Civil debate and a citizen mandate are at the core of city’s listening tour

By Teri Cavanagh

More than 30 years in the communications business has given me a real appreciation for broad and differing opinions. In serious matters, however, when opinions become sensationalized and taken as fact, reasoned debate can degrade as quickly as that child’s gossip game whereby a whispered truth in one ear becomes a mangled mess by the time it reaches the last.

The issue of Grand Junction’s public safety facilities certainly qualifies as a serious matter. The key reasons that caused the city’s first attempt to solve these problems to fail are, indeed, obvious and those failures appear to be where some folks would like to keep the conversation. But what comes after the obvious is stated? Simply knowing why it failed does not a new solution make.

The issue is now, and always has been, about how to respond. The citizens made it clear that they expected a great deal more participation in the development of a new plan. That message became the cornerstone of how to move forward.

So for the public record — from the public record — the following is the conclusion and recommendation of a report presented to the City Council, on which the new planning process was initiated:

“Conclusion and Recommendation. It is the conclusion of this report that a new safety plan should find its public support through a well-articulated citizen mandate, developed by a system designed to facilitate a two-way public dialog. Further, that the goals of such a system are to inform and educate the citizens, garner public feedback, vet plan options, and consequently underpin a new plan with positive public sentiment ... Indeed, if City Council holds a belief in a representative republic, a timetable should not be tied to an election cycle, but rather come as an organic outcome of genuine public dialog.”

A citizen mandate is a deeply held American value and one I believe most people in our community would agree with. But a citizen mandate is not created in a vacuum. It requires actual citizen input, and the process of developing understanding does indeed take time and money. Initiating a new dialog, beginning with listening, is a considered and deliberate approach, one used by cities across the nation in similar situations, and designed to lead to citizen directed solutions.

The listening tour is not yet over. By the time the city’s public safety listening tour has run its full course, thousands of people will have been reached, so at this point, conclusions based on simple, one dimensional calculations lead to false assumptions that, like that child’s game, are passed from one ear to the next, building resentment, tearing at the fabric of trust and leading us toward a mangled mess.

Likewise, name-calling and derogatory stone-casting will not support a productive public dialog, and a citizen mandate cannot be formed in the presence of misinformation, political hyperbole, agitation of stereotypical fears or blind adherence to a national tenor of mistrust.

Ironically, there is almost no disagreement that something has to be done to correct the public safety facilities. It seems apparent that, no matter what the solutions are, it will take several million dollars to solve them.

So let’s not fatigue ourselves with a constant rehashing of past sins and picking at old wounds. Let’s have a fresh, honest and robust public debate, based on fact and free from innuendo and fear. Let’s flesh it out, work out the kinks — and above all — let’s keep the conversation civil and respectful, lest we fail to solve this problem like so many before us.

Then, for the stretch goal, we could keep the conversation going.

Teri Cavanagh is the CEO of COBB & Associates, Inc., which provided communications support for the city’s listening tour.


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