The last sentence in a recent editorial opinioned that those most affected by a decision should be those from whom most input is sought. Literally the bottom line – in this case the people of Tillicum – must be the top priority.
The relocation of the Camp Murray gate has stalled – stalled in what amounts to the middle of an intersection, continuing the problem of not only snarled traffic but having created the problem of a snarling public.
“Right now, tempers are frayed on the subject. After everyone cools off, the subject should be resurrected – this time with plenty of input up front from the people who would be most affected: the residents of Tillicum” (TNT).
Thursday night, October 7, those residents of Tillicum will host a question-and-answer session with Lakewood City Manager Andrew Neiditz (6:30 p.m. at the Tillicum Community Center, 14916 Washington Ave. SW). Questions will be submitted to Neiditz on Tuesday morning so that there will be ample opportunity for substantive and informed dialogue on Thursday night. (Since this meeting is open to the public, if you would like to participate by not only attending but also submitting questions for the City Manager, you may do so by sending them by 2 p.m. on Monday, October 4, to moderator Terry Belieu.
Whose responsibility is it – full or in part – for such public outreach and dialogue? In St. Mary’s County, Maryland, it is that of local government where “staff will go door to door if there is an issue affecting a neighborhood.” Likewise, “Sedgwick County, Kansas, seeks out groups, who might be affected by issues.”
These examples from Evelina R. Moulder’s survey were prompted by the question “Does your local government foster citizen engagement?” (Citizen Engagement: An Evolving Process)
Would Tillicum have known about this transportation issue had some of its residents served on the Lakewood Citizen’s Transportation Advisory Committee? Per the admission of Bill Larkin, CTAC chair, and Paul Wagemann, committee member, this issue was never on their agenda.
Should Tillicum have known about the Portland Ave. gate from reading the “Tillicum Plan” issued in June, 2010? That depends on whether the one paragraph that mentions the Portland Ave. gate found on page 31 of the 159-page document constitutes registration on theirs – or anyone’s – radar. That paragraph is buried beneath a picture of the interior of the Tillicum library and is followed by several pages of demographics.
“It is one thing to have noble words and grand statements about the importance of openness and transparency,” said Beth Noveck in her talk Transparent Government, “but we have to back up the words and the commitment to transparency.”
If there is one plus of this Camp Murray gate battle it is not so much that Tillicum won this round but that its residents were introduced to neighbors of similar wonderful passion and ability that cared enough about their community to research, write, communicate and work effectively with a common cause and a singular goal.
Tillicum’s residents transitioned from enraged to engaged in an extremely short period of time. From having first become aware of the planned move of Camp Murray’s gate via a press release to that end issued by the military; to a panel discussion involving every level of legislative decision-makers all the way to congress; to the formation of a committee in our neighborhood of over 20 impacted residents; to letters in response by that committee under the pressure of a halved-deadline, letters numbering over 50 total pages – very little time had elapsed, exceedingly far less time than the city and Camp Murray had in coordinating this project, some two years depending on who you believe.
“When we set our minds to something and we work in concert to make it happen, we are very powerful, and working together we can accomplish things that we cannot do alone.” Novek could just as well have been describing Tillicum in her book Collaborative Democracy.
Extrapolate that principle and you have what Tillicum is planning next. As a result of discovering that what we need to know cannot depend on waiting for others, even our own elected representatives, to tell us what we need to know, the committee of 19 – that coalesced over the single issue of a gate – is now considering expansion of their coverage to include R&D on all-things-Tillicum.
That’s a good thing according to the Municipal Research Services Center (MRSC) – something they call “crowdsourcing.”
The benefit of this “reengineering of civic life,” says Novek, is “when we come together, when we share our diverse expertise, we are stronger than when we work alone.”
Novek encourages city governments to aim their “trajectory of devolving power downward and outward. From our representative institutions at the center that are supposed to represent us, but are increasingly disconnected from us, to a much more decentralized world of power.”
The public, in other words, can be trusted. City government should be as well. But as Novek warns, “The centralization of power is driving a factionalized, disgruntled, and increasingly dissatisfied and distrusting public.”
To avoid policy failure in the future, two things must happen. Council representatives must assume the role and don the mantle for which they were elected. They must help city staff understand that, as Novek writes, “Power is never the property of an individual – it belongs to a group. To develop more creative solutions to public problems, solutions must be responsive to community values and preferences.”
Secondly, as the National Civic League notes on its website regarding community visioning and strategic planning, “Some communities allow the future to happen to them. Successful communities decide the future is something they can create.”
Tillicum has most recently shown, once again, that they can, and will, create their future.
So back to the original question. Whose responsibility is it – full or in part – for public outreach and dialogue? The city’s? Or the community’s?
The answer is ‘yes’.