For cities and counties across America, effectively dealing with long-term financial issues is never easy, especially at this time of year when budgets are in the process of being finalized.
Difficult decisions have to be made. It is crucial to develop strategies and methods to inform, listen to, and involve a broad base of community members in this process. Such an approach benefits both citizens and elected officials.
For citizens, they learn more about the issues and decision-making processes, an effective citizen engagement process can lead to creating partnerships for solving problems, the process allows citizens to provide real input on policy decisions, and the process can create a strong sense of buy-in and belonging.
For local officials, a citizen engagement process can demonstrate to citizens that certain public decisions are often difficult and complex, the process helps citizens understand the financial pressures that affect services and programs, the process helps elected officials find out what citizens really think about important issues and policy decisions, and the process can help defuse tensions between groups of people and between citizens and government.
Of course, the citizen engagement process is not absolute. Elected officials are still responsible for setting policies and making decisions for the community.
And, the local elected leadership team is still ultimately responsible for the overall success and vitality of the community - provided the effort is there to listen and learn from valuable citizen guidance, input, and engagement.