The concerns with the current pandemic reminded me about a different type of infectious disease that affects local government. Like the influenza it seemingly can come out of nowhere and when you least expect it. The governing board is getting along, bills are being paid, the roads are looking good, revenues are up, and the meetings are pretty quiet, for now! Seems like you’re in a municipal utopia. But don’t be lulled into a false sense of security, because your utopia can explode with a boom.
You get that fateful phone call that a new commercial endeavor is coming, or a developer wants to build some apartments. Perhaps a request to change the zoning to accommodate an opportunity to change the density requirements. Or maybe it’s the introduction of new technology, like wind or solar farms. Remember the hoopla over cellphone towers years ago? You rarely hear that discussion anymore. These examples and hundreds more can suddenly cause an outbreak of what I like to call the municipal flu brought on by the CHANGE virus.
CHANGE… OMG not that! It is no surprise that no one seems to like change. If it’s not broken, then why the heck would we want to change it? Inevitably, it often comes down to “someone just wants to make money.” And the fears from residents are almost always that the neighborhood will be destroyed, with negative impacts on traffic, schools, taxes, or just the overall “character” of the community. I often wonder what the older neighbors thought when the current complainers moved in.
The CHANGE virus has many symptoms. Typically, residents will suggest that you are trying to hide something (here comes the pitchforks and torches), you stand to make personal gain (I smell tar and feathers), and 25 of the 4,500 residents remind you that you were elected to represent “THEM.” Once called NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard), there is now a plethora of acronyms to describe this CHANGE virus phenomenon:
· BANANA Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything
· NIABY Not In Anyone’s Back Yards
· NIMEY Not In My Election Year
· NIMFOS Not In My Field Of Site
· NITL Not In This Lifetime
· NOPE Neighbors Opposing Practically Everything
· NOT None Of That
· NOTE Not Over There Either
· PIITBY Put It In Their Back Yard
· WIIFM What’s In It For Me
Of course, there are lots of others that can be added to this extensive list. We government people love acronyms.
So now it is meeting time and the drama kings and queens are all in line to pontificate. At this point it, is important to be sure that you have advertised the meeting and posted the property correctly. No doubt you will be accused of not informing everyone. “I don’t get the newspaper, I don’t have internet, so you are trying to exclude me.” The angry citizens with lots of sarcasm, innuendoes, false information and armed with a printout of just what the latest Facebook post has to say about the whole situation are ready to take this virus to the variant. The fist pounding will begin and shouts of “I want something done or you will be removed from this cushy job you have.” Remember, though, that you can’t please everyone and just because the wheel is squeaking, you don’t have to oil every spoke.
There are some things you can do to help deal with the fever and chills of “municipal flu.” Be sure that the board gets all correspondence. Provide enough time to educate yourselves on the issue. Don’t be afraid to pass a short-term moratorium resolution on the subject to allow you more time to consider the issue. This can be a very effective tool. During the meeting, give your speakers equal time to expound. Truly listen and be attentive. Certainly, seeking professional help like the experts at Keystone Municipal Solutions can help to lessen the burden on the municipality. Your solicitor and engineer can be very helpful to ensure you are properly treating the CHANGE virus. Be sure to answer any questions honestly and stay true to your code book.. Don’t be rushed to make your decision. However, be sure to stay within your allotted timeframe, if applicable.
Remember time is the best medicine for the “municipal flu.” As with politics in Washington DC, “this too shall pass.” The Board must act in the best interest of ALL its residents, keeping health, safety and welfare as its primary focus. I am reminded of comment a solicitor once told me, “If a judge renders a decision that neither party is happy with, chances are it was fair ruling.” Remember too, that this may be a hot button issue, but you have other responsibilities and obligations to tend to during the CHANGE virus, as well. Focus on the good, and eventually your head will clear, aches and pains will disappear, well at least for a while!
So “fire this thing up” we’re gonna get over this CHANGE virus one way or another.
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 32 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.