By David Anderson, Tillicum
“Building trust in government” – the concern raised in the last paragraph of Lakewood City Manager Andrew Neiditiz’s column in the fall “Lakewood Connections” recently delivered to mailboxes throughout the city – is placed here in the first paragraph since the topic of trusting government merits discussion of highest importance given recent local developments.
As residents of Tillicum prepare to go to court to defend community values having been overruled by city staff – which staff-decision was supported by City Council – trust is at an all-time low.
In the very next sentence – the last sentence, the final word – that concludes his column, Neiditiz reflects a major philosophical difference, with significant practical consequences, as to how – in the City Manager’s view – trust in government is built and, in our view, lost.
“A major challenge in today’s world is building trust in government,” writes Neiditz. “I believe that citizens, who are the stakeholders on public services and public policy issues, want and expect their local government administrators to have positive and professional working relationships with their local government colleagues, in order to achieve efficiencies and productive results in the delivery of programs and services.
The style of government Neiditz advocates is that of the vending machine. This metaphor, originated by Rick Cole, former mayor of Pasadena, California is the traditional concept of government as a service provider – kicking out services for taxes deposited.
It also explains the reason why “citizens have lost confidence in all institutions, including local government,” writes Frank Benest, city manager of Palo Alto, California. “In the past, people had less confidence in federal and state government but trusted local government because it was ‘closer to the people.’ Disenchantment with all major institutions, particularly government, now affects local government as well.”
The alternative to the vending machine, Benest suggests, is the ‘closer to the people’ model which Benest refers to as “the ‘barn-raising’ approach (that) requires significant outreach and building of rapport with individuals, families, and groups in a targeted neighborhood.”
Tillicum most certainly is the target in the targeted neighborhood but for lack of barn-raising, Tillicum is raising hell.
Whereas barn-raising, writes Benest, requires “cities and counties to literally compete on a daily basis for people’s hearts and minds” vending machines compete only for people’s wallets.
Whereas barn-raising council members recognize, celebrate, and encourage “residents’ strong sense of family and support for each other” the vending machine mentality in contrast chiefly is more interested in counting the cash contributions of consumers.
There is “no real community participation” or interaction with vending machines. Even when government employs the “’tell-and-sell’ mode” it’s essentially only a “new and improved model of the vending machine.” Benest writes, “After local government agencies have made a decision they try to sell it, often with little success and much negative reaction and mistrust in the decision-making process.”
Commercialism, not citizen-centricism, drives most government, certainly ours. Who is the most recent hire by Lakewood? An Economic Development Specialist. What changed the minds of city staff such that the substantial issues raised opposing the gate last year were ‘answered’ this year? The bonuses added to Camp Murray’s proposal – $1.5 million dollars.
And yet before the cart began leading the horse, if there was such a time, it was when the customer aka the citizen – not “local government colleagues” per Neiditz – was king. Some companies, seldom government – unless they’re seeking your vote – put the emphasis on the correct syllable. Business owner Alexander Douglas wrote, “Businesses (or for that matter governments) that treat customers as subservient to them misunderstand the role of the customer as the employer.”
In her May 7th introduction following her employment as the new Economic Development Director for Lakewood, Ellie Chambers-Grady stated (and note the emphasis), “Economic development should be of benefit and value to the community; community development should reflect quality of life; business retention, expansion and recruitment should reflect community values – what as a community we want to be known for – what is important to the people that live there.”