Civic Leaders is an exclusive local government web-interview series hosted and operated by Springbrook Software, produced by the VOLSTA Media Network, and syndicated on ELGL.org. Each month the show shares a candid look into the challenges and triumphs experienced by passionate public employees that are committed to their calling.
Alderman Maurice Cheeks, City of Madison, Wisconsin
The future of #LocalGov. What does is look like for communities embracing an ever-evolving tech-centered world? And what will it look for like for communities trying to catch up? Ex-Apple, now Madison Alderman Maurice Cheeks tells of how he got involved with local government and what he’s excited to see happen locally and beyond.
- Apples and Oranges: From Apple to #LocalGov, how did it happen?
- Wave of Change: What is #LocalGov’s responsible role for the 21st Century?
- Tech Forward: Madison’s tech-implementations in action.
- Leadership: Evolving leadership for an evolving world.
- Madison 2.0: What does Madison’s future hold?
Can’t watch YouTube at work? Don’t worry here’s the interview transcript.
Apples and Oranges
With a career in tech, including spending time at Apple, how did you make the switch to local government?
I started tutoring in schools and joined some nonprofit boards and was kind of talked into volunteering at a statewide campaign. I had no experience in politics, I had never been involved in politics–I had never even considered volunteering on a campaign. I wasn’t familiar with that world. But, as I was finding ways to serve the community, this fit that. I remember one day I was doing doors for a local County Board Supervisor, and I’m at a door pitching a constituent [the] importance of local government…and this person lit up–they were excited to to hear me, they were excited to hear this message, they were excited for this candidate. And as I walked away a switch flipped in my head, I said “I can do this, I can put my name on a ballot…I believe this…” I believe that local government is one of the most important things that we think about when we think about out quality of life.
Of course the Governor and Congress and the President all have really important jobs but it’s the decisions that are made at a local level that really impact the quality of life that we think about on a daily basis. I think about our community and the things that we really love about our community–that’s clean streets and safe communities, beautiful parks–all those decisions that make a community great–that…when you’re bragging to your friends about how much you love your city and how they should visit you–all those things are decided at the local level and I’m really proud to be able to be able to have that opportunity to have an impact on it.
Wave of Change
What is #LocalGov’s proactive and responsible role for communities in the 21st century?
Over the next ten years some of the efficiencies that I expect are going to come municipalities thinking of itself more as a platform company than a products and services company. Historically, local government has had the ability–the finances and resources to be able to solve problems in the community, but as government shrinks, as funding becomes more restrictive, in my opinion it’s more important than ever before for cities to accept its role as the center of a really dynamic universe. When we think about all of the things that makeup a strong city, that includes passionate citizens, strong nonprofits, strong schools…all of which bring an asset to the table that can help cities become efficient that don’t necessarily require the city solving those problems and delivering those services.
Given that future-forward perspective, how has the City of Madison implemented such programs?
In the City of Madison, our bus routes–there was a local programmer Greg Tracy who developed an SMS [text] app that allowed him to be able to text a service he had written that was scraping transportation data on where the buses were and would alert him when the bus was nearby. That is the sort of thing–frankly, if we tried to develop a program for that, we would have thought about the hardest to solve that–the most expensive way to solve that and that problem got solved by a local citizen that was just passionate and capable of developing a solution.
What does leadership look like in an evolving and diverse world?
Leadership sometimes presents itself in difference ways and it’s really important that folks who are in a position of leadership right now not be looking for people who demonstrate leadership in identical ways to them. That’s something that I’ve seen in departments within the City of Madison who have had success in diversifying their staff and their leadership. There’s a very intentional awareness of the fact that leadership can look different than maybe it traditionally has.
Looking forward, what’s next for you and the future of Madison?
We’re currently going through a process of envisioning transportation for the next thirty-five years. When I say that I mean, how humans are going to navigate our cities in all modes. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motor vehicles, bus, high speed rail, light rail–hoverboards hopefully!
Whatever the case may be, we’re really trying to develop a plan right now–it’s called Madison in Motion–we’re trying to develop a plan for how we can envision the most efficient ways for us to provide transportation options for our citizens. It’s a big, bold, ambitious project. If you’re not familiar with Madison–on the map here you’ll see that we have a beautiful city with plenty of water but we’re restricted by the ithsmus. So as people try to navigate from the east side to the west side of the City of Madison–as the city becomes increasingly dense, traversing that isthmus becomes more complicated.
The public input process that we’re going through right now to elicit feedback and suggestions and how you want the city to operate and to feel as you think about your city–and not just next year and five years from now but in thirty-five years from now, assuming we continue to grow as fast as we have been–the Madison in Motion project is going to be a really important thing that we continue to work next year.