COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT – PART I
As I sat in the city council chamber audience, waiting through numerous business items to hear the results of the February 2016 board of education appointment, my eyes were drawn to the emblem laser-etched on the back of the chair in front of me. I read the words, “Unity, Prosperity, Family.”
There are many definitions of unity. For our city, I prefer the definition of unity that is described in the Bible as it relates to the body, which has many diverse parts, but they all function towards one unified goal and purpose—to live a life of purpose and meaning. There are certainly other definitions for “unity,” such as “oneness of mind, feeling, agreement,” but we all know this doesn’t often happen for a family of four, much less a city of 35,000.
In our city emblem, the word “Family” appears as the balance to “Unity.” As I developed my COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT platform, I kept the word “Family” in mind, because this is a metaphor that works well for a city our size.
There are certainly all kinds of families. My parents divorced when I was twelve, so I have a different perspective than my husband, whose parents are still together after more than 50 years of marriage. From his parents, Greg learned three things about how to have a happy household:
Treat all your children the same. Having three sons, no doubt Greg’s parents understood the importance of this precept. In Greg’s family, this did not mean every child had the same rules to follow, demanded the same amount of parental attention or even got the same big present for Christmas. Why? Because, all three sons were different—with diverse needs, desires, and personalities. Nevertheless, Greg knew his parents loved all three sons equally because his parents went to great lengths to give equal treatment. Children are more likely to overlook a disappointment if they understand they have been treated equitably and given a fair hearing.
Families need to hang tight and be ready to welcome new friends. Greg’s Air Force family moved frequently. He described his childhood as a series of starting new public schools, packing and unpacking, living in temporary transitional quarters, and getting accustomed to new climates. To me, a girl who grew up in the same small town and attended the same church until I went off to college, this sounded terrible. Greg explained that the frequent moving was a good thing because it made his family close, because family was the only thing that didn’t change. Frequent moving also meant you either had to make friends quickly or be isolated.
Don’t go to bed angry. Even if your family is tight, there will be disagreements. As parents, Greg and I have learned when there is an impasse—a decision that must be made and there are two directly opposing views—one person has to “give.” Often, the outcome is more important to one parent than another, so it is best to allow the parent with the stronger interest to get his or her way. In all negotiations, communication should be open and civil. Once the decision is made, put any unhappy feelings about what happened behind you. u.Make the decision and then put it to rest, realizing, at the end of the day, what you have in common is more important than what divides yo
So how can we make our Vestavia Hills family stronger? Over the next several weeks, I will publish my ideas in sections. This week, I would like to focus on OPEN DOORS. At my house, we fight a continuing battle to get our youngest son to leave his door open when he is upstairs and we are downstairs. We desire this because having open doors facilitates conversation and interaction. This makes families stronger.
- Schedule weekly “office” hours at various neighborhood locations; invite the community to drop in and talk about any subject.
- Recruit community members to serve on boards to ensure diverse representation (geographic; socio-economic; long-timers; newcomers); publicize board and commission openings through multiple media outlets.
- Organize topical town hall meetings in various parts of the city, as needed.
- Once every two months, rotate the location of a work session to an off-site location, choosing venues in various parts of the city.
- Allow public comment and questions at the end of work sessions.
- Assign communication tasks to city employees to ensure effective, regular communication.
- Monitor social media forums for issues and respond to questions and concerns.
- Publish “Tales from the Meeting” – a bi-monthly councilor blog regarding old and new business.
- Publish monthly work session reports regarding requests and response rates for our Action Center.
- Issue press releases to alert media regarding important topics to be addressed at council meetings.
- Publish calendar of board and commission meetings on website.
- Facilitate subscriptions to a city calendar so citizens can receive notifications regarding city board, commission and council meetings.
- Publish minutes and agenda packets for all city boards and commissions on website.
- Video-record work sessions and board/commission meetings and post on website.
- Support and encourage development of community groups to address specific neighborhood issues and facilitate special projects; put community groups in touch with city resources to assist their processes.
- Provide an online “community engagement” portal, to provide information about ways citizens can become involved and volunteer in our city government.
- Schedule council meetings at a time that is convenient for citizens.