I recently was asked to speak to a joint meeting of town councils of four communities in Eastern North Carolina. The subject they asked me to speak about was community engagement. What I ended up spending most of my time talking about were two frames for thinking about the role of local government in the overall process of community building. The two frames are local government as vending machine and local government as barn raising. In 1996, Frank Benest, former city manager of Palo Alto, California, wrote an article in ICMA’s Public Management (PM) magazine asking whether local government was serving customers or engaging citizens. He used the metaphor of the vending machine (which he attributed to another city manager, Rick Cole) to describe the common way local government’s are thought of.
Can “bureaucrats” turn art and joint art-making into community collaboration? I enjoyed being a part of a recent experiment which left me with ideas for how local government managers can do this in their communities.
In September, over 3400 public sector professionals and colleagues attended the 100th Anniversary Conference of the International City/County Management Association here in Charlotte- Mecklenburg County. The 100th Conference was a time to reflect on the achievements of public management professionals and to celebrate the continued strength of a profession that prides itself on knowing the pulse of the local community and finding ways to strengthen that community.