That’s the question I emailed a couple weeks ago to all county commissioners and a few other county-level policymakers. I let people know that I was welcoming serious as well as fanciful suggestions.
After I emailed the question, I found out—according to one insider’s estimate—just five of the eleven commissioners use iPhones or similar devices. Still, I got a couple responses
Here is what I got. The asterisked ones are the ideas of ACC policymakers. The rest are mine. If you’ve got a suggestion for an app that would be useful to local policymakers, email me.CrystalBall*
How’s this new development going to pan out? Use your iPhone to gauge the true motivations of developers, predict future economic downturns and tell you who will be sitting on the commission ten years hence when the development is actually built.
Looking for a workable solution fast? Want to look smart? With your iPhone, you can be an innovative policy wonk in any setting. ThisWorks is a portal to a constantly updated database of innovative local programs and policies—all of which have been performance evaluated and have won national policy awards.
Tell me once more why I sought public office? Why exactly are you putting up with so much crap from the media, from your constituents, from your fellow elected officials, from your own family? Your iPhone will remind you with a customizable audio pep talk composed of only the most heartfelt and authentic reasons for public service.
Who owns this rat-infested apartment building? Isn’t this block zoned for single-family homes? Tapping into the Tax Assessor’s database, your iPhone will answer your parcel zoning and ownership questions as they occur to you. (Zone + owner = zowner, get it?)
Unless you’re an experienced architect, you can’t tell what a building will look like from site plans and elevations. Let your iPhone build a photo-realistic 3-D model so you can actually see it.
Imagine having constant access to the budget director. Now, quickly answer your budgetary questions with your iPhone. See revenue estimates, tally expenditures, model tax changes and more.
Find the full text of every provision in the municipal code and in state statutes even if you’re nowhere near a desktop. This app turns your iPhone into a blazingly fast handheld legislative database.
Have a tough campaign decision to make? With this app, your iPhone becomes a personal James Carville—a foulmouthed but effective campaign manager. You’ll get battletested advice about campaign tactics packaged in expletive-laced, down-home similes.
Handle constituent requests for help on the spot. Use your iPhone to identify the right government employee to contact—and get the process started with an email, phone call or instant message right then and there.
You’ll feel like you’re in a command center as you use your iPhone to access geo-tagged realtime information about local traffic and weather conditions and police, fire and other emergency service responses.
Aren’t you supposed to represent me? Why don’t you just cut taxes? How come you can’t snap your fingers and make X, Y or Z happen? Use your iPhone to refresh your memory about the best ways to respond to questions like these and more. You select ideological framework and set the answer complexity scale.
When you can’t avoid taking flak, use your iPhone to steel yourself by listening in advance to searing criticism and unfair mockery. Pick from a gallery of critics and set the level of derision you want to get ready for. There’s everything from whining egghead to snarky blogger to barking Bible-thumper.
Say something stupid to a reporter? Did a constituent yell at you? Use your iPhone to cheer up by watching an easy-to-create inspirational video about you. Include happy things: favorite photos, uplifting quotes, your margin of victory, reminders of famous political comebacks. Choose an upbeat soundtrack.
Tell constituents on the spot if they’re likely to qualify for help from a whole range of local, state and federal programs—everything from Earned Income Tax Credits to Unemployment Compensation to Homestead Exemptions. This app turns your iPhone into one-stop eligibility determination bureaucrat.
Just add a few details and select from a menu of occasion/audience types, and let your iPhone generate a speech script for you. It’ll be a good speech, too: humorous, sprinkled with current pop-culture references, full of poll-tested sound bites and memorable turns-of-phrase. Adjustable scroll speeds.
Never lack something personal and flattering to say to any constituent or potential campaign donor you meet. Pretend you’re just ending a phone call and whisper in a name, and your iPhone will whisper back personal details…husband’s name, names of kids, proximity to birthday, volunteer activities, job, contribution level, etc.
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* Commissioner Alice Kinman suggested these. She played on the more fantastic side of things because—in part—the real-world work of local policymakers is “so complicated that it’s hard to think in terms of the type of information you can get from an iPhone app.”
**Commissioner Kelly Girtz suggested these, but noted: “I think I was the very last of my friends to move up to the cell phone from smoke signals. The iPhone or equivalent is still way over the horizon.”
[Correction: As originally published, this post incorrectly attributed Commissioner Kinman's app suggestions to Commissioner Girtz, and vice versa. Sorry! This has been corrected.]
Image by Dan Lorentz