Use Your Words

Posted on September 28, 2020

Samantha Harkins


Today’s Morning Buzz is by Samantha Harkins. Connect on LinkedIn & Twitter!

What I’m Reading: Everything. I’ve read about 70 books during COVID. I went down a rabbit hole reading everything by Lisa McCubbin and Clint Hill (who was a Secret Service agent for five presidents). Am currently working my way through Dr. Zhivago.

What I’m Watching/Listening to: Nothing. I’m basically only reading these days.

I have a five year old, so the number of times I’ve said the phrase “use your words” in the last few years is approximately 8,762 (give or take). Last week I presented to the American Planning Association’s conference with my fellow Deputy Mayor James Hardy from Akron (we met on the GovLove podcast and are, I like to think, a Rust Belt dynamic duo). As part of the roundtable we were asked how planners can communicate with the executive team. My response was: use your words.

A few months after the Mayor was inaugurated I was at a meeting with our state’s economic development department and a handful of other Michigan communities. We were discussing their “Redevelopment Ready Communities (RRC)” program, a program they were hailing to help communities attract additional development. Lansing is the largest community that has achieved RRC certification, and they were asking how that’s helped us in decision making. I replied, “It hasn’t. We’ve never once discussed this in making decisions and I have no idea what benefits come with this certification.”

Our lead planner was there and began stammering about all the benefits. I later asked him to meet with me and asked how I am supposed to know about this great program if he doesn’t tell me? Use your words. He has since retired (and is probably somewhere telling his version this story about how his jerk deputy mayor embarrassed him at this meeting), but before retirement I heard from him regularly about legislation, programs and other important topics. It was extremely helpful.

This isn’t exclusive to planners. My city has excellent staff, many who have been there for years. They are experts in their disciplines, and I honestly don’t hear from many of them often. I work directly for the Mayor, and we’re making decisions that affect the daily lives of Lansing citizens. Those decisions are made better by input from our expert staff. If I reach out they obviously always respond and are helpful, but there may be programs/policies/initiatives of which I’m not even aware. I need them to be assertive and proactive in reaching out so we can make the best decisions for Lansing.

I had someone tell me once that they know I’m busy and they don’t want to bother me. I’m not suggesting every city employee call me every day, but when there’s something that is important and can help advance the priorities of the community and the executive team, reach out. For the record – I am generally not the expert. We need you.

One thing I love about ELGL is this network of extraordinary public servants who are experts in many nuanced areas. Your mayors, councils and city managers need you. They need your expertise to continue to make our communities better. You’re the rockstars. Use your words and let them know it.

Close window