Lesson 3: A Citizen's Role in Coordination
American Stewards has taught thousands of citizens how coordination gives local elected officials and their respective government entities equal footing with federal and state agencies, but what is the role of an unelected individual citizen in the process?
To us, the individual citizen is the key to our success. In nearly every situation, we have been invited into a community by a single citizen to explain and teach coordination to their local elected officials. But, once that is done, the role of the local citizen has just begun.
Several years ago, both Margaret and I were asked to speak at a landowner’s convention in California. Margaret explained what coordination was to about 300 people and how we’d used it to stop dozens of federal and state actions. My job was to motivate the local citizens into action to encourage their local elected officials to utilize coordination.
I began to ask a series of questions to the audience and before you knew it, we had formed a citizen’s group of experts right before our eyes. Not only did this give hope to the local citizens, it gave courage to their elected officials knowing they didn’t have to take on the ominous task of fighting the federal government on their own.
In the audience were lawyers, accountants, scientists, professors, horticulturalists, businessmen and women, school teachers and school board members, and landowners who not only farmed and ranched, but old timers who knew the history and culture of their local community.
So, why is this important? Coordination is more than just meeting and discussing local plans and policies. Coordination is also having knowledge of what the local needs and priorities are and we can’t know any of that without meeting with local citizens. We look for and need to know about your local economies, how your rural hospitals, volunteer fire and rescue departments, and schools districts are funded. We depend on local citizens and their input.
Once we gather that information, we can then formulate a better game plan for the local government and the elected officials. But, then we normally go one step further.
As the coordination process moves forward, we strongly suggest local citizens be brought into the process to provide support, expertise, advocacy and political support. This can be done in an informal way using a simple working group or in a formal way where the commission or council creates a “Citizen’s Advisory Committee,” “Natural Resource Advisory Committee,” or some similar group.
A committee can be tasked with drafting policies and plans for specific issues that the Commissioners can discuss and adopt as appropriate. Members can also be called upon to help advocate the local government’s position in the government-to-government coordination meetings.
The members can also take on the responsibility of reviewing the numerous documents, such as environmental impact statements, land resource plans and studies on a specific issue for the purpose of briefing the elected officials so they are prepared during the face to face meetings. The materials that need to be reviewed for the natural resource issues are normally voluminous, and frankly impossible for an elected official to review in its entirety. But a trusted committee of citizens can divide up the material and identify the key issues for which their elected officials need to prepare.
In many ways, local citizens can become the driving force behind coordination. They help keep the focus on local priorities by keeping local elected officials focused and motivated to do what is most needed by the people.
We strongly recommend the local officials create a formal committee by appointing knowledgeable and interested citizens who will choose a leader, meet regularly, study the issues and advise the local officials on all kinds of issues that affect their community.
Having a formal citizen’s committee is also desirable because they won’t be abolished when the current elected officials leave office and new ones replace them. But, it is just as crucial that the citizens do not become complacent or apathetic to their responsibilities.
Coordination Tool for Success
Coordination is a tremendous opportunity not only for a local community, but for the local citizens if they will get involved and stay involved. You can become the driving force for your community and help your elected officials use coordination effectively.
About three years ago, we were contacted by a single individual who had read our material and began attending county commissioner’s court meetings. During those meetings, he became a voice of reason and someone who had a solution who finally convinced the commissioners to investigate his request.
That one citizen convinced the County Judge to pick up the phone and call us. She invited us to come speak to her and her commissioner’s court and, surprisingly, she invited two more surrounding counties to attend. We ended up working for three counties and the citizens of those local communities because one individual stood up. In fact, we even got a local businesswoman to commit to funding the science that was needed to fight the battle.
Citizens are essential for coordination. Whether it’s the one man who stood before his local county commissioners and spoke about coordination or it’s a group of citizens who become the “experts” after their local officials decide to utilize coordination, citizens are imperative.
Our goal is to find those citizens we can work with, who have the same goals and desires and who will give not only the best advice to their local elected officials, but give them the political courage to stand and do the right thing for the right reasons.
When that occurs, everyone wins.
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