June 26, 2010 in Washington Voices

True civic leaders represent everyone

John G.Carroll The Spokesman-Review
 
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The fundamental responsibility of elected leaders is to provide civic leadership. This Spokane Valley City Council, by following its own closely held political agenda, is failing to provide civic leadership.

Trudie Reed, noted educator and founder of the International Institute for Civic Participation and Social Responsibility, defined civic leadership as: “The art and science of leading in the public arena where one engages in the affairs of society through public advocacy, debate, education and the fostering of dialogue and group reflection. Civic leadership promotes critical thinking in the public arena and an examination of new alternatives and paradigms.”

When candidates for city council are officially elected they become representatives of all citizens, not just the supporting voters. The elected official has a legal and moral imperative to represent supporting voters, opposing voters and nonvoters alike.

This imperative is especially important if you consider any of our recently elected city council members and a group of 10 citizens. In that group of 10 citizens only one or two people voted for the council member and only one or two voted against that council member. Of the remaining six, one person just doesn’t care what happens and the final five individuals may or may not share the council’s position on an issue.

The official that recognizes they were elected because of their public advocacy and debate of a particular stance – a stance that may or may not be supported by more than half of the population – will rise to the position of a civic leader when they foster a forum for open dialogue. Dialogue is the free and open exchange of information between individuals seeking a common understanding. In creating a forum for open dialogue the leader can educate listeners on his or her position and by listening be educated on the variety of perspectives on the issues.

Most citizens agree on the services they desire of the city government, but the methods for accomplishing those outcomes are the source of much acrimony. It is in developing new procedures and plans to deliver city services that civic leadership is challenged.

Civic leadership can meet these challenges by putting the issues before the people and then using every available method and technology to allow the citizens to input their views. Once that information is gathered civic leadership can reflect on the inputs, and in a public forum, deliberate, debate and vote on the alternatives for achieving the desired outcome. Civic leadership that tempers their ideas, goals and policies in the light and heat of public scrutiny will achieve more publicly supported methods than those groups that push their plans through by political force.

This council needs to stop jamming their ideas through by political force. This council needs to slow down, gather input and gauge the level of support for their ideas from all citizens, not just their supporters. Then and only then should the council deliberate and vote for choices they feel are best for the city of Spokane Valley.

Spokane Valley resident John G. Carroll is the chair of the city’s Planning Commission.


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