'Talking Transition DC Town Meeting': A Waste of Money

Photo by Peter Rosenstein

Last Saturday a number of groups I respect including the National Institute for Civil Discourse, DC Vote, DC Working Families, and the Urban Institute got together and using foundation funding hosted a meeting  ‘Talking Transition DC Town Meeting’. The all-day event at the Convention Center on Martin Luther King weekend only attracted about 250 people and they should be give kudo’s for participating.

Since the title of the event clearly suggested some link to the Mayoral transition many assumed it would be coordinated with the successful public forums held by the Bowser transition team where over 1,000 people came to share their ideas and suggest things the new Mayor could do. In addition the Bowser transition team held meetings with groups covering eight critical areas including education, economic development, and the creative ARTS. Those discussions included soliciting suggestions for setting the mayor’s agenda and moving it forward. They included ideas on developing affordable housing, creating more effective job training, continuing education reform and even details on how to expand and make more meaningful the summer jobs program. Muriel Bowser’s transition was the most open and transparent the District has seen.

The groups who planned this ‘Talking Transition’ meeting had to know only two weeks into the new administration the final transition report wasn’t going to be out. They also knew input from the community had been requested and heard. The transition report will clarify the Mayor’s agenda for the first 100 days and the first year.

The type of community meetings this emulated have been successfully sponsored in the past by Mayor Anthony Williams and Mayor Vincent Gray with close to 2,000 people in attendance. At those the Mayor, cabinet officers, and representatives from all city agencies were there to listen and many had individual conversations on the direction people wanted to see the District go.

This event had no real coordination with the Mayor’s office. I was told she had been invited but it should have been anticipated requests for her time over the MLK weekend would be numerous. The timing of this meeting with the new administration only two weeks old and following an open transition process made no sense.

One of the coordinators told to me they had seen this done in New York at the start of the de Blasio administration but they at least coordinated and had de Blasio there. But New York is a different place. New York City has 56 community boards representative of neighborhoods across the city. They each have about 50 members appointed by Councilmembers and the Borough Presidents. Mayoral transitions in New York, a city of eight million, are very different from a transition in D.C., with our population of 650,000.

Having attended for about an hour and read the Discussion Guide handed to each attendee and considering the sparse attendance and no representation from the new administration it appears that whatever was spent on this meeting was a waste of money.

It would be hoped that these sponsors will coordinate with the Mayor’s office and possibly hold a much more comprehensive meeting a year from now. At that time there could be a legitimate review of the Administration’s first year and discussion over the success or failure of the agenda and of the direction the city is moving in.  That could be done in a citywide meeting or forums in each Ward of the City. The strength of the Bowser campaign and hopefully the administration is the recognition that people across the District don’t all have the same needs or expectations of their government. A successful agenda will have to meet everyone’s needs and still manage to collectively move the District forward.