This guest article is by ELGL member Matt Hirschinger, Assistant to the City Manager for the City of Arvada, CO. Read all of Matt’s other articles at the Social Justice –> Government homepage.
Equity does not exist within a vacuum. In order to have true meaning, it needs to apply to something. Equitable hiring practices, equitable snow plow routes, equitable land use and zoning… these are topics we can really dig into, come up with specific considerations, tangible steps, a path forward. For those of us advocating for more inclusive, more progressive local governments, it serves us to continue to improve ourselves in the technical, not-directly-equity-related aspects of our organizations’ work.
As I’ve been using my different classes as a platform to approach different Colorado local government associations, one group I knew I wanted to include was planners (specifically the American Planning Association – Colorado Chapter). I knew about redlining, knew some of the issues surrounding gentrification, of other aspects of planning that can lead to greater or lesser equity. I couldn’t say I knew much about planning as a whole though other than the basics.
Upon some good advice, rather than take another social justice-centric course, I opted to go for Planning Law and Institutions. I did this to immerse myself in the case law, practices, and constraints planners face to make any training or writing I create more relevant, more effective, and better avoid making mistakes assuming what planners can and cannot do. After all, my aim is not to become some sort of national expert on all things diversity, equity, and inclusion. My aim is to immerse myself in diversity, equity, and inclusion in local government, thus the need to continue to learn and improve in local government.
If we feel that there should be law enforcement reforms, we should take the time and effort to learn what we can about law enforcement operations and administration.
If we take exception to an outdated and cringe-inducing park name, we have the means to figure out the process, considerations, and moving parts in what it takes to change said park name.
If we feel there’s a need for more affordable housing, we’re more capable to advocate for it if we know more about building costs, zoning, and what government subsidies can and can’t do.
We have the freedom to voice our aspirations whether we’re experts or not. As local government professionals, we will be far better positioned to turn said aspirations into reality if we can back our words with the credibility and skill to get the job done. If we find ourselves stuck, if we’re not sure of the next step (or even the first step) to take to make progress on a project, initiative, or other good work, one place we turn to is the institution we’re trying to improve. In my case, it’s planning, in yours, it may be any number of other departments, teams, and/or services.
And of course, if instead, it’s a certain professional skill such as public speaking, conflict resolution, time management, and/or something else that we feel is missing… there are resources to improve in those as well. I know not everyone has easy access to self-improvement tools and trainings. I’m guessing those of you reading this article on ELGL likely do have that access.
It’s about doing more than identifying problems, and even more than having the end goal in mind. It’s being able to chart the course each step of the way (and have the ability to pivot when the inevitable surprise or unexpected factor comes into play). It’s matching dreams with strategy, connecting goodwill with competence, there is no duality between “hard skills” and “soft skills”, we win better local governments and communities through synthesizing both into a greater whole.
Take that training module, go back to school, buy or rent a book, find a mentor or tutor, pursue multiple options if you want. Regardless of the methods, self-improvement and professional growth is part of the journey to promote greater equity, and as local government professionals, we can make our journey include the technical nuances related to our unique interests and advocacy.