Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Equity, Economy, Efficiency

They are the three pillars of good public administration—also described as fairness, thrift, and competency—which are necessary for it to be good in practice, and this article from the Miami Herald reports on one community’s attempt to ensure it does.

An excerpt.

“In this school of sorts, the coursework features walking tours of inner-city neighborhoods, exercises on how to balance a mock municipal budget — and a guest speaker who has pleaded guilty to charges of extortion, perjury and public-meetings violations.

“Welcome to the Good Government Initiative, an effort to improve the quality of leadership in corruption-plagued South Florida.

“At the heart of that lofty goal is this question: Can public officials be taught to avoid the mistakes of their ethics-challenged forbears — and to better serve their constituents in an often-toxic political climate?

“There’s an old saying that when the student is ready, the teacher appears,” said Katy Sorenson, the former Miami-Dade County commissioner who retired last year and founded the program. “And I think that people that are eager to learn seek that out and can learn lessons.”

“The program’s inaugural class began meeting last week. The group comprises 18 state lawmakers, county commissioners, city council and school board members in their first term or first four years in elected office in Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe and Palm Beach counties. In eight sessions between August and November, they will cover a syllabus ranging from land use regulations to dealing with the media.

“Driving the program is the idea that elected officials — particularly rookies — can learn to ask more pointed questions, propose effective policies and work together at a regional level to tackle big problems.

“Politicians have sought the same sort of training for years through national organizations, such as the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. And local agencies, including the Miami-Dade ethics commission, teach officials about the law.

“But Sorenson’s program is the first broad effort geared at reaching out to, and fostering relationships among, local officials.

“When you run for office, you have a certain mindset,” said Juan Carlos Zapata, a former Republican state representative from Miami who spoke to the program’s students over the weekend. “And then you get elected and you realize how things really operate. Nobody really prepares you for this.”

“Sorenson, in collaboration with the University of Miami and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, created the program to fill a leadership void she saw in local politics. She met with scores of public officials to brainstorm a curriculum and reminisced about her early years in office — such as when the late Commission Chairman Arthur Teele deferred an agenda item so Sorenson could get a crash course in municipal bond financing.”