Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Solving Problems and Making Democratic Decisions: Public Leadership Is the Key

Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Solving Problems and Making Democratic Decisions: Public Leadership Is the Key

Article excerpt

Across the country, public discussions are becoming more difficult and less tolerant. Even in cities and towns, council discussions on important decisions often wind up in hostilities that leave council members and the community terribly divided.

Whether it's growth and development issues, zoning, animal control, downtown design guidelines, red light cameras, consolidation or nuisance ordinances, councils face tough choices. But no matter which side wins, a divided vote on some issues can alienate the losers, and leave even the winners feeling uncomfortable with the outcome. The result can be a divided council and a weakened community.

How can councils address difficult and controversial issues in such a way as to strengthen themselves and their community? The challenge facing councils is how to deal with these issues with less divisiveness, a clearer understanding of the choices and a better outcome. The key is public leadership. Traditional leadership training focuses on individuals, Public leadership is about problem solving and decision making by a board, a group, or a community. It involves identifying public problems and using public values to solve them.

Public problems have three key features that distinguish them from other types of problems.

First, they involve facts and values. When council members argue about solutions to a public problem, they may consider many facts, but they are likely to select the facts that support their values.

Second, public problems affect us as citizens rather than as private individuals. Deciding whether to sell your car is a private matter, while deciding on how to set a particular speed limit is a public problem because it involves the safety of other citizens.

Third, public problems occur in public settings, Allowing your dog to roam in your house is a private choice, but allowing dogs to roam city streets is a public choice. …

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