Executive Brief - One Way To Improve the City I love.

Executive Brief - One Way To Improve the City I love.

During one of the sessions for the Governor’s Downtown Task Force that we convened in the fall with local tech startups, a participant suggested that merging the City with Multnomah County would make a lot of sense.  Their reasoning was that–and I am paraphrasing–the territory that the County covers is roughly the same as the jurisdiction for the City of Portland, and combining the two would eliminate a bunch of redundancies and start to address the on-going lack of coordination between the two local governments.

Putting aside the political feasibility of such an initiative, this question got me thinking about what might be doable in the short-term that could start to address some of the underlying issues, such as inefficiencies/redundancies and lack of coordination among local governments in the region.  

A Civic Innovation Institute at Portland State University

Portland State is already home to the well-regarded Hatfield School of Government.  What if that school was also home to a Northwest Civic Innovation Institute?  And what if the City of Portland, Multnomah County, Metro, and Trimet co-located their respective user-experience, data, and web dev employees at the NWCII?  And what if those employees were joined by a revolving team of faculty, students, and “Digital Service Fellows” from PSU and beyond spanning a wide variety of disciplines and professions–cultural studies, education, urban planning, game design, AI, psychology, etc.?  

A model for something like this already exists. Since 2010, the City of Boston has operated the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics.  To be effective in Portland, such an initiative needs to have buy-in from multiple local governments, all of which are responsible for different services.  Maddeningly, each local government in this region offers a different web and mobile-based user-experience to residents and businesses.  By co-locating employees from multiple local governments, in theory you could start to cultivate a common, shared culture and break down some of the silos and lack of coordination among jurisdictions.  You could also envision some shared, common solutions.  Moreover, by housing it at PSU, you have a neutral party with real subject matter expertise and talented students.

When I worked at the City of Portland and was involved with the launch of CivicApps for Greater Portland, a regional open data initiative and portal, we had to spend nearly a year negotiating intergovernmental agreements between local governments, all of whom had different data (yes, sometimes the same data) and different standards and practices governing that data.  The City of Portland continues to encourage public participation and use of open data (see below for info on two upcoming events).  Key to the success of CivicApps was getting buy-in from the elected officials of each of those jurisdictions.  This buy-in was essential to driving each of the siloed bureaus and departments to collaborate.  Similarly, you could envision a Governing Council for the NWCII composed of rotating elected officials from each of the contributing jurisdictions, ensuring alignment with policy goals, as well as the Chief Administrative Officers and/or COOs of each of the contributing jurisdictions, ensuring alignment across departments/bureaus internal to each jurisdiction.

A key aspect of CivicApps was recognizing that the government could, by standardizing data and making it more accessible, facilitate the development of applications by residents, businesses, local nonprofits, etc. using that public data.  A similar role of convenor and facilitator of the public sector, residents, students, businesses and local nonprofits could be played by the NWCII.  Today, with the promise of AI, there is so much more that could be accomplished with respect to developing insights and valuable data for use internally among local government policymakers and externally by the public, not to mention the prospect of impactful academic research.  With a common user interface among local governments, residents and businesses could access all sorts of relevant data and insights, customized to their needs, and more easily access all of the different services that local governments offer.  Layer in the creation of a thoughtfully-constructed and managed community data trust as part of the NWCII, and this idea could be even more compelling.  

There are plenty of great people working in local government, and that applies equally to this region.  Without changes to our system of local government (and not just charter reform at the City of Portland), great public servants are stymied in their work by a dysfunctional structure with perverse incentives.  Our system is the one that we are stuck with until there is the political will to make the necessary changes.  In the meantime, why can’t we work to better organize certain functions across local governments–leveraging the best of the academic and private sectors–to achieve results that are similar to the ones that we would like to see from a unified local government?  


The Most Consequential Local Election Year in a Very Long Time
This is the most consequential local election year in a very long time, with three seats open on the Multnomah County Commission, to be decided in May, and 12 new City Council seats plus a Mayoral election that will be decided in November.  There are plenty of great people running.  Please do your research and please vote.  

Introducing Citizenly, TAO’s Newest Gov-Tech Startup Member
John Horton, the founder of LegitScript, has a new startup called Citizenly, and he and his team are seeking to improve the experience of being a citizen and a public servant, respectively.

NIST Global Community Technology Challenge (GCTC) Strategic Plan Published
In January, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) published the Global Community Technology Challenge (GCTC) Strategic Plan.  This plan is the culmination of 8+ years of work, and the City of Portland, PSU, Intel, DKS Associates and TAO were involved from the early days, with a number of TAO members making significant contributions to the final plan document.

City of Portland’s Open Data Discotech on 3/2 and Open Data Day Celebration on 3/6
The City of Portland will have an Open Data Discotech on Saturday March 2 at the Portland building from 9 AM to 4 PM. The Open Data Discotech is an invitation to everyone to join and explore, learn, develop, and collaborate with others using the City of Portland Open Data. Learn more about this event and register to in-person or remote participation visit this page:

The City of Portland is also hosting an Open Data Day Celebration on March 6. This year the City will have data from the 311 program, local GIS services, and open contracting data. Additionally, attendees will have an opportunity to discuss data governance in the region, data ethics, and the use of public code in government. Click here for more information and how to join.

Executive Spotlight:

Supporting the Workforce With Housing as a Benefit

Jerryck Murrey lived in six different states and went to eight different schools, all before graduating from high school. From California to Maine and back, with a few other states in between, his family moved in and out of rentals and relatives’ homes in a nonstop search for affordable housing.

The experience led him to a career in real estate development and structured finance and, ultimately, to his founding of Annum, which empowers companies to provide housing as a benefit to their employees.

“Here at Annum, we believe that housing is the fulcrum asset of lif  the asset that when removed, everything collapse,” Murrey said. “When people struggle with housing, they end up making short-term decisions to handle short-term fears, and those aren't necessarily the best decisions. When you solve housing, you solve a lot of the biggest problems our society is facing.”

Annum began with a pilot program in Montana, where Murrey and his team experimented with a variety of tactics, from master leasing to buying units and using finance arbitrage to bring down the cost of housing. Many of them were successful—but not very scalable.

Along the way, they realized that housing is too often treated like a hardware problem, with supply a key challenge. But finding the right housing is a much more nuanced and personal decision—one that goes beyond budget to encompass a wider variety of factors. In that way, it’s actually more like healthcare, Murrey said.

“Once we started thinking of housing as having more in common with healthcare than hardware, we felt that a benefit plan would better address the issues,” Murrey said. “We may both need dental benefits, but I may need a root canal while you need a cleaning. We need to solve the right problem, at the right scale, to have long-lasting impact.”

The team began building a platform to create a collaborative ecosystem to bring together organizations that solve different facets of the housing challenge, from zero-interest emergency housing loans to rent- to-own programs, down payment solutions, repairs and maintenance, furniture and appliance rentals, and more. With a unique approach to inventory, the platform empowers employers to easily and affordably include housing as part of their benefits package.

The company plans an official launch in southern Oregon in June, with future expansion slated for other small or rural communities, which tend to lose talent when housing prices go up.

“We envision a world where access to housing is just as ubiquitous as oxygen,” Murrey said. “There’s not going to be a silver bullet, if you will—it’s going to take a compendium of solutions. We truly feel that when people aren't spending as much on housing, those dollars will be spent in the local economies. We're really looking forward to engaging with community and supporting the communities where we operate by increasing access to housing.”

Thank you to A.Wordsmith for interviewing Jerryck Murrey, Founder of Annum.

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