Building Bridges – Continue The Dialogue

The student led Wake-Up! Campaign at Battle High School hosted an energized and productive “Neighbor2Neighbor” dialogue on February 7. Approximately 50 people attended, including a contingent from Hickman High.  Several ideas were generated for bridging a number of divides in our community – geographic, racial, economic and generational. The Tribune over this last week also ran a series of articles looking at poverty and its effects here in our Columbia community. You can review those articles in the links below.  Next week these conversations continue at our Community Commons, Tuesday February 21 from 7 to 9 pm at the Tribune offices.  Come and work with others in the community to turn talk into action as we consider how we can better support one another in our community.

Community Commons
Tuesday, February 21, 7-9 pm
Enter the Tribune Training Room on Walnut Street, between 5th and Providence.

Sponsored by The Columbia Daily Tribune in partnership with the Kettering Foundation.

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Host A Conversation – Report Back In

Last week we held a training on how to host a “Conversation Cafe“.  This is a simple process for promoting civil dialogue with friends and neighbors.  What is dialogue?  It’s different than many of the conversations we have. It is deeper than the polite discussion that avoids the hard topics. It is the opposite of debate.  Dialogue skills include asking open-ended questions and “listening to understand”.

One participant asked, how do you get started?  That can be as simple as setting a time and place and walking an invitation around your neighborhood. Then download and print the following “Conversation Cafe” cards. Once people arrive, welcome them, give them a card. When you are ready to start, first briefly review the values and process for the Conversation Cafe, and invite comments on the topic at hand.  This can be as simple as saying “we are talking about community, let us know what matters most to you.”  Or you might start with a summary from one of our mini-guides.  Make sure you end on time so everyone can plan their day (although you can always invite those who want to to  continue the conversation following the fourth round in the process for as long as you are willing to host!)

On nice feature of the Conversation Cafe process is that the host is able to share his or her own thoughts as the conversation unfolds. If you are the host though, try not to be the first to speak to the topic! Instead you might try using your turn to summarize the range of thoughts offered in each round and provide an invitation into the next.  Take the lead in avoiding right/wrong debate-oriented statements.  From time to time you may need to offer a gentle reminder that in a dialogue everyone is welcome and you are listening to understand.  You may also need to remind those who are anxious to talk that in the first two rounds, and in the last round,  everyone talks once before anyone talks twice! You can read more about hosting Conversation Cafes in this guide.

Whether you host a Conversation Cafe or host another more informal discussion, remember to report in.  We will weave together the conversations you have at our third Tuesday Community Commons.  Note that the next Community Commons is scheduled for February 21 from 7 to 9 pm.

You don’t have to wait until the next Community Commons for community dialogue though!  The “Wake-Up” campaign at Battle High School will host a Neighbor2Neighbor dialogue on February 7.  Doors open at 4:30, and the program starts right at 5.  Come out and support the youth who are planning and leading this event!

What:  Neighbor2Neighbor Dialogue at Battle High School
When: February 7, 4:30 to 7 pm
Where:  Battle High School Performing Arts Center

Many Conversations, One Community! Join Us, January 17 For The Next Community Commons

The idea that resonated most with those attending the December 20 (Third Tuesday) Community Commons, was bringing dialogue into the community – in homes, in service clubs, through the Neighbor2Neighbor platform, and through “intentional intersectionality” of diverse groups and individuals.

At our January 17 Community Commons, we will provide a free training on how to host a “Conversation Cafe” on your own.  This easy to use format helps to keep even difficult conversations civil, promotes listening and connection, and works well even when people don’t know each other before joining in the conversation.

At today’s Columbia Values Diversity celebration breakfast, keynote speaker Nonombi Naomi Tutu urged all to do more than celebrate diversity.  She urged all to actively work to “build a beloved community.”  We do that work when we connect, listen to one another, and talk together.

Three banners decorated the breakfast hall. As the program explained, these illustrated “a few ways inclusion can be fostered:  in our city’s infrastructure (Build banner), through activism (Inclusive banner), and in our daily lives and hobbies (Community banner).”  These three themes echo those in our community dialogue guide, “Are We An Us?” — collaboration (Citizen-centered planning), care (Addressing Inequities), and connection (Building Bridges).

Download a guide, start a conversation, build a beloved community, join us!

Community Commons
Tuesday, January 17, 7-9 pm
Enter the Tribune Training Room on Walnut Street, between 5th and Providence.

Sponsored by The Columbia Daily Tribune in partnership with the Kettering Foundation.

Information, Misinformation, Statesmen and Politicians

How ironic to read that the 5th Ward councilperson recently objected to pausing the design phase for a new sewer line  on the grounds that project costs would continue increasing if action were not taken soon. Ironic because the same councilperson actively supported  “pausing” construction on the new electric substation and transmission line earlier this year.  (See council minutes from January 19 ). Unlike the sewer line, whose projected costs have rapidly increased, the transmission line project was, at the time it was paused, on time and within the allocated money for the transmission and substation budget that had been presented to voters. The concern of project costs increasing was not in evidence when the council voted to pause the transmission line, and has not been much in evidence since as the project remains stalled.

Those participating in our “Community Commons” dialogue on “citizen centered planning” have been asking what citizens can do to help our leaders make better and more predictable decisions about our public infrastructure. Part of this discussion has focused on the difference between leaders who are “public servants” or “statesmen”, and those who are merely politicians. Differences identified included:

  • focusing on the common good v. catering to special interests or the loudest voices,

  • being a good steward of our public resources v. following the political winds,

  • being transparent v. “trying to control the message”, and

  • staying true to a vision and core values v. changing with the polls.

The council’s actions with regard to the transmission line have been a frequent reference point during these discussions.  The decision to pause the transmission line (which was first approved in 2013) was made as public meetings were being held on pole placement and design, in response to public opposition engendered by those meetings, and without input from the citizen led Water & Light Advisory board. Shortly thereafter, the 4th Ward council person suggested that maybe conservation could solve the the transmission issues (Note: as explained here, it won’t). In May 2016 the newly elected mayor supported the ongoing delay and suggested that a new “Option E”, might be possible based on his conversations with another electric provider.  Neither has updated the public on the feasibility of these alternatives, nor provided a timeline for their evaluation, nor provided estimates of the  costs associated with ongoing delay.  A letter sent by the Water & Light advisory board to the City Council on September 18, 2016 providing an analysis of the public concerns  and reaffirming the advisory board’s support for Option A, appears to have been largely ignored.

The recently released 2016 “Citizen Handbook” – which is offered as the City’s “performance report” to its citizens, stated (p. 8) “Wherever you live, water, sewer, electric and stormwater systems should be safe and reliable.” What are we doing to ensure that that goal is met?  Who is responsible for the costs and risks of delay when a project is “paused”?  What information should be gathered before an “alternative” is put on the table for consideration? What information should be shared with the public and when? What circumstances justify reopening decisions already made?

On p. 31, of the Citizen Handbook this report is given with respect to our electric service:

“The tricky part of getting the electricity exactly when and where it is needed is very complicated. Over the years, Columbia electric ratepayers have invested in the infrastructure to build a system that has a reliability rating of 99.9876 percent. Although the electric load growth has dropped from a 2 percent increase to a 1.25 percent growth rate, it was identified in 2007 that an additional substation and transmission lines were needed in southern Columbia. After many public meetings, gathering feedback from residents in the area and the meetings with the City Council, a route for the new transmission lines was decided at a public hearing in 2013. Voters approved the funding for the project through using bond funds in 2015. In 2016, the City Council decided to reconsider the route. At the time this article was published, a solution to electric reliability and overloading issue had not been decided by the City Council.”

How do we want our key infrastructure decisions to be made? What would best serve the common good? What can we do to ensure good stewardship of our public resources?

Join us tomorrow at the Community Commons and share your ideas.

Community Commons
Tuesday, Nov. 15, 7-9 pm
Enter the Tribune Training Room on Walnut Street, between 5th and Providence.

Sponsored by The Columbia Daily Tribune in partnership with the Kettering Foundation.

You Can Make A Difference

Join us for another Community Commons on October 18 from 7-9 pm at the Tribune offices (enter on Walnut St. between 4th and Providence).

Those who attended the first Community Commons held on September 20, divided into two separate groups for two separate, wide ranging conversations.

In the first, the focus was on building bridges and addressing inequities. Recognizing that inequity/inequality is very difficult to change, the group asked “what could we offer now so our children and grandchildren especially aren’t sitting around talking about this?” Ideas included special zoning to facilitate places where people could gather and interact, more press about activities in the African- American community that is informed by leaders in that community (it was noted those leaders should be identified by the black community and not denominated by those outside), more marketing and diversification of minority owned businesses, and the need for minority communities to also create community among their own members so as to better connect and celebrate accomplishments. The need for more dialogue among all citizens was also emphasized. The group also discussed various types of events that would help break down “taboo” things and locations. Come and contribute your ideas on October 18!

Another group focused on citizen-centered planning. Much of the discussion in this group focused on the stalled transmission line, which was brought up as an example of “broken governance.” Questions asked here included, “Who does council talk to? Just the loudest self interested voices? Experts available to them? Staff?” “How can we better involve citizens at the appropriate best time, not at the last minute?”, “How can we elevate issues to a focus on the public good?” and “How could those harmed or experiencing a monetary loss as a result of a decision made for the common good be compensated?” During the discussions a  distinction was made between “politicians” who are easily swayed by public dissent and “statesmen” who work to understand, translate, and resolve complex issues and move the community forward. Characteristics of “statesmen” that were identified included respecting process, respecting staff, focusing on the common good, and being honest about the hard issues. Participants agreed that citizens needed to be more involved on an ongoing basis as these issues unfolded and that both citizens and leaders needed to be accountable for their actions. What constitutes accountability and how do we achieve it?   Join us on October 18 as we explore this issue further.

We look forward to seeing you on October 18.