Good governance starts with strong civic engagement. Yet, all too often in recent years, City Council and staff have come up short in that department. I firmly believe that if you really try to take the pulse of the community, residents will not only tell you what they want, they will most often have the right answer.
That may not be true in all communities, but it is here. Why? Because our resident population includes experts in just about every field and people who will take the time to read up and do their homework.
So, it’s puzzling to me why this City government continues to neglect the voices of residents in favor of the notions of City staff.
Senior staff have been known to create a narrative about a problem (whether it exists or not), then find a federal or state grant opportunity, convince Council to approve the application, and secure the funding – only to find out afterward that the project would either take away something residents value, or give them something they never wanted.
This dynamic places City Council in the unenviable position of defending a grant in direct conflict with the people they were elected to serve.
Witness the current debate over stream restoration that played out in last Tuesday’s City Council meeting. You may not have followed this issue, but it started with a mandate to meet lower levels of sediment and pollutants flowing from our streams into the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
City staff secured grant funding for one such project at Taylor Run in Chinquapin Park that would destroy a large section of tree canopy and plant life. One snag: The level of pollution has never been proven.
At Strawberry Run, City staff secured funding to redo a project that failed a decade ago, undoubtedly creating more runoff of pollutants and sediment than if they had done nothing at all. Yet, City staff has not investigated why it failed the first time.
So, Tuesday night, there was Council, along with staff, back on their heels again defending their plans and their grants. There has to be a better way. It starts with civic engagement. Particularly in a city like this one, civic engagement needs to be central to everything we do in local government. Do it early and do it always. (And, for heaven’s sake, let’s protect our parks and tree canopy and live our Eco-City pledge, once and for all).
If you elect me to your next City Council on June 8th (or vote now since you can), I will work to make sure that the culture at City Hall changes and that residents are once again heard. It’s time for a change!