One thing that I have learned during my tenure as a municipal manager is that you can’t reflect very long on past accomplishments. Local government is in a constant state of forward motion, and you have to keep showing value to the public and the residents you serve.
Here’s an example: Imagine your municipality received a small grant to install a playground at a public park. The project takes about two years from start to finish. You announced the project at a public meeting and explained how it would be funded. Of course, any required advertising notices must be placed to ensure legal requirements. Using your own workforce, you choose a project that was compatible with their skill level. It’s important to make everyone on the team feel like they are important to the outcome. This ensures a project that everyone can be proud of. Once you have approval from the board, and the order placed, it is a matter of preparing the site and waiting for the materials. So, the new facility is in, and you stand back and bask in its glory only to have your golden moment shattered with someone asking, “So this is great, but when are you going to put in a pavilion?” That’s just the way it works in municipal government. There is always something or someone wanting just a little bit more.
But there is an easier way – and it comes with the benefit of engaging your community. This is exactly the kind of project that would be ideal for your local scouting organization. The members of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) in your community often take on major projects to earn the coveted Eagle Scout award as a final step in the scouting experience. While township manager, I saw multiple projects implemented that benefited that township and received positive publicity.
This process usually begins with a prospective Eagle Scout candidate approaching the manager, quite often with a parent figure, and discussing several ideas and options for the project. It’s important to ensure the project is achievable by the scout in the timeframe that’s required. Many don’t realize the manhours it may take, or the actual cost for the proposals.
Once I have steered the candidate to a worthy and achievable project, they must then gain approval from the Scouting committee. Once that occurs, the scout must approach the municipal board with a presentational outline that includes the details of the proposal. It has been my experience that boards will typically a lot a minimum amount of funding to assist with the costs. This encourages some funding raising by the applicant and saves the municipality money in funding the total costs. Many times, some in-kind donations of staff time or materials will be the township’s contribution. This can be some earth work or perhaps some transportation of materials to the work site.
I would monitor the progress and offer help when I could, but the goal is to have a project going on without burdening the daily municipal operation. The end result is usually a fine addition to the municipality and at a reduced cost. Often times, residents will notice the ongoing project and even volunteer to help finish it.
This approach is a good alternative to public-funded projects. It saves money, involves the youth, and continues moving the municipality forward. And residents will have another public asset to use and admire. Well, at least for a little while until the next one comes along.
“Fire this thing up” and engage your community. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the savings you’ll see – in both money and professional stress.
About the Author
David L. Anthony is a member of the Keystone Municipal Solutions team of experts. He is a veteran of municipal government, having served more than 33 years in various positions of public service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about David and the Keystone Municipal Solutions team, click here.