Localities are involuntarily becoming hubs of crisis and outrage in a country dealing with deep socio-economic and political divides, as well as the aftermath of extreme weather events. Think Charlottesville. Portland. Houston. Tampa. Urban, suburban, and rural constituencies grow farther apart in lifestyles, priorities, and beliefs about the use of force. Rapid community development combined with climate change makes weather-related disasters more frequent and deadlier. And, the boards within these communities are challenged to better reflect the communities they serve.
Local politics can sometimes feel just as contentious. In some cases, the main participants are predictable, vocal, and polarized. It can seem nearly impossible to get business done. Meetings can feel volatile.
If that’s “business as usual,” how well will the town possibly respond when the next crisis erupts? For many towns, just getting a new city manager can be downright apocalyptic. But it doesn’t have to be like this – consider the different approaches of the two towns described below:
A Tale of Two Cities
- Varnell, GA: Two City Council members storm out of a City Council meeting, leaving the public no council to field their numerous questions: The council had recently voted to dissolve the city’s police force. As two other City Council members had resigned soon after that vote, there remained at the meeting no quorum.
- Vancouver, B.C.: To launch its initiative to become The Greenest City in the World by 2020, Vancouver staged a city-wide conversation in a “Pecha Kucha” format. The event had the highest attendance of any civic engagement effort in the city’s history, and it brought in demographics that had not historically participated.
Given the deep divides that exist in many communities, transparency and inclusion may simply not be enough to move the board’s agenda forward. Like Vancouver learned, pro-actively reframing community conversations in ways that are inviting and respectful – even fun – can bridge divides, heal suspicions, and reopen the lines of communication.
Learn the best practices of vibrant local governments. Attend the BoardDocs ICMA Annual Conference roundtable session on Monday, October 23 at 11:30 a.m. titled: “More Governance, Less Drama! Engaging (without Enraging) the Community in Board Decisions.” You’ll learn how the most effective communities are reframing conversations to create ownership, enthusiasm, and representation. New participants are showing up – faith communities, immigrant residents, and children. Learn some techniques designed to welcome new voices and transform harmful dynamics into sessions that foster collaboration, mutual respect, constructive input, and tolerance for divergent points of view.