Several months ago, the citizens of Meridian spoke. Regardless of race, income, or political affiliation they asked for a change in leadership.
Today many are asking themselves whether they made the correct choice. And now is not the time to remain silent about those doubts and concerns.
Our community has so many opportunities right now as we are so close to the “tipping point” described by Malcom Gladwell in his book of the same name. The one-sentence summary of his book is that ideas spread like epidemics and just a few elements need to come together to help an idea reach a critical mass.
We are all aware of how ideas coupled with collaboration have led to successful projects like the Bonita Lakes, MSU/ Riley Center, MCC, the Children’s Museum, the MAX, and the opening of the Threefoot Hotel just around the corner. These accomplishments happened because community leaders spent years pursuing ideas that advanced a vision and were supported with funding from the Riley and Hardin Foundations as well as private and public funds.
Yet today with all of the entertainment and hospitality venues available, our community is still desperate for better education and more economic development wins. While money can go a long way in solving these issues, it is simply not enough despite what some may think. Successful communities understand that it takes both money and collaboration across a diverse set of stakeholders to make a true and consequential difference.
The quality of life that we all strive for begins with economic development which creates jobs and increases the flow of dollars in the community. This is the only sustainable way to enhance our education system, increase our amenities and entertainment options, provide for the safety and health of our citizens, and ensure a thriving, prosperous future. The county and city have partnered with the EMBDC to help with economic development.
The school superintendents and school boards are tasked with leading on the educational front. The county has been successful in making a difference in both areas. Yet it seems that the city led by a new administration is at a crossroads on how to be part of the solution.
The relationships we developed to create the successes in the past are the same types of relationships we will need to solve the economic development and education issues we face today. These relationships are based on humility, respect and trust. The voting public expected to elect leaders with these qualities who could develop relationships and work hard for the greater good of the community but that is not what the public got.
The transition of leaders that should be rather straight forward and be based on those same elements of humility, respect and trust has become painful to watch for the public and I would wager even more painful for the mayor and members of the council to experience. Frustration levels are at an all-time high and there is no doubt the public has a right to be concerned and even angry. I personally find myself extremely frustrated and searching for answers.
There are obvious communication issues as well as a misalignment of goals. The understanding of the “strong mayor” form of government always seems to cause issues each time we have new faces with the mayor and the council. The questions about budget, race, personalities, and political affiliation generate speculation and rumors that lead to public distrust of our leaders. The desire to communicate with our leaders, both the mayor and council members, becomes more difficult as the voices become louder but more diluted.
Today there is only one veteran council member. The mayor has had law enforcement experience and many years as a county supervisor but dealing with a council is a new and challenging responsibility.
I truly believe that most of the council members are genuinely trying to make the best decisions. I also believe that our mayor came out of retirement with a sincere desire to work with the council to improve our community.
It is important to understand that a majority of citizens voted for the mayor and these council members. The same people who elected the mayor also elected the council. They will be our decision makers for the next four years, so we need to figure out how to communicate and work together.
It’s going to take hard work and the strong voices of our citizens to help our leaders understand that if they fail to work together, then we all fail. We cannot be silent. We must speak loudly with humility, trust and respect or we will miss our “tipping point” to lead our community to a brighter future.
Bob Luke is President of LPK Architects