This article appeared in the March 2018 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
In this month’s front page story highlighting GMA’s Annual Convention, you’ll notice our theme “The Character of Cities.” We take this theme a step further with a focus on the words, “civility, kindness and inclusion.” Mayor Dorothy Hubbard has made the topic of civility a cornerstone of her GMA presidency, and with good reason. As we see across the nation, public discourse is not always elevating or respectful. As city leaders and leaders in your communities, you have the opportunity every day to model behavior that exemplifies the best in public service. I believe our city leaders do a remarkable job with civic engagement, as well as to encouraging civil discourse in their many public meetings and interactions by setting an example.
Character is defined as the attributes that make up and distinguish an individual or organization. It includes qualities such as honesty, courage and integrity. Civility is the ability to disagree productively with others, respecting their sincerity and decency. Civility doesn’t always mean agreement, it means everyone’s voice is heard and no one’s is ignored. We can advocate for our own beliefs while respecting the beliefs of others.
Research shows there is much mistrust of government. Undoubtedly, much of the mistrust is based on politics at the federal level. Studies have also shown people trust the government closest to them more than they trust other forms of government. But, city government is still “government” to many people and at times, we are all painted with the same brush.
City leaders, however, are in the best position to show how good government can and does work. Each week in GMA’s “News Line” you see examples of cities that are doing the people’s work and ensuring that many voices in the community are heard, responded to and made a part of the solutions. City leaders reach across communities to include people of many faiths, backgrounds, beliefs and cultures. Good leaders are passionate about helping others, and it’s important we keep that passion positive when facing resistance or a difference in approach from others. We must remember that when we leave the meeting, those same citizens who may have different or even opposing ideas are also our neighbors, fellow citizens and taxpayers.
Leaders are elected to lead, and one of the ways we become better leaders is by listening and learning. We become better when we understand that our experiences in the world aren’t everyone’s experiences in the world. Looking at issues through the prism of inclusiveness – “how will this be perceived and how will it impact people other than me?” – makes us better leaders. We know we’re not always going to please everyone. We may never please everyone. But we can show that we’re willing to listen and consider multiple viewpoints and do so in a way that encourages the free sharing and respect for all opinions.
Thank you for all you do as city leaders to demonstrate character, civility, kindness and inclusion. These qualities set an example for others to follow and help make our cities better.
I hope you’ll join us at the Annual Convention and share your stories of being kind, inclusive and civil. We would like to highlight some of those stories, so please share them with us so we can shine a spotlight on the good works city governments are doing. Individually and as a group, we have the opportunity to show what being a true “public servant” is all about.