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Being a Good Steward During the Holiday Season

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Peter Melan
December 8, 2021

Cities, townships or boroughs tend to have some holiday celebration somewhere in the months of December and November. Whether it is a tree lighting ceremony or elected officials riding in firetrucks handing out candy to children, there is a definite trend to offer holiday joy in some capacity to constituents. There is also sensitivity to those who do not celebrate the holiday with regards to religious or other personal beliefs. That does not mean we should avoid any celebratory activities, but rather that we should remain mindful of all citizens.

Often overlooked is the neighborhood that feels neglect and separation from other sections of the municipality. In times of need and unintended forgetfulness, it is time to think not only of celebrating the holiday in the center of town, but also about extending outreach for those communities that are at risk or do not have the income or means to participate. How to implement that solution without further worsening a problematic situation requires careful consideration and planning.

So why decide to write on this topic? In a recent council meeting, a community activist received an award recognizing his work and dedication to children. He began to speak about how the director of public works had a tree ready for delivery and wanted to set up a time to coordinate with the volunteers for placement. It struck me to the core that city staff had embarked on providing a tree in a neighborhood that unintentionally had been overlooked. It helped to bring some positive vibes during the upcoming holiday season. Many residents are unable to attend a city event where the lighting of the peace candle occurs on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. This gentleman took it upon himself to begin the process of discussing his plans with the administration of illuminating another tree in his neighborhood. The amount of positive feedback received from the constituents has been overwhelming, and many express their gratitude for this minimal amount of outreach.

The options are endless when it comes to administrators lending an extra hand to offer to those residents who are not able to provide for their families. Regardless of the size, it is incumbent on the profession to be inclusionary, not exclusionary. This is a small act of kindness that has benefits not weighed by any public survey or votes in the next election. This is an opportune time where utilizing staff to exhibit their creative side in providing solutions to difficult situations may offer a pleasant holiday season to those who may struggle throughout the year. Digging deep into staff talents may result in finding someone who exhibits a skillset that no one knew about and can showcase their talent as a means to help the public. This act of generosity costs absolutely nothing and goes a long way.

There is also an idea to offer a holiday gift gathering that could be orchestrated by department heads who are tasked with collecting toys or gathering ideas that allow for children and their families to enjoy the holiday without additional stress. Although the task is not minimal, given the size of the population, any little bit is appreciated.

Working with merchants who offer services or sell their goods presents an excellent opportunity to collaborate with a local chamber of commerce or economic development group and dig into what families could use during the holidays. Local restaurants who are looking to provide a meal or two during the holiday may not have the necessary means to effectively communicate with the public, and having someone from the administration who is responsible for disseminating information would be a useful asset.

Tying the ideas of providing holiday joy into the world of public administration may not seem appropriate for purists who have tunnel vision and see their job as doing the functions appropriated to them. No one is saying not to make sure the budget passes or let roads go unplowed, but rather that departments and qualified staff can expand on their responsibilities for a short time at the end of the year to give back to the community they serve. One would be surprised at how effective a police officer wearing a holiday-themed outfit and driving through the neighborhood with his or her lights on and giving candy out can brighten a child’s day. In a time where headlines are more negative than positive, think outside the box and try some different concepts that other neighborhoods can enjoy. There is always the fire truck going through the neighborhoods with red lights and sirens that kids still love. Let us remember that serving the community is not just about making sure the roads are plowed and ensuring our residents are protected. There is also a sense of giving to those who are less fortunate and may need more help than the services provided as a function of government.

Author: Peter Melan, MPA, is the owner of PolityInc.com a consulting firm specializing in helping local governments achieve success in solving complex issues. He emphasizes visualizing data to assist lawmakers and chief executives in understanding the problem and rendering decisions. He is a second-term councilperson in Easton, PA and is also a public speaker who frequently contributes his expertise to several online publications.

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