Today is election day. I am sure that by this time, most everyone in our town is ready for it all to be over with. Personally, I am looking forward to getting some of the immediate uncertainty out of the way. As an elected official, I am growing increasingly aware of some of the hurdles that face others like me as we try to make positive impacts on our (large or small) spheres of influence.
When I hit the ground in April, I had a few short term goals. I wanted an agreement reached with our fire and police unions. I wanted our fire department to have an increase in personnel, as in my opinion it had reached some dangerously low levels. I wanted more community involvement and cooperation. All of these goals seem to be met, but none of them were as simple as mayor and council stating these goals and then achieving them. Meeting these goals took effort, time, and research.
Next on my list is accomplishing a full evaluation of city employees, from top to bottom. These evaluations are underway, but are not without their fair share of hiccups. We have a fantastic city work force that by-and-large wants to do great things for Lebanon. Evaluations and progress reports are my way of developing an even stronger work ethic and cultivating a leadership culture that focuses on taking care of customers and subordinates.
The top-down approach is extremely important. How many of us have worked in environments where the leadership seems to play by different rules than the first line of employees? I know I can't be the only person that has worked in this environment in the past.
This is why our elected officials are important! Mayor and city council are elected to be directly accountable to the voter. We are held to a standard by the voters, and in turn we are to hold city staff to a standard.
Unfortunately, past politics in our town have caused a bit of an overreaction, which took authority from elected officials and placed it in the hands of a full-time, professional city administrator. We now have what I assess to be a broken link in how our local democracy is supposed to work. It is increasingly difficult for the town to affect true change in a rigged system. Does this sound like our political system at a national level?
I have not given up, though. I believe our town can strike the appropriate balance between elected official accountability and a professional city administrator that is a facilitator to those elected officials.
I will continue to do my research and work in the environment I am given in order to achieve a goal of truly accountable local government, but I will inform the citizens that I am currently in no way, shape or form, the supervisor of the city administrator, which was the initial design of our city government when it changed to a city administrator form. In my opinion, council is supposed to be the mayor's checks and balances, while the mayor is supposed to be the city administrator's. My assertion of this opinion may not be a popular one with our current administration.
How can you help restore the balance between mayor/city council.city administrator? When you've recovered from voting in this crazy election cycle, prepare to vote again in April in the municipal elections with an eye toward restoring full government representation of the citizens.
Until then, continue to remind your elected officials that you want them in true control of our city government.
My grandpa taught me at a very early age that life is much too short for a person to learn solely from his/her own mistakes. It was his way of telling me that I was (still am) a knucklehead.
"Josh, you'll be my age and mistakes are all you'll ever do. You need to pay attention to the mistakes others are making and learn from those, too," he'd say.
I've liberally applied my grandpa's advice to include the things people do correctly, too. I want to learn from those who are successful in order to find out what works. Of course, I watch fellow knuckleheads from a distance and tell myself not to follow in their footsteps, too.
As such, I'm a student of history. Since I assumed mayoral duties in April, I've looked hard at the history of Lebanon and the leaders before me. I've had plenty of food for thought.
"If I don't want to be recalled like Mayor Suchandsuch, I should probably do things differently."
Of Lebanon's past mayors, Mayor Cowan is frequently mentioned for his strong leadership locally as mayor, so I have spent countless hours learning about his accomplishments and setbacks. To any people I've spoken to who remember him, Cowan is known for leading Lebanon into a growth period, as well as his vision for the community. He was elected in 1977 and served five consecutive terms
Mayor Cowan was able to rally support in the community for the community. He received Lebanon voter support on numerous taxes, which is a testament to the support he had from citizens. The Civic Center was his original vision before he passed away, and today it sits as the envy of many other municipalities.
In my discussions with men and women around town about Mayor Cowan, I noticed most remember him as a mayor who brought people together for common community goals. That, friends, is what LOVE LEBANON is all about.
As mayor, I want to facilitate cooperation between our host of volunteers and volunteer organizations. Imagine if every willing person in our city stepped up and attacked one singular issue together! On Saturday, July 30, 2016 we attempt to do just that when we show the children in the community, and the educators/staff who instruct them in our absence, that we LOVE LEBANON and support them. On that day, we help the school district move into the new middle school.
With the help of my friend Matt Johnson, pastor at Lifepoint Church's downtown campus, LOVE LEBANON's efforts to assist the school district currently has 180 volunteers. We hope this is just the beginning of a true force for good in Lebanon. Following our efforts Saturday, we will schedule an "After Action Review" with key volunteers to learn from mistakes and chart a direction. Let's make Saturday a success.
As a side note, the middle school move is a perfect example of the need for better coordination. As LOVE LEBANON neared one hundred volunteers, we learned that Lebanon Family Church had previously committed to assisting the school district with the middle school move. Going forward, I hope to improve our communication. My hats off to Lebanon Family Church for serving the community long before I was elected mayor. In addition to Lebanon Family Church, we have representatives from Lifepoint Church, The Free Store, C.A.L.M., Hillcrest Baptist Church, First Baptist Church, and the City of Lebanon. Individual volunteers continue to sign up, including future middle school students, current high school students, city council members, and former Mayor of Lebanon Lyle Anderson.
For those who have yet to sign up, you can still help out! Look for me at the middle school at 8AM Saturday, July 30th and I'll put you to work. Alternatively, if you would like to help with the preparation and serving of food for lunch that day, Hillcrest Baptist Church has offered their kitchen at 8AM the same day.
We can't expect our town to improve unless we are all working toward that goal. Let's LOVE LEBANON.
I look forward to seeing you all there!
Your Friendly Neighborhood Mayor of Lebanon
Before I was elected mayor of Lebanon, I made a promise to keep you all updated as to my progress. This is my first attempt to do so outside the usual social media route. It has been two months since the people of our town elected me mayor. I continue endeavoring to be worthy of that vote. Let me explain to you how.
Much of the past two months has been spent establishing my roles and responsibilities here at city hall. Knowing that our town had some real political battles over the past decade, I made it a point to not come in swinging elbows and barking orders. One of my goals was to bring competent and thorough decision making to the mayor’s office. I feel I’ve done that by simply finding my footing as mayor and building relationships.
That’s not to say that these two months have been spent sitting on my butt. I had three city council resignations to deal with while poring over the city budget. As I type, I believe we are close to finalizing and approving Lebanon’s Fiscal Year 2017 Budget, and I’ve managed to have all three vacated councilmember positions filled in time to have the replacements attend budget talks. It was important to me that all members of city council have equal time to ask questions, voice concerns, and study the budget. Mission accomplished!
During the campaign, I said, “I am a team builder.” There is still a long way to go, but I feel we are off to a fantastic start to building the team that our town deserves.
It is important to involve the entire city in our municipal government. I believe we are headed in the right direction there. Since April, I’ve appointed three people around my age or younger to get involved in city boards. Purple Heart recipient Stephen Marcum took my place on the Planning & Zoning Board. Randy Randolph is on the Board of Adjustments. Robert Slaughter is now a member the Library Board.
Going forward, I have two Park Board appointees at the end of the month who will be new to city committees. I, for one, am excited to hear more about what these new civic participants will accomplish in the years to come.
Our town has a great city staff. Every department has been extremely responsive to my questions, concerns, or directions. I still have many more city staff members to visit with, but I think the word is out that I’m not like any previous mayor. I hope that means I’m a breath of fresh air to our community.
Speaking of city staff, I wanted to take time to highlight my working relationship with the city administrator. During the campaign, I met with Chris Heard a few times at City Hall to ask questions. The next thing I knew, people were claiming that I play golf with him weekly. If you’ve heard that from someone, you should probably find a better source of information. I’ve been to a golf course once in my life, in high school. I wasn’t any good. I’m more of a professional wrestling enthusiast.
Since my election, Chris and I have had a fantastic working relationship. We see the same issues from different angles. We communicate respectfully with each other. The budget process should be a perfect litmus test to see how our working relationship and my relationship with city council is operating. If the budget is approved, it means that the city administrator incorporated the changes city council gave him. That is how our city government is supposed to work.
I am hard at work for our town. I do not know how I’ve managed my time between my family, my business, and my mayoral duties, but I think I’m getting better at it. In a few short days, I will be attending an elected official conference in Columbia, MO to be better educated and network with other municipal leaders!
For more updates, check out “Mayor Josh Ray” on Facebook.
Mayor of Lebanon, Missouri