Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Response from Lisa Miller, 15th Ward Alderman Candidate

1.    What do you view as the key role, and/or attributes needed for this position? 

The key role is to make effective decisions for our Ward and our City.  Honesty, integrity, patience, and a sense of humor go a long way to help an alderman be a good representative.  More than that, though, an alderman must be able to reason well, build coalitions, solve problems, and communicate effectively. 

2.    What education (schools attended, degrees attained), experience, and attributes do you have that qualify you for this position? 

I have earned a Master’s degree from the University of Missouri – St. Louis in English Literature.  As part of the Liberal Arts, my education was significantly focused on logic and rhetoric.  Practically, what this means is that I have been educated to use reason to develop a position and problem solve and to effectively present my position through language.  My military education was similarly focused.  As a military officer, I was trained to identify problems, weigh risks, develop strategies and lead people to achieve objectives. 

Decisions made by individual Alderman and the Board of Alderman affect individuals, neighborhoods, and our city.  It is vital that these decisions are made by weighing the relevant facts, balancing sometimes conflicting priorities, and building consensus for a solution that achieves the common good.

3.    Why do you think you are the best person for this position?  What differentiates you from your opponent?

My experience as a leader, my experience as a business woman, and my education strongly differentiate me from my opponent.  I have a well rounded background that provides me with the knowledge and resources to be innovative.  It will take new ideas to bring real solutions to problems St. Louis has faced for years such as unemployment, crime and safety, and our public school system.  We have been patient with our local politicians.  We have waited for solutions, and they haven’t come.  It is time for new voices in our local politics.  It is time for real change.  I bring new ideas because my experience and education is broader than my opponent’s, and I am not entrenched in a political system that hasn’t provided us with innovative solutions to our long standing problems.

4.    Please describe your previous involvement in the ward / neighborhood.

My previous experience has been specific to my block.  I was Treasurer of our block association “Hearts of Hartford” for several years.  My partner and I have also hosted block meetings at our house, and early on we attended meetings at the Grand Oak Hill Community Corporation.  I have also worked with my partner on various block committees for “Operation Brightside” and our annual block parties.  Like many people, where I couldn’t be involved, my partner and I have donated to Grand Oak Hill Community Corporation in the form of gift cards, furniture, and table cloths.  Additionally, we helped to develop a “phone bank” at the suggestion of our local police to report drug trafficking and gang activities on our block.  This coordinated effort with the police was very influential in reducing crime on our block.

A strong block programs and participation are essential to strong neighborhoods.  It is vitally important that the Alderman engages with, supports, and coordinates with neighborhood block captains.  Our block captain program has been languishing in recent years; it must be reinvigorated block by block.  This is particularly important as we prepare for the reduction in the number of Aldermen which will increase the number of people represented by the Alderman.

5.    What do you feel are the most pressing issues currently facing this office and what plans do you have to address these issues? (please be specific)

The 15th Ward needs a comprehensive development/sustainment plan to ensure a unity of effort which provides a multi-faceted approach to our issues.  With a plan in place, projects would be done not as a single effort, but part of a greater whole with a focus on benefits to the neighborhoods, the ward, and the City. 

To develop this plan, I would first start with the planning experts within City government in the Planning Department to initiate the planning process.  Based on their advice and direction, I would see the planning process expanded to include the Ward as a whole through workshops, petitions, polls and other forms of community involvement.  It is vital that the communities within the Ward have the opportunity to participate in the planning process.  Where this isn’t possible for the individual, the individual at least be informed of initiatives and timelines included in the plan.

6.    Describe how you work with, or will work with, others to address your priorities.

First and foremost, it is necessary to begin a comprehensive plan for the Ward.  Through this planning process, I will engage with the people of our ward, experts in City government, and leaders in the City to set a clear direction for our future. 

Additionally, I will work closely with the business and neighborhood associations to facilitate their work and work with them on their priorities as well as the ones I have suggested, and those which are developed as part of the planning process.

7.    Recently the St. Louis City voters approved reducing the number of Aldermen; how do you feel about this change?  Are there other city government changes you would like to see?

This is a positive change.  Reducing the number of Alderman will help to address fragmentation and competing interests and help our government address problems with a regional perspective. 

Our ward is not well positioned right now for reducing the number of Aldermen because we don’t have strong systems in place such as block programs and neighborhood watch programs to assist the Alderman in identifying problem properties and city services needed. 

8.    What steps would you recommend taking to balance the City’s pension obligations and overall budget?

It is no secret that our City has financial problems. The City has reduced the number of Police.  The City has reduced the number of Firefighters.  The City has reduced the number ambulance stations.  The City has reduced its own work force.  All of these reductions are a result of the City trying to reduce its financial obligations.

None of us want to see reduced services especially in the area of public safety.  We do not want to see an increase in our taxes.   We need to find a solution that maintains or improves services using our current level of revenue.  The best way to do this is by finding improvements in the way the City does business.

I will call for the City to initiate an Efficiency Study to review City services to assess the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the City’s operations and to identify potential opportunities for improvement.

We had a saying in the military – “Work smarter, not harder.”  I think it applies here very well.  By finding where we can “work smarter” we will be able to reduce our spending, improve City services, and grow our City.

9.    Neighborhood safety has been a hot topic in the ward.  What have / will you do to address safety in the neighborhood?

Safety doesn’t just happen and it isn’t just a police responsibility.  These are our streets, our neighborhoods, and our community.  It is a shared responsibility.

We have systems in place which I would like to continue to energize programs like Citizens on Patrol which started in Lafayette Square.  This is a great program because people get to know their area and their neighbors better.  Where people know one another we do a better job of taking care of one another. 

Planning is also a key part of safety.  Through a comprehensive plan for our ward, we will be able to holistically work on solutions which will make us safer. 

If we consider crime in the area, it’s not enough just to patrol.  We also have to look at why it occurs, so that we can address both the effect and the cause at the same time. 

Environmental factors such as lighting and landscaping can be used to deter crime.  Reducing abandoned properties and absentee landlords will also change the environment in such a way to deter crime.  Providing better or more options for employment, education, and recreation will also work to reduce crime in our neighborhoods. 

It takes a plan to prioritize and synchronize these efforts to achieve long lasting results.  

I would also like to mention to other points related to safety.  These are traffic flow and disaster preparedness.  When we think of traffic flow we want to be safe driving our cars, riding our bikes, and walking down the street.  To do this, we need to plan for better traffic flow that accommodates the need to keep traffic moving, but also provides good pedestrian and bicycle access to our business districts and neighborhoods.  This can only be done with direct planning with traffic flow experts who can analyze how we move and help us to balance the needs of all how use our streets and sidewalks. 

One last thought about safety – we aren’t as prepared as we can be for a disaster such as a tornado, super storm or an earthquake.  I know we don’t like to think about these things, but we know that they happen.  As a member of the military, I have been trained in disaster relief.  If I am elected, I will work to develop our disaster plan in conjunction with city and local organizations to ensure that we are ready.  Disaster preparedness includes the need for medical assistance, power, transportation, food services, and much more.  It takes a lot to be ready for a disaster, and we need someone who is ready and able to help us prepare.

10.    How do / will you use the Alderman position to effectively impact city services for the ward?

City services can best be supported through sound financial planning for the city.  As an Alderman, it is my job to ask the hard questions about the proposed budget and to balance the needs of our community with the needs of the City.  I would also like to see the City complete and efficiency study that would find areas that we can be more effective in providing city services while keeping the costs of these services within our city budget. 

It is also important to be available to the citizens of our ward to assist them to find the right services to meet their needs and to follow-up to ensure the problem or issue has been resolved.

Finally, it is also my job to be a good steward of the ward.  This means that I must know where the problems are and to bring city services to bear where they are needed.

11.    What role should the Alderman have in working with the neighborhood business districts?  What have / would you do to increase economic development in the ward?

As Alderman, I liaison with business districts to provide information and resources to them.  I coordinate for funding. I propose Board Bills to support initiatives and to improve the area.  I work with the districts on planning and supporting their charters.

Through the efforts of the South Grand Community Improvement district and our current Alderman, we have seen good development on Grand.  I would like to take that same energy to help the Morganford Business Association to achieve similar results.

Additionally, I would be working with current and potential business owners to connect them with available properties in the area which would meet their needs, as well as to find funding sources to do more marketing for our business districts as a whole.

12.    What role should the Alderman have in working with resident organizations?  What have / would you do to increase residential development in the ward?

As an Alderman, I would work as a liaison to the residential organizations to provide information and resources available to me, and share information to other organizations throughout the word.  I also see my role to be one of facilitating those projects which are within my authority, ability, and resources to facilitate.  Additionally, it is also my role to communicate with the entire Ward about what is happening in the Ward and what services are available through the residential organizations.

An alderman should be:
•    an advocate for residential/neighborhood organizations –
•    a resource for those involved in the organizations and the organizations -the alderman should be a liaison between the residential/neighborhood organizations and city & state entities (more city than state)

At the same time, the alderman must be honest -should not use those organizations to further their political aspirations but instead should always keep foremost that he or she serves the ward/ward residents.

Residential development in our Ward can be best supported through a comprehensive plan for Ward sustainment and development.  I would work with the city’s Planning Department to begin the process of developing this plan. 

13.    How do / would you balance the needs of the residential and business districts of the ward so both are strong and vibrant?

The balance is best struck, by maximizing the use of the commercially zoned areas, maintaining residential areas, working with business owners to ensure they have the right location, zoning or variance, and actively resolving disputes between business owners and residents.  I would add here that it is also very important that the types of businesses in our ward reflect its identity and character.

This may sound over used at this point, but planning for development which is in line with the Strategic Land Use Plan will help to mitigate disputes between businesses and residential districts.  Planning for development would also provide opportunities for both districts to identify initiatives to which both agree are necessary.

14.    If you could ask your opponent one question, what would it be?

I do not have any questions for my opponent.

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