Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Social Media and Government

Governments have always been challenged to communicate, explain, discuss, and connect to their constituents.

The advent of social media and demise of traditional print media have intensified this challenge. Not too many years ago, governments at all levels were served by professional journalists who roamed city hall looking for stories, investigating tips, studying, and then reporting on complex stories.  It is a rare event when I have an opportunity to engage one-on-one with a journalist, other than for a 30-second soundbite on whatever may be that day’s controversy.

So how can governments best harness the power of social media? The answer is emerging and changing by the week.  The aspect of social media I am most concerned about is the absence of facts. If so many people claim to get their news from social media, how are they to separate fact from opinion?

In Lakewood City Hall, increasing efforts are being made to monitor conversations and inject facts as we know them to improve the quality of discourse. City Hall managers—some more than others—keep a wary eye on some discussions. One public information officer spends a significant part of her time following and ensuring effective responses to social media posts. Judgments are made, as has always been the case in communications.

The City of Lakewood has its official social media vehicles — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram accounts. Others will emerge and the City will continue to utilize them.

I have grown very fond of the famous words of former New York Senator Patrick Moynihan. He said, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.”  Those in City Hall’s leadership often take to social media to correct misunderstandings, misstatements, or erroneous “facts”, and I would always encourage them to do so.  When employees participate in these conversations, they participate as citizens who bring their own individual experiences and knowledge to bear on a conversation.  They do not convey any official or sponsored message of my administration.

To engage in social media, one has to keep an eye on it. This goes for those who present the City’s official social media messages, and it goes for employees who post as citizens. City Hall policies permit these reasonable efforts to communicate and I foresee that continuing well into the future.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Public records, their requests and their availability

Mayor’s note: As part of Lakewood’s longstanding commitment to public accountability, I am pleased to announce that the city today released the first 1,389 pages of what will likely be tens of thousands of additional pages of records to be released related to the negotiations and deliberations over the future of Lakewood Hospital and healthcare in Lakewood. The records released today may be viewed here

As I explain below, any time the city is asked to release public records, we must first undertake a rigorous review to prevent the release of confidential information, such as a citizen’s or employee’s personal or medical-related information, third parties’ trade-secret information, privileged attorney-client communications and confidential matters involving pending litigation.

Today’s release follows the city’s prior release of more than 10,000 pages of other records related to the recent hospital and healthcare matters. You can find a listing all healthcare-related records requests made by citizens and responded to by the city government here. More current and historic information and documents on healthcare in Lakewood may be found here.
The work of government produces a great deal of records. The volume is generally the result of several factors:
  •  The large number of participants and organizations involved in just about every incident or subject handled by government.
  •  The long tenure of a subject, with a large number of iterations of every facet and fact at play. Many issues in government are discussed for months or even years, and so there is considerable back and forth discussing the various topics. 
  • The complicated nature of many subjects.
In a bygone era, most of the records were on paper. When I become mayor in 2011, the mayor’s office housed file cabinets for each mayoral administration going back to the late 1980s. It has become clear that the digital age is having a profound impact on the sheer number of records that are quickly generated, and saved, compared to the small number of physical records previously created. This is especially true when you consider email correspondence originating within and coming to the government.

Today, 95 percent of our records are digital—and there are a lot of them. The good news is that these records do not require physical space; digital storage is more robust than ever. For example, electronic records are maintained for indefinite periods of time and are almost never deleted outright. In fact, as of this writing the total number of records kept by our email archiving service exceeds 7.1 million!

Consequently, as a practical matter our retention of records is expanded significantly. However, while citizens’ access to records seems like an easy goal to meet, our own ability to categorize and review the increased volume of records prior to producing them has become more difficult. The bad news is that records requesters sometimes assume we can merely push a button and the requested records, electronic or otherwise, are extracted and immediately available to them. This is often not the case, particularly for complicated requests.

Public access
Most of the records generated by government are reviewable by citizens. There are a few limitations to this general rule. For example, the following items are generally exempt from disclosure under state law:
  • Matters involving pending litigation and attorney-client privileged communications
  • Matters of a personal or private nature (think Social Security numbers, medical information and other sensitive information stored in employment files, and third parties’ confidential trade secrets)  
  • Matters that, if released, could impact ongoing criminal investigations 
  • Detailed infrastructure and security records, the release of which could work to citizens’ detriment
Challenges with handling requests
Even though some records we generate are not public in nature, the vast majority are. The city is ordinarily very quick to respond to records requests, and we appreciate the opportunity to share information with the taxpayers who own these records. But periodically we face challenges that make this work very difficult.

Challenge 1: Sheer number of digital records to be reviewed. To appreciate the difficulty of responding to some requests, consider the fact that in the digital age anytime a document is created, typically multiple drafts of that document exist. Think of all the iterations of setting up a meeting or discussing a topic with multiple participants, the back-and-forth questions and answers about a meeting or a subject, and the volume of written communication, however brief and perhaps negligible, when previously these digital communications would have scarcely existed. Before releasing these documents, every document must be reviewed against the protected criteria noted above. This can take a great deal of time.

Challenge 2: Confusing, unclear and nonspecific requests. A proper public records request should be as specific as possible so as to identify specifically the material the government is being asked to produce. This specificity helps insure that the government understands what records are being requested and that all the requested documents are found and delivered to the requester. Typically, the more specific the request, the smaller the quantity of documents that comply, the more likely the documents are on topic, and the more quickly the city’s review and release of those documents occurs.

Requests that don’t seek specifically identified documents, but instead seek records vaguely based on whether they “relate to” or “regard” or “concern” other records, concepts or topics put the government in an unworkable situation. When it receives these kinds of nebulously-worded requests, the city is then forced to try to figure out what records might be responsive to the request, which can lead to folly and can dramatically increase the cost of response. And requests that seek the entire duplication of a body of records—one recent request, for instance, sought every one of my communications since I took office in January 2011—are improper because they would obligate us to review every one of those records, which could take months and months under the best of circumstances. In my case, that’s more than 137,000 emails by our count. Not everything that ends up in my inbox or comes from my computer email account documents the operation of government.  Such a request, then, requires us to extract the records which may be of legitimate interest from all the extraneous records.

Adding to the complication in the Lakewood Hospital situation is the fact that several pending litigation matters remain open long after the closure of the hospital, and so producing communications generated within the context of those court actions requires an even more deliberative, methodical approach. Our law department oversees this litigation and the production of records, and it requires a considerable amount of time and expense to ensure the city’s interests in that litigation—and thus the taxpayers’ interests—are not jeopardized.    

We treat records requests seriously. We remain accountable to those we serve. Therefore, we have added a public records log to the city website detailing all Lakewood Hospital- and healthcare-related requests and the dates of our responses, and we are always seeking ways to improve our turnaround time responding to requests. We will continue to whittle away at any disputed requests  in an effort to respond to the requests we’ve judged to be so over-broad or improper that we cannot possibly respond.

As we release more pages of records, I will post here. Please point your browser to this blog for continued updates on our efforts.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Home renovation and the permit and Plan review process FAQ's !

Lakewood is known as “City of Beautiful Homes.” That’s by design, not by accident.
We have a total of 30,000 housing units citywide including 12,700 one- or two-family homes. Comprehensive housing survey and aggressive code enforcement,  the city of Lakewood is doing its part, continuing our Housing Forward initiative.

It’s been a while since my last blog post, and with this year’s unseasonably warmer weather, it seems fitting to re-launch this method of communication with some good information about ways  our residents can keep their housing stock beautiful. 

Purpose of Building & Housing Department.
The building and Housing Department resides within the Department of Public Safety. It does so for a reason. The strength and effectiveness of this department has increased significantly through investment in mobile technology allowing for real-time connectivity to inspection data in the field. This is vastly improved productivity of our code compliance efforts. Additionally, four new positions have been added in the past five years to bolster our inspection capacity. 

When do I need a permit?
Many home improvement projects require a permit.  When in doubt whether a permit is required, check  under the “inspecting, preventing, assisting" tab for  list of required permits or contact the building department. Or, just click here.

Purpose of the permit
The purpose of the permit is document the nature and extent of the work to be performed. It details who will be doing the work, and creates a document to record all subsequent inspections and compliance work. The goal of the inspections is to ensure that the work is performed to a minimum state building code standard. This standard ensures health, safety, and welfare. Welfare is a basic quality of durability and design. All of this effort is focused on making sure the homeowners of Lakewood get what they are paying for.

When is a plan review required?
A key element of the permit process is the plan review. Ohio building codes were expanded in 2011 to require a plan and its review for every permit. This additional step has been a source of angst for many jobs that did not require a plan prior to 2011.

Purpose of the Plan review
The purpose of Plan Review is to make sure safety, health, and quality are achieved. A good plan, while taking more time in the front end of the building cycle, will shorten the total time and reduce the need for re-work, extra cost and delays. The primary focus of the reviews is the systems: electrical, heating, plumbing and structural design. Other design elements include entrance and exit safety in case of fire. This includes doors and windows. 

How long does it take for a Plan Review?
Ohio law allows for up to 30 days for a plan review. As a practical matter, average turnaround time is two weeks. The best way to obtain timely permits requiring plan reviews is to submit a complete and clear plan that meets state standards. Tardy applications for permits, coupled with incomplete plans are the leading cause of delays. The building department is often the scapegoat for many of these delays that are filed late or filed with incomplete plans. 

Questions about my permit and plan Review?
When in doubt about the status of a plan or permit, please call the building department directly at 216-529-6270, email the department at   or just stop by the Building Department located on the basement floor in City Hall. Hours are Monday thru Friday 8:30AM- 4PM. 

We need more building inspectors!
Lakewood has experienced over $10 million dollars in home improvements each of the past four years. This trends looks to continue in a very busy 2017. A key challenge for building departments across the region is a shortage of qualified building inspectors. Contractor experience plus state licenses for various categories such as plumbing, and electrical certifications are required. The City of Lakewood will work with qualified applicants who have the experience but lack the certifications.  We currently have one open position for a licensed inspector and are having difficulty finding qualified applicants. Pass along the word!

There is no doubt that preserving, protecting, and enhancing Lakewood’s second century housing stock is the key to our continued vitality. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

neighborly helping hand vs liability- some simple guidelines

How Can I help a neighbor without creating a potential claim against me if something goes wrong?

 Great question, and an important one.

Whether you’re participating in block clubs, watching your elderly and disabled neighbors, or merely paying service to your neighborhoods, if you’re a resident motivated by civic duty you may ask whether you can be held legally liable as a result of your volunteerism. 

For example, the Cranford Avenue block club wants its members to feel comfortable shoveling some neighbors’ sidewalks after heavy snowfalls. In late spring, many residents living next to houses in foreclosure have asked whether it’s appropriate for them to mow the grass until the home moves into better hands. Often our volunteers wish to be insulated from liability with a release or other legal document, and they come to the city for direction.

I’m energized and grateful for the sense of civic duty that’s so abundant in Lakewood. We live in such close proximity with one another that every small problem — and every act of kindness — can be magnified to a great degree. A city initiative launched last year, Volunteer Lakewood, further supports and encourages these good deeds, accounting for the fact that we do best when we enhance the collaboration between government, local organizations and residents to provide needed services.

But how can you protect yourself? While there’s no easy answer, here’s some guidance. 

People are sued, fairly or unfairly, all the time.  Our review reflects that it’s extraordinarily rare for anyone to be sued for performing an act of volunteerism, and even rarer for those suits to be successful.  In any event, state and local legislatures have found the need to further shield volunteers from personal liability.  (For example, Ohio has a “good Samaritan law” protecting citizens responding to emergencies, and federal law protects most volunteers serving governments and nonprofits.)

Despite these protective laws, stranger things have happened than neighbors making claims against neighbors.  So here are a few pointers on minimizing risk:

1. Ask for permission to help.  People take greater ownership of mishaps when they’ve authorized the work to be performed by a volunteer.  If the work is more involved than, say, shoveling snow, consider using a release (see below).  And if you’re doing the work at a neighboring property, get permission to go onto the property first.  (For help locating property owners, call the city’s Division of Housing and Building.)

2. When you volunteer your time, be careful.  Use the same level of caution you’d use on your own property so you don’t act negligently in the first place. 

3. Consider developing a good release if your efforts are organized.  Block clubs, which are groups of citizens looking to protect their neighborhoods and develop a sense of togetherness, and other residents organizing projects on their streets may be wise to use a release to further shield volunteers from liability. 

 While we can’t provide a general release, organizers may wish to develop something adding a layer of protection for any work done on behalf of others.

4.  Use the city’s mediation program to resolve disputes.  In the event of a claim, you may wish to use the city's mediation program, hosted by the Law Department, to try to resolve things amicably.  Both residents would be encouraged to show up, and the parties’ willingness to engage in voluntary discussions is essential.  The service is free and usually very effective. Call the law department at 216-529-6030 for more information.

5.  Maintain a policy of homeowners’ (or renters’) insurance.  Claims that do occur between neighbors can likely be resolved with your insurer, if not privately, even if the activity occurs outside the boundaries of your property.  Your greatest risk might just be the payment of your insurance deductible.

Because these types of neighbor-to-neighbor disputes appear to be so extremely rare, it’s my belief that the threat of liability should never deter us from volunteering. Perhaps this additional information will add to our recognition that service to our neighbors has a vital place in Lakewood’s social fabric.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Blizzards and Street parking- an unsavory combination

Attention all Lakewoodites!
it is time to “rekindle’ our snow storm memory.
Snow storms are hard on Lakewood. Our 9,400 people/square mile, and our in excess of 35,000 cars make this time of year our most challenging.
The good news is that we now have a two year supply of salt. The bad news is that we will have to use it!

Some key observations about removing snow in Lakewood:
       1) It is hard to make progress while it is still coming down.

2) The worst. Storms to clear are the ones that start right at the beginning of a work day- 6AM- 8AM. This is because rush hour is very difficult, traffic makes plowing more difficult, and remember #1 above, it is difficult to make headway.

3) It takes about 48 hours after a storm is finished to really clear all of our 93 miles of streets.

4) Parked cars make snow plowing very difficult.

5) Salt takes traffic to grind it in to become effective. So first cars out face the biggest challenge.
Snow bans are automatically in effect on our main arteries (listed below) when accumulation is 4 inches or more.

Should We really get blasted with 8 plus inches, I may have to declare a city wide snow ban. This means every car parked on every street must be removed for 24 to 48 hours so that we may clear the streets. Eliminating parked cars will speed our efforts to get back to normal.
parking is available in all muncipal lots. do not forget that driveways are even better for parking in these emergencies.

Please pass on this information to your neighbors who park on the street. Of course, be a good neighbor and help one another.
Keep up to date by checking:

2) follow city twitter: @lakewoodoh
3) follow my twitter: @lakewoodmayor

Emergency Snow Parking Bans

Whenever there is snow fall of four (4) inches or more within a twenty-four (24) hour period, the emergency snow ban takes effect. The snow ban restrictions on parking take effect without any requirement of an announcement by the City of Lakewood.

In the event of a snow fall of four inches or more, parking is not permitted on streets posted as emergency snow ban streets. Motorists should always consult the posted signs, and be advised that in the event of a snow fall of four inches or more, the emergency snow parking bans will be enforced.

The Emergency Snow Parking Ban streets are as follows:

  • Athens Avenue (Carabel to Lincoln)
  • Belle Avenue (Madison to Lake)
  • Berea Road (Horseshoe Bridge to W. 117th)
  • Bunts Road (Lakewood Heights Boulevard to Clifton Boulevard)
  • Clifton Boulevard (Webb to W. 117th)
  • Delaware Avenue (McKinley to Brown)
  • Detroit Avenue (Gridley to W. 117th)
  • Lake Avenue (Webb to W. 117th)
  • Lakewood Heights Boulevard (Woodward to Horseshoe Bridge)
  • Madison Avenue (Riverside to W. 117th)
  • Riverside Drive (Sloane to Fischer)
  • W. 117th Street (Berea to Edgewater)
  • Warren Road (Lakewood Heights Boulevard to Clifton Boulevard)

Lakewood Codified Ordinance 351.26 contains the provisions of the emergency snow parking bans.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hurricanne Sandy- What a blast!

The word 'Sandy' no longer just evokes pleasent thoughts of beaches and water.

Torandos, blizzards, and now hurricanes!

The sawdust is beginning to settle on Hurricane Sandy’s impact on our region. We experienced record setting power outages, massive tree damage, massive electrical power infrastructure damage- and not a single injury to life and human limb!

typical backyard problem
There was plenty of drama and some humor. The drama was the increasing concern about senior citizens in the high rise apartments without heat and water pressure. Many would not leave without pets, and many places would not accept pets.  The American Red Cross came to the rescue- literally and figuratively. They set up a terrific shelter serving over 200 citizens. They also brought food to the senior citizen high rise apartments.  The Red Cross is truly deserving of our support.

Red Cross Food Delivery at LakeShore Towers on the Gold Coast. power restored Friday morning
Humor showed up when a group of citizens were camped out in a lobby of a gold coast building. When informed that they could go the Red Cross Shelter for food and warmth, the politely asked if wine was served. When informed  that no, it was not, they quickly decided to stay put.

What did we do? We used Twitter, Facebook, email, web site announcements, fielded hundreds of calls per day. I conducted interviews with local media including each of the TV networks. No one strategy was enough. We organized our ability to more quickly deploy generators to more traffic signals. We walked neighborhoods that were without power to asses and communicate. We communicated with CEI several times daily to share and obtain information to pass along.
Gold Coast power restoration- 10 trucks needed

We worked with the Red Cross to open a shelter. This was a first for Lakewood. It went very well.

What did we learn from this? Huge storms seem more frequent. Each of us has to improve our emergency preparedness. Our information sharing strategies and methods have to be improved. A particular challenge was the fact that the very homes we desired to reach were unable to use electronic devices (smartphones, TV’s, internet access from computers). Many citizens are not users of social media.

Red Cross Cots in Garfield Gym
What have we done as a result?

We  have  added  AM radio updates to our communication tool chest.  We need to work with CEI to obtain an agreement/protocol to let a dedicated crew with high bucket capability coordinate with our Fire Chief to address downed lines, especially those blocking streets. We have arranged to leverage county resources more effectively such as sheriff Deputies to help guard down wires and man shelters.

We added a emergency preparedness link  on the City’s Web page to the  Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA  to provide “how to” information. (Right side of

What must still be done?

·         Meet with CEI (scheduled for December 12th) to identify communication improvements.  Identify the actions that had the most and least effect. Advocate to CEI to perform replacements of very old poles and wires.

·         Replace some of the back-up folding stop signs that were removed when new traffic poles were installed.

·         Identify how to use our school system communication capability more effectively for city use and updates. This includes robo- calls and signs on school buildings.

·         Create more awareness that we have to work as community to help communicate and look after one another.

·         We need to support and recruit more CERT volunteers. Citizens Emergency Response Team consists of citizens who have received training to support the myriad of tasks that will free our Police and Fire Safety Forces to focus on more threatening issues.

·          In general, we need to keep learning from each of these experiences, and not forget the lessons already learned.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How does a government communicate to a complex community like Lakewood?

The candid answer to the above question is “with great difficulty and varying degrees of effectiveness. When I arrived in the Mayor’s office in January 2011, I quickly identified 18 different sources that our citizens are likely to use to obtain information of interest to them. Since then, a few new ones have come about. The traditional strategies of government have been mainstream media. This year, I started this blog in an attempt to provide more background information of important issues in Lakewood.

Of equal importance and challenge, is how the Lakewood community tells its story to those who do not know us. This is every bit a challenge because there are many communities within Lakewood and each has their own story.

Fortunately, social media and search engine technology can be our ally in this important effort.  because we are "many communities- one home", The big idea that we need to embrace is the use of the Hash tag of #1LKWD
What Is a Hashtag?
The hashtag was invented as a label for groups and topics using internet chat technology.  By adding the '#' sign before a string of text, users made that string easy to find in a search. But the hash tag went mainstream thanks to Twitter.

Lakewood, all of Lakewood’s communities, can enhance being found and viewed by placing the #1LKWD hash tag in their online material: web sites, pictures, YouTube videos, blogs, face book sites, twitter, etc.

Check out this technology. Google #1LKWD. You will see those places using this tag.

We cannot own or license a hash tag. We can, however, dominate one.
I especially like the idea that who better to tell a particular community’s story that the community itself. My hope is that anyone in the world inquiring about our city and a community within our city (biking, housing, culture, etc.) will get to know us.
Please start using #1LKWD in your community’s social media.