For the people, by the people...
Updated: Mar 28
So I am most likely going to find myself banned from every "think tank" type facebook group I now have the time to contribute to. I really do think these types of groups are one of Facebook's more redeeming qualities. Like minded professionals share tips, resources, network, and seek advice from their peers. I really do enjoy reading and sometimes participating in several of them that I am a member of.
Over the weekend one of my favorite groups, as of late, posted an article that I was pretty familiar with. A statesman article that was discussing Bastrop's fiscal sustainability impact model. No surprise here I suppose but I just had to read the comments. The first comment totally ignited some pretty deep thoughts in my head. Initially, I ignored them like every good social media user should. But later a second comment from someone I really respect professionally hit the same can of lighter fluid in my head. And if you know me at all you know and understand that I can't ignore any passion inside my brain once its been ignited.
As a citizen who has been privileged to serve four different Texas communities as a public servant I immediately began asking why do we, us as citizens, always throw the blame directly at the government? When its OUR government? When did we loose all accountability for our own quality of life. When did we decide that we weren't in control of our own cities? So enough about that. Here's my response in full if you want to understand a little bit more:
"Thanks to people like OMITTED and those in this group for all the work you are doing to highlight these issues. First off, let me admit I’m a local government girl who probably needs some personal and professional reform herself, but I am going to throw something out there.....
It's not just about the duty that policymakers and staff have to step out front and take the hits we need them to see. Yes, hits are coming. They should be. It's way overdue. I sincerely hope that every citizen values what is meant when anyone is referring to “our cities.” For the people, by the people. It's your city. It's my city. It's their city. It's our city. It certainly isn't us vs them. But as much as the local government hasn't taken ownership of a plethora of issues such as fiscal sustainability we need to start looking at ourselves as citizens as well as those behind the dais. What percentage of residents vote in their local elections? What percentage volunteer on city boards? Might I mention the government needs the people, much more than I would guess the people actually need their government? I hope more citizens are compelled to act, serve, and volunteer because local government desperately need everyone if we are going to redefine the field.
I just don’t think policymakers and staff can make the complicated decisions that need to be made as many times as it will take without more ownership of a citizens role by everyone. Of course, policy and staff must lead the charge into battle armed properly, (thanks OMITTED!) but alone they don't stand a chance to win tomorrow's battle and certainly won't last long enough to win this war. The “people” have to engage, advocate, and embrace these necessary changes. And they have to live with them as well. Wars aren’t won by generals alone.
So here I am again reverting back to the fact that radical change of this nature has to be holistic and inclusive. The people have to be willing to change their course as well. We need them to join us over here on this battlefield you see. However, without drastic change to the status quo, which generally speaking both governments and residents are pretty comfortable with, how do we affect this much-needed change?
We need policymakers and staff to have enough support from the bottom to fuel the uphill battle day after day if we ever want to win this war. It's uncomfortable to think about really, but that's the only way real change occurs. So how much more uncomfortable is everyone willing to get? The development community. Your neighbors. Your children. Everyone is going to be uncomfortable because I am not sure how else we can have the type of collective impact that is so desperately needed."
The one with all the questions.
Sarah O'Brien lives in Smithville Texas and has worked in local government. community development, destination management and downtown revitalization across the State of Texas. She is a motivational speaker, consensus builder, and visionary problem solver who helps organizations and communities understand their purpose and achieve collective impact.