February 3, 2011
It was my privilege to spend time yesterday with the Florida City/County Managers Association. I learned a lot. These leaders are paid professionals, not elected officials. They are like doctors or teachers. They went to school and learned how to manage the complexities of modern city life.
I also realized they are in a very tough position. They are ADMINISTRATORS. They carry out the needs and wishes of others the best they can with incredibly reduced resources. They are very much the messengers of the bad American economy. They are not the message. They didn’t cause the problems. But they may see the impacts more immediately and clearly than most. They didn’t cause the problems, but they are in the completely unenviable position of having to decide who gets less.
I went to the meeting thinking they were in a great position to be an agent for change in community – to be a sign to others to be more neighborly. I still think that. But as I drove home from the meeting I realized that is asking too much of them. This isn’t a time to ask more of those who are paid to keep your towns and counties going. It’s more like a time to ask what we can do to help make their burdens lighter. They are, after all, actually OUR burdens.
They – these leaders – are ours too. This is not a “we” and “they” situation. They are one of us. They are our neighbors first. I forgot that. And I wish I would have remembered that before the drive home. I would have said different things to them. I would have started by saying “Thanks.” I am certain they are for the most part both civil and servants. While I heard a lot of understandable grousing about the economy, politics and Florida leadership – A LOT - the undercurrent in all they were really talking about was what they might do to preserve the quality of local life that remains and do more to improve that quality into the future.
I was the first to speak to the group at this meeting. After me, even as I write this, they would turn to the heavy topics dominated by the economy. For my part, I encouraged them to stop thinking of all of us as “citizens” or “consumers” or “residents” and to see us as “neighbors” instead. I sent the wrong message to the wrong group. I want to ask all of us who are served to remember that every single one of those who provide us government service are our neighbors too.