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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Part 2: Tony Messenger continues to threaten the Ferguson Commission and all our progress. No. 000091

Part 2: With Friends Like This, Who Needs Enemies

Mr. Messenger's Saturday Editorial finds him as a Brian Williams journalist, fervently "courting celebrity," as Ms. Dowd labels the species. 

Today, Mr. Messenger writes:

The Ferguson Commission’s various critics … are looking for opportunities for this very important commission to fail.

If true, why does he write?

To be sure, the commission has had a misstep or two. To help it get up and running quickly, as Gov. Jay Nixon called for when appointing its 16 members, the commission hired a few consultants to plan initial meetings and coordinate media without going through a state bidding process. The commission hired an executive director, Bethany Johnson-Javois, one of its own members. She is also on the board of the nonprofit Deaconess Foundation, which employs Rev. Wilson. She might be the best person for the job, but the rushed process clouds clear judgment.

Only two people have questioned the startup work of the Commission which was funded by private and not public dollars, which Mr. Messenger omits to write about. One is a reactionary Tea Party candidate for attorney general and the second is a lawyer working for a law firm that handles Koch Brothers legal work.

It is going to be pretty hard to cabin a charge that the Commission had a "rushed process." Mr. Messenger, as he always does, on cue delivered the money quote.

Mr. Messenger then contradicts himself, writing the Commision should rush to judgment to act:

Its issue going forward is that as a body funded by both public and private sources, and one pushing for massive change in a region that prefers the status quo, it will find enemies in politics, in government, in the private sector, in the media. Criticism will grow if more successes, like the push for municipal court reform, aren’t apparent before the commission’s final report is filed.

Mr. Messenger has the cart before the horse. The Commission needs to produce one or more credible reports before it urges action.

For example, contrary to Mr. Messenger, no one should have any enthusiasm for the action, to date, on municipal court reform. Why? None of the proposals deal with the fundamental core issue which is, How to fund services in North Saint Louis County? 

That brings us to Mr. Messenger's flippant regard for the funding of the Commission. The Commission has no funding source capable of sustaining the research necessary to make the report meaningful. The Governor has sought funding but Messenger rains water on that idea.

Now lawmakers are questioning the source of the $350,000 budget of the Office of Community Engagement even as Ms. Coleman argues for more state money.

At best, the office is redundant. It duplicates on-the-ground efforts taking place in Ferguson by many existing and newer nonprofits. And its budget problems distract focus from the Ferguson Commission. It is critical that the commission continues its important work studying policing and educational deficiencies in north St. Louis County, healing racial divides and pushing for reforms, such as those underway in municipal courts.

Mr. Nixon should make the Ferguson Commission stronger by subtraction. Perhaps St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, who plans an office similar to the one run by Ms. Coleman, can put her to work locally.

Regarding the kind of research necessary, let's return to the work that Dr. Carr has already done, in preparing a Vision 2020 report for Southwestern Illinois.

Dr. Carr has identified low education attainment as the primary driver of poor economic performance in the Saint Louis region. 

Comparision, Education and Income, Saint Louis and MSP

In raw numbers, our Saint Louis workforce, taken as a whole, has only 75% of the skills of the workforce in Minneapolis. Closing this education and skill gap is the only way for the Saint Louis region to transform itself into a high value added (post manufacturing) service economy.

Software and robots promise that, within 10 years, 75% of all jobs will require some substantial education post high school.

The Ferguson Commission Report must tackle how to close this gap and how to finance such through taxes. Only an extraordinarily well done report can accomplish that mission.

Last, Mr. Messenger call for "the Rev. Wilson to do what Mr. Nixon can't: Rally the community behind the Ferguson Commission."

Mr. Messenger again misjudges. The reason why the community is "vacillatin" on the Ferguson Commission is that it is not composed of strong-willed, independent-minded people who are willing to speak their minds and turn them loose on our Region.

Is this how the Commission is composed?

Robert Seawright wrote last year about the New York Federal Reserve undertaking, post the 2008-09 financial crisis, a study of itself to try to understand why the NY Fed hadn’t spotted the behavior of the big banks that led to the crisis:

As I have noted before, and consistent with the academic literature, critical thinking is impossible without sufficient subject matter expertise; and such expertise mandates the understanding of the strengths, weaknesses, subtleties and consequences to all the underlying positions and viewpoints relating to a particular decision. We all love to be right and quite naturally think we are right. Better decision-making means challenging assumptions like that by carefully asking and considering overlapping questions such as the following.

◾ Can you suggest others?

◾ How might I be wrong?

◾ Have I considered the strongest renderings and arguments of opposing viewpoints?

◾ Have I given opposing views a fair hearing?

◾ Have I checked and re-checked my work, data and assumptions?

◾ What does the available data say and suggest?

◾ What would it take to convince myself otherwise?

◾ What do I have to gain (or lose) by changing my mind?

◾ What do the (other) experts say?

◾ What do I see/know/get that those who disagree with me don’t?

◾ What’s in it for me?

◾ What’s in it for them?

◾ What do my best and smartest colleagues (friends) say?

◾ Have I considered the most generous versions of opposing arguments?

◾ Can I argue the other side effectively?

Neither the Rev. Wilson nor the other members of the Commission have yet shown "sufficient subject matter expertise; and such expertise mandates the understanding of the strengths, weaknesses, subtleties and consequences to all the underlying positions and viewpoints relating to a particular decision" to warrant anything but "vacillatin," with the exception of Dr. Carr.

Mr. Messenger wants Rev. Wilson to "Gather business leaders and protesters, lawmakers and the many people with an earnest interest in positive change. Help a community that is dealing with rising violence, a lack of empathy, continuing distrust between the police and the people they serve, and the distractions of daily life. Help St. Louis understand why the unique and unprecedented work of the Ferguson Commission is so important."

That task is several bridges too far for Rev. Wilson. He lacks sufficient subject matter expertise. He doesn't have an understanding of the strengths, weaknesses, subtleties and consequences to all the underlying positions and viewpoints to be carrying that large of bucket and he shouldn't try.