2023 has already proven an incredibly impactful year at Zencity. We’ve welcomed numerous new partner communities across the world, rolled out cutting-edge new features, including the first-ever use case of ChatGPT in local government, and re-launched as the best full-service community engagement platform available for government today.
We don’t always blog (or brag) about the great things happening at the company, but today I want to personally share one of the most exciting developments in Zencity’s history. After nearly two years with Zencity as a Senior Advisor, the incomparable Maurice Classen has joined us full-time as Chief Operating Officer!
Maurice is a powerhouse when it comes to both local government and operations. He comes to us after serving as chief of staff to the mayor of Chicago and the de facto chief administrative officer of the third-largest city in the United States during a historic period. In those roles, he was responsible for leading the city’s response to a range of challenges, from the COVID-19 pandemic to social unrest following the murder of George Floyd. His principal management responsibility included oversight of the City’s employees and a multi-billion dollar budget.
Maurice’s career in public service includes serving as director of strategy at the Chicago Police Department and directing criminal justice and policing efforts at the MacArthur Foundation. He also brings significant experience as a lawyer, having served as a senior deputy prosecutor in the King County (Seattle), Washington Prosecuting Attorney’s office, addressing violent crime, gang challenges, and burglary. He also ran multiple political campaigns providing insight into how residents chose their leaders.
As Chief of Staff to the mayor of Chicago, Maurice’s commitment to community engagement led him to partner with Zencity, become our champion there, and build the strong relationship we have with the City today. Subsequently, as Senior Advisor, Maurice has proven critical to strengthening and growing Zencity’s reach to diverse local governments and agencies, leveraging his vast and innovative experience to help us improve our product, services, and approach to the work we do every day. Maurice’s deep understanding of government, his intelligence, creativity, and optimism have quickly made him an invaluable part of our team and our success.
Few things could be more exciting for us, or represent a higher vote of confidence in Zencity’s mission and future, than Maurice’s growth from a customer, to an advisor, and now to our COO. It is a privilege to have Maurice on board in this capacity and to be able to share this news with all of you.
I can’t wait to see the impact Maurice will have on our efforts to serve the needs of local government and law enforcement leaders across the world.
Welcome to the team, Maurice!
Read Maurice’s op-ed on the importance of trust in local governance. This piece originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune on May 11th, 2023.
In Johnson we Trust?
In the first days after Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson’s impressive, and—to some—divisive victory, many Chicagoans are wondering how the new executive will transition from the lofty rhetoric of election season to the practical business of preparing to lead our great city. Mayor-elect Johnson’s vision is now the agenda of city government, but he can’t achieve it without keeping all Chicagoans along on the journey. Having served two mayors, I can attest that, in addition to serving as the Chief Executive, the most important role the mayor plays is as our city’s “Chief Trust Officer”—always ensuring that trust in the governing structures of the city are increasing, not eroding.
In working in the Chicago Police Department and City Hall over the last two administrations—I came to value less of big policy ideas and more of simple steps of getting the “people’s business.” Trust is built by showing you’re listening to what frustrates most people: Reducing crime, maintaining clean streets, educating students and plowing snow–done well and before people reasonably expected them completed. Most residents pay little attention to the City’s leadership outside of election time, and we do best we let them get back to enjoying their lives, leaving the governing to professionals.
This week’s announcement of Chief Operating Officer John Roberson, following on earlier major hires for the Mayor’s Office, showed awareness of balancing divergent views in the Mayor’s new policy agenda. Similarly, the choice to hire Senator Cristina Pacione-Vayas with seasoned government executive and former OEMC Executive Director Rich Guiddice into senior roles showed a genuine self-awareness that the young administration needed fast access to knowledge and skill—ultimately valuing governing over politics. [Full disclosure: Guidice and I served together in city government for several years, and I attempted to recruit Pacione-Vayas to serve in the previous administration]. This is the sort of quick, thoughtful and practical decision that builds trust across the political spectrum.
What comes next is the hardest of political dances for the Mayor-elect: maintaining trust with those who have supported him since the earliest days, while convincing a skeptical majority of Chicagoans who did not support him that he knows what he is doing in running the city and can learn quickly. Government does best when it builds trust by showing it can deliver on two types of promises: putting the policy it promised into practice, and ensuring that no operational balls are dropped.
Every administration approaches the first weeks differently—and there is more work than time to do it —but four suggestions from one member of last Mayor’s transition:
- assure the City the administration has a summer plan for public safety by announcing a data-informed approach to police deployment and youth jobs–and importantly announcing an interim Superintendent of Police as soon as possible;
- quickly announce the process the Mayor-elect plans to follow in keeping or changing out members of his Cabinet–leaders and employees in City departments deserve to know the direction for these critical city services;
- lay out a 100-day vision with core goals and benchmarks, and
- outline details around the first City Council meeting.
In other words, start doing the business of governing, brick by brick. Along the way, make sure that you check with residents, ensuring that each decision builds, rather than erodes the public trust. Making a mistake along the path isn’t fatal, but failing to adjust when you start to lose trust can be.
The summer will be on us soon with events and crises. City Council meetings will gobble time and focus, shortly followed by creating and passing a budget. Along the way there will be streets to clean and keep safe, water to deliver, and airports to run. Executing all of these functions will be critical to building the trust needed to allow for the Mayor-elect’s policy agenda to pass. Fail to put enough deposits in the trust bank, and there may not be enough capital to use when necessary.
Mr. Mayor-elect, we all stand ready to assist you, a new Mayor deserves no less.
Maurice Classen is the former Director of Strategy for the Chicago Police Department and served as Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Chief of Staff for the mayoral transition and first two and half years of her administration. He is the Chief Operating Officer of Zencity, a global technology company, helping goverments build trust with the people they serve by improving responsiveness.