Connecting state and local government leaders
According to the mayor of Fishers, Indiana, “internal alignment around core values” is important to reduce tensions between the legislative and executive branches.
FISHERS, Ind. — People of all ages are “utterly tired of politics,” but this is not a new revelation: In 1877, a reporter from the Atlanta Constitution stated as much during congressional elections. What is different today is that constituents are demanding authenticity and transparency in all aspects of life—including businesses in which they invest, causes they support and groups in which they participate. This is primarily driven by the millennial need to feel like they are part of something—not simply spectators. It’s precisely this concept that needs to seep into government in order to energize and connect communities and produce positive results.
More and more, cities are staffed and managed according to political agenda, which often results in clashes, slower progress and effort spent on self-preservation. In the year I’ve served as the mayor of Fishers, Indiana, one of the fastest-growing suburbs in the nation, my team has implemented strategies that veer from traditional. Together, we have observed the results they produce. Three tenets in particular exemplify how we think governments today can be most effective.
Internal alignment around core values—especially legislative and executive branches.
Tension typically exists between the legislative and executive branches of government, because both entities are pushing an agenda. Refocusing on core values allows all branches to find common ground in a more neutral space. Instead of acting according to a party position, they rally around values, which guide decision making, processes and goals. Rather than fighting for control, both branches are consumed with working together to accomplish something greater.
Fishers uses its core values—equality, tolerance, human dignity, diversity and inclusiveness—as the foundation for all initiatives. We openly share this information with the community, along with our end goal: to build a smart, vibrant, entrepreneurial city. Not only are internal stakeholders clear on how to execute, external stakeholders understand what their government is doing. After all, we work for them.
Staffed by strengths—not political affiliations.
City staffs can be party heavy, and election periods often dictate which way the pendulum swings—and who will be appointed in key positions. This creates a focus on belief systems, instead of the work. Hiring talent based on strengths, instead of party affiliation, creates a new dynamic. The team is able to align around competencies. When each member is recognized for their expertise or skill set, the team can better collaborate and execute in a balanced way. Each subject matter expert is focused on doing their job, contributing knowledge and working together as a unit.
This may be surprising: the political affiliations of city staff members aren’t topics we discuss. That information is not relevant to the work that we do, which is focused on our core values. As a team, we are far more concerned with attacking the status quo and managing programs like those described below.
Engage community around projects—not agendas—and ask for input.
Engagement and transparency are referred to frequently in business and in government, but few entities fully execute in this vein out of a sense of protectiveness. There is still a fear that what others know can be used against you. Consider, however, the results from Forbes’ 100 Most Trustworthy Companies in America; trustworthy, to Forbes, is defined as “transparent accounting practices and solid corporate governance.” It makes sense—we tend to trust people that are open and share something of themselves with us.
Transparency and engagement work hand in hand to combat distrust in government and otherwise. When we reveal plans and ask the community for their help, they have an investment in the initiative. For example, the city invites Fishers residents to learn about inner workings of the city government through a biannual eight-week course, Citizens Government Academy. It’s an opportunity for community members to immerse themselves in the day-to-day operations of the city, provide feedback and make suggestions; if they want something to change, this is an opportunity for them to have direct contact, conversation and collaboration with various agencies. The class has had a consistent attendance of 30-50 people for ten years.
It’s never too early to engage the community. The city’s planning department asked 100 third graders to help plan the future of Fishers. The students, tasked with creating a “box city” of Fishers in 2040, worked through many challenges the planners face in the midst of city redevelopment and growth planning. It was a hands-on way for students to learn about government planning and economic development, and it also gave the city insight into what is meaningful to a different demographic.
Providing open forums to secure input is key. For example, Fishers holds a quarterly Mayor’s Night Out meeting, an open house/town hall meeting with councilors and department leaders that has no agenda. We answer questions—no topic is off limits. The door is always open online as well: Twitter Town Halls give us the opportunity present information, answer questions and get feedback from the community, using a social medium in which they are well engaged.
Governments have the power to energize a community if they are open and find ways to connect, align under core values and prioritize talent/strengths over politics. It’s a different structure than we are used to, but, given the public’s desire for authenticity, isn’t it time to adapt to a 21st century model?
Scott Fadness is the first mayor of the City of Fishers, Indiana, transitioning to that position in 2014 from town manager.