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Facilitation

There is always another way!

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There is always another way!

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. 

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How Flint Can Find Resolution Through Chaos

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How Flint Can Find Resolution Through Chaos

While every community is different, many issues are the same. However, when the issue becomes emotional or even political, finding a solution becomes difficult but not impossible. To help facilitate that process, they need to bring in a neutral third party who is sensitive to the politics of the problem, familiar enough with the people involved, but not connected to anyone so that they can help facilitate ways to bring a resolution forward. 

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RELATIONSHIPS MAKE THE DIFFERENCE

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RELATIONSHIPS MAKE THE DIFFERENCE

Public affairs professionals with a solid reputation in the community and one who is familiar with the stakeholders and the issues important to them, can then help develop strategic and meaningful relationships, long before a high profile and often controversial project is announced.  That professional can then create a  community roadmap to help the project team navigate through the minefields of any project.  They will help minimize risk and help anticipate barriers to seeing projects to their completion.

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The community benefits when everyone is engaged

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The community benefits when everyone is engaged

The community benefits when everyone is engaged. From the design stage to the public process in securing permits, in addition to raising capital and targeting potential retailers and other tenants, constant engagement is vital to the success of any high profile project. 

Developing strategic relationships “early-on” helps minimize risk and helps anticipate barriers to seeing projects to their completion. Effective communications is vital to the public’s understanding of the project and the governments involved in helping the project move forward. Therefore, the company or consortium leading the project should be in control of the process and be proactive with their messaging and outreach.

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3 Tips Every Developer Needs To Know Before Announcing A Project

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3 Tips Every Developer Needs To Know Before Announcing A Project

I have worked with developers and commercial real estate firms on high profile projects. In working with them, and their team of consultants, I saw how important it is to engage key stakeholders early in the process of any mix-use development and project that has the potential to impact a community. I have also experienced this as the Communications Director for the City of Detroit and Press Secretary for the Mayor of Detroit. 

From the design stage to the public process in securing permits, in addition to raising capital and targeting potential retailers and other tenants, constant engagement is vital to the success of any project. In addition, developing strategic relationships helps to minimize risk and help anticipate barriers to seeing projects to their completion.  

Here are three simple tips every developer needs to know before announcing any high profile project:

  1. Get to know the key stakeholders who will support and oppose your project. This includes government leaders and community groups. Develop relationships with them long before you announce your project, to build trust, understand their concerns and find support later on – should you need it. 
     
  2. Meet with their leadership in advance to understand their concerns and be ready to respond to them if necessary. This will also help bolster your position during the public process in securing approvals for permits and variances. 
     
  3. Identify a reporter that would be interested in your project to share information and background with so that when you are ready to announce, it will be covered extensively. 

More specifically, here a three action items you should implement now and before you publicly announce your project:

  1. Create a website to gauge and solicit stakeholder input and encourage conversations from project stakeholders. This could help in generating ideas, set priorities and avoid risk to external issues later. It will also help bolster your position before city council in seeking necessary approvals.
     
  2. Directly engaging community groups to develop strategic relationships and support for projects early on in the process. This includes engaging members of city council directly on your vision and the merits of your plans well before you announce anything.
     
  3. Work with the media in educating others about the project.  This includes developing relationships with specific trade publications covering the development and construction industry to share information about the projects you are working on or recently completed.  By building up a portfolio, people will begin to trust you and the work you do in the communities you serve. 

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All Great Cities Begin With A Vision

Sustainable leadership starts with a vision. That vision may be from a great mind or a great listener.  The State of the Union, State of the State and State of the City is the prime opportunity of the Chief Executive to celebrate their achievements, communicate their vision for what they want to happen before they leave office and their lay out their agenda for how they will achieve that vision.

As the former Communications Director for the City of Detroit, I have drafted a State of the City and worked to communicate a vision for Detroit. In our case, that vision was a dose of reality, following the previous mayors incarceration, the city's true financial situation exposed and a US economy on the verge of one of the worst recessions in decades. 

"We have a choice," Mayor Cockrel said in 2009. "We can continue to do business as usual and fail to live within our means as a city government, but doing so means that someone else will likely be appointed to come and make the hard choices for us."

At the time, the people of  Detroit did not want to hear or believe that message, but it was our warning that the previous Mayor left us in a very difficult position. As a result, we used that speech and that opportunity to lay out all the cards and give a realistic picture of Detroit's financial situation as we knew it at that time. 

It was also our opportunity to assure the people of Detroit and the entire state of Michigan, in addition to the bond holders that we had a handle on the situation and they they could be assured we were setting the city back on the right path. 

Today, the person appointed to fix Detroit's financial situation came and left. Crane's clutter Detroit's skyline and there is progress in the city. Lots of work however remains. Public safety remains an issue, obesity is a problem and illiteracy continues to plague Detroit. With the city's financial situation being taken care of, it is now time to focus on the people. We need to find a way to break the cycle of poverty in the city, find a way to ensure Detroit schoolchildren start school ready to learn and that a job awaits the people who seek them. 

The Mayor must now work at breaking the cycle of poverty and find a way for everyone to buy into the same vision. 

 

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What Detroit Can Learn from an Alaskan Viaduct

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What Detroit Can Learn from an Alaskan Viaduct

 

Seattle, Wash, was struggling for years in figuring out how to replace The Alaskan Way Viaduct, a piece of aging infrastructure that stood as a barrier between Seattle’s downtown and its waterfront.

On one side you had environmental advocates that favored a solution focused on mass transit and bikes over more roadways.  The business community favored access and city leaders wanted to leverage the city’s waterfront to revitalize the city. And taxpayer groups wanted something that was low cost. 

As a result, a tunnel, elevated highway or retrofit of existing structures were not viable solutions.  A referendum failed and still after 10+ years of dialogue and debate, a consensus could not be reached.

City leaders turned to professional facilitators to help reach a consensus. The facilitators stepped in and secured a commitment from all those involved that they would negotiate a consensus agreement. They reframed the issue, considered the region’s needs and reviewed an independent technical analysis of potential solutions. In addition, an advisory group of stakeholders was forced to provide input into the process to assist those at the negotiating table.

It is time Detroit’s regional leaders come back to the table and negotiate a consensus agreement as it relates to the DWSD and help the region move forward onto additional issues that impact the region as a whole.

Today, Seattle is a vibrant community. It is not just a city. Those in Seattle have adopted a certain lifestyle, created in part by removing the barriers linking a downtown to its waterfront and creating a bridge between vital stakeholders who had the power to act and help the city move forward. 

And now that viaduct, is just "water under the bridge."

 

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The way forward is by working together.

In Washington, Congress continues to find ways to avoid substantive issues such as immigration, transportation, poverty, education, serious tax reform and environmental regulation, among many others. In Michigan, there also are a number of unfinished issues that remain on the table, while the legislature is on summer recess for the election. In fact, in Michigan, we have a number of proposals on next month’s ballot that could have been resolved through facilitated discussion rather than expensive campaigns.   

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 in 2014, we are finally seeing progress with the M1 Rail construction now under way. 

However, despite the progress on regional transportation, our government leaders continue to struggle in finding their way forward and their failure to make difficult decisions by compromising.

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. 

It is time we put politics aside - even in an election year. It is time voters demand our politicians to focus and do what is in the best interest of all those affected. Work to find resolution through chaos. Respect each other for taking a position and move on to find where you can each work together. 

 

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DISCUSSION ON EARLY WARNING BEGINS

The Michigan Legislature recently considered legislation concerning "distressed schools" and creating a process to establish an "early warning system," to avoid state intervention due to financial stress.

Currently there are  48 distressed schools or districts at risk of financial disstress in Michigan. Some districts have a short-term hiccup, while others face long-term issues, such as continued declining enrollments and increased labor costs.  According to Gongwer, the multi-bill package proscribes measures for financially distressed school districts—with advocates noting—doubles the maximum amount the Emergency Financial Assistance Loan Board is authorized to lend troubled districts, revises the loan’s eligibility criteria, eliminates restrictions on the Board’s ability to restructure existing loan repayment programs and removes limitations on the amount of surplus funds that can be loaned to municipalities and school districts over the next six fiscal years.

A number of school officials are opposed to the legislation, arguing that some of the measures’ reporting requirements and criteria are burdensome and possibly redundant, and would actually add to the district’s financial woes.  However, those same school officials should work with a facilitator to engage stakeholders in defining the problem and working in advance of the state stepping in to identify and implement realistic solutions.

By being proactive and engaging your community early on, you can avoid difficult situations down the road. However, acknowledging the problem and engaging others in the solution is a difficult process, one that can be helped by brining in a neutral to guide the discussion and help extract solutions.  

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