Water Cooler Wednesday: Engage Or Lose Trust

Hard to earn, easy to lose, really hard to regain

Hard to earn, easy to lose, really hard to regain


The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a survey on stress last week.

It seems that politics is one of the top daily stressors in the lives of Americans; second only to juggling schedules of family members and more stressful than car trouble and commuting hassles.

Congress has approval ratings in the single digits; colonoscopies and root canals are rated higher than congressmen.

Even the Supreme Court –long respected by Americans in polls– has an approval rating of only 47 percent, one of its lowest ratings in the last 14 years.
So what bothers Americans about politics?

  • The inability to get something done.
  • Failure of government to perform basic functions well
  • Failure of government to solve problems.
  • Failure of politicians to find common ground.
  • A feeling that they are being lied to and that government isn’t working for them but for special interests.

Among the various groups polled, “millennials”  have less trust in government than ever and tend to trust government to solve problems less than older Americans, according to the Foundation’s findings. That doesn’t bode well for the future. Something has to change.

A few years back, the Florida League of Cities produced research showing that the most trusted level of government was local government, the type closest to the people. Polls also showed that people trusted their mayors more than their Congressional representatives.

I wonder if that still holds true.
Locally, Boca and Delray were able to progress because voters trusted local government’s ability to deliver. In Delray, every bond issue brought before voters passed and usually by overwhelming margins.

Because elected officials took the time to engage the community on issues ranging from infrastructure needs and parks to a new library and the need to support a beautified downtown. But referendums also passed because taxpayers believed in their local government’s ability to deliver on citizen’s visions. They viewed City Hall as an extension of the community, not some alien building full of faceless bureaucrats but rather a place that was engaged with them in solving community issues and seizing opportunities.
That trust is the most valuable commodity imaginable. It’s hard earned, can be easily lost and once lost hard to regain.
That’s why it’s important to constantly engage stakeholders on issues large and small. Governments that skip this piece do so at their own risk. Citizen engagement takes more time and effort but it’s essential and once you have buy in great things happen. Just look at Boca’s amazing parks and Delray’s dynamic downtown.
Larger governments find it harder to engage citizens and are more susceptible to monied interests.
Special interests also play locally–but city government is still the level of government where people matter most. But…that is true with one giant asterisk… only if they pay attention, engage and vote.
You have to do all three. There are no shortcuts.

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