As of Christmas Eve morning, a handful of tweets and more than 250 Facebook comments helped convey the public’s reaction to Maggie Brooks’ appointment to vice president of strategic initiatives at Regional Transit Service (RTS). While most sentiment reflected a general state of cynicism both the role as well as its six-figure salary is significant for an entity that stands to contribute considerable value for a community amid transition and transformation.
Tom Brede, public information officer for the Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority (RGRTA) and its official spokesperson said “Quite frankly, who better than Maggie to do this?”
Cynicism aside, Brede’s candid remark holds some validity. Based on the organization’s job description the VP for strategic initiatives will address three chief objectives:
- Customer-centric analysis and insights
- Creative problem solving
- Development on behalf of RTS
Over her twelve years in public office, Brooks — whose policies and management style were often met with criticism, especially by area Democrats — demonstrated many of these abilities at work.
First, her repeated electability conveys a core competency in understanding how to communicate and connect with the public. Politics aside, Brooks’ communications skills are among the most effective of the Rochester region’s high-profile leaders. This will most certainly assist the former county executive in her new role.
Second, amid a series of local setbacks (loss and/or decline of major employers — especially manufacturing) and national challenges (recessionary economy), Brooks’ leadership contributed to a Rochester region that Brookings Institution ranked as one of the most resilient metropolitan economies during the depths of the Great Recession. Again, regardless of politics, her success as Monroe County’s chief executive required some degree of creativity to overcome these threats and barriers.
Lastly, if Ms. Brooks’ legacy has one consistent theme, it’s the enduring fight against mandates that affect the county budget. Brooks repeatedly championed for reforms to such mandates, which she claim take a significant toll upon an already resource-tight, high-service county. Agree or disagree with Brooks opinion on the matter, her in-depth know-how of New York State’s fiscal processes, combined with the her strong communication skills, makes her well-equipped to assist RTS with its resource needs and challenges in years ahead. Yet Ms. Brooks is just one piece of a much larger puzzle coming into view.
As voters and citizens scan the numerous agencies and entities within the Rochester region, it finds a familar landscape of leaders comprised mostly of former public and private executives — some vanquished others “retired.” Politics and partisanship aside, the collective knowledge and experience amassed within these circles should both empower and position the area to learn from past mistakes and unify its resources toward an equitable and sustainable vision for growth and innovation. With the momentum of the Upstate Revitalization Initiative (URI) win at the region’s back, the Rochester region is at a potential turning point.
To achieve this aim, the public (including the writer of this blog) must resist the temptation of cynicism and find productive ways to support, challenge, and hold accountable all of its community’s leaders. For those who point to dismal voter turnout, that alone is not enough. It will require education, healthcare, business and non-profit organizations to break down traditional siloes and foster new partnerships built upon the decades of experience now at the helm of the region’s most important and potentially transformative assets.
To succeed, each of us should embrace the objectives that Ms. Brooks will be responsible for at RTS:
- Put people first — whether customers, constituents, employees, consumers, patrons, parishioners or stakeholders — allow every problem to begin with needs at the individual level
- Foster creativity at every turn of a potential opportunity or challenge — dismantle innate biases and look for new perspectives to inform solution building
- Strengthen our savvy — when it comes to developing and building new resources, increase our knowledge of the systems and processes to exploit the maximum opportunity possible