Lexington's entry in multimillion-dollar competition calls for Web site, innovation director

bfortune@herald-leader.comSeptember 20, 2012 

Bloomberg

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks to the Economic Club of Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, on the four year anniversary of the collapse of the financial industry, and the future of the economic recovery. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

MANUEL BALCE CENETA — ASSOCIATED PRESS

Lexington's entry to win millions of dollars in a competition sponsored by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was described Thursday as an innovative way to engage citizens in identifying major local issues and solutions and give the government a way to provide information about problems.

The idea is to set up Citizenlex.org, a Web site that establishes an ongoing way for citizen dialogue, and appoint a director of city innovation who would collaborate, organize volunteers to work on solutions and coordinate government input.

Derek Paulson, city commissioner of planning, said the new position would be "the grease that makes the wheels turn. Without that, there's no guarantee that citizen ideas would be taken seriously, or that we'd have problem-solving. Those are key."

Jamie Emmons, Mayor Jim Gray's chief of staff, said the idea would facilitate civic engagement and dialogue "to build the next great American city."

In July, Bloomberg, an information-industry billionaire, launched the Mayors Challenge through his foundation to spark local solutions to national problems. The competition invited mayors of 1,300 U.S. cities with populations of 30,000 or more to submit their cities' most innovative ideas.

Entries must be ideas to improve city life by addressing a major social or economic issue, improving service for citizens or businesses, increasing government efficiency, or enhancing accountability, transparency and public engagement.

The entries will be winnowed to 20 in early December, Emmons said. The top five will be selected after the first of the year. The top prizewinner will receive $5 million, and four $1 million second prizes will be awarded.

Lexington's government knows its idea will work because it already has, Emmons said. This summer when Gray asked citizens to give their ideas for the Mayors Challenge, 7,000 people participated in telephone town halls. More than 400 ideas emerged.

"Frankly, he was knocked over by the response," Emmons said.

Ideas boiled down to seven quality-of-life issues: crime, education, health and wellness, jobs, aging, housing and social services. "Rather than come up with a solution to one problem, our proposal is really about ongoing, continued work on these seven areas," Paulson said.

The Mayors Challenge is not so much about trying to win a prize as it is a search for creative solutions that can be replicated in other cities across America, Paulson said.

"We think we're creating a really good process that any city could use to really get at the heart of the problems in their city," Paulson said. "We are creating a platform with our technology partners that others can take and use in their city, and brand it their own."

The city submitted its entry last Friday.

Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251. Twitter: @BFortune2010

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