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Decatur Diary | July 16, 2015

Leadership Circle to Present Recommendations for Broad Community Conversation

Principle B of 2010’s Strategic Plan instructs city leadership to “Encourage a diverse and engaged community.” So for the past eight months, a small group of Decatur volunteers has been meeting around the questions raised by such an ambition: What kind of public process would help the city accomplish this goal? How might it be orchestrated? How might our community effectively explore the myriad differences — in culture, race, age, abilities, politics, or economic resources — that make us who we are?

On Monday, July 20, they’ll present their recommendations to city leaders in a public work session preceding the regularly scheduled commission meeting.

Planning To Date

Why the long lead up? The easy answer would be that the Better Together organizing committee (known as the Leadership Circle) is comprised largely of resident volunteers so whatever progress is to be made is subject to their limited bandwidth. But the fuller answer is more complicated. And that’s because issues like race and cultural diversity, if you want to pay them more than just lip service, can get touchy. People need to be comfortable with one another in order to open up. But opening up is exactly what’s needed if we really want to relate across our differences.

That alone got the group thinking: Whatever process is recommended, it needs to get people talking with each other. Relating to one another. It needs to provide opportunity for people to open up and share. And to listen as others do the same.

To make that conversation productive, there’ll also need to be some general questions to guide things along. Such as:

  • Where in Decatur do people already connect across differences or share common experiences?
  • What are the conditions that help people feel welcomed and able to participate in city life?
  • How can we individually create more opportunities to cultivate relationships across differences?
  • What would help us achieve and maintain consistently respectful and equitable relationships between law enforcement and all segments of the community?
  • What can we do to further our goals for affordable and diverse housing opportunities?
  • How might the city support increased connection and interaction? How will we keep momentum moving forward after the event?
  • What will support us in maintaining connections and ensuring that Better Together’s accomplishments take root?

More than anything, the Leadership Circle hopes the earned respect and mutual trust they experienced in their small group setting will scale to meet the broad challenges of a diverse and evolving community, and that participation will provide the necessary inputs for a truly meaningful Community Action Plan to guide city policy and citizen participation in the future.

Police chief Mike Booker, who’s participated in the Leadership Circle’s planning, offers his take on what could emerge. “We value empathetic Servant Leadership as a department and work hard to ensure that everyone we come in contact with is treated fairly and respectfully,” he says. “If there are instances where any member of the community feels we’ve fallen short of these goals, I want to understand more about it. Because that’s how we can do something about it.”

The Recommendations

To that end, the Leadership Circle is proposing a variety of community input opportunities, starting with a foundational kick-off event on Saturday, August 29 — a lengthy “World Café” discussion open to all. Featuring small, rotating groups where participants can share their personal perspective and experiences, the event would launch the Better Together engagement schedule that would then play out in various forms — an online survey, small group discussions — through the end of 2015.

Assuming the commission is receptive to and approves the group’s recommendations, a finer point will then be put on the community engagement schedule, beginning with the late August launch. So stay tuned for more information in the near future.

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