As I continue to present my platform of collaborative government, I will focus on the necessary elements of this concept that are critical for its success. In my last article, I explained why a genuine sense of “community” was the first element necessary to be developed in a collaborative approach to government. As mayor, I pledge to end the “go-it-alone” and “us-against-them” style of governing that has traditionally characterized past administrations.
The next critical element necessary for the success of a process of collaborative governing is “trust.” When trust in city government breaks down, the administration’s supporters run for cover; employee morale disintegrates; investors look elsewhere for their projects; but, most importantly, residents lose their civic resolve. I think it’s fair to say that the lack of trust in City Hall has resulted in a level of citizen resentment and cynicism that discourages civic involvement.
Trust must be earned, but it can be lost very easily. When trust is lost it takes a very long time to earn it back. Reckless use of both capital and human resources is one way local government destroys trust among the various constituencies essential for its support and success. Trust in City Hall will be regained when residents, employees, the business community, and other public officials are convinced the mayor is really listening to their concerns and is making a sincere effort to effectively address those issues most important to them.
Building trust requires two-way communication with all stakeholders who expect leadership from the mayor’s office. Two-way communication requires the mayor to honestly listen to recommendations for modifications in policies and programs, and for the mayor to disclose all of the factors that will impact his decisions. Anything less reinforces distrust.
To facilitate two-way communication, it is essential for the mayor to have a wide range of personal and professional experiences. As a life-long resident of Niagara Falls I have had those critical experiences that have well prepared me for a leadership role in government. As a member of the Board of Education I have been focused on developing policies and programs that are intended to provide educational advancement for our children and, hopefully, result in their becoming productive citizens. As an attorney in private practice for over 30 years I know how to listen to a person’s concerns for justice and help fashion a resolution to conflict.
Building trust in city government is a straightforward process. Simply stated a mayor must be perceived as someone who is trustworthy. The mayor must demonstrate by his actions that he will do exactly what he promised to do. The mayor must be viewed as someone who shares the traditional values of his “community” and who will protect them regardless of the personal consequences for him. Basically, the mayor must demonstrate that he knows what is right and that he will act accordingly.
Assuming risk is the nature of true leadership. A mayor will never be able to convince a private developer to risk investing in this city if that mayor hasn’t demonstrated himself to be a person who does things for the right reasons. A public official who makes promises and then constantly insists that those promises were fulfilled, but has a documented voting record that proves otherwise will not earn anyone’s trust.
The residents of Niagara Falls deserve a mayor who has demonstrated the political will to address problems head on and with the conviction to do what is necessary to resolve the issue.
A Restaino administration will build trust in local government through transparency and responsiveness. Constructive criticism will be addressed rationally and with civility. When challenges arise, my administration will respond quickly and directly providing a factual basis for the particular response. It’s not enough for city government to be transparent in how it spends taxpayer dollars. To establish trust, my administration will disclose the financial impact of its spending of public funds.
To establish trust in my proposal for collaborative government it will be necessary for me to provide evidence of the real cost-effectiveness of shared services to town public officials and the leaders of county government. Instead of always turning inward to address the challenges of governing I will ask town and county decision makers to join with me in constructing a regional approach to the delivery of basic services.
No matter what reforms a my administration would attempt to undertake, renewing trust in the effectiveness of city government will be impossible without demonstrating a strong sense of purpose that Niagara Falls intends to work for progress in our city, and throughout Niagara County. It will require disciplined leadership and demonstrating that collaborative government will produce tangible benefits for this city and our suburban neighbors. The Restaino administration will do a better job of showing that smart government begins in City Hall.
Robert M. Restaino is a candidate for mayor of Niagara Falls.