By Elemer Magaziner
(January 30, 2014)
The new Citizen Engagement Program is a detailed set of rules the City Government is to observe when engaging citizens.
These rules include the functions of many entities: City Council, City Manager, City Staff, Citizen Engagement Coordinator, Community Plan Advisory Groups, Citizen Work Groups, Arts and Culture Coordinator, Volunteer Registry, and a Citizen Registry. The rules also include a process covering Soliciting, Organizing, Prioritizing, Implementing, and Reporting Ideas and Issues; Periodic Reviews and an Annual Evaluation of the Program; and a Recognition Program. Overall, the process contains approximately three dozen steps, calls upon two dozen methods and tools, and includes several decision points. The process is conducted, managed, controlled, and evaluated by the City.
This is surprisingly heavy and complex machinery for addressing the relationship between Citizen and City. It implies that the City considers engaging citizens a phenomenon requiring a great deal of management and control. That the citizenry’s desires and concerns are fundamentally capricious and, if left unchecked, will be disruptive.
But this dense barrier can easily undo the very rationale for its creation, which is to facilitate collaboration. Its presence only solidifies an already existing context of mutual mistrust. So, before attempting anything more advanced, we need to practice something that is more fundamental to, and necessary for, productive engagement:
Attend City Council meetings until we can clearly and convincingly see members of the public in the chairs, members of the City Staff at the tables, and members of the City Council on the dais as simply residents of the one Sedona community.
Have you noticed the people at the tables are rarely introduced to the public? And sit with their backs to the public the entire time?
The meetings are run more like a courtroom than a boardroom.