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Proactive Governance: The Equity Challenge

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

By Candi Choi
August 7, 2021

There are several things that keep public officials up at night. The top of the list includes some grasp for proactiveness and equity. Here’s why. As society continues to grow, shape and mold, the community reacts and adapts to the changes. Usually these changes are not sudden, similar to any changes in government. Therefore, the government is typically reactive to certain situations that have impacted any steadiness. Further, equity is difficult to address because government tends to focus more on the problem at hand than on the outcome of the problem. However, I suggest that a government can be proactive and provide equity with an even hand without tipping the boat over.

First, we must define a proactive government: a government that plans for sudden change based on its community and considers its long-term vision as the outcome of that plan. Second, we must define equity. This one is tough given the glamourous connotations associated with what society today considers equity, but I’ll keep it simple. Equity is fair. That requires fairness for everyone. Through the years, extremists and moral hunters have inculcated a pull-on fairness, which in all due respect is less than fair. This paper focuses on the mainstream governments that intend to do good by planning for change and remaining fair.

In, “The Efficiency of Equity in Local Government Finance,” Zachary D. Liscow writes about, “Centralized equity,” where each school system is funded with the same amount of money across the state. This is thought to bring about equity because parents would choose schools without concern for the wealth or poverty of the locality. This theory suggests that funding makes the school standard better. The problem though is that the school system requires the ability to provide rigor to all students. However, in governance, centralized equity can encourage more comradery by providing the same costs and benefits unbiasedly to everyone within the community, as they would to anybody else. Thus, planning for fairness and understanding the community provides more value to citizens than equally distributing money to solve social problems.

An example of this is a small town in the northern neck of rural Loudoun County, Virginia. It has a population of approximately 2,900 residents and there are a few flavorful restaurants and one great coffee and ice cream place. The charm of the town is eccentric. They have a main town square that is the shape of a circle (traffic circle). It’s a green park area, so they call it the Town Squirkle. Outside of its love sign, it has its own share of controversy and care. One side of the town likes the lights out at night, while the other prefers a well-lit walking path. There are social impediments too, including communities with specific social preferences that conflict with their neighbors. Case in point are LGBTQ advocates and gun rights advocates. In the broad spectrum of society, it is rare that communities like these co-exist. In localities across America, these diverse, opinionated neighbors are a mainstay. Neither are going anywhere. So, how is a locality governed without protests? With support of the whole community—standing for what is right (not who is more right).

The whole community and its safety are the basis of any decision being made. In the town described above, events are planned for everyone and there is no grudge to anyone who shows up. The town expects volunteerism and the pursuit of happiness for all. Like any other government, it’s meeting agendas pertain mostly to how the town will resolve and address costs to its citizens, how it can grow participation in its community and how it will encourage small business to stay afloat. It focuses on governing, rather than politicizing. When a targeted act of destruction occurred, it held a community conversation and requested the public to participate in town council meetings. It took initiative to plan policy guided by what the town would do for anyone in the community, rather than who was more right or who was more deserving. The community members provide public comment about what the community represents, rather than taking down someone else’s freedom. The town guides with care and it has created a culture of proactive equity that provides an imbalance to the social constraints.

This is not to say that opposing advocates get along with one another, because they don’t. However, it’s a government that plans for comradery and fairness, rather than catching the next err in the political sphere and rhetoric. It is not about comparing one’s equity to another’s. It is about governing effectively for the least harm to all. The ability of public officials to co-exist beyond the challenge of reactive biases represents an example for many. Be proactive and be fair. Individualism is the fabric of each community, but governing the community is primarily to consider the safety of the whole community at large.

Author: Candi Choi holds an MPA from Virginia Tech with specialization in local government management. She has experience with real estate, local budgeting, policy, planning and constituent affairs. Her contact email is [email protected].

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