Back in August, I noted in a blog post that Ventura City Manager Rick Cole had an interesting blog post titled The New Normal in which he attempted to reframe some common adversarial extremes (e.g., sustainable economic development vs. public employee pension reform.)
A week ago, I tweeted how he and Ventura Mayor Bill Fulton had each blogged (Cole here, Fulton here) about the City’s new downtown parking management program. Since it’s a controversial change, both leaders were making substantive efforts in their blog posts to explain in-depth the rationale to their citizen readers. Cole ended his post with another reframing:
What both proponents and skeptics of parking management share is a fierce commitment to Downtown. Like crowded parking, that’s a good problem to have.
Last Friday, Cole published a new post titled Public pay disconnect and the magic of dialogue in which he painstakingly explains the how the new economic realities look from different points of view: citizens, business owners, and public employees. He’s attempting to diffuse the tensions and wonders what could be done to increase mutual understanding:
What’s really missing is that neither audience wants to watch the other movie — or better yet, sit down face to face and listen to the cry from the heart of the other view. I know that if the people we serve and the people who serve them could sit in a neutral living room and really listen to each other, the magic of dialogue would blend these clashing realities. Folks on both sides of the divide would have much greater understanding of the shared anxiety and frustrations brought on by these troubled times.
Maybe it’s time to set up some real life discussions in real life living rooms. Time, perhaps for the people who maintain our parks, patrol our streets and repair our water pipes to sit down and listen to the folks who pay the bills for all that — and for the citizens to hear about the tough challenges facing those trying to do an excellent job with a whole lot less money and help to work with. Any volunteers?
His latest post is a textbook example of how a leader’s values can be embodied in a blog post, in this case, the importance of empathy and dialogue, especially in polarized conflicts.
I wrote to Cole last week to let him know that I was following his blog and planned to cite some of his posts in my leadership blog coaching and teaching. He replied:
In approaching the blog, I mix in some timely news, but my main purpose is to seek to provide context — “the news behind the news.” I usually try to acknowledge that there are (at least) two sides and seek to “reframe” in your phrase or reconcile the polarization that has become so endemic.
He then pointed me to an article he’d written for the ICMA (International City/County Management Association) October 2009 issue of Public Management titled Social media: What does it mean for public managers?
The textbook model puts the elected governing board squarely between us and the public. Elected officials interpret the will of the people. They’re accountable to the public. We report to those who have been elected. But in the modern world, professional staff cannot hide behind that insulation. We cling to the old paradigm because we lack a better one.
That’s where the real significance of social media comes into focus. These aren’t just toys, gizmos, or youthful fads. Social media are powerful global communication tools we can deploy to help rejuvenate civic engagement.
Now if I could only get my hometown city hall to embrace that belief.