4 Simple Words to Achieve Social Justice

Elected officials do a great many things in a day. We review and allocate budgets. We attend groundbreakings and ribbon-cuttings. We chair meetings, briefings and hearings. We direct policy and pass resolutions that put policy into practice. But the thing that makes the most difference in the lives of our constituents is the way in which we provide our constituents with the services they need.

As your County Commissioner, I know that Franklin County is increasingly diverse -- and increasingly divergent in the needs of our 1.2 million residents. We have worked hard to provide an economic-development environment that encourages new and expanding businesses and jobs, and we've been successful. But at the same time, our region has unacceptably high rates of infant mortality, un/underemployment and poverty.

My staff and I are working to close that divergence gap, and we've found the best way to close this gap is to ask every constituent who calls our office a simple question -- "What do you need?" -- and then connect them to existing agencies, programs and nonprofit organizations with a personal introduction and a clear path of action.

We don’t hand out research guides or suggest you visit the County’s website – though these are valuable pieces of information for folks who can or want to do their own research.

We hand out our business cards, with our phone numbers, and we answer or return 100% of the calls we receive.

Our office sees and applies programs and policy through a lens of social justice, combined with economic development and community safety. By doing so, we are seeing significant, life-changing results and cost savings. The rate of recidivism – returning to incarceration – for residents who reach out to our office for individualized service can be documented at 3%, which is 40 points lower than the national average and one-tenth the average for the State of Ohio. We answer or return every constituent call within two hours, and we pledge to get answers to questions, or connect residents with resources within 24 hours, and with the attention and respect that each constituent deserves.

Imagine if every public servant were to make this commitment. Imagine the change we could make in one generation with one simple question: "What do you need?"

This article was excerpted and adapted from a column I recently wrote for Governing magazine’s VOICES online forum: http://www.governing.com/gov-institute/voices/col-most-important-question-social-services.html