Making Citizen Engagement Work
I am currently taking a class sponsored by GMA (Georgia Municipal Association) entitled “Making Citizen Engagement Work”. It is a very good discussion about how to bring all parties to the table. The city council should not be a dictatorship but nor should every decision be a public referendum. We have a representative government. We are elected to take the time to delve into the nitty gritty on issues that the general populace would not have the time or interest to do. Yet, some issues like consolidation, need to go to ALL the people. The challenge is to know WHERE on this spectrum to go with each issue. Which issues does the council just need to handle and which issues should the citizens be more actively involved? And when you choose to engage the population, how do you get everyone at the table? Too often the only ones that want to engage are the C.A.V.E. people (Citizens Against Virtually Everything).
Elected officials are almost universally naturally distrusted. I remember before I was elected, a city resident and myself would find ourselves thrown together about twice a year. We would spend our time together discussing what WE would do if WE were on the city council. After I ran, and was elected, I had been on the commission for only a few months when I ran into this lady at the post office. Before any words were exchanged, she just looked at me and shook her head left and right and said, “well, you are one of them now!”. I was guilty just by association. So the question is, ” how do we engage the citizenship knowing this fundamental level of distrust already exists?”.
People get angry and frustrated and don’t trust elected officials. Elected officials get frustrated by angry people who don’t understand what the limitations are.
There is a spectrum from simply informing the constitutes on one end to fully empowering them to make judgements / actions on the other end. Routine budget matters and day to day operations of the city need to be handled promptly and efficiently. However tax increases and major issues like consolidation need to be decided upon by a large informed audience.
I try to enter this spectrum with this blog. I use my posts to inform. I encourage the readers to post their comments, thoughts and suggestions.
The Archway Project is a shining example of engaging citizens. It all started with hundreds of people meeting and voicing concerns. Those concerns grew into several issue groups that are focusing on these issues. Citizens and general populace constitute these work groups. It works!
What are your ideas? Thoughts? Suggestions?