This is a guest post by NLC President Matt Zone, councilmember, Cleveland, Ohio.
As president of the National League of Cities, I’ve had the opportunity to connect with hundreds of other city leaders. I’ve come to understand just how many common values and challenges we share — and it has made me a better leader. But no single person has influenced my leadership as much as the late Senator George V. Voinovich, the former mayor of Cleveland, governor of Ohio, and president of NLC.
Over a career spanning more than forty years, Senator Voinovich was an American example of leadership, public service, and civic pride. He made an indelible mark on my home city and state and serves, to this day, as a role model of public service.
In this excerpt from his posthumous new book, Empowering the Public-Private Partnership, Senator Voinovich reflects on the unifying power of P3s:
“I had an important advantage even before I became mayor: personal relationships built over many years. Many leaders in the business community had been frustrated by elected officials, especially those at Cleveland City Hall, who had considered them adversaries. So when they urged me to run for mayor, they assured me that they would step forward to assist should I be elected. These were people I knew and trusted and with whom I had worked before when I held public office in Cuyahoga County. Their pledge of support was what helped me decide to run. We agreed that the future of our city depended to a large extent on the involvement of business and that no one sector of society can go it alone. The private sector can’t, local government can’t, and neither can unions or nonprofits.
When developing a [public-private partnership], one of the first steps that a local government executive—whether mayor, council, or city manager—must take is to ask for help in solving the city’s problems.
Another is to establish trust. Like many big cities at the time, Cleveland had been studied to death. Each study ended with a thick, spiral-bound notebook and little or no action. Businesses do not run on pretty pictures and multicolored charts. They run on results. The private sector will not commit time and resources to a P3 unless assured that it will result in action rather than rhetoric. I made a pledge that I would personally back the recommendations of the OITF [Cleveland’s Operations Improvement Task Force, a joint initiative to improve government efficiency] and participate in their implementation. Without the commitment of a chief executive officer to carry out—not just talk about—change, I doubt that any such initiative will succeed. Only when a level of trust has been established can the public and private halves of the partnership begin to work together.
The next step is to secure the resources needed to begin the project. Cleveland commissioned a private consulting firm to propose a program and a plan of action to bring modern management techniques to the city, streamline the administration of government, and eliminate duplication and overlap.
The ensuing proposal was keyed to extensive participation by the private sector. The business community would have to help recruit the people and raise the money needed to get the job done. The consultants could act as advisers, but the studies, recommendations, and implementation would have to be carried out by a task force of committed partners.
Smart business owners and managers know that the success of their companies is tied to their communities and to the quality of life of their workers, and if they don’t know it, you should lay it out for them as plainly and persuasively as you can. Call it the principle of enlightened self-interest. You should look also to individuals who sit on the boards of charitable or nonprofit organizations; they will have experience in persuading others to respond to the needs of a cause.
In Cleveland, we established an executive committee of top-level corporate officers from major firms in the city, much like a board of directors. We also assembled a ways and means committee and gave its members the job of securing pledges for people and money.
The response in Cleveland was quick and dramatic: ninety men and women of exceptional talent — $3 million worth of exceptional talent, in fact — volunteered for task force duty. Employers were willing to loan employees, among their most skilled, to work on the task force. Two Cleveland foundations underwrote a $250,000 challenge grant that was matched with contributions from more than 250 companies of all sizes. Organized labor, as well as church and community development organizations, made substantial contributions. In all, more than $800,000 was raised.
Another key to success in any P3 is communication. It is important that each partner have a point person who acts as a clear channel to the others. In Cleveland, we were lucky to have Del de Windt (former Eaton CEO), for example, as representative of the business community. Without him and others like him, we would not have had the Operations Improvement Task Force and many of the other P3s that resulted from it.
Each partner in the shared enterprise should be represented by a trusted and reliable spokesperson. And always say what you mean and mean what you say.”
In a career spanning more than forty years, the late George V. Voinovich held office as mayor of Cleveland, governor of Ohio, U.S. senator, and president of the National League of Cities. His newest book, Empowering the Public Private Partnership, is available now.
Matt Zone is the 2017 president of the National League of Cities (NLC). He serves as a city councilmember in Cleveland, Ohio, representing Ward 15, which includes the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood where he and generations of his family grew up.