Local leaders can bolster trust in government
The election is over. As 2022 begins, the victors will be sworn in and take up the work of the people.
I am grateful to all of the candidates for wanting to serve, and to those who will take on the important responsibility of using the tools of government to contribute to the health and well-being of the communities of Cleveland Heights and University Heights.
This feels like a really important moment for local government. According to the Pew Research Center, public trust in government is eroding nationwide, and has been since 2007. Local government, however, is seen as the most trustworthy.
Because local government officials are the closest to those they serve, our city councils and school board are in a very good position to address the global problem of diminishing trust in government. As the old saying goes, “Think globally, act locally.”
We must trust our lawmakers if government is to have a chance to serve the common good. It seems to me that we will need our newly seated city councils, Mayors Seren and Brennan, and the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education to envision their roles in an expansive way. They need to see themselves as a resource for the larger challenge of renewing trust in government and nurturing a healthy democracy.
They have to tackle the pressing issues that, during these challenging times, will help our communities thrive and our schools meet student needs, and they have to do so in a way that inspires trust in them and in government itself.
Experts on trust indicate that it exists when citizens are confident that government actions are right and fair. Trust is the outcome when citizens perceive government to be competent and driven by good intent. Those things exist when programs are strong and reliable, and when decision-makers are transparent and humane.
The executive director of the League of California Cities, Carolyn Coleman, recently wrote that transparency, accountability, civil discourse and strong communications around the use of new federal resources can go a long way toward using policymaking to inspire confidence and trust. These are the nuts and bolts of good government. They must be exhibited in ways big and small, through processes and behavior.
Much of what our residents want is open and responsive government. Return those calls. Make plans in public with clear explanations for decisions. Consider public input. Share your decisions widely. Remember, we all own our community and its success, and we need to feel included and able to contribute.
Those of us who don’t have the nerve or the wherewithal to run for office also need to do our part. We can be well-informed, share our ideas through the processes that exist, and show respect for each other and those who are attempting to represent us. Disagreement and debate are healthy.
We are living in a time when there is a well-financed effort to reject the common good in favor of individual rights and privatization. Sowing distrust of public servants and public agencies, and weakening democratic governance itself are means to that end.
We can help resist this pressure by making our local governing process an antidote to chaos. Our local elected officials are our neighbors and, like us, are the benefactors of their decisions. They are accessible. They are human. They are grappling with complex problems and difficult decisions.
This is a critical moment for all of us to contribute to making our local government work and, in so doing, build trust in the public sector.
Susie Kaeser has been a proud Cleveland Heights resident since 1979. She is the former director of Reaching Heights, and is active with the Heights Coalition for Public Education and the League of Women Voters.