No Need to Go It Alone
The Roanoke Times recently ran an important editorial—ok, so they are all important, but this one in particular was important to me as it was about the significance and value of local government. I have previously posted about how important local government is and the role it plays in bettering our communities. I continue to believe it to be the most meaningful form of governance we have.
Citizen Led – Professionally Managed
What particularly caught my attention in the editorial were two items. The first, a recognition that those entrusted with this significant role are, by and large, amateurs—really meaning they are mostly just like the people who elect them—which, to me, is kind of the point and again one of the reasons I hold local governance in such high esteem. There just aren’t too many folks that want to make a career of late-night meetings talking about zoning or potholes, or being stopped in the grocery store by a resident dissatisfied with their trash service, especially for the pittance the job pays. The other item that caught my attention was the acknowledgment that elected officials are assisted by professional managers and staff. This is one of the primary reasons why I am so passionate about local government.
When it is working well, and in most cases it does, local government is a group of regular folks elected who identify goals and priorities for the community, and select a set of professionals who help achieve those goals and act on those priorities. The editorial rightfully points out that what we have going on in Roanoke’s Innovation Corridor (or, for that matter, in downtown) would not be happening in large part were it not for this arrangement. It was the elected mayors and council members that, in partnership with local business leaders and community members, set the visions of turning an old rail yard and industrial area into a thriving center of medical education and world class research, and a largely abandoned downtown into a once-again thriving center. Likewise it was the thoughtful actions of past city managers Bern Ewart, Bob Herbert, Darlene Burcham, and Chris Morrill and their staffs that brought these visions to life.
Local government has one additional thing going for it: No one goes at it alone, as we saw on Sept. 12 when elected officials from 20 regional communities gathered to learn what was happening here at Carilion, VTC and at the Fralin Bio-Medical Research Institute, and how it will help advance the entire region. This week hundreds of elected officials from throughout the Commonwealth have gathered in our city for the Virginia Municipal League’s 114th annual meeting, where they will share and learn from one another on topics ranging from combatting the opioid epidemic to transportation planning, and from the role of arts and culture in a community to addressing racial equity.
So The Roanoke Times is correct. Local government is vital and is dependent upon regular folks getting involved and leading. Thank goodness they don’t have to do it alone, and that they have not only dedicated professionals to assist them, but also one another!
-- Bob Cowell