Relational Local Government

Posted on August 2, 2018

ELGL green icon

Right Now with Kevin Teater

What I’m listening to: the Folk Pop station on Spotify

What I’m reading:Walkable City – How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time‘ by Jeff Speck

What I’m watching: Parks and Rec (Season 2: I got a very late start). The part where Mark, the planner, was getting a lot of attention for lowering a speed bump was a little too real.

I have been drawn to government since I was a young child. As I grew older, my interests became more refined, and I realized that it wasn’t any government that called me; it was local government. Why I was drawn to local government?

Relationships. Community. Connection.

I wanted government to be personal. I craved the opportunity to know the people of my community – to connect the people with their government, and the government with its people. Federal and state government felt disconnected from my needs as a resident of rural Appalachia. But I saw potential within my town and county governments to personally affect the lives of my neighbors.

Unfortunately, during my time working with and alongside government in North Carolina, I have seen government organizations and agencies that are disconnected from the people. Afraid and hesitant to truly empower residents with the direction of their communities, many government organizations have withdrawn into their own kingdoms and have imposed a will upon the people that does not always reflect the desires of the people that the programs and policies are meant to serve.

Picture a department of transportation, after designing a road, hosting a public meetings at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday in an inconvenient location. Think of a city council that only listens to the people in short segments every other Tuesday night in a stale conference room.

Sherry Arnstein’s Ladder of Participation would define this type of public engagement, at best, as tokenism.

We can do better.

Let’s dream a little.

Let’s set aside the fear-based questions like, “What if we can’t follow through with the public’s ideas?” Let’s ask instead, “What if the community is actually the expert?”

Picture hosting discussions with renters at their apartment complex with free childcare and food. Envision having a kiosk at the local music venue for people to talk with budgeting staff about community priorities. Imagine partnering with local organizations and churches to facilitate a long-term visioning process. Explore experimenting with new ideas. Embrace innovation. Welcome creativity.

It won’t always be easy, and it might not always be effective. But we have an opportunity to improve on the status quo.

Let’s get government closer to the people.

One step at a time.

Close window