Just as we’ve considered the physical layout and characteristics of Pottstown on some maps and on the ground, we can also take a bird’s eye view of how all the different players in the community take on the “work of the community” and how they relate to one another. There are the elected and appointed officials, individually and as members of a public body; non-profit housing, arts, health & wellness, library, shade tree and preservation groups; churches; civic groups like Scouts, fraternal organizations, PTAs; citizen activists; municipal employees; and the private sector that keeps the economic engine running and, in many cases, financially supports the work of the non-profit, civic and religious groups.
If you were hovering above all these groups in Pottstown, who would you see repeatedly crashing into one another? Or who is being deliberately cut out of the game? On the flip side, who sets screens for other players to help them fulfill their role better? Who quietly shows up day after day, year after year, getting their work done?
I am in no way saying that every group and every person in Pottstown must figure out how to work in perfect harmony. Every community needs its watchdogs, especially when there are obvious, serious problems that need to be addressed.
WHAT PROGRESS LOOKS LIKE
It’s not news that many people are frustrated with the status quo. For the past 9-12 months, there has been a growing impatience and vocal expression of frustration in the blogosphere, in the online comments at The Mercury and in person at public meetings. Citizens have formed groups to respond to specific issues. What’s apparently pretty remarkable is that Council, the Borough Manager and the School Board are listening and have begun taking action on some long-standing problems. They are also setting up processes for information-gathering, deliberation and consensus-building. This is what progress looks like.
These will take time, and not every statement or public comment is going to come out perfectly, whether it’s from someone on the inside or the outside of the process. People might not say what they mean in quite the right way. Maybe they have to back-track or re-phrase. If certain lines of communication haven’t ever been used, or not used very often, elected and appointed officials, citizens and bloggers, too, are not going to come out with perfectly-formed thoughts and ideas right off the bat. We’re just human and need to remind ourselves to cut each other some slack – all for the sake of getting the work done.
BACK TO THE WORK
Individuals feel like they’re making a meaningful contribution to the work of a community when they have a defined role – when they are recognized and asked to participate in meaningful tasks with a clear purpose. In Pottstown there’s a lot to be done. Anyone who wants to be part of positive change should be given a chance to do their thing. New people need to be pulled in. The court is big here and there’s no five-player limit.
Right about now you might be thinking: “Yeah, yeah. That all sounds just so nice. Now who’s going to FIX things?” Recently – I can’t find it now – someone posted a comment on one of the local blogs to the effect that the town has been down this road before. They hire someone who’s expected to do miracles, it doesn’t happen, they leave and the town loses again. They may have predicted that would happen with the new director of PAID/The Pottstown Partnership… and where does that stand now, anyway?
NO MIRACLES HERE
First, every public entity would do itself a huge favor by figuring out how to more frequently update the public on its activities. We live in a wired world; the expectation is that information should be available, if not immediately, then within a few minutes! Every entity, although not the Partnership yet, has its own website and should be keeping the public informed, even in an informal way. I understand that minutes from meetings are not official until they’ve been approved. But especially in a time of transition – Pottstown seems to be transitioning to a new era of responsiveness & action – when frustration and skepticism still run high, regular, simple updates would go a long way toward gaining citizen confidence.
Second, there is no miracle worker on the horizon for PAID or for Pottstown. You don’t even want to think like that. It’s a set-up for failure, for that individual and for the community. At this point, I’d like to go back to a link in my previous article. It was Wikipedia’s definition of Comprehensive Planning, which showed this step-by-step process:
• Identifying issues
• Stating goals
• Collecting data
• Preparing the plan
• Creating implementation plans
• Evaluating alternatives
• Adopting a plan
• Implementing and monitoring the plan
Whoever heads up the Pottstown Partnership is going to have to do all these things in an open and transparent way that brings out the best in those who are already in the community. Let’s face it, Pottstown can be – to quote Rodney Dangerfield – “a rough crowd.” And I say that with all the affection and pride in the world! 🙂 Whoever comes in would do well to create an economic development plan of action WITH the stakeholders as well as FOR the stakeholders.
Third, you can’t just order up a whole new team! The individuals and groups that already exist in town are certainly capable of listening, learning, gathering information, assessing, making decisions, implementing and monitoring them. They may have fallen short in the past, to varying degrees, but evidence is mounting that they are moving on now, trying to do better and succeeding. These are not miracles. These are people following the outlines of a thoughtful, planning process and getting a job done together.
Next up: Forces and resources outside the Borough’s borders