Kremmling " Open conversation, the first step toward understanding
Grand County, Colorado
The world of public service certainly has its opportunities for education. I had a good one-on-one conversation with a member of the Kremmling Town Board on Sunday afternoon. I currently serve on the board for the West Grand School District and that common ground was the basis for a significant part of our talk.
I appreciated the conversation because it was frank but not confrontational. Direct questions were asked but, because there was (and is) a feeling of mutual respect, there was no animosity. I was bemused by the fact that each of us had been armed with some inaccurate information. If both of us had been guilty of what we had been accused, then neither one of us should continue in our respective positions.
This particular town board member and I were able to share some background information. It was enlightening for me and I hope the conversation was equally beneficial for my counterpart.
My point is not that I had found somebody to start a mutual admiration society. In fact, he and I disagreed on several points. Furthermore, I most certainly am not proposing that my decision-making is faultless. Ironically, just prior to my chance conversation with this board member, I had been weighing the effects of a recent decision. It was one of those seemingly innocuous decisions, and one that will likely soon be lost in the shuffle. What was causing me to grind gray matter is that it was one of those decisions for which there is no immediate way to quantify the effects of the decision.
I covered governmental meetings for over 18 years as a newspaper reporter. In addition to my aforementioned role as a school board member I also sat as a town manager for two years. There have also been a few meetings at which I sat as an interested citizen.
Conservatively, I would say I have attended at least 1,000 meetings.
At the vast majority of those meetings I had to: summarize what happened; direct what happened; or do something because of what happened.
As a veteran of all those meetings, there is only one thing I believe I can stay with certainty. The vast majority of the time, board members do not go into a meeting with the specific intent of making somebody’s life miserable. That isn’t to say that bad decisions aren’t made. That doesn’t mean that decisions are sometimes made without benefit of adequate information. That doesn’t mean that some issues generate so much emotion that decisions are made before cooler heads prevail.
I firmly believe that the vast majority of the decisions I have seen over the past 18 years were made with good intent. History often proves that a decision was faulty, but if we all had hindsight, we would all look smarter. There are some decisions that prove to be so faulty that a person is left to wonder how that law, ordinance, policy or practice ever was put into place.
I like to ponder things and I love to consider what the factors were that led some well-meaning board to come to a decision that didn’t stand the test of time.
I realize that many would consider my beliefs to be naive. All some can see from our public servants are people who are hungry for power or who are looking for an advantage. Certainly, we all have those areas in our lives where we may not be capable of seeing the entire picture. Passion, anger, experiences, uncertainty, can all cloud the vision. That is the advantage of having multi-member boards. For any particular issue, the ideal situation is that discussion from a number of different perspectives will help guide the board to sound decisions.
My Sunday conversation was good for me. The best thing I learned was that open and honest communication is the best way to reach understanding. Even disagreements can be managed without animosity if there is communication. My parents always taught me to confront situations face-to-face. It is hard to be contentious with a person who is looking for common ground upon which to stand. It also means you aren’t battling the unknown, or rumors, or gossip. And that, often, is more than half the battle.
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