By David Anderson, Tillicum
Quick announcement: Volunteers for judging the science fair at Tillicum Elementary are needed. Background checks are required which takes some time so ASAP contact Tara Longfellow at 253-583-5370 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Ten to 15 judges are needed for the science fair on March 1st from 12:30-3.
One of the biggest wastes of everyone’s time in the City of Lakewood planned for late this spring will be the “All-City Community Meeting” sponsored by the Community Safety Resource Team (CSRT).
The announcement of this event in the 2011 Year End Report of “Lakewood Connections” delivered to mailboxes throughout the city – promoted by Mayor Doug Richardson and City Manager Andrew Neiditz (p.2) – is purposed to continue the discussion begun late last year “on how the City and leaders can work together to improve neighborhoods.”
I’d like to suggest an alternative. Books in community leaders’ hands – not their butts in conference seats – is a far better means by which to accomplish the objective.
Someone has estimated that over the course of our lives we will spend five years waiting in line, six months at a stop light – unless that stop light happens to be at 196th and Aurora in Lynnwood. An editorial I once read opined that by the time that light changes, allowing you – finally, after repeated cycles – to proceed through the intersection, you could have grown mushrooms, taken up a hobby, or read a book.
Try this some time. When waiting in line at the grocery store, your turn at the gas pump, or getting on the ride at Disneyland’s Splash Mountain, how many people are reading? That’s right, no one – unless they’re close enough to the magazine rack in the food chain to mindlessly flip through the pictures. And yet when you consider that five years of your life will be spent twiddling your thumbs, you could have used those appendages to turn pages, graduated from college even – if you had a book.
INC magazine once suggested that one of the biggest wastes of money in America is conferences. That is, from personal experience, an accurate assessment. When I worked as subcontractor for a youth program in Lakewood I was flown at City expense to Las Vegas for a youth conference (I paid my wife’s way). Wanting to be up-to-speed before arrival I ordered the manual in advance and read, highlighted and filed away the essentials. At registration I watched in some disbelief as delegates from across the country were handed that same manual for the first time. From the first presenter to the last over the next three days, each began with the words, “Turn to page _____” and then proceeded to review what should have been already read. In other words, everybody could have ordered the manual and just stayed home.
“Too many times in business people set up meetings to decide what the next meeting should be about. The best way to have a good first meeting is to anticipate the second meeting and have that one instead.” I believe even better than having the second meeting first, as Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval suggest in their book “Bang! Getting Your Message Heard in a Noisy World” is not to have the meeting at all – first or second – just read about who has done it and go do it yourself.
How much money will be spent to hold the “All-City Community Meeting”? Room rental, donuts, staff time in conducting the event let alone planning it, special speakers – if any – brought in from where and for how much? And what price do we attach to the time to be contributed by everyone we hope attends? Once that total has been computed, divide that in half and buy everybody a book and suggest instead they stay home and read it. Then we can have an online discussion about it.
That’s not like it’s impossible. An absolutely outstanding development (honestly meant) implemented recently by City leaders is their launch of “a progressive new website that is considered the best in its class” enthuse Richardson and Neiditz. In fact, the best feature by far allows “citizens to sign up to receive email information automatically on an array of topics.” Did you know that with these messages in your inbox you can read who said what for example at the Transportation Advisory Committee meeting and learn who supports – in these difficult economic times – spending your tax dollars on a walking trail around Gravelly Lake Drive? And the agenda for City Council sessions is now provided in advance as well so you can decide if you even want to go.
Since the “All City Community Meeting” is slated to address City-citizen relations, here are some resource suggestions in lieu of attending.
“Smart Communities” by Dr. Suzanne W. Morse, subtitled, “How Citizens and Local Leaders Can Use Strategic Thinking to Build a Brighter Future”.
“Applebee’s America” by Doug Sosnik, Matthew J. Dowd, Ron Fournier, subtitled, “How Successful Political, Business, and Religious Leaders Connect with the new American Community”.
Here’s an even better resource and it’s absolutely free – the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington (MRSC) which exists for the purpose of “Working Together for Excellence in Local Government”. At MRSC, updated at least weekly, there are a ton of tools, papers, and other ‘wheel-already-invented’ best practices from across the country that provide everything you ever wanted to know about neighborhood leadership, organization and implementation for community-and-City success.
For example, updated February 23, the MRSC site has a link to a downloadable 47 page paper entitled “A Manager’s Guide to Evaluating Citizen Participation”. Unfortunately the cover pictures hundreds of conferees sitting at circular tables where conversation is likely both circular and, by the end of the day, exhaustive whereas if they’d just stayed home and read the manual – the one with their picture on the cover – well we covered that already.
“Planning for Stronger Local Democracy” is another from the MRSC-linked “National League of Cities – Center for Research and Innovation”. At the end of these 84 pages there are resources that will take you on an adventure of discovery into a world of ideas to fan the flames of community activism. It’s subtitled “A Field Guide for Local Officials.”
But you say ‘I’m not a local official.’ Yes you are. You’re local and, if you care about your community then it’s official – your presence is requested: in front of your computer.
Occupying space at a conference does not a leader make. Committing personal time – over time (and a cup of coffee) – at a computer researching and reading on the subject of community doesn’t either. But the chances of success with the latter are exponentially greater.