- To adopt the Not in Our City Conceptual Plan to address drugs and crime, improve housing, and make Oak Ridge a better place to live and invest.
- To adopt an additional initiative – the residential properties utility program – part of the Not in Our City Plan.
I don't want citizens to be moved to the sidelines on these issues. "Americans become citizens by doing the work of citizens." Are you going to provide the leadership needed to bring citizens to the table for the collaboration and deliberations needed to name, frame, and solve the complex wicked problems besetting our community? The National League of Cities and others suggest collaboration as a democratic process that works for communities, especially for wicked problems. And yes, it is difficult and takes more time. I believe the goal is effectiveness. Following are additional comments on ‘Not in Our City.” I want you to know that my views are shaped by books and articles by National Civic League, the National League of Cities, The Kettering Foundation, Stephen Covey, the Harvard Business Review, including other material on leadership, creativity, futuring, getting to yes and collaboration strategies, wicked problems, and the magic of conflict. ‘Not in Our City’ I have several objections to this title. First, the title is absolutely negative and reminds me of “not in my back yard.” The connotation suggests a hostile, punitive, walled, and closely controlled environment; not a democratic community. Valerie Lemmie, in Democracy Beyond the Ballot Box, says “Terms like not in my back yard and not during my term in office reflected the inability of citizens and their political leaders to reach consensus on difficult, controversial issues, and more important, highlighted the growing distance between elected officials and citizens in solving community problems.” I agree. Second, I asked myself, who is the “Our” in ‘Not in Our City’? Considering who initiated and developed the project, the absence of citizen collaboration, and who will oversee and police the compliance to even stricter codes, it refers to the city of the City Manager and staff, not citizens. This is a City Manager/staff proposal. As I recall the Manager told our City Council that the ‘Not in Our City’ program can be implemented by the City staff without engaging the people of Oak Ridge. There has been no collaboration with citizens to name, frame, and solve the community issues of drugs and crime, housing conditions, policy and code standards, and quality of life issues—to my knowledge. The experts alone are telling us what needs to be done. Third, ‘Not in Our City’ is an unhealthy substitute for a clear, compelling vision of its preferred future for Oak Ridge and for citizens working together to create it. We need a common vision for our community instead of the ‘Not in Our City” program. Wicked Problems In 1973, Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber, two urban planners, published a landmark article on the concept of “wicked problems” – those social problems that cannot be successfully tackled by the traditional approach in which the problems are defined, analyzed, and solved in sequential steps. These conventional approaches are ill-suited to them. Much is now written and on the internet about wicked problems, required leadership, and strategies to deal with them. In their words, “The search for scientific bases for confronting problems of social policy is bound to fail because of the nature of these problems…Policy problems cannot be definitively described. Moreover, in a pluralistic society there is nothing like the indisputable public good; there is no objective definition of equity; policies that respond to social problems cannot be meaningfully correct or false; and it makes no sense to talk about ‘optimal solutions’ to these problems…Even worse, there are no definitive solutions in the sense of definitive answers.” Classic examples of wicked problems include economic, environmental, and political issues. A problem whose solution requires large groups of individuals to change their mindsets and behaviors is likely to be a wicked problem. In the United States, wicked problems include drugs, crime, mental health, education, poverty, urban decay and issues related to them. These are some of the interconnected problems inadequately addressed ‘Not in Our City.’ The ‘Authoritative strategies’ to tame wicked problems vest the responsibility for solving them in the hands of a few people, like the authorities and experts. This is the apparent strategy of ‘Not in Our City.’ ‘Competitive strategies’ attempt to solve wicked problems by putting opposing points of view against each other, requiring parties that hold these views to come up with preferred solutions. ‘Collaborative strategies’ aim to engage all stakeholders to find the best possible solution for all stakeholders. Typically these approaches involve meetings in which the issues and ideas are discussed and a common, agreed upon approach is formulated. The Australian government has an excellent guide for understanding this strategy. Rittel hints at a collaborative approach; one which attempts, “…to make those people who are being affected into participants of the planning process. They are not merely asked but actively involved in the planning process…” David Matthew of the Kettering Foundation says in ‘For Communities to Work’, “When problems are wicked, a shared understanding of the approximate nature of what people are facing is more important than the technical solution. In fact, dealing effectively with a wicked problem depends on not reaching a fixed decision about a solution early on. The ability of citizens to exercise good judgment and to experiment in the face of uncertainty becomes more important than the often deceptive certainty of experts.” Valerie Lemmie says, “Our recent history teaches us that we can’t fix wicked problems in a community or set reasonable expectations for solutions without citizens. Leadership by City Council I feel compelled to ask that you as the representatives of all citizens consistently provide the rarely seen leadership for and with our citizens on this and other wicked problems. Assuring citizen collaboration in naming, framing, and solving wicked problems is a leadership responsibility of Council. We, the citizens, have a clear stake in them and depend upon you to engage us in such deliberations. I want Council to stop deferring its fundamental community leadership responsibilities to the City Manager, and stop functioning like a panel of judges of City proposals. And stop doing so without open, inclusive collaboration of citizens. I want you to be our leaders; foster and empower leadership on your board members and in our community. The list of 2012 goals established by the City Manager and staff for City Council Boards is another current example. Where is Council leadership for the direction of its Boards? Where is citizen collaboration on their goals? Oak Ridge has no community-based vision of our preferred future, so vital to planning and community building. Start the process. Evelina Moulden and Robert O’Neill Jr said, “Vision statements are aspirational. They articulate what a community or local government wants to be; they answer the question, ‘What will success look like?’ Typically a vision statement is developed before a strategic plan…The entire strategic plan starts with and must consistently relate to the vision statement.” I remember the prophetic statement by a young man at the first public hearing of the Charter Commission. “Oak Ridge doesn’t know where it wants to go.” We have no mental picture of a preferred future for our city in 10 to 20 years. Effective leaders bring their stakeholders together to create a community-based vision. Collaborative problem solving is a fundamentally democratic activity, and one that our Council leadership can initiate and sustain. It is a deliberative process that has emerged and spread because the existing decision-making system isn’t working well. The current system cannot reconcile competing stakes as effectively as can the collaboration of stakeholders themselves. Again, please defer action on ‘Not in Our City” while you spearhead the collaboration of citizens on the wicked problems intended to be addressed by it. And do so with outside consultants. City staff should not lead this endeavor. Sincerely, Don Hurtubise Oak Ridge