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Our View: A tale of two city governments




The story is an old one, yet remains relevant. 


A successful executive brings in two young managers to give them some advice: 


"The best way to really get Joe Employee behind something is to convince him it's his idea," the executive says. 


One manager heeds the advice; the other does not. 


Which, do you imagine, is more successful? 


We need only consider how city government in the two largest cities in the Golden Triangle approach this idea to discover that answer. 


Starkville Board of Aldermen meetings are long and often contentious and well-attended. They rarely adjourn in less than three hours. 


In Columbus, the city council meetings have almost a perfunctory feel. Business is handled quickly, almost always in less than an hour.  


Only a handful of citizens turn out and those citizens, who want to address the council, must provide advance notice as to what subject they want to discuss. You get the impression that citizens are permitted to speak, but not encouraged. As a result, most folks don't even bother to show up. 


Now, in the first month of their new four-year cycles, it's clear that city leaders in both communities have not changed philosophies. 


In fact, newly-minted Starkville mayor Lynn Spruill has made an effort to make the city's government even more inclusive, accessible and transparent. 


Spruill has proposed regular board work sessions, where aldermen - and citizens - can hammer out the details on proposals in a less formal, public forum. We believe this is an excellent idea because it promotes more thorough examinations of proposals, allows for refinements and -- most importantly -- provides citizens a chance to listen and contribute. In other words, citizens in Starkville are given the chance to "buy in." 


If you want to get something important done in city government, the best way is to get the community behind the idea. 


That's something that rarely happens in Columbus and we believe part of the reason is that citizens do not have many opportunities to directly engage their city leaders on plans or issues. On the rare occasions when public opinion is actively courted by our city leaders, it often feels contrived, awkward and the response is, at best, limited. 


In Starkville, engaging citizens has become part of the city's ethos and city leaders are building on that, providing citizens more opportunities to really understand and contribute to the decisions that are being made on their behalf. There may not always be a consensus, but Starkville citizens have ample opportunity to have their say before those decisions are made. In Columbus, citizen input is often little more than a footnote added after the decisions have been made. 


Of the two models, we believe Starkville has the right idea and believe the sense of optimism in a city is due, in part, to the city's willingness to allow citizens to play an active, meaningful role. 


There is no reason that we can't see that same dynamic in Columbus. 


We hope city leaders in Columbus have the wisdom to see that.



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