Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Good Governance: Leadership Is the Key

Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Good Governance: Leadership Is the Key

Article excerpt

Citizens elected to the City Council are entering one of the least studied areas of the municipal business environment--governing. Virtually every link on the management chain has been thoroughly analyzed, compared with private practice or best municipal practice and improved to a significant degree. Governing, on the other hand, remains remarkably mired in the past.

Agendas almost always reflect staff issues, cameras beckon for performances "for the public watching at home," and trivial matters consume the time of the most important link in the good governance chain. A 1920s time machine visitor would not recognize the high tech high quality municipal work place of 2002, but would feel right at home in the council meeting.

This is not a people problem. Elected officials are some of the great daily heroes in America today. They put their reputations and lives on display for little or no pay because they love their towns and want to make them better. They come to the office with dreams and aspirations for the community. They want to make a difference. The fault lies with the governing system.

Almost all of us remember the manual typewriter. When we made a mistake on a manual we either got out the eraser, the Whiteout or even started over. How profound was the jump to a self-correcting IBM Selectric or the quantum leap to a laptop? Does this mean that the manual Royal was a bad machine? Not at all--it was the best in its day. We just wouldn't use it today.

In the same way, governing leadership in 2002 demands that we use the best governing methods available to us. This state of the art governing asks elected officials to quit spending time on short-term issues, to quit listening to the endless stream of staff issues and to quit letting others set their agenda. It instead asks that these heroes have the courage to think about the future while engaging the citizens in a meaningful dialogue, to delineate and foster a true partnership with the city manager, to set the boundaries of staff behavior and to agree with each other about their own behavior. …

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