Elected Local Officials Must Share Power

Article excerpt

Elected city officials must learn to share power in rebuilding not only the physical but social capital of their communities, some 200 delegates attending a series of four workshops on youth, education & families were told last week at the Congress of Cities.

And, strengthening neighborhoods through connective, supportive programs to empower its citizens--young and old--was the common focus for success presented by each of the separate panels. Building Upon Strengths

Karen Pittman, facilitator; Bonnie Politz, coordinator; Ann Rosewater, panelist; Sharon Sayles Belton panelist.

Karen Pittman, senior vice president and director of the Center for Youth Development and Policy Research at the Academy for Educational Development in Washington, D.C., set the stage for panelists and delegates at the first session by saying changing conditions for families, youth and education call for changes in the thinking of elected officials.

"We must go beyond the problems and specific solutions for a specific issue. We must think beyond to what we want to promote--the goals--what we want young people to have," she said.

Pittman was the facilitator for each of the four workshops, which not only heard the ideas and viewpoints of the panelists, but also views and questions-- sometimes heated or controversial--from city officials attending as well as examples of what their respective communities are doing in the area of family needs and opportunities.

Panelist Sharon Sayles Belton, mayor-elect of Minneapolis, said the increase in crime, poverty, neighborhood instability have many elected officials looking at problems from where we are--"we must start looking at them from where we want to go."

"We need grassroots support and we won't get there by ourselves," she said.

"We elected officials don't like to share power. In doing so, we seem to feel a loss of power," she said.

In expanding on a statement by Pittman that the providing by cities of services no longer is enough, Belton said we need to create opportunities for everyone and to do so we must go into the neighborhoods to find out from the youth and families what they need and want.

Panelist Ann Rosewater, deputy assistant secretary for Children and Families, United States Department of Health and Human Services, said the federal administration has a vision of communities nurturing families and children but that much of its funding and programs relates heavily to states and less to cities.

Rosewater said the challenge is to move resources into the informal support centers.

Pittman in her outline said the deliverers of services are usually professionals who have clear expertise. The youth or family is the client, now being redefined to see youth and family as the customer.

The providers of supports are people--professionals, paraprofessionals, other youth and families-who have needed information, insight, resources. The youth or family is a partner in the support process, in control of asking for and accepting support.

She said the creators of opportunities are communities, including but not limited to the professional service providers, creating not only opportunities for self-sufficiency, but opportunities for youth and families to offer supports and services to others.

Belton added that the broader definitions go beyond the child to the parent.

She said it is difficult to convince the community--"it's a hard sell"--to look beyond the problems to what we want to promote. "We're asked to show how we can save money--something we are unable to prove until later."

When the floor was opened to questions, panelists were asked how they might cope with a breakdown of the juvenile system where there are kids without a family or with a drug-addicted family, children abandoned, children having children, etc.

The answers all pointed to the same solutions--go into the neighborhood and seek to make the young people part of the leadership. …