Last Friday night I was talking with a niece of mine who just completed her first year as an elementary school principal in Tucson, Arizona. She had a wonderful but challenging year, as it included her school’s participation in a special Harvard program that coaches race equity in education.
In speaking with her, she lamented the greatest challenge she and her staff face: the teaching of her students to “Be Kind” is being undercut to a greater degree than ever by what the students hear at home and through social media.
We discussed how adults also are impacted by biting listserv or social media posts before factual information is gathered, or the posting of information that is known to be wrong or exaggerated just to make a point. What is overlooked is that real people may be unfairly criticized and the thought of “Be Kind” is not modeled for the children and others in our community.
A Shout Out
Kind words and respect and civility generally don’t get as much attention. So, I’d like to give a shout out to a person who wrote to me and several Councilmembers this past week about her concerns about a film sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Commission. She made an inquiry, identified her concerns and communicated effectively and civilly about them. We were able to investigate the situation and look at the advertising materials. There was a determination that we should indeed clarify that the City is not necessarily endorsing the point of the film. Her communication is facilitating additional discussion about how films, lectures and artwork are chosen, presented and characterized, and we will be learning through the dialogue. That is the Takoma Park I truly appreciate.
I also want to give a shout out to the folks who first go to the City’s website when they have interest in or concerns about a project or a policy. I frequently get email comments from them about how much detailed financial or plan information they found on the website – to an extent that is much greater than other jurisdictions. Reporters, in particular, are astounded. Folks appreciate how the work is explicitly tied to Council goals, and project manager contact information is provided if there are additional questions. Often, suggestions for additional information are made and we are able to improve our project pages for other users. We also strive to find new and creative ways to effectively communicate about the work being done by staff and Council.
I know that City staff and I are not perfect. We make mistakes and we can always improve. I admit when we fall short. My staff and I try to address the immediate problem and find ways to minimize it happening again. I deeply appreciate when a resident contacts me or a Councilmember directly about a problem with a staff person or a project. I can follow up and determine if training, discipline, or a different approach would address the problem. Or, if there is more to the story, I can inform the resident of the larger context. Whether staff violated a policy or did not have a friendly tone in an interaction, I take complaints very seriously.
I, myself, have had to be reminded to “Be Kind.” Sometimes so much is going on that it takes a nudge to think about our own actions and demeanor. I have been working on that and I appreciate the person who called me on it.
One of the great joys of my job is to pass on compliments from residents about staff. I am fortunate to receive quite a few, sometimes about actions I had never heard about – like a staff person taking an extra minute to provide a hand to a resident when it was needed. Thank you to those residents who have taken the time to express appreciation and let us know about the good work!
I am grateful to have a wonderful staff to work with and a Council that cares about the community and about collaborative approaches to implementing the Priorities they have set. People often imagine that we are a large government, but the number of City staff is quite small for all of the work we do. In many cases, we have just one employee for a certain specialty (one civil engineer, one arborist, one communications specialist). Still, I appreciate that our staff consists of a mix of newer employees and experienced professionals from many different backgrounds. That mix allows for great discussions about best approaches to addressing problems or work projects. In particular, I love the interest in working with the community using the race equity lens the Council has endorsed.
The Councilmembers work hard, both individually and collectively, and receive little financial compensation for their long hours. It is clear they love Takoma Park and want to help make it better and keep it special. I particularly appreciate the commitment they have for sharing information and to spending time hearing from residents and business owners.
In the coming months, Council will be continuing discussion of the City’s major initiatives, budget processes, and the challenges we face. These issues affect every Takoma Park resident, so I hope you watch a Council meeting either live or online, check out the information on the City’s website, ask the questions you may have, and share your thoughts with the Council.
Please also feel free to reach out to me with your thoughts or invite me to your neighborhood meetings. Except for a vacation in August with my son (that I am really looking forward to!), I will be here for conversation and learning and continued appreciation of all that is Takoma Park.
I hope you have a wonderful and safe summer!