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Citizen Collaboration the Impetus Toward Great Civic Leaders

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

By Horace Blake
October 21, 2014

Blake octMany local communities are at the forefront of how citizens work together with local officials to create and mentor great leaders. The opportunities are endless in terms of the offerings that pave the way for citizens to develop their interests and talents on the way to becoming great civic leaders. In order to attain this outcome, municipalities invest in neighborhood programs, government academies and city liaisons to accomplish citizens and leadership opportunities.

Donald F. Kettl pointed out in The Transformation of Governance: Public Administration for 21st century America that devising a plan to solve strategic leadership problems will solicit the aid of appointed citizen participants, working collaboratively with elected officials and professional public administrators. This outcome is never a reflection of any ad hoc action but rather very calculated and concerted efforts of responsible citizens and city leaders, along with an award winning government academy.

An exemplary community of great citizens and leaders is the outer-ring municipality of the City of Garland, Texas. The great talent of leaders and the citizen’s willingness to work for their community is plentiful which leads toward the most phenomenal outcomes. Mrs. Felisa Conner, of the Neighborhood Vitality Office, clearly understands how this is achieved by examining and pointing to the attitude and emphasis toward inclusion and the drive to ascertain that no part of the city is underrepresented. Getting great citizen participants from all areas of the city guarantees the fullest representation with a variety of skills and abilities. Mrs. Conner stated that being a leader in a very diverse city requires understanding different demographics in terms of what brings them to action—whether it is neighborhoods, community in general, family, jobs, recreational and volunteering opportunities.

Garland: Manufacturing Urban and Bedroom Community to Award Winning Municipality

To understand the uniqueness of the City of Garland, with its great citizens and leaders, is to visit the programs that take the city from good to great. Garland is mostly older and built out neighborhoods that have experienced some decline along with new immigrants occupying these areas for both housing and commercial activities. More recently with the opening of the new President George W Bush Toll road, the north part of the city is now transformed from open prairie and farmland into new subdivisions and vibrant commercial activities.

Not to be neglected by the city leaders, areas in the southern sections of the city is experiencing a renaissance with successes where old shopping areas are being restored and older neighborhoods are being revitalized to reflect their neighborhood vitality mantra. For this reason, the City of Garland has won the prestigious Neighborhoods, USA (NUSA) award naming the Garland Neighborhood Academy as the Best Neighborhood Program during the 38th annual NUSA conference in Minneapolis. This would not be possible without the collaborative action of great citizens and great leaders working in unison.

Great Leadership Behind the Office of Neighborhood Vitality

At every citywide event that is about the City of Garland’s neighborhoods, the unsurpassed great leadership of Mrs. Felisa Conner and members of the Office of Neighborhood Vitality is visible to promote partnerships with the citizens of Garland. Their strategy is focused on citywide collaboration that bridges city departments with neighborhood associations and other citizens.

This engagement and citywide initiative is based on their “Envision Garland Comprehensive Plan” designed toward building and maintain strong neighborhood communities. This reflects the goals that highlight polices focused on the wholesomeness of what the city is about; people and places paired with leadership. On discussing with Mrs. Conner as to what motivates her in her everyday professional career, she stated that at a very early age she wanted to be a public service professional for that reason she is always seeking out new inspiration to make things better for the city. This is not without notice as her devotion and professional experience has earned her the “Excellence in Neighborhood Award” for the outstanding contribution to neighborhood improvement in the City of Garland.

Educational and Training Opportunities Equal Knowledge

Fostering collaboration has some unique opportunities for citizens and leaders alike such as:

  • Create a climate of trust and understanding among a variety of demographics.
  • Openness to influence and be influenced.
  • Trust and listen to other leaders when they have the right level of skills and experiences.
  • Be willing to develop cooperative goals and be able to take on roles.
  • Acknowledge good faith effort and reward joint effort.
  • Work toward sustainable ongoing interactions.
  • Share information willingly, connects to resources and networking.

Getting to this point requires a sound method to ferry willing citizens to their goals. The City of Garland educational and training opportunities is designed toward an outcome to improve citizens’ knowledge in terms of getting from good to great. Here the Garland Neighborhood Management Academy (GNMA) has created a generous offering of educational classes that is focused on neighborhood vitality. As engagement and education leads to empowered citizens, this creates a winning outcome when it comes to neighborhood growth and sustainability in the community. Along with the GNMA is the annual “Neighborhood Summit” open to the community. Here Mrs. Conner brings in keynote speakers who are experts in their particular area of urban planning and community sustainability. The event is one of careful planning and implementation of a series of workshops, classes and lots of useable takeaways as it relates to citizens and their community action. Other areas of learning include Citizen Police Academy, Certified Landlord Training Classes and Citizen Fire Academy. The emphasis is on getting citizens to embrace great personal development on the way to become great civic leaders.

According to James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner in The Leadership Challenge, stated that leadership development is self-development. Engineers have computers, painters, canvas and brushes; musicians, instruments. Leaders have only themselves. The mastery of leadership is the self, and mastery of the art of leadership comes from mastery of the self.


Author: Horace A. Blake is a three-term city commissioner with 20 years combined community action experience at municipal and state level. Blake current serves on the Storm Water Management Team, working with the city and the community in water management, education and sustainable related issues.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

One Response to Citizen Collaboration the Impetus Toward Great Civic Leaders

  1. Edward Sims Reply

    October 22, 2014 at 8:54 am

    Interesting anecdote, but those interested in finding ways to better involve the public in the work of government should check out the activities of the Harwood Institute: http://www.theharwoodinstitute.org/.

    Particularly Public Innovator and Recapture Main Street. As we have found in our own work, there is a significant difference between public engagement and public INVOLVEMENT. Armies are engaged, partners are involved.

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