Op-Ed

Katy Sorenson says farewell to the Good Government Initiative

The inaugural class of the Good Government Initiative toured Little Havana in August, 2011.
The inaugural class of the Good Government Initiative toured Little Havana in August, 2011. Miami Herald Staff

The Good Government Initiative (GGI), founded in 2010 with a grant from the Knight Foundation and hosted by the University of Miami, has had a good run.

Our core program, Leaders of Excellence, a nonpartisan course for state and local elected officials to get the know-how they need to become effective leaders, has been highly successful. Eighty-six elected officials have completed our course, 70 of whom are still in office — and some have ascended to higher office — using what they’ve learned to inform better policy-making. We have had 5 classes of 16-18 elected officials, with more than 100 volunteer instructors from academia, public service, the media and the corporate world who have shared their considerable experience and expertise.

We have had a stellar board of directors and advisory board and adequate funding from myriad sources to do the job. I will always be grateful to former University of Miami President Donna Shalala, UM Vice Provost Bill Green and Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibargüen for supporting the vision.

While the program has been extremely well received by its participants and the community, it has become clear that we have depleted our pool of eligible and interested elected officials. This year, after doing a careful analysis of potential class members in the four-county region, I realized that we would not be able to put together a class of at least 16 participants, which is what I consider to be critical mass.

And then I started thinking about my life. I served as a Miami-Dade County Commissioner for 16 years. Without missing a beat I have spent the last 5 ½ years leading the Good Government Initiative. While I have enjoyed all of it, it has been hard work. And lots of fund-raising. And nights and weekends.

So how does anyone define success? For me, it has been about setting goals and achieving them with diligence, stamina and integrity. I never made it to the U.S. Senate — a dream I once had — but I have enjoyed a purposeful, rewarding and yes, privileged life. Success on my own terms. For that I am profoundly grateful, as I am to all — family, friends, community activists, generous contributors and allies — who have worked with me and supported my ventures.

So what’s next for GGI and for me?

As long as there are smart, ethical, dedicated elected officials who put the public interest ahead of their own interests, there will be good government. I was honored to work with many of these officials, and I see their positive influence throughout the community. They will carry on the spirit and the message. The Good Government Initiative, however, for the foreseeable future, will be suspended. Our records and curricula are complete and in good order. We have how-to manuals for anyone interested in taking up the torch.

For me, it is a time to take a sabbatical while taking stock. Gloria Steinem once said that women get more radical with age, and I feel it coming on.

Dismayed by the erosion of women’s rights, I feel myself returning to my roots and I have started a feminist book club for young women leaders. I want to travel with my husband and family members. I long to spend more time reading, writing and organizing. I will continue with some of my volunteer responsibilities in the community, but I don’t plan to take on new ones. I want to spend less time raising money.

When Senator Barbara Mikulski announced her planned departure from the U.S. Senate, she said, “Do I spend my time raising money or do I spend my time raising hell?” And business guru Stephen Covey said, “You can get more money, but you can’t get more time.” At 61, I am healthy and strong . I have saved my money. I probably have another chapter or two in me. And more hell to raise. I’ll keep you posted.

Katy Sorenson is the founder, president and CEO of the Good Government Initiative. She previously served on the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners for 16 years.

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