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       Blazar - Hauer - Lyon - Shallbetter Interview                                                                                    Please take one minute to evaluate our website. Click here to take the survey.

These comments are responses to the Civic Caucus interview with

Experienced researchers Bill Blazar, Jody Hauer, Marina Lyon and Clarence Shallbetter
January 29, 2016

Whatís old can be new;  Learn from past success to produce sound new policy proposals


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 implemented.

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. 

For the complete interview summary see: Blazar-Hauer-Lyon-Shallbetter interview

Individual Responses:

Ellen Benavides
What a great conversation you had with the best of the best of what the Citizenís League led in the past.

Thanks for your leadership and past/forward wisdom in collecting these insights about what made a significant difference to the quality of life in Minnesotaís civic life.

Wish I could have been there to be part of the discussion.

David Durenberger
What an incredible treasure. Thanks so much. I "treasured" the latest interviews with the Big Four. Hereís what I heard and how I reacted:

Letís assume the Gen-Xers arenít the millennials, and the corporate public affairs folks arenít what we used to be, and the legislature is more full-time, more partisan, and less productive, and media has changed a lot. That doesnít mean the problems we face as community are any less serious and the need for all of the above to recognize their role in changing it and themselves isnít critical enough for them to change.

Even if they donít change much, the analysis from the Big Four points a way toward reviving the
Citizens League to the tasks it performed in the hey days, with the right leadership and financial support.

I donít believe the UMN/Humphrey Institute is the way to accomplish that. We need to do it. When I see what Rip Rapson and Kresge are doing in Detroit, I believe we need one foundation with a leader like that to commit to five years of a "new" League. A family foundation with wealth built on recent economic success. We arenít Detroit, but we also arenít what we used to be and, despite global warming, we are still a bit of a cold Omaha, taking pride now in our "stadia" symbols of success rather than real "progress"

Step One: Agree on what it is that defines the success we seek. Iím not sure thatís covered in the minutes, but it needs to be addressed.

Step Two: Agree on the essentials of a new Citizens League: Strong, involved, representative (I added that because of the way our community has changed) board; strong executive and staff committed to high quality work; the ability to deliver on commitment to implementation -
the old Legislative Action Committee now called Implementation Action Committee.

Step Three: Board annually defines focused, clear, specific, understood problems. I am not sure the "causes" can be well-defined in advance and perhaps this should be left to the committees.

Step Four: Study committee of neutral, generalist, patient, committed citizens; no special interests reps, stakeholders, public/private partnerships, vested interests; a strong chair; detailed minutes; defined audience and interest; which produces clear Findings, Conclusions, and Actionable Recommendations and defined commitment to implementation.

Step Five: Getting started. Iíve suggested before we start with Civic Caucus. The old Citizens League. Ms. Lyon has hit on it with "Whatís Old is New." Re-visit and re-energize the implemented recommendations of the 60s-70s. Examine who and how we solve "problems" today in the public sector especially. The increased role of state and local government in defining, financing, and implementing "solutions" is not healthy to "representative"
governance at the local level. Ask an honest county commissioner or school board member, for example.

It might not hurt to start with an examination of todayís two political parties in MN and their productivity as it relates to public policy. Donít be afraid. Too many good representatives who affiliate with one or the other will tell you the consequences in their own professional lives and their ambitions for further public service.

Another issue raised by the Big Four relates to how or whether to take on systemic problems. Those of us who have spent what seems like a lifetime trying to change health and education policy can attest to its difficulty. Itís the "root cause" issue and, because few if any legislators today understand anything about the root causes of the "reforms" they are asked to authorize and finance, this is a "study task" for which a Civic Caucus might be ideally suited.

Enough already. The Big Four are really good.

Wayne Jennings
Many useful ideas from this panel [that] accord with my experience on a couple of committees for Citizens League. I would like to see Civic Caucus prepare recommendations for action, particularly for the Legislature, but could be for other governmental bodies. The recommendations would be similarly vetted by broad input from your speakers and thoughtful members. It is fairly easy to get a bill in the Legislature. Find a sympathetic legislature who then has the legislative reviser of statutes put into bill form. The legislator then introduces the bill. We, Civic Caucus, then prepare for testifying and line up others to testify.

Patricia Driscoll
Our first priority should be the education of all children, birth to 21. Preschool needs to be funded for children 3-5 years old. K-12 needs to redesign to make learning more effective. Every child should gain a yearís academic growth every year. And postsecondary should be affordable for all. Itís appalling that recent college grads are paid less for fewer jobs and have larger loans. The system is broken. Focus on these first, because a democracy cannot exist without educating the people effectively so that they have the 21st century skills required for todayís workforce.

Look for reform of the current system of government. Do we really need a State House of Representatives and a Senate? This system was designed in the days when there was no modern communication system. Isnít it time to think out of the box? But, in order to change, it [would] take an act of congress, who would be changing their own jobs. Thatís never going to happen. We need to talk about this. How much money could we save? Would there be less bickering and better policies written? Would we make more effective progress? Weíve been trying to change education for the past 30 years to no avail. Itís time to get serious.

Global warming is here. Is it too late to stop it? What can we do as a community?

The above are the priorities as I see them. I know there are many more, [such as] jobs, the economy, terrorism, affordable health care, tax reform and the list goes on. We canít change it all at once, but if we focus on one thing and do that well, such as educating our young people, I believe that is the place to start.

Tom Spitznagle
An observation that struck me was that it is better to address specific challenges outside of the legislative process whenever possible. There is definitely more ownership in the implementation of new ideas or programs if they originate from the bottom-up as opposed to the top-down. Too often legislative initiatives quickly become a win-lose battle between political foes oftentimes resulting in a stalemate. Also problematic is that the legislative process is often used for achieving political advantage ostensibly in the name of solving problems or creating opportunities for citizens.

Problems are best solved by the people closest to them who are motivated to see that positive, meaningful action is taken and are willing and able to invest the time required to perform a thorough problem analysis before jumping to the development of proposed solutions. Legislators donít have the time to do this and the legislative auditor can only address a limited number of issues. It appears as if the Citizens League has filled this void to some extent over the years.

Communication channels have exploded in recent years. The quantity of issues under public discussion at any point in time is intimidating. Millennials communicate in entirely different ways than baby boomers do. A great deal of energy goes into communicating about issues between citizens but this occurs in a very fragmented way and it is very difficult to bring some order to it. There is no obvious way to prioritize the overwhelming number of issues. Perhaps there is a notion that passing information around is the only step that citizens need to do and that somebody else will sift through all of the chatter and deal with the issues at hand.

Could a public service role of the Civic Caucus be to recommend a priority list of the most important issues facing Minnesota to the Governor with the hope that resources (public, private, non-profit, colleges, etc.) could be identified to analyze them and develop action plans? These same resources could review the suggested priority list and endorse it so as to obtain some level of upfront buy in and ongoing focus.


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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.

  John S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill Frenzel, Paul Gilje (Executive Director), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (Chair), Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman




The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
2104 Girard Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55405.
Dan Loritz, chair, 612-791-1919   ~   Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.

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