M.I.N.M.: The Daily Lunch
Who: Michael Jankowski, deputy treasurer, Wayne County, New York
Players: "From 5 to 20 county officials and business leaders."
Frequency: "Almost daily, for 60 or 90 minutes, at lunch."
Purpose: "Officially, to have lunch; unofficially, to build consensus on proposals that are on the table and to air new ideas."
Many government leaders are wrestling with change just as intently as business leaders are. How can the public sector embrace change? For upstate New Yorkers in Wayne County, the answer is simple: Embrace tradition. For years, county politicos have gathered for lunch almost daily around the same table at Dada's Diner in Lyons, the county seat. On the menu: building consensus on proposals, floating new ideas, and taking the county's pulse. "Chances are," says Michael Jankowski, 33, the county's deputy treasurer and a meeting regular, "a bill or resolution that makes it to a public meeting began as an idea over lunch at Dada's."
Today, lunch at Dada's remains a fixture of the county, even as the issues on the table — reforming services, meeting state recycling requirements — grow more complex. What's more, the constituency is becoming increasingly diverse. Half of Wayne County's once predominantly rural population now lives in the suburbs. That poses new challenges for the county's 15 supervisors and various department heads. The shift is also evident at lunch, where retired farmers and newcomers sit side by side, even if they don't always see eye-to-eye. Still, Jankowski says, "There's more than 200 years of collective wisdom sitting at the table. The issues may change, but the value of experience doesn't."
Bridge building. "We're working on building relationships so that elected officials and appointees can move beyond their parochial interests. Folks from the suburbs might want a recreation center, whereas rural residents might prefer to improve their water systems. We're laying the groundwork for solutions that work for the whole county."
Ideas only. "We debate ideas, rather than mechanics: 'Do you want to raise taxes this year, or do you want to cut services?' Or, 'What do you think about installing a new water line?' This meeting helps fight much of the inertia in government without subverting the formal public process."
Informality rules. "We ignore the hierarchical relationships of 'official government' and meet as peers. The meeting has no formal agenda; typically, people arrive with their own agenda — a hot issue or an idea that they want to vet. The flow of conversation is organic: One minute, we're talking about a truck accident; the next minute, we're discussing a new road."
Dada's Diner. "If you're in town, it's the place to go."
A version of this article appeared in the May 2000 issue of Fast Company magazine.