LOCAL VOICES: Mayor, council should get to know the people
Part 5: No one seems to care about what Compton can be at its best; city’s greatest resource is its people By CHRIS PETIT, Contributing Writer A limp handshake and a business card printed on cheap stock.
Part 5: No one seems to care about what Compton can be at its best; city’s greatest resource is its people
By CHRIS PETIT, Contributing Writer
A limp handshake and a business card printed on cheap stock. That’s what I usually get when I meet a Compton Council member.
I know the world doesn’t owe me much, but I think I deserve a little bit more from the folks I fork over my out-sized property taxes to. In my opinion this is the most important piece of the puzzle, and it’s missing.
Compton has many problems, but what will determine its future success or failure, is the ability of its leaders to relate to the people they serve. Compton is bigger than it used to be (population 100k); but it’s not so big that it can neglect the personal touch that residents have known.
We’ve seen Compton at its worst. There is no need to hide from the fact that this can be a very tough town. But at its best, believe it or not its darn near Mayberry RFD. In spite of a violent image, Compton is still a close-knit community, full of people who know and care for each other.
Compton is still a place where people check in on their neighbors and tell you what happened on the street that day while you were away at work. Everyone knows who is sick, who died or who’s having a tough time. It’s not unusual to know your mail carrier by name and toss him a bottle of water on a hot day. The park directors know your kids and always call you when it’s time to sign up for basketball or baseball.
But no one seems to care about what Compton can be at its best. The thing that makes Compton great is its people. And yet this is the very group that seems to be such a low priority for our local government leaders. Things seem to have gotten worse in that regard lately.
Compton has received lots of attention in the past few years, some of it very positive. A movie about a Hall of Fame rap group, new shopping centers, and a young energetic mayor have contributed to a sense of pride. But as usual, especially when it comes to Compton, something is always lost in the translation. We get the Hollywood movie, but then we get the babies left along riverbeds or murdered in their cribs. We get the sparkling shopping centers, but we also get a ballot initiative to raise our sales tax. We get young leadership, but we don’t get the respect of being listened to and fully understood. Pick any council meeting and you will see council members berating, belittling, and patronizing the citizens.
Everyone is not as educated or accomplished as our distinguished council (with a wink and a smile), but does that mean you should talk down to them and act as if they don’t know what they’re talking about? Enough is enough. We can’t restore the city unless we restore civility and respect for one another. It also works both ways, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that the citizens should elevate their respect too. But I’m shouting to our leaders, “Give them something to respect!” No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
We should be able to chat with our leaders in the grocery store or the bank. I don’t want a picture with you or an autograph. I want to talk about my streets and the overgrown trees. Madam Mayor, City Council, I’ll treat you with respect even when I disagree; but here is what I want in return:
Residence. I want you to live in Compton and I want you to serve Compton. Don’t just sleep here at night. Drive the city, walk the city, shop in the city. Come to the Little League and Parks and Rec. games or stop by a local church. Give me more opportunities to see you when you are not behind the dais.
Access. How about showing up early for the 5:30 p.m. Council meeting? Or if you prefer, stay late. You could use the time to greet citizens as they enter and leave. Shake hands and get a feel for the people and what’s important to them. As much as possible; make official events and meetings open and accessible to everyone. I don’t want have to ask to be on the guest list for a city event, breakfast or special recognition. Give me your office hours and I promise to show up if you will.
Listen. I don’t want you to push your agenda before you’ve even asked me what I want. I want you to listen to me and I want you to know me. If we can both admit that we don’t know everything, maybe we can find a solution together.
Be Professional. Take some public speaking lessons and project confidence. Explain things to the citizens as you go. We are not privy to everything you read; break it down for us in terms we can understand, but don’t assume we are completely ignorant either. Learn how to shake someone’s hand firmly but gently and look them in the eye. Be direct, but considerate.
Lastly, get better paper for the business cards. At least 100# cardstock. Anything less gives the city a cheap image and says that no one is paying attention to the details.
Chris Petit is a longtime homeowner in Compton.