Citizen input crucial for communities

Friday, July 21, 2017

For school districts, cities and counties across America, effectively dealing with long-term financial issues is never easy.

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.

With this, citizens 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 administrations.

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.

The Cherokee School District is now faced with a huge decision regarding the possible sale of the Roosevelt Elementary School to the Cherokee Regional Medical Center for future expansion of the landlocked CRMC Campus. The CRMC bid totals $4 million for the property and we assume proper appraisals have been completed.

If realized, the District would have to build another elementary building requiring a public bond issue. Efficient citizen involvement made possible the constructuion of the Cherokee Middle School in lean times despite countless doubters and opposition.

This community will need a reprise of that effort, full citizen input, and all hands on deck to successfully approve another new school building as rural Districts everywhere battle declining enolllments and shrinking budgets.