition of the Detroit Public Schools. Henderson suggested we revisit term limits to restore institutional memory and relationship building in the legislature. He also suggested that we vote out the people who make bad choices. But in the end, voters sometimes will and do make bad choices.  

Brian Dickerson, a columnist also with The Detroit Free Press, recently wrote an article on ways the legislature and special interests are working to create laws around the Governor in Plotting a Way Around Governor, Voters. Everyone has an agenda, but those that know how to work the process are better positioned to seeing their agenda through, even if it does not have executive support. 

In both of these stories, what is missing is the opportunity to bring in a third party neutral to help move the discussion on important issues forward and help each party reach a consensus to make sound public policy rather than make political statements. 

The Michigan State Government and/or City of Detroit should create or fund an division that provides a system and process for problem solving, using collaborative governance as a method of public decision-making, in which government leaders involve stakeholders from many areas of society, including community members, businesses, other government agencies and non-profit organizations in making decisions that affect how people are governed or how public resources are used.  

For example, when an issue seems intractable, Oregon Solutions calls on Oregon Consensus (http://oregonconsensus.org) to mediate and resolve the conflict.  Oregon Consensus focuses its work on issues regarding the environment, economic development, transportation and public health.

Both Oregon Solutions and Oregon Consensus are not government entities, but they are affiliated with Portland State University. The State of Washington also has a similar system. 

These organizations provide a system and process for problem solving, using community governance. This includes:

  • Asses situations and bring the right people to the table to discuss them.
  • Design and facilitate meetings to make sure all viewpoints are considered.
  • Help groups sort through information to support sound decisions.
  • Help groups convey their recommendations or agreements in writing.

It takes the burden off the elected officials to drive politically charged issues to a neutral organization that can create the process to resolve them.

Each issue comes to the organization’s attention after the Mayor, Council or Governor defines a problem that needs to be solved. The Mayor/Governor designates an impartial convener to bring people together and develop an assessment of the proposed project. If the issue meets the criteria for resolution, a neutral / convener is selected to manage and help resolve the project through facilitated meetings. 

There is no organization in Michigan equipped to handle these complex disputes, other than the Governor creating the task force.

Recent incidents around the state point to the need to lead differently. Leadership, however, requires that our elected officials know when it is time to step aside and ask for others to intervene to bring order through chaos and resolution over politics.

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