This blog is part of an online learning platform which includes the Pathways to New Community Paradigms Wiki and a number of other Internet based resources to explore what is termed here 'new community paradigms' which are a transformational change brought about by members of a community.

It is intended to offer resources and explore ideas with the potential of purposefully directing the momentum needed for communities to create their own new community paradigms.

It seeks to help those interested in becoming active participants in the governance of their local communities rather than merely passive consumers of government service output. This blog seeks to assist individuals wanting to redefine their role in producing a more direct democratic form of governance by participating both in defining the political body and establishing the policies that will have an impact their community so that new paradigms for their community can be chosen rather than imposed.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

An Example of Civic Renewal From Broken City: The City of Bell

So far this blog has provided idealistic perspectives of what could be possible with potential resources gathered to create new community paradigms in the future. It has not come up yet with a concrete example of substantial community change until now.

Many living in Southern California for the last couple of years have heard of the City of Bell scandal and I suspect that the story is fairly well known outside of the state as well. As a former public sector employee for a California city, I heard plenty about the scandal in the City of Bell. The Los Angeles Times received a Pulitzer gold medal for public service, as a result of its coverage along with titillating stories such as Is a city manager worth $800,000? and Bell officials hauled off in handcuffs. The story became part of the City's Wikipedia page with its own featured jump to City Official Corruption Scandal‎: and its own dedicated page 2010 City of Bell salary controversy.

The City of Bell was an example of what was the worst of local municipal governance with both politicians and top public sector management taking self serving advantage of the community. Yet, how many California cities looked at the City of Bell with derision when the difference between Bell and those cities is not really one of kind but in truth only a matter of degree. Not that there is any claim that there are numerous city councils or administrations currently breaking the law. Rather, how many city halls adopted policies whether official or not that in the words of newly elected Bell City Council person Ana Maria Quintana, instituted a lack of inclusion by the public in decisions impacting the public, whether intentional or through negligence.

The scandal, however, was not the end of the story. City of Bell community members came together and not only cleaned out city hall, they also came together to create a new vision of their community.

It was not until recently that I heard this story being transformed into one of civic renewal. This far more inspirational but less known story was told at a Hudson Institute panel on "Broken Cities or Civic Renewal?". Peter Peterson, Executive Director at Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at Pepperdine School of Public Policy featured this video on the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation group page on LinkedIn. The Hudson Institute which hosted the panel may be a more conservative entity than is usually featured on these pages, however, the message is more important than the messenger and their inclusion of this story suggests that there are avenues for purposeful discourse. This is an inspiring presentation, more importantly, it describes what was an impressive process of community engagement.

Working with the Davenport Institute of the School of Public Policy at Pepperdine University and PACE or Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement and a new crop of committed community advocates, such as then newly elected Bell City Council person Ana Maria Quintana, the new City of Bell leadership reached out to the community for help on coming up with a new budget through a process of deliberative democracy despite the city being in financial shambles. The City Manager at the time was Ken Hampian, who was approached after a search resulted in zero applicants and who fully embodied the idea of generous leadership by working pro bono.

The story of the City of Bell is, in some ways, a special case because the community uprising and the subsequent throwing out of the old political order and establishment of a new political order all happened at the same time. The transformation was brought about by both the complete removal of the former city management team and city council along with a comprehensive strategy for change created by the community with the assistance of the Davenport Institute of the School of Public Policy at Pepperdine University and PACE or Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement. This changed not only the players and the policies; it also changed the deeper culture defining community governance in the City of Bell.

Change could actually be more difficult when the corruption of city hall is not so blatant but simply a matter of a hundred little corruptions, none of which amount to a true criminal offense. Change at the City of Bell would have been a far more difficult process if the former clique had been able to hold on to its power. One hopes that this change in the culture of community governance is maintained and grows in the City of Bell. It and other communities will be facing numerous other external and internal challenges in the future.

New methods of community transformation need to be developed to change the balance of power in favor of broad based community vision and away from entrenched city hall bureaucratic politics. Communities seeking this level of change will need the help of external organizations such as the Davenport Institute. It will also internally need the help of dedicated public sector employees who have fully adopted a culture of community governance envisioned by new community paradigms and embodied by the example of the City of Bell.

We need to start thinking more about how the role of public sector employees needs to change to make this type of transformation possible while also making the career meaningful. Public sector employment should no longer be based on a model of an institutionalized industry-clone organization but instead one that embraces a new creative economy as envisioned by Richard Florida.

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