Civic engagement has recently become a topic of discussion in the Ward 1 aldermanic race. As policy co-directors of the campaign of Mike Jones ’11, this issue is particularly important to us, because in many ways it is the foundation for the policies we have helped Mike craft over the past few months, and it will help turn our proposals into realities.

Our proposed Office of Civic Engagement will facilitate much of this engagement. This office can become an invaluable resource during this time of increased financial stress on the city. The current economic situation has forced our city government to look for inexpensive solutions to solve the challenges we face. By facilitating increased collaboration and shared services for local nonprofits, the office can assist in the creation of community-based partnerships and help leverage resources more effectively without increasing the burden on New Haven families or the city budget.

Using new media, the office can connect residents to volunteer opportunities and make City Hall more accessible and accountable. Through the trying times ahead, we believe we can help bring smarter and more effective government to New Haven by ensuring that all the resources and energy our community has to offer are being utilized to their fullest potential.

We also want to give New Haven’s families more direct access to the Board of Education. The New Haven Public Schools are administered by the Board of Education, whose members are appointed by the mayor. While the Board of Aldermen approves the education budget, it does not have the authority to change specific line items. Our campaign believes that those who are in charge of our schools should answer directly to the voters. Mike wants to examine reforming the city charter to provide for the direct election of some or all of the members of the Board of Education. Positive reform of our education system requires it to become more accountable to the voters and more accessible to families who demand systemic change in their children’s schools.

We are also advocating for increased civic engagement to improve public safety. Management teams in each neighborhood can be excellent resources to enhance communication with the police. Through these teams, ordinary citizens are empowered to have substantive and meaningful interactions with the police officers who patrol their communities. One neighborhood in particular, Dwight, has taken the lead in creating a Youth Management Team, a program we would like to support in more neighborhoods. We believe that the increased violence among and against young people in our community requires us to find meaningful solutions and to get young people involved in conceptualizing those solutions in substantive ways.

Because the Ward 1 alderman is in a uniquely strong position to get students involved in solving some of the big challenges that face our city, our campaign has proposed several initiatives to institutionalize that strength in productive ways. Our Legislative Aide program is a clear example of this. Right now, many aldermen are burdened with the demands of both a full-time job and the obligations of an important representative position in city government. We believe that our entire city would benefit by equipping these aldermen with students who are eager to work with them to help address these and other big issues facing our city. The basic premise of Mike’s proposal for increased student engagement is that Yale students can offer even more to this city than they are currently asked to do. There are 29 other people on the board, and no one member can do anything alone; legislative aides working with different aldermen can promote policy innovation and collaboration. Mike’s vision for civic engagement is undeniably focused on the issues, and by linking students with aldermen, Ward 1 will be substantively linked to the Board’s decision-making processes.

Over the past weeks and months, Mike has been meeting with various stakeholders and policymakers across the community to develop comprehensive positions on these and other big issues. As alderman, he will work to implement these proposals at every opportunity.

By opening up City Hall and allowing more citizens to help address the challenges that face us all, our city government will be more effective because it will act with the input of many more stakeholders across our city. In this way, Mike’s vision for civic engagement is undeniably focused on the issues and will strengthen our efforts to address the pressing challenges facing New Haven.

Seth Extein is a sophomore in Branford College and Tess Lerner-Byars is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. They are policy co-directors of the campaign of Mike Jones ’11 for the Democratic nomination for Ward 1 alderman .