To The Incoming City Council

To the reader: By now you probably know that Wheeling City Council will be getting an Extreme Makeover on July 1st, as a new mayor and five new council members take seats next to lone incumbent Ken Imer. It’s an exciting time for the city, with lots of fresh ideas sure to be aired. I have some of my own, but there’s time for that later- the pressing need at the moment is to set the stage for a successful 4 years in office. To that end, I’d like to offer some advice to the incoming men and women of city council.

Heal the wounds of the campaign. The people you ran against are important and respected voices in the city. Although you may not see eye to eye on important issues, put personal differences aside and commit to working together for the good of the city. Yes, they may have caused you to feel insulted or worse at times. Yes, they may run against you again next time. None of that matters today. The city needs its leaders to work together now more than ever. Swallow your pride, be gracious, and go out of your way to be inclusive of your political opponents.

Communicate. Communication can be time-consuming and exhausting. Probably especially so for an elected official. But it is critical. You’ve just spent months trying to get the word out about what you plan to do once you’re in office. Well, now you’re there, and your constituents would like you to keep getting the word out about what it is that you’re doing now that you’re there.

You have some communicating to do with your new co-workers in the City of Wheeling, as well. Get to know as many as you can. No one can get you up to speed on the real day-to-day issues like a city employee. There is a principle in the auto industry called Genchi Genbutsu, Japanese for “go and see”. The idea is that you don’t actually understand something until you have been to the place where it is done. For example, if you want to make good decisions about stormwater drainage, go and see the wastewater treatment plant. During a rainstorm.

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You should feel comfortable picking up the phone and calling anyone in the city if the need arises to speak to them. Or just to go to lunch. If there’s someone you’re not comfortable calling, figure out why that is and correct it.

Plan. You have about six weeks before you take office. Once you do, I suspect that things will happen swiftly, and you’ll have little time for long-term planning. Use the time you have now to lay out the next 4 years. What do you want to accomplish, and when? Yes, you may miss some or even most of your deadlines, but you’ve got to have something to guide you so that short-term issues don’t cause you to lose your way in the long term.

Along these lines, read Wheeling’s Comprehensive Plan (again). Let your constituents know what you think of it. Discuss it with your fellow council-people. Should the city follow the plan? There are of a lot of things in it that are already past due, or coming due soon. For example, Undertake A Neighborhood Assessment Program. If there are actions that should be taken, take them. If not, communicate why not and move on. But let’s not just leave the plan hanging out there awkwardly.

Double-check your moral compass. You’ve been elected to a position of considerable power, and people will want to use some of that power for their own personal gain. Don’t be caught off guard the first time someone asks you to do something seemingly benign, yet inappropriate. Be ready to do the right thing and live with the consequences, even if it means disappointing a longtime friend, generous campaign donor, or local heavyweight. Once you go down the wrong path in politics, you can probably never go back. But if you always do what makes you proud, you and the city will never regret it.


Photo by the author.