Another week and another Ask the Mayor is in the can. So happy that this show exists. This past week was the 7th installment of Mayor John Dennis of West Lafayette.
This week, I wrote in with the following question:
In the latest issue of the City’s newsletter, West Lafayette Connection, there was a small blurb about updating our 2010 Strategic Plan. In looking at our previous Strategic Plans, there used to be a committee, The West Lafayette Forum who met regularly, appointed by the Mayor and the Council, whose charge was to oversee the execution of the City’s Strategic Plan and report back success and failures to the City.
What Public, Citizen-based group currently oversees the achievement of the stated goals in our many Strategic Plans and how can we reconstitute the West Lafayette Forum?
I am honored to have had my question read during the show. Even more to my delight was to hear the subsequent conversations about transparency, my involvement in the local political scene in Greater Lafayette, and Citizen input in the political process.
Mayor Dennis stated:
Well, the Strategic Plan is based on Citizen input. Ummm. You know, we don’t sit in a room with the doors closed and the lights on low, trying to craft our, I love the term Master Plan, our Master Plan for the future of the City. It’s a Citizens driven plan.
I understand where he is coming from. It is, you know, Zach is very passionate about having the Citizen Watchdog approach to how we provide services here in West Lafayette. And we feel that we’re very transparent. We feel that we do as much as we possibly can to make sure what we do is in the best interest of our Citizens and in our Community. And like I said before, I think we are doing a pretty good job with that.
I, too, am extremely happy with the transparency level I and others enjoy with the City of West Lafayette (some other areas of Tippecanoe County a little less so, but that is another post). Mayor Dennis has done a pretty good job in making information open and accessible to those who seek it. Clerk-Treasurer Judy Rhodes does an amazing job at keeping the City Council Agenda up-to-date with the latest supplemental material, frequently updating throughout the cycle of pre-Council to Monday night’s official meeting and beyond.
Some other boards or committees are less proactive and open without being asked officially in the form of a Public Records Request. I understand and am happy to oblige.
Stan Jastrzebski continued:
Let me ask at the risk of honking Zach off a little bit, let me ask the other side of it, which is, Citizens generally are not people who are given to any sort of special training that would allow them to be City Planners or to know how to use City resources. Don’t you have to be somewhat careful how much input you take from people who have their own axe to grind, for lack of a better way to put it.
This particular question did honk me a little bit (nice work Stan! I heard you chuckle Mr. Mayor ;-).
I quickly asked my computer (which was playing the show), “What about City Councilors? Most, if not all, lack special training regarding the issues they are voting on.” Afterwards, I calmed down.
Or if you look at our Mayors in Lafayette and West Lafayette, both are former police officers. I am sure people do not discredit their contributions of input regarding issues under the purview of the various departments in the City that they lack special training in. They may have to be brought up to speed on the particular nuances of problem, decision, or plan, but their input is still valued.
The Mayor continued later:
A lot of folks ask, you know, “Why can’t you do this?” or “How come this doesn’t happen?” or “What’s wrong with this process or product?” It gives us an opportunity to explain to them specifically how the process works and why some of those things really aren’t that practical for local government to try and accomplish.
Following this train of thought, since education, special training, or whatever you would like to call it, seems to be the missing component from constructive input from Citizenry, how can we most effectively bridge that gap?
My current contribution to this effort is The Exploratory Committee. A civic minded Citizens group whose goal is to:
Bring a diverse group of people together to present a variety of engagement opportunities: both at the ballot box and beyond.
Education is a key component of our engagement process. We’ll see what the future brings.
For now, I will continue doing what I have done for most of my life; building my own bridges and educating myself. Not in isolation, but with the Community. I am ever so thankful for our library systems in Tippecanoe County (TCPL, WLPL, & Purdue University). See you in the stacks, online, or in the streets.
You can listen to the clip of the question and subsequent conversation: