On February 11th residents of the District of Columbia will have an unprecedented opportunity to make their voices heard beyond demonstrations and the ballot box. In what will be a rare event for any city, Washingtonians are invited to the Walter Washington convention center for the One City Summit, a meeting hosted by Mayor Vincent Gray, to share concerns and recommendations about the plethora of problems plaguing the District of Columbia. While the goal of the One City Summit is admirable, the outcome will depend on its execution and follow-through.
The issues facing our city are many, ranging from a failing public education system to income inequality to crime. Most residents agree on what needs fixing, and they look to their elected leaders for solutions. Should the summit focus simply on soliciting residents for their opinions without a follow-up plan, the mayor will do serious harm to himself, his administration and the city. It does not take a pollster or a summit to understand that the education system in D.C. is in critical condition. The average resident on Capitol Hill does not need a political scientist to tell them that petty crime is a major community concern. If the mayor listens, hears and is committed to finding solutions and to acting on them, the exercise will be groundbreaking
If, for example, summit facilitators were to take the top five issues facing the District, based on past polling, and then asked attendees to rank possible policy solutions for each one, the administration would glean valuable information. And if rapid follow-up action ensues, Mayor Grey will win major kudos for his leadership. Recommendations and a pledge to act on them works only if residents see true progress. The mayor must create and announce a timeline for implementation that sets benchmarks and milestones. At the same time, dialogue begun at the Summit should be ongoing with attendees and other residents.
There is an ethics cloud hanging over the D.C. government now. With the recent charges against former Councilmember Thomas, and ongoing investigations of several other political leaders, trust in our local elected officials is lacking. The recent ethics legislation passed by the D.C. Council does little to change politics as usual. Amendments introduced by Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) brought real teeth to the law, but his colleagues demurred, allowing for continued lapses in ethical behavior.
The question of ethical behavior of elected officials must be addressed at the Summit. It will be essential for rebuilding trust and demonstrating that our leaders are serious about faithfully executing the duties of office. Attendees must have the opportunity to weigh in on the ethical rules to which they expect their politicians to adhere, and the mayor must take seriously the advice of his constituents. Groups are now gathering signatures to support a ballot initiative to ban corporate contributions in local political campaigns. Unless leaders act now, the voters will.
Finally, the best way to make the One City Summit as success is to register online and attend on February 11th. The more people in attendance, the stronger the mandate for action will be. Unfortunately, I shall be unable to attend due to Navy Reserve duty in Europe. However, I intend to keep a watchful eye on Summit results and to the direction of the District Columbia over the next two years.
Adam Clampitt was appointed to the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority Board of Directors by Mayor Vincent Gray.
Follow Adam Clampitt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/adamclampitt