I knew this question was coming, but, honestly, I’m not sure how my answer might be received.
It’s not in my nature to hold things back, so here goes …
Over the past few months, I’ve been asked these questions in one for more another: “Why do you keep calling all of these “task forces” together? We’ve never done that before. Are things really that bad?”
Those are good questions. And they’re all inter-related, although probably not for the reason(s) you might think. I’ll try to unpack the line of questioning in an effort to make it easier to understand what I mean …
“Why do you keep calling all of these “task forces” together?”
Okay, I’ll have to admit, calling a public meeting a “task force meeting” might be a bit hyperbolic. But doing so reinforces a sense of urgency that I find sorely lacking in local politics (not just in Riverdale, but everywhere). Plus, a “task force” is much more action-oriented than a “study group” or “public intake session.”
But it’s a dual sense of urgency and ownership around specific subjects that I’m trying to create among our residents and community leaders.
The fact is this: if people are moderately satisfied with the way their city operates and their lifestyle is not being directly impacted by city policies or procedures, they’re not likely to engage local officials – giving those officials a sense of general approval of their actions when, in reality, what those officials are actually benefitting from is more of a benign neglect.
Case in point: last year’s battle over the TIF associated with the Welch Farm development deal. We (the public) were told at a Council meeting that the City had, in fact, held a public information meeting on this controversial subject. Only three people showed up, so the assumption was made that nobody in the community was concerned or cared – implicitly giving the Mayor and City Council the green light to do the deal they eventually did – even over the objections raised later by a majority of residents.
(Sidebar) If you can’t tell by now – I’ll say it out loud: I’m not opposed to the development of the former Welch Farm. I think it was an inevitability that someone was going to buy and subdivide that property, resulting in more homes in Riverdale within walking distance of one of the state’s premier high schools. I’m just not a fan of the process used to secure the deal – a process that cut a lot of people out once they expressed an interest in getting involved.
In my opinion, the general rancor and hurt feelings that resulted from that episode will continue to affect the operation of the City of Riverdale for years to come.
The lessons I learned from the entire ordeal have, in fact, colored my approach to my term as mayor. Not in a way that puts me in opposition to Seth Woods and his team but rather in a way that has increased my sensitivity to making sure no reasonable concern or objection is ignored and marginalized.
My focus is on increasing and enhancing public engagement in the operation and growth of our City, even if that slows things down a bit and frustrates some in the process.
I’m also focused on calling out our residents when they become complacent and just want to “stay the course” because “what we have is good enough.” Let me just say this: what we have is NOT good enough and staying the course will steer us right into some rough waters that I doubt Riverdale can withstand.
As one of the leaders of our community, I feel it’s necessary for all of us to be involved in an active, continuing discussion about Riverdale’s current state of affairs and how we navigate our “ship of state” in the future.
Thus, my enthusiasm for “task forces” which are, in fact, public meetings meant to encourage public participation in understanding and researching important issues, brainstorming possible solutions and then having those solutions represented by a member of the City Council at a meeting where the Council can deliberate and take action accordingly.
“We’ve never done that before.”
Maybe not under this name or with this frequency – but Riverdale has, in fact, conducted public meetings where residents are encouraged to participate in the process. The last comprehensive plan for the City was such a process (and our review of the same will be a similar one). The public has also been invited to participate in budget work sessions, although with very few exceptions has anyone ever actively done so.
As if you can’t tell by now, that’s all going to change.
My goal is to create a community where it’s common for individual citizens to attend public meetings and participate in conversations about the largest issues we face.
Such involvement will, I think, result in more people volunteering time and effort to make little things happen all over the City that will improve the quality of life for those of us who live here without breaking the bank in the process.
Because, let’s face it, when you’re a city of just 425 residents, the bankroll just doesn’t go all that far. We need to make every penny count. And the involvement of our residents is part of a much larger solution to accomplish that.
The downside if we don’t get involved? I can see Riverdale stagnating, losing money and eventually…?
Yes. It’s THAT important.
“Are things really getting that bad?”
The short answer is “no”. But I have to put a caveat on that answer, because we’re not really sure.
Our short-term financial position looks good. Adding another 100 homes over the next few years will help. I’m continuing to work on improving the City’s relationships with Bettendorf, Davenport, Scott County, the PV School District, Scott Community College and Arconic (among others) because, frankly, that’s my nature.
But one of the frustrations I’ve had over the past eight months is that it now appears to me that the City has operated for a long time without a clear, strategic vision of the future. What I’ve found under every “rock” I’ve turned over are old ordinances, old procedures, undocumented processes, unreviewed job descriptions, a lack of vendor-supplied documentation, no written plans, etc.
Thanks in large part to the efforts of City Clerk Ron Fullerlove and City Administrator Tim Long, we are developing a much more precise understanding of the City’s financial standing, our strengths and our areas of exposure. But as that financial picture comes into view, the only thing I think we can promise is that things aren’t going to be like they’ve always been before.
Change is inevitable. And I fear that might be a problem.
“Maintaining the status quo” seems to have been the City’s plan for a number of years. Maybe because that was the easier course of action to take. Maybe because it seemed the only “sure” way to proceed because obvious questions couldn’t be easily answered.
Frankly, I’m not sure. And it’s not in my nature to let those kinds of questions languish.
So while we go through the laborious and sometimes uncomfortable process of reviewing, revising and reinitiating policies, procedures and the rest to bring Riverdale up to date, I’m also going to insist that our modernization process extend beyond the walls of City Hall to include every resident and business in our community. It’s a task we must take seriously and one we must work together to achieve.
Because, quite honestly, the future of Riverdale depends on it.