Mining the News

Keeping up with the news was not a high priority for me when I began my career as a city manager in the 1980s.  We did not have television in our home, and our only publication subscriptions were to the Eugene Register-Guard and Oakridge’s Dead Mountain Echo.  My focus, at least in my memory, was on the crisis of the moment at City Hall.

I spend much more time today in front of computer screens scanning information from within our organization, the community, the state, the country, and the world.  I still take the time to travel around town to survey city services and talk with people, but many days I feel like a miner working a rock face.  Fortunately for me, my tools are a keyboard and mouse rather than a sledge hammer or drill.

“Knowledge is power,” according to the great English philosopher, Sir Francis Bacon; and I confess to never knowing the origin of that quotation until looking it up on the Internet a moment ago.  It came, for the record, from Religious Meditations, Of Heresies, written in 1597.  The power I’m looking for on the flat screen is the ability to anticipate opportunities and threats before it’s too late to take advantage or avoid them respectively.

This morning I’ve received information about possible manipulation of the municipal bond market by some major Wall Street firms, which could have lowered interest payments to cities.  The same message was sent to our Finance Director, who will follow up with our bond counselor to determine what, if anything, we should be doing in response to this information.  This story is unlikely to be reported by local media; yet it could have financial implications for Albany.

Yesterday, I learned from the Democrat-Herald of a shooting incident involving some boys at one of our parks and was also able to view a number of comments from local residents about the story.  There was some healthy debate about parental responsibility versus the need for more education and some good insight into how the people we serve feel about events taking place in Albany.  I particularly liked one question about the headline on the story, “Kids Shoot Gun at Albany Park,” where a reader asked “What did they shoot the gun with?”

Many things have changed since I started work at the City of Oakridge as a relatively young man.  The city I now work for has about 45,000 more residents than the one where I started, and I believe that number roughly correlates to my hair loss during the intervening years.  The most important change, however, has been the increased access to information made possible by electronic communication.  Our challenge is to put that information to use in a way that makes our community a better place to live.