When Alan Howze moved to Kansas City, Kan., in July from a Washington, D.C., suburb, he quickly learned an inconveniece locals know too well.
“Moving here, I had to get my car registered, I had to get my driver’s license, I had to do all that,” Howze said. “There’s about three or four different places you have to go. For somebody who has to take a day off of work each time they do it, that’s a really expensive proposition, a real challenge and a hardship for people.”
Unlike most locals, Howze may have the power to do something about some of the cumbersome obstacles that government sometimes throws in front of people.
On Aug. 1, Howze started his new job as chief knowledge officer for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan. It’s the first position of its kind for the Unified Government.
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The goal for his professional life: Harness technology so local government can better serve its residents.
“We can do better through the delivery of online services, to make it so you can, for a lot of those services, do it at 10 o’clock at night or 6 o’clock in the morning,” Howze said.
Howze comes to the Unified Government from the Washington area, where he worked for a division at computer technology giant IBM that helps governments run smoothly with the help of technology.
What draw does Kansas City, Kan., have for someone in a decade-long private sector career in the Washington area?
“They created this brand-new position, never been filled before, with the express goal of strengthening the analytical and technological capabilities of the Unified Government,” Howze said.
The mission isn’t entirely new to the Kansas City area. Kansas City, Mo., a year ago hired Bob Bennett as its chief innovation officer. Bennett and Howze serve in similar roles and consult with one another.
The White House recently tapped both Kansas Citys to participate in an $80 million Smart Cities Initiative.
But to the average resident, what work do people like Howze do that matters to their lives?
For Howze, one priority is gathering data across Unified Government departments to identify where blighted properties exist and how they happen. Blight is a legacy issue for Wyandotte County stretching back to the 1970s when the community lost population and left vacant and abandoned properties behind.
“Once we have a clear picture of that, that leads to a discussion about what are the levers available to the Unified Government and to a broader community and to community leaders to help them improve their neighborhoods to slow or stop the growth of blighted properties,” Howze said.