The Foundation of Good Policy Making
Policy Statement #1 – June 3, 2019
The foundational skill of any elected official is to listen and seek understanding. Representative government requires understanding of the community’s values, concerns, and aspirations; only then can a leader identify common ground and feasible responses.
I’ve heard Mayors complain about their lack of power and their dependence upon the City Council or staff to get things done. It’s clear to me that these complaints represent a basic misunderstanding of the job. An effective Mayor is not a “boss” who arrives with a sense of mandate for his or her agenda — especially in Olympia, where the Mayor’s formal powers are limited to presiding over Council meetings and representing the City. Rather, in our community the Mayor must be a steward and guardian of the public’s trust who leads by encouraging open dialog and advancing and defending common purpose.
This essential work can only be performed effectively with open communication, within an atmosphere of trust, and by working with others. Leadership is not the ability to push through an agenda, rather it is the ability to bridge divides and identify viable outcomes that benefit the community. This is the role of the Mayor.
I will work to translate this approach into a comprehensive set of policies and a new approach for our community through a shared set of basic principles, followed by actions that address community needs in a way that honors these principles.
Key Principles of Collaborative Leadership in Olympia
- Listen first.
Only by really hearing each other can we find understanding.
Work to better understand one another’s perspectives, pressures and hopes.
- Communicate Proactively.
Reach out continuously, regularly, and authentically.
- Value both compromise and common ground.
Start with common ground.
- Hear all voices.
Equal opportunity and equal access enable all to participate freely.
Putting it into Action
FIRST – Fully Engage our Advisory Committees. We have more than 75 carefully selected citizen volunteers who provide expertise and advice to the City through committees that focus on community issues from planning to preservation, utilities to parking. We can engage these committees in more substantive policy issues, fill their meeting rooms with interested citizens, and optimize and empower them as forums for community voices and collaborative problem-solving.
I commit to personally visit with every advisory committee in the first six months of 2020, and work with them to significantly increase the breadth and depth of policy issues that they address.
SECOND – Engage our neighborhoods. Our Recognized Neighborhood Association (RNA) program offers a channel for communications and a tool for building stronger and more resilient communities within our community. This program is wholly underutilized, with only a portion of the community represented in 36 neighborhoods, many of them inactive. We can activate all of the registered associations and support formation of new RNA’s for better grass-roots representation, discussion, and community cohesiveness.
I commit to a goal of increasing the number of people represented by active RNA’s by 50% by the end of first my term. Olympia needs citizens directly involved and communicating about their needs and their ideas. Neighborhood organizations can be game-changers by serving as communication conduits and growing new leadership for the community.
Our Comprehensive Plan calls for the development of “sub-area plans”. Neighborhood associations can use this tool to influence the city’s land use and infrastructure decisions. Sub-area planning is a powerful way to create the community you want. So far only one of these plans has been completed. I will work with the Council to provide adequate staff support for two more neighborhoods to move through this community-building process.
As Mayor, I commit to hosting quarterly meetings with our neighborhood leaders in the RNA program, and monthly sessions with leaders of the Council of Neighborhood Associations. Regular listening sessions will provide opportunities to understand the concerns and hopes of our neighborhoods, ensuring that the Council is truly hearing them and keeping their concerns at the fore.
Olympia’s Neighborhood Matching Grant program began in 2001. Today, it provides up to $5000 in direct cash support for neighborhood projects, matched by the neighborhood in volunteer hours and in-kind services. In 2019 this program will leverage $23,000 in city funding for over $90,000 in improvements and outcomes. Currently program participation is low, with only 10 applicants from 36 RNA’s.
I am often amazed at the sheer skill and talent of Olympians I meet in the neighborhoods and I believe we have the strength to do much more than we are now. If we spent a year supporting and strengthening our neighborhoods I’m convinced we could receive 30 applications. A city investment of $150,000 will yield $600,000 in benefits to our neighborhoods, through community events, small but impactful improvements like parklets, community gardens, annual neighborhood festivals, and traffic-calming local artwork. It could be transformative.
THIRD – Engage Community Groups. We are more than just one community. We are countless overlapping communities sharing a deep connection of place. When we create and maintain active dialogue, we will learn about issues earlier, we will foster better understanding, and we will find common ground more readily. Today’s world offers more ways than ever for the city to proactively initiate and facilitate authentic interactions with residents. I will use multiple strategies to reach out and engage local organizations.
FOURTH – Engage our Neighbor Jurisdictions. An intentional and consistent approach that is led by Olympia will build strong partnerships with the Port of Olympia, LOTT Clean Water Alliance, Thurston County, Olympia School District, Tumwater, and Lacey to secure our shared future. The speed of government is achingly slow, when in some areas it ought to be lightning fast. Forging solid relationships with neighboring jurisdictions is vital to strong collaboration and agility. It is the role of the Mayor to facilitate and foster this.
FIFTH – Find an effective balance between function and formality. Far too often the structure of how we do city business prevents real collaboration. Our business meetings are simply too formal, and study sessions are often presentations with little dialogue. We need stronger policy discussion and debate within an open meeting format that allows Councilmembers to dialogue, debate, and synthesize policy. The Olympia City Council is composed of some of the smartest, most insightful policy thinkers I have ever met. There are times when the seven members of the council, having done their homework and heard advice from staff and the public, simply need to sit around a table and work to find compromise and common ground, unfiltered.
I commit to strengthening the policy work of our Council Committees and establishing a new meeting format that allows real dialogue and collaboration among Councilmembers.