Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Response from Dana Kelly-Franks, Candidate for St. Louis City License Collector

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

SHORT ANSWER The License Collector’s position is often thought of as strictly administrative, but it requires innovative and change-friendly leadership to function at its highest level and to positively influence equitable outcomes at scale.

EXPANDED The License Collector should be a seasoned manager with a track record of building effective, goal driven teams with high morale and a commitment to good, nimble, empathy driven customer service.

I’ve personally spoken to more than 250 business owners this year, and will visit at least 1,000 businesses before election day. Almost unanimously, business owners dread interacting with the License Collector’s Office. They find it to be tedious and confusing with challenging customer service issues due to outdated processes.

I have operated a financial firm for more than fifteen years, building a happy, eager team to serve our more than 1,300 clients (up from 900 clients at last count in 2017). I founded and lead the non-profit Sheroes, Inc. which serves our youth here in the City of St. Louis, and I built a passionate team of volunteers to help me and our board do our outcome focused work.

The License Collector should be unrelentlessly committed to growing revenues.

Our City has dealt itself a budget crisis which only perpetuates our poverty and crime crises. ~1% revenue growth over 5 years with a 13% increase in expenditures despite no real improvements to the office is unacceptable. Thousands of businesses are operating under the radar due to antiquated systems and ineffective practices. The License Collector must be committed to good government and willing to pursue systems and policy level change to get us there.

I would never let my business or any of my clients’ businesses operate in such a poor state, and I won’t let the License Collector’s Office do it either. Step one will be a comprehensive systems audit examining processes and mechanisms, and engaging employees of the office, constituents of the office, experts from other cities, and my colleagues in City Hall.

The License Collector has to have a working understanding of what processes and communications can and should look like in the 21st Century.

It has historically taken as long as one year to retrieve simple, public information from the License Collector’s Office, and that information is almost always delivered in an unusable format like a printed copy with 500+ pages, or a scanned PDF when it should be provided in a working .csv file. Our aldermen and state legislators can’t easily access information on the businesses in their districts which prevents them from best serving their constituents. There is no comprehensive, accurate, interactive list of licensed businesses which makes it impossible to effectively leverage simple communication methods like email and social media. Not having a nimble data source makes it difficult to use mapping tools to identify hot spots, holes, trends, and so on.

In my first 100 days, I will create an Innovation Committee made up of a diverse group of community members who work in tech, innovation and creative spaces within the realm of data management, finance, business, and community engagement. This committee will weigh in on opportunities and best practices the License Collector’s Office could consider pursuing. I plan to apply some immediate updates to streamline processes and communications, engage disenfranchised business owners, and make working in the License Collector’s Office a better experience for its employees. I also plan to create layers of transparency that currently don’t exist, and “open source” resources that make non-sensitive information public. Additionally, I hope to play a catalytic role in establishing financial literacy and business or entrepreneurship focused after school programs across the city, starting with the schools who need them most.

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

SHORT ANSWER I am the best person for this position because I have my priorities and my house in order and I’m unflinchingly focused on outcomes. I will work to increase revenues, improve systems and processes, modernize communication, and create a positive, high energy office culture for both employees and constituents. I have the operational, financial, and managerial experience to accomplish what I set out to achieve, and I will work toward my goals unrelentlessly and without apology.

EXPANDED Here are just a few of the accomplishments I've worked hard to achieve over the last two decades:

● Christopher Harris Youth Advocacy Award
● Missouri House of Representatives Resolution Honor for Outstanding Heroic Behavior
● Board Member, National Women’s Political Caucus
● Board Member, Girls Lead And Make Moves
● Inner Circle Member, National Women’s Foundation
● Advocate, Battered Women of St. Louis
● Founder & Executive Director, Sheroes
● Ambassador Star Award, State Farm Insurance Companies
● Hall of Fame Awards Allstate Insurance Companies (Multiple Honors)
● Financial Most IPS for Startup Agency, Allstate Insurance Companies
● Published in “Poetry for Personal Power”
● Published in “Women for Peace”
● Published Author, “Tatted Up: Emotional Tattoos of the Heart (The Righting Lab Series)”
● Published Author, “Ugly Me”
● Poet of the Year, Spoken Word and Art STL
● Keynote Speaker, Harris-Stowe State University
● Keynote Speaker, St. Louis Community College - Forest Park
● Keynote Speaker, Lewis and Clark Community College
● Annual Speaker & Workshop Leaders, Vivavox in Washington D.C.

3. 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)

SHORT ANSWER The most pressing issue in this office is stagnant revenues despite growing expenditures. A ~1% increase in revenues over 5 years and a 13% increase in expenditures is unacceptable. The next most pressing issues are the disenfranchisement of thousands of business subsequently operating without a license, and the office’s poor reputation and negative sentiment among business owners. These issues go hand-in-hand.

EXPANDED Here is how I will solve these problems:
  1. First and foremost, I will oversee a comprehensive systems audit and execute a thorough community engagement program to identify our greatest strengths and weaknesses. I will complete this within my first 100 days.
  2. Next, I will take my findings to my colleagues, experts and License Collectors (or the equivalent) in other cities, existing committees of the office, new innovation and small business committees I plan to create for the office, employees of the office, and to the office’s constituents. I will gather input to identify what best practices will best serve the City of St. Louis and the License Collector’s Office.
  3. By the end of my first year, I will release a comprehensive plan to restructure the office, including potential elimination of the office through consolidating services into an existing or new office. While this will be a long process, it will be a necessary one that will ultimately create an additional $10 million in annual revenue for our City, and will streamline processes for businesses, keep them engaged, and offer educational and support services at scale.
  4. If the Recorder of Deeds Office can implement a transactional fee to finance a Technology Fund, so can the License Collector’s Office. I will pursue funding through this and other mechanisms to hire an executive level IT staffer to work alongside me throughout as much of this process as possible. 

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

SHORT ANSWER Community and constituent engagement, continuing education, mentorship and peer support are effective tools that are currently underutilized in the License Collector’s Office. Though programs have been implemented, they have not been implemented at scale both in terms of input and awareness or engagement. I plan to reassess existing programs and communications and engagement efforts to expand the office’s reach and engage currently noncompliant businesses as well as residents.

I will also explore all financing functions to determine what mechanisms we can use to increase revenues and resources, and to empower the office to oversee its own technology and processes. I will work closely with the Collector of Revenue and Recorder of Deeds Offices, both of which have more efficient and effective processes than the LCO.

  1. I will immediately, within my first 100 days, reconcile the list of businesses operating with a license in the City of St. Louis, fill in any/all missing information (i.e. email addresses, current phone numbers), host an introductory meet-and-greet and town hall, and will implement a monthly email newsletter. I will make sure EVERY business has my personal email address and cell phone number, and the same information for my closest colleagues. A survey will be distributed and other input opportunities will be implemented.
  2. I will launch an Innovation Committee made up of a diverse group of professionals who work in the tech, innovation and creative spaces. These individuals will consult on the modernization of the License Collector’s Office and will review and assess all vendor proposals.
  3. I will launch a small business committee made up of licensed businesses based in the City of St. Louis. This committee will either join or work alongside the LCO’s existing business advisory committee, and will assist with community engagement and will consult on customer service, constituent communications, license and renewal processes, educational resources and other services.
  4. I will engage my colleagues in City Hall and the City and State Legislatures, organizational design and government experts, License Collectors (or equivalent roles) in comparable cities, and professionals who have led government restructuring projects or consolidation efforts. From these individuals, I will gather a broad scope of nuanced perspectives and ideas and get a firsthand look at best practices are generating results for cities in similar positions to St. Louis.
  5. Throughout all of these things and the entire first year, I will maintain transparency by offering regular updates in multiple easy-to-digest formats, and making quantitative and qualitative data and other findings available for businesses and citizens to review and analyze. I will also implement a simple system for public input to ensure all voices are heard. 

5. What services could this office offer citizens that it does not now offer?

SHORT ANSWER Before we create new services, we have to get the house in order. We need to hear from the community; those who are living the experience of being a business owner, or who want to open a business, are going to know what they need.

EXPANDED With more than fifteen years experience working with businesses of all sizes, I have some ideas of my own. I would like to see the License Collector’s Office offer wealth tools, financial literacy education, general and niche business education, How To… courses, and more. These programs MUST be inclusionary and widely promoted and distributed -- they must be accessible and available online and offline, and at varying times of day. We have to consider things like childcare, transportation, disabilities and communications methods so that no one is left out.

This office is directly connected to more than 8,000 businesses operating in the City of St. Louis. That is a huge opportunity that could create real impact if properly leveraged. We can create an interactive, inclusionary network of businesses. We can play a catalytic role in connecting people and businesses, businesses and businesses, and businesses and government.

6. How can this office improve the economic strength of the city?

SHORT ANSWER Improving the economic strength of our City through revenue generation is one of two purposes of the License Collector’s Office, but we are not improving.

EXPANDED Revenues are stagnant. This office exists to generate fee and tax based revenue, and to ensure businesses operate safely and legally in the City of St. Louis. Our City is facing a budget crisis, and poverty and crime crises. Every solution to each of these problems requires resources, and resources require revenue. If nothing else, I will increase revenues in this office by $10 million annually by 2025. It is unacceptable to expect anything less from an office that exists to generate revenue.

Additionally, empowering businesses through education, connecting them to other businesses, people and government (where appropriate, like through DBE certification education and training offered at scale), and providing services that will help them grow and thrive. When they grow and thrive, that creates well paying jobs in our neighborhoods, tax revenue, and a sense of vibrancy and community.

7. Do you believe this office can help address the issues of racial and economic inequality in the city? If yes, how?

The License Collector’s Office can impact racial and economic inequality in the City by increasing revenues that go toward vital services including St. Louis Public Schools, mental health services, and disability development resources.

We can also leverage existing financing mechanisms to fund business, entrepreneurship and financial literacy oriented educational programs for St. Louis Public Schools, provide education for potential and existing small business owners, and offer incentives for businesses who go through anti-bias/anti-racism and inclusion focused workshops. I am committed to consistently exploring new ways to help address issues of racial and economic inequality in our City.

8. Are there functions of this office that are now obsolete and can be eliminated or combined for efficiency?

The functions of this office are necessary, but they do not need to be contained to a separate office. To be efficient, we need to automate basic informational processes and create a system where the customer service representatives can spend more energy on providing feedback and resources to business owners instead of simply processing paperwork. Then, we’ll also be able to launch and manage programs that create new businesses and help existing ones succeed.

9. Should this office continue to be an elected office? Why or why not?

We need to run an extensive systems audit and explore what an effective structure could look like for the License Collector’s Office. Once we have our findings in place, we’ll collect input from the community to drive the formation of a comprehensive plan to build a brand new system that works for everyone. That plan may or may not propose eliminating the License Collector position, and should go to the voters for approval through a ballot initiative. Based on my current assessment, I think it is likely that our City’s people could benefit from eliminating the elected position.

10. How are you working/would you work to make this office a 21st Century office?

I will oversee a systems audit to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. I will create a technology fund through a transactional fee so that we can bring IT in house and hire an executive level IT professional to manage our own systems so that we’re not dependent upon City Hall’s limited resources and capabilities. I will use our successes to help other City departments to modernize in similar ways.

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

How are you improving and increasing positive outcomes on a broad scale through innovation and technology?

12. Who are your 3 largest campaign contributors? Are there donors from whom you will not accept campaign contributions?

My three largest campaign contributors are:

Myself, Dana Kelly-Franks
My father, Bassam Alhamed
Local business owner, Larry Cohn of Nexcore

I will not accept donations from lobbyists, major corporations, or any independent or organized parties who advocate or lobby for inequitable systems and policies.

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