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Thread: Citizen planners: working with the city, not against

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Citizen planners: working with the city, not against

    Several years ago, when I became ‘community aware’, I took a stance of opposing the city on several projects. I didn’t like the direction things were going and wanted to offer the other side.

    To me, the decisions that were being made were so obviously wrong I felt I would easily gain support and would be able to change things around. I know it is naïve, but when all you hear is how the elected officials are messing things up I figured the people were looking for change. I even got my name on the ballot.

    I learned local elections have less to do with issues and more to do with popularity. People don’t vote on your positions, they vote for the people they know. That is unless there are really important issues such as “can I burn my leaves?” to bring people to the polls. Around here, 20% turnout on local elections is considered good.

    After finding cyburbia, it was pointed out that my tone was very “us vs. them”. As I mentioned earlier, I really thought public opinion would go my way, and while it seemed to, those who supported my efforts only did so in words and not actions. I got a lot of slaps on the back, 'atta boys, and it’s about time someone said what you’re saying.

    The truth is, those who have the ambition to get involved, probably already are. And it is these people you will have to deal with to achieve your goals. Starting by opposing them will earn you the reputation of being against them and it is very hard to shake that rep.

    After several months of achieving absolutely nothing, I began to change my tactics. Besides my website, I wrote a weekly column where most people know me from. I began writing more about the things I agreed with rather than the things I disagreed. On things I disagreed with, I took directly to City staff or elected officials via e-mail or phone calls and tried to learn more about their positions rather than attack them. I never changed my views I just chose positive topics to write about.

    The tactic seems to have worked with the staff. They seem willing to work with me and take my input seriously. The general public also noticed the change. I am now accused of “joining the establishment” and being “the City’s biggest apologist”. The elected officials however, still see me as that guy who opposes them. I felt that once again today.

    Our mayor had to resign for health reasons. After one of the council members moved up to mayor, this left an open seat. It is up to the council to appoint a replacement. They called me and asked if I would meet them to possibly fill the post. During the meeting, I kind of got the feeling I wasn’t a serious candidate. There was very little discussion to my answers.

    They called me today to say they went with someone else. They went out of their way to say they didn’t ask me there to make it seem like they took me seriously. While as a collective group this may be true. I don’t think individually they really thought so.

    I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed, but I’d also be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised. What is most frustrating to me is I am truly in this for the interest of the city. I have probably spent more time trying to improve the city then a lot of the council members. And I cannot even get appointed to a committee. I can count the number of council meetings I’ve missed in the last four years on one hand.

    I am not sure on what my next move will be. It is about 18 months till the next election. If I run again and lose, I don’t think I will ever be taken seriously. I don’t want to be the guy who always runs but never gets elected. I don’t think any of my ideas will ever be taken seriously with the current council or any future council member that serves with them.

    My advice to those wanting to their ideas implemented is to work within the existing establishment, not to work against them. Changing the establishment is hard, and once you are seen as the opposition, you will always be seen as the opposition.

  2. #2
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by savemattoon View post
    ....[snip]....My advice to those wanting to their ideas implemented is to work within the existing establishment, not to work against them. Changing the establishment is hard, and once you are seen as the opposition, you will always be seen as the opposition.
    There it is. The answer. Sage advice, buddy. Where do you think I am? A bureaucrat on the inside making changes.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I found this to be a very open and honest analysis of your experiences as a citizen activist (or whatever you would like to call yourself). I commend you for your ability to reflect so self-critically on the situation. Indeed, this probably stands in stark contrast to many politicians who become so entrenched in their positions that they are unable to reflect or even - gasp - modify their opinions.

    One of the things that I find distasteful about running for any public office is the common dynamic of having to be prick to get ahead. Reasonable, rational and open-minded people don't often yell so loud or over-simplify issues to pander to voters. I'm not so sure I would be heard in that crowd. I don't like to yell.

    All that being said, I think you should consider that even without winning and even without being asked to be a council member, there is still the possibility that the things you are saying and doing actually are changing the opinions of individuals in the community. Change often comes slowly like this as more and more people come to see their situation in a different light. Before you know it, the majority may be championing the cause you have been talking about all those years.

    That's all to say that you should not be too discouraged. IMO...
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally posted by savemattoon View post
    My advice to those wanting to their ideas implemented is to work within the existing establishment, not to work against them. Changing the establishment is hard, and once you are seen as the opposition, you will always be seen as the opposition.
    I'm an elected official, so I have experience on "the other side."

    I'd say generally you are right. Many people come to us with things they don't like about an existing condition or a pending proposal. They take their passion about the issue and turn it in a negative way towards the governing body. They stand up at a public hearing in front of the body charged with making a decision and completely alientate the very people they are supposedly trying to convince to vote their way. One would think it would be intuitive that it's not a good idea to piss off the people you are asking to help you, but it seems to happen more often than not.

    I don't think it is so much about being the "opposition" as it is about the tactics. Disagreements are encouraged as they can be productive. Just don't expect to have a board listen to you if you start out calling them crooks and idiots and making threats about what will happen in the next election cycle. You wouldn't believe how many people start out that way.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    I used to work in a city where we had a resident who was a very strong and effective advocate for code enforcement. His ideas were top-notch, feasible solutions that could have been implemented. Problem was, he was two-faced. He would behave himself in front of the City Council and later submit inflammatory letters to the newspaper about the elected officials. I remember thinking to myself what a wasted effort...

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