Experienced researchers Bill Blazar,
Jody Hauer, Marina Lyon and Clarence Shallbetter
What’s old can be new;
Learn from past success to produce sound new policy proposals
A Civic Caucus
Review of Minnesota’s Public
Interview January 29, 2016
John Adams, Steve
Anderson, Bill Blazar, Dave Broden (vice chair), Janis Clay, Pat
Davies, Paul Gilje (executive director), Jody Hauer, Sallie
Kemper (associate director), Dan Loritz (chair), Marina Lyon,
Dana Schroeder (associate director), Clarence Shallbetter.
During their time
working at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Citizens League,
four former League research associates say the organization's
reports on community issues and problems were relevant, focused
and respected in the community. The League's nonpartisan study
committees produced the reports over a period of months of
learning and deliberating about a specific problem or issue and
the proposals for resolving it. Bill Blazar, Jody Hauer, Marina
Lyon and Clarence Shallbetter, all of whom worked at the
Citizens League at various times from the 1960s into the 1990s,
agree that the reports included precise, doable recommendations.
Using the Citizens League approach
during those years as a model for developing sound policy
proposals, the interviewees say a number of factors contributed
to the success of the League study committees and reports: (1) a
focused, clear charge from the board's program committee to each
study committee detailing a limited, specific community problem
for the committee to address; (2) the discipline of the formula
then used for a League study committee: coming up with clear
findings, conclusions and recommendations; (3) accountability to
a strong, involved board that insisted on high-quality reports;
(4) strong committee chairs; (5) thoughtful, patient committee
members willing to stick with a topic for a number of months;
(6) efforts by the Citizens League board to limit study
committee membership to mainly neutral, generalist citizens, in
order to prevent representatives of special interests from
dominating committees; (7) detailed minutes of study committee
meetings that were distributed regularly to a larger group of
people interested in a committee's progress; (8) a strong staff;
(9) media committed to solid public affairs coverage; and (10)
substantial efforts by the League to get its recommendations
The interviewees wish that process for
producing sound policy proposals were more in use today. They
worry that the media today are bombarded with proposals from a
huge number of sources, often from groups representing special
interests. The resulting clamor makes it hard for the media to
judge the quality of the proposals and for organizations
representing broad community interests to draw attention to
their proposals. And changes to media in recent years have led,
in most cases, to less coverage of community issues while they
are being debated. The interviewees also note the challenge of
engaging the younger generation in studying and developing
proposals for resolving community problems.
Bill Blazar is senior vice president of public affairs
and business development for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.
Prior to joining the Chamber, he was manager of government
affairs for Target Corporation from 1987 to 1992. Before working
for Target, Blazar was a research associate with the Citizens
League and a freelance public policy analyst, specializing in
state and local fiscal policy, economic development and
telecommunications. Blazar has a B.A. in political science from
Northwestern University and an M.A. in public affairs from the
Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of
Jody Hauer is program evaluation
coordinator in the Office of the Legislative Auditor in
Minnesota. She has been with the Legislative Auditor since 1994.
Between 1992 and 1994, she worked as research director for the
State Auditor's Office. From 1984 to 1992, she was a
research associate with the Citizens League. She was a graduate
student at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs from 1980 to
1982. Hauer has a bachelor's degree in political science from
St. Catherine University.
Marina Lyon directed the Carl and
Eloise Pohlad Family Foundation and the community involvement
and giving of Marquette Financial Companies from 1998 to
December 2015. Between 1998 and 2002, she also directed the work
of the Minnesota Twins Community Fund. Prior to joining the
Pohlad Foundation, Lyon worked at Piper Jaffray Companies
(director, Foundation and Government Relations), the McKnight
Foundation (program officer) and the Citizens League
(researcher). Lyon has B.A. and J.D. degrees from the University
Clarence Shallbetter is a Roman
Catholic deacon specializing in prison ministry. He has been
active in public affairs with the Citizens League and other
organizations since the 1950s. He held a research position with
the Citizens League from 1962 to 1963, and then served in the
Supply Corps of the U.S. Navy from 1964 to 1967. He then
returned to the Citizens League, where he worked from 1968 to
1975. He subsequently worked with Public Service Options,
Ridesharing, Inc., the CORE Commission, the Minnesota House of
Representatives as a fiscal analyst and the Metropolitan Council
in travel demand management. Shallbetter has a bachelor's degree
in political science, with a concentration in local government,
and did graduate work in Public Administration at the University
Caucus is currently reviewing the
quality of Minnesota's past, present and future public policy
process for anticipating, defining and resolving major public
problems. The Caucus interviewed Bill Blazar, Jody Hauer, Marina
Lyon and Clarence Shallbetter for their perspectives on how
Minnesota's public policy process worked in the past and their
assessments of how well that process is working today. All four
interviewees worked as research associates at the Citizens
League sometime during the period from the 1960s into the 1990s.
Each panel member made opening remarks to start the discussion.
Opening remarks by Bill Blazar of the
Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.
Blazar outlined what he saw as the three-part assignment to the
panel of interviewees:
Provide some context based on their experiences working at
Reflect on what they see as the problems today relative to
moving to and adopting solutions relating to community
Propose what to do going forward.
The Citizens League reports raised
ideas with immediate relevancy. Blazar worked for the
Citizens League from 1976 to 1980 and staffed committees that
produced reports on county government, the Twin Cities economy,
the relationship between taxes and economic development, how the
region discusses and resolves community-wide problems, local
government, and public-sector pensions.
"These reports were worth every
minute," Blazar said. "They had ideas with immediate relevancy
and a long-term life, as well. That was largely true because of
the way we developed the reports."
(Note: All Citizens League reports are
available from the
Presuming the politics when developing
proposals is harmful to the process. Blazar thought about
organizations today that make recommendations on problems
affecting our community, such as the Itasca Project, Growth &
Justice, Center of the American Experiment, and the Citizens
League. "The problem is not a lack of proposals," he said. "It's
not that there's a lack of recommendations. These organizations
and others provide plenty of those."
"But if I step back and look at the
process of developing recommendations, it may be that the
proposals that are coming out today go beyond just developing
the proposal and try to presume the politics. I think that's
really dangerous in terms of coming up with ideas that the
community can use, wrestle with and ultimately adopt over a
period of time."
We need to think about the process for
developing proposals and recommendations. Blazar laid out
four ideas for improving that process:
Somebody should remind everybody in the public affairs
business what a recommendation looks like. It has to be
actionable. A great test as to whether you've come up with
something substantive is to see whether you could tell the
legislative reviser of statutes how to draft a bill based on a
recommendation. The other test is whether you can explain it
in 30 seconds.
When there is a problem affecting the Twin Cities or the
State of Minnesota, we can certainly go to the Legislature,
but we should also keep alive the notion of trying to solve
the problem without the Legislature. "At the Chamber of
Commerce, none of our workforce initiatives today (excluding
the pre-K-12 education portion) depend on the Legislature," he
said. "After five years of going to the Legislature, we
concluded that the solutions to the workforce problem don't
rest with any legislative bill. There are things other than
legislation that need to be done. People trying to make
proposals and recommendations should consider whether there's
a non-legislative solution. Could we just fix this without
going to the Capitol?"
We need to rethink the way we analyze problems and come up
with solutions. The trend in the last 15 to 20 years has
been to create stakeholder groups. "I can't think of a worse
idea. Right behind that is the notion of a public/private
partnership," he said. The partnerships might be important in
implementing something. "But to use a public/private
partnership or a stakeholder group to actually think through a
problem and come up with a solution is a ticket to not
understanding the problem and compromising the solution before
you've even come up with it. It doesn't make sense, but we do
it with increasing frequency. It's very hard to convince
people that it's a bad idea. The vested interests and subject
experts are resources in understanding how community systems
work, but they aren't the best at seeing the real problems and
coming up with solutions."
People need to work on their writing skills. "The best
thing I learned when I was at the Citizens League," he said,
"was to write clearly: to have a clear statement of the way
the world was, the findings; and then to reach a clear set of
conclusions; and then to come up with a clear set of
recommendations. A lot of that has gotten lost. I would not
neglect the presentation and the writing."
Opening remarks by Jody Hauer of the
Minnesota Legislative Auditor's Office.
Working at the Citizens League was a
unique experience. Hauer worked at the Citizens League from
1984 through 1992. "I worked with some smart, wise, articulate
people," she said, such as Paul Gilje, Steve Alnes, Peter
Vanderpoel and Curt Johnson. And she pointed out the importance
of study committee chairs she worked with, including Ann Wynia,
Jay Kiedrowski, George Latimer, John Cairns, John Rollwagen,
Dana Schroeder, Allen Saeks and Tom Swain.
She staffed committees working on
tax-increment financing, airport location, the party caucus
system, how to finance state and local programs, the barriers to
elective office, and the structure of K-12 education. That
education committee ended up recommending the chartered school
model, she said. She was given a lot of autonomy and a lot of
authority during her time at the League, Hauer said.
Working at the Office of the
Legislative Auditor has similarities and differences compared
with her time at the Citizens League. Hauer has been at the
Legislative Auditor's Office for 22 years, working in the
program evaluation division. Every year the Legislature gives
the Auditor's Office a set of topics it wants to know more
about. The program evaluation staff members then spend eight to
nine months evaluating each topic.
Hauer mentioned several similarities
between her current work and her previous work at the Citizens
Hauer said the Legislative Auditor's Office deals with a
wide variety of topics. She has worked on reports that include
public pensions, transportation, education, special education,
workforce development and housing. She is currently working on
an evaluation of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation
Board (IRRRB). That variety is similar to the variety of
topics she worked on at the Citizens League.
In Hauer's current job with the Legislative Auditor, she
said, she's always thinking about how to inform the
legislators. "That's very much in line with what we did at the
Citizens League," she said. "Many Citizens League proposals
relied on something happening at the Capitol for change to
take place. I saw part of our role as League staffers to put
together reports that could inform legislators. That's
certainly what our role is as program evaluators in the Office
of the Legislative Auditor. Our primary audience is the
Legislature. In that way, it's a well-established bridge
between my previous work and my current work."
As at the Citizens League, she said, her current job has
accountability, but to different people. At the Citizens
League, the staff was accountable to the executive director
and to the board of directors, who made the final decision on
whether to approve each report. At the Auditor's Office, she
still has layers of accountability, including the legislative
auditor and legislators themselves. She and other evaluators
must make the end result something that can be useful.
At both the Citizens League and the Legislative Auditor's
Office, Hauer said, she has worked with good, smart people.
Hauer listed several differences
between her current work and her work at the Citizens League:
Most of our time at the Citizens League was spent working
with the citizen research committees, she said. Now all of our
work as program evaluators is done in a team within our
office. All the analysis and recommendations come from the
work the team does internally, rather than with a citizens
committee. But, she stressed, part of the evaluators' research
includes interviewing dozens of people. The research also
involves deep analytical, quantitative work, probably to a
depth greater than at the Citizens League during her time
there, because of the availability now of personal computers.
The evaluators get input from a wide range of people and
sources, as we did at the Citizens League. But, she said, it's
a different environment. A citizen-based committee brings many
insights and perspectives, which we don't have at the
Auditor's Office. "We must be sure to generate that
ourselves," she said. "I must be sure that I hear a variety of
perspectives, viewpoints and angles. That largely means
holding focus groups and conducting large numbers of
The Legislative Auditor's office is not involved in
advocacy. We produce seven or eight evaluation reports each
year, she said, but we don't work with legislators on getting
something passed. "The ball is in the court of the Legislature
once we release the report," she said. In contrast, at the
Citizens League, we had to work with legislators to convince
them why a change was important. "At the Auditor's Office,
we'll certainly talk with legislators if they ask for it, but
advocacy is not our role. Our work is nonpartisan and we're
not in the world of advocacy."
Communicating today with millennials
requires a different way of thinking. Hauer said things are
a world apart today in communicating with millennials than in
communicating with baby boomers when they were young. "Everybody
today has a phone, but they don't like to dial and talk to
someone," she said. "Skype is normal for them. It's not as
normal to come to face-to-face meetings, even in the work
world." To embrace and bring in millennials will mean thinking
of communication methods more common to their generation.
Opening remarks by Marina Lyon of the
The Citizens League always had a very
strong and involved board, which any good nonprofit needs.
Lyon worked for the Citizens League from 1984 to 1990, and she
said the League always had a strong board then. "This was not a
'Kumbaya' board," she said. "They asked hard questions; they
really made us think." The reports got better because of the
board's involvement. The board included substantive people who
were very politically savvy.
The topics for Citizens League study
committees were always very thoughtfully chosen. Lyon noted
that the League's program committee, which was chaired by a
board member, met numerous times during the year. "It delved
into the questions: what really is the issue here, is there a
way to solve it and do we think it's possible? It was another
part of the process that was extremely important. It wasn't just
what's hot today. It was something that potentially had
Lyon staffed study committees on the
following issues: state civil service reform, health care for
the uninsured, cooperatively managed schools, tax
expenditures/exemptions and the child
Study committee members were very
patient. Lyon said study committee members would faithfully
attend meetings week after week. They'd sit through sessions
with good resource people speaking and some with speakers who
didn't have the information we thought they might have.
Don't look to foundations to be
leaders in public policy. Lyon said large foundations
usually look to their grantees for work on public policy and
fund them. She noted two examples, though, of foundations
working together on public policy issues:
Minneapolis Saint Paul Regional Workforce Innovation
which was established in 2013 to strengthen the workforce in
the seven-country metro region and to advance statewide policy
recommendations that benefit all Minnesota businesses and
workers. Ten foundations and the Greater Twin Cities United
Way provide the funding and the leadership for the
organization, which has come up with a way of evaluating
Homelessness improvement and reduction. A committee of
foundation members provides financial support to assist Kathy
Ten Brook, a special appointee of Gov. Mark Dayton, in her
efforts to better understand and account for all the ways the
state provides financial support to address homelessness. The
goal is to coordinate all the efforts to improve outcomes.
The Pohlad Foundation doesn't look to
government to solve things, but rather tries to find areas where
it will be able to have a small impact. Lyon said during the
recent recession, the Pohlad Foundation worked with the
Minnesota Chamber of Commerce to get $6 million in loans and
grants to a number of small businesses throughout the state that
had been denied loans by a bank. "It was a huge success in that
many small businesses had no other place to go," she said. "A
lot of jobs were saved and created. We lost money, but we
What should the Civic Caucus do
differently to be more effective? Lyon mentioned several
What's old is new: Maybe it's time again for people to
start sitting down and spending thoughtful time on issues.
That's different in a time where everyone wants things right
Involve other generations in the work of the Civic Caucus.
Perhaps grandparents could bring their grandchildren to
The Civic Caucus could align itself with some newer groups
in town, such as Educators for Equity, which is a spinoff of
Teach for America. They've focused in on teacher licensing.
"They're making good progress in ways most of you would like,"
Opening remarks by Clarence
Shallbetter, Catholic deacon involved in prison ministry.
The study committees were the strength
of the Citizens League. Shallbetter was first involved with
the Citizens League as a high school intern in 1955 and 1956. At
that time, he said, there were small study committees operating
at noon throughout the week. Between 1962 and 1964, he served as
a research associate at the Citizens League. He staffed a study
committee reviewing the rebuilding of Minneapolis schools. The
committee ultimately recommended against a school district
referendum for the rebuilding program and voters turned down the
referendum. "It was dynamic and fun to be involved in an
organization that seemed to have some insightful, active role in
the community," he said.
He returned to the Citizens League in
1968 and worked there until 1975. He staffed League study
committees on transportation (Transit: What to Build is Usage),
development of neighborhood councils in the central cities, the
organization of Minneapolis city government (marking the third
time the League had approached the topic), campaign financing,
school building proposals in St. Paul and airport financing. He
came back to the Citizens League in 1984 as a consultant and
staffed a committee on development finance, which made the
controversial proposal that tax-increment financing (TIF) be
used only for redevelopment, not new economic development.
The Citizens League developed and
refined a process for approaching community problems.
Throughout all the time he was with the Citizens League,
Shallbetter said the process that was developed and refined, the
League study model, was central to its work. It consisted of
initially identifying a topic, an issue that had seen growing
concern in the community. The League's program committee tried
first to narrowly focus the topic and then wrote a charge to the
study committee. The challenge to the program committee was to
define the issue narrowly enough so that a group of citizens
could go to work and within a few months understand the topic,
analyze it, come to some conclusions and make some
Once it had a charge, the study
committee went through a process with three parts:
The committee developed findings, based on presentations
by resource people and other analysis. "The findings were
critical, because they gave the report at the very outset a
level of credibility signaling that we understood the topic
and knew what we were talking about," Shallbetter said.
The committee came up with conclusions. "This was often
the most challenging, but also the most important step," he
said. "Conclusions followed intense analysis that interpreted
the findings in terms of factors influencing existing
policies, consequences of existing directions being
considered, figuring out what's missing and the direction the
community should take as it grapples with those issues."
The committee developed recommendations. They were often
directed at the Legislature for action. They were so specific
that you could go to the reviser of statutes and assist in the
drafting of a bill that would then be introduced.
Staff, working with study committees,
drafted the reports. Knowledgeable study committee chairs
presented the reports to an engaged and politically savvy board.
The board then deliberated about each report, especially its
conclusions and recommendations, and decided whether to approve
the report, revise it or return it to the committee for more
work. On occasion, a minority report developed by some members
of the study committee contributed to the board's discussion and
After the committee's work was done,
the recommendations moved on to an implementation committee, the
Legislative Action Committee, that worked with legislators on a
weekly basis. This group identified potential authors for
legislative bills and helped get proposals passed.
"It was exciting and fun, and also
very demanding," Shallbetter said. "The question today is not
only whether this kind of process is being done, but whether it
is even possible. I don't see any evidence of it being done. It
might be happening in a few areas, but if it were in any
significant manner, Minnesota would be in the forefront of
original ideas and institution building, as it was in the past."
There were recurring questions of who
should be on the Citizens League study committees.
"The Citizens League was a fairly
important organization," Shallbetter said. "As its influence and
impact grew, the specialists and those directly affected by a
review of existing institutions and policies came out of the
woodwork. They included those who had professional and sharp,
narrow interests. They all wanted to be on the committees."
It became clear that those special
interest representatives slowed down the study committee
process, he said. The interest groups were very defensive. We
eventually said maybe they could be recipients of information
developed by the committee, but they couldn't sit at the table
because they weren't neutral, generalist citizens.
"Do I think that process has any
applicability today?" Shallbetter asked. "Certainly I do. There
are a lot of issues out there needing attention: equity, prison
reform, affordable housing, transportation finance and useful
transit investments. Who's going to deal with these?"
Blazar added that the Citizens League
board would actually approve study committee membership. "There
was a tension about who would sit at the table and who would be
resources around the room," he said. Staff members took minutes
during the study committee meetings, which were an important
part of the process. He said the League tried to develop a
following of the committee's work by sending out the minutes to
lists of interested people.
How do you create an audience and
interest in the community on various issues? An interviewer
noted that a joint legislative committee on prison population
has been meeting for several months and it's received no
coverage in the StarTribune or MinnPost. Hauer
responded that a lot of legislators maintain online blogs and
many people pay attention to those blogs. It's a way to get the
conversation out and they usually have a wide set of readers.
Lyon suggested trying to find a reporter to come to meetings on
particular policy issues. MinnPost prides itself on
covering things no one else covers, she said.
"How do you create an audience and
interest in the community that will lead to solutions?" Blazar
asked. "Creating that conversation early on and then sustaining
it is just as important as having somebody who's analyzed the
problem and come up with recommendations. We may be more short
of those mechanisms than we are of ideas."
Shallbetter said he sees some effort
on the part of the media, especially Minnesota Public Radio (MPR)
and the StarTribune, to take a targeted look at specific
issues. He noted the StarTribune's series on child abuse
and on special education and MPR's reporting on the hiding of
sex abuse by priests in the archdiocese. He said these stories
have an impact similar to what we saw from some of the Citizens
Blazar pointed to good regular
reporting in the StarTribune business page on health care
and energy issues.
It's important to understand the
problem and its causes before attempting to come up with
solutions. An interviewer commented that today people start
"spouting off " with the solution before they understand how
things really work. "People see symptoms of problems. But they
don't want to go to the root of the problem and figure out what
can be done at the root," he said.
Hauer responded that she and other
Legislative Auditor program evaluators are supposed to be
explaining how things work. "We can only work on six or seven
topics a year and there are hundreds out there," she said.
Lyon agreed that a lot of people don't
get informed enough about issues. She said also that some
problems are very complex and have no easy solutions. There
aren't one or two buttons to push to get something changed. "The
bigger issue," she said, "is that you really have to have a lot
of patience and interest to stay with something long enough to
try to get to the roots."
"That's where the discipline of
findings, conclusions and recommendations comes in," Blazar
said. The interviewer interjected that today people want to jump
to the solution without understanding the problem. "It's very
difficult to get a conversation going on what the problem is,"
Shallbetter quoted some of Ted
Kolderie's comments from his "Cold Sunbelt" presentation:
"Somehow Minnesota needs to retain the ability to understand and
to deal with the causes of problems. This state has had the
unusual ability to see why things happen and to change the
systems that determine why organizations behave the way they
do." Often, Shallbetter said, committees discovered the behavior
was caused by how organizations and services were structured
Too often today, he observed, many in
the media don't attempt to understand the issues or inform the
public. Instead, they too often focus on the political response
to a problem or proposal, looking at who the winners and the
losers are or who is helped or hurt by the proposals. "This
isn't a very helpful game," he said.
In response to an interviewer's
question, Blazar said in the last year or so, there seems to be
more willingness for Republican and Democratic legislators to
talk together and to try to figure out what they can get done.
Public discussion tends to be on
what's very visible, i.e., the near-term problem, instead of
looking at long-term policy problems. An interviewer asked
how we get back to recognizing a near-term problem as just a
symptom of the overall policy problem that is of broader scale
and more nebulous. Sometimes, he said, we solve the more doable
short-term problem without moving on to the broader policy
Hauer said part of the difficulty is
the way the system is structured. "Legislators are in office for
a limited time, so they tend to look for a solution that can be
accomplished during the time they have some control over the
issue. The structure is forcing more attention on short-term
quick fixes than might otherwise be the case."
Part of the problem might be with the
things are financed, Lyon said. "Federalism is not what used to
be. When you are on a school board, the first thing you learn is
that you control very little of the money, because a lot of the
money comes from federal sources and has its own requirements.
So, you can't always fix a problem even if you want, unless
you're also in control of the financing of it."
"Most steps are incremental," Blazar
added. "The key thing is if you've got some sort of vision about
where you want to head." As an example, he pointed to a 1978
Citizens League report on public pensions, whose recommendations
have not yet been realized. "But if you had a policymaker around
who thought the vision was correct, they could work over a
period of years to incrementally move us toward that vision," he
said. "I don't think incrementalism is bad. I think it's
probably the reality. The key thing is to have the incremental
action based on some vision of the larger policy solution."
Shallbetter commented that the
Citizens League did not, unlike many efforts do today, focus on
setting goals. The League was, however, sometimes tempted to fix
the whole system, such as the delivery of human services. "It's
a monster task to begin with, whether or not you can do it. When
you try that, you discover you hit the limit of the community
and the Legislature to deal with change. You have to figure out
the pieces that are likely to change. Whether you'll have any
success in totally revising the system is another question. But
there is a temptation to do that." He said some big national
foundations and even local foundations "do that all the time.
They spend millions of dollars attempting to fix the system."
Is the Civic Caucus's current focus on
public policy infrastructure worthwhile? An interviewer
asked the panel to reflect on the effectiveness of the Civic
Caucus and on the importance of its current focus. Hauer
responded that she thinks what the Caucus does is well
intentioned and an important thing to be doing. Looking at the
quality of public policy proposals and how they are being
developed today is something that should be done. "I applaud the
effort," she said.
Lyon suggested the Civic Caucus review
old Citizens League reports to see what's still relevant and
important today, noting the League's child welfare system report
and its chartered schools report as likely examples. Perhaps in
partnership with the League, the Civic Caucus could revisit and
re-energize those issues and proposals and put a spotlight on
Shallbetter, again quoting Kolderie's
"Cold Sunbelt" presentation, noted this state and region "need
to find new discussion mechanisms for turning 'problems' into
'issues' and for generating proposals for action. This area has
had and can again have an advantage created by institutions that
can see ahead, that know how to get to the causes of things,
that can explain the choices the public faces, and that can act
with vision and with courage."
Blazar added that it's good for the
region and the state to have a public discussion of how we
analyze problems and develop recommendations. Every once in a
while, we should have a public discussion to see how we're
Perhaps, Lyon said, the Civic Caucus
could get the University of Minnesota (U of M) to help in this
process. In earlier Caucus discussions, she noted, the point has
been raised about whether research at the U of M is applicable
to community problems. Maybe the Caucus could develop a
partnership with the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the U
In the past, the media gave prominent
coverage to Citizens League reports, which helped to engage the
public quickly. Shallbetter said he's intrigued with the
issue of the media, which Ted Kolderie addressed in
his Jan. 22, 2016,
interview with the Civic Caucus.
Shallbetter said the media were key in the past. "They were just
waiting for these Citizens League reports to come out and gave
them prominence. Editorial departments responded quickly. The
public was really engaged quickly. Things have changed so much
with the media corporations now that I don't know how you can do
It's difficult to get back to the
model of having citizen generalists, rather than stakeholders
with a direct interest, leading in the analysis of community
problems and the development of proposals for resolving them.
An interviewer asked how generalist citizens could lead in
the development of policy proposals, as they did in the past at
the Citizens League, if stakeholders are allowed to be part of
the process. Blazar responded, "I don't know. It's a huge
He said if a company joins the
Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, it can have a representative on
each of the Chamber's committees. But companies prefer to
specialize. For example, the energy companies want to be members
of the energy policy committee. "It's a huge struggle," he said.
"It's not that we don't want to hear from them, but you need a
time when the customers can speak as well. When we're talking
about health care, I want the customers, the people who are
using health care, to be at the table. I certainly want the
doctors, the hospitals and the insurance companies to be in the
room, but not at the table. I don't know how to do that. It's a
very hard thing to do. We don't get nearly as many generalists
as we need and the folks with vested interests in the topic are
Lyon recalled that companies used to
employ generalist public affairs people, who had a much wider
range of things to deal with than just the business matters. "I
don't know how that could ever be recreated," she said, "but I
think it could be very helpful in terms of getting businesses to
think beyond their organizations and their bottom lines."
Blazar pointed out that many companies
today have broader interests than just Minnesota. He said the
Chamber's experience is that it's helpful to get smaller
companies with somewhere between 25 and 200 employees involved
in the process, along with the larger national/international
companies. They tend to be locally owned and managed. "Minnesota
is a much bigger part of their equation," he said.
Hauer said stakeholders must be part
of the discussion, but generalists should come up with the
solutions and the decisions. "Having the Citizens League board
to think about things from a broad perspective, without those
special interests, was a model that worked," she said.
The Citizens League board in that past
era, Shallbetter noted, was free to come up with recommendations
that they knew "would fly in the face of a major organization in
It's important to keep a wider group
of people informed when deliberations are taking place on a
major community issue. An interviewer commented on the
critical importance, when a study is taking place of a major
community issue, of keeping people significantly beyond the
working group informed of the study's progress. He said when the
Civic Caucus distributes notes of interviews, the notes are
written for the people not present at the meeting.
The interviewer noted that the
Citizens League is undertaking a major study of the Metropolitan
Council, but, while the minutes are available to the public, you
have to look for them. "They're not in your face," he said.
"There's an urgent need to broaden the audience at the time the
work is underway."
Blazar commented that it is his
experience that it is very difficult to convince 28- or
30-year-olds of the importance of taking minutes at a meeting on
public policy. "So little value is put on creating a meaningful
record for the people who aren't there, but without this, the
discussion gets very narrow, very quickly," he said.
How do we engage the next generation?
An interviewer commented that we've been focused on how
people in the older generation were involved and how things
happened in the past. "But," he asked, "how do we engage the
next generation, those who will inherit the state? Will they
accept our solutions?" Lyon asked whether that generation
believes the same issues are important. Shallbetter questioned
whether young people today know what it means to be a citizen.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Interview Group
includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill
Frenzel, Paul Gilje (executive director), Dwight Johnson, Randy Johnson, Sallie
Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (chair), Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmermany,