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Thursday, September 20, 2018

Candidates and Their ‘Vision’ for the City

A few months ago, I was attending a breakfast meeting of the President’s Community Advisory Board of the South Mountain Community College. The purpose of the meetings was to meet the candidates for the position of president of the College, and to ask them questions that might give us  a better idea of who would be the best person for the job.

A friend of mine asked the following question of one of the candidates, and I paraphrase: “Are you a transformational leader or a transactional leader?” The candidate that was asked this question seemed a little confused by the question (she had been traveling the day before, and it was7:30 a.m.). Several of us tried to help out by expanding on the question in the hope of making it clearer. Finally it came down to vision versus policy. The answer from the candidate, and, again, I paraphrase, was that you have to maintain a constant planning process that involves all members of the college at all levels, the students and the community; and, on a daily basis you must implement that plan as best as you can. And then she said it was the college’s vision statement that first made her interested in applying for this position. The vision statement is: South Mountain Community College educates minds, transforms lives, touches hearts, and builds community. And the mission statement: South Mountain Community College provides quality higher education for our diverse community. We create a caring teaching and learning environment that fosters student development and supports productive citizenship in an increasingly global and technological society.

This particular candidate, Dr. Shari Olson, not only survived this question, but many more in a long vetting process that is designed to ensure as much as possible that the new president will be capable, competent and compatible. We are lucky to have her as our next president. Congratulations to her and the entire South Mountain community.

My friend’s question also has implications for our current city elections. The sense of this question is: are you going to be a leader that wants to transform the city or a leader that wants to negotiate the city’s existing policies? Remember that elected city officials need almost no  qualifications in city management, city planning, zoning, neighborhood development, business development, accounting, economics or anything else that might qualify them to do their job proficiently. In other words, in most cases, the city itself would not hire these folks to be in charge of the city departments over which they will be setting policy.

This does not make them bad people, it only means that just because someone is on the ballot, it doesn’t mean that they have even the slightest  competence to actually “run” a city or, for that matter, balance their check book. The good news is that we have a city manager to run the city; the bad news is that he is hired by the elected officials.

So, we really don’t expect our leaders to be too transactional because they are not vetted in that regard. In fact when I see a candidate supported by developers and/ or their attorneys, I wonder what it is they want from that candidate. Surely they don’t expect them to influence the city engineers, the sewer and water folks, the traffic people or the trash collectors?

So, these economic interests must be investing in the “transformational” side of this question. This is what some political friends of mine call the “vision thing.” It seems that the way the vision thing works in politics is that, if all other competency and/or record of achievement is lacking,you can always say “he (or she) has a great vision for the city”

You might ask, from whence does that vision for the city come? The answer: the new “Phoenix 40.” The new Phoenix 40 is composed of   developers, their attorneys, a few handpicked “community leaders” (read this as members of the community who agree with the candidate), appointed board members (who are also often campaign contributors) and other campaign supporters. That may be more people than the original Phoenix 40, but in all fairness, the original Phoenix 40 was probably more independent.

When the candidates talk about vision make sure that what they are talking about is a shared vision with the people from their district or the city as a whole, arrived at through a real process of civic engagement that includes everyone, not just their cronies, moneyed interests and campaign supporters. A candidate should be willing to be transactional with developers on the behalf of the residents of Phoenix, not working to sell those residents a vision of the city on behalf of developers.

As citizens of this city, we must ask questions of our candidates. You can do that by attending candidate “meet and greets,” posting on Facebook, and attending candidate debates.

South Mountain Community College is hosting a mayoral candidate debate on June 21 at 5:30 p.m. For details go to: www.southmountaincc.edu or contact me at brownell @cox.net.

Find the candidate who wants you, your family and your community to be a part of creating the city’s vision, and not the one that is waiting to  hear form a handfull of developers, their attorneys and political shills what that vision should be.


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