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Well, good day to everybody. And it's great to have you with us on our leader. Gov podcast. My name is Bill Stark, and I'm with leader gov. And it's a joy and a privilege for, for me and the rest of our team to produce these podcasts. For you as a service. We serve local government exclusively, primarily in the area of leadership development. And from time to time we engage experts within the industry, the local government, industry and topics that are important to you. And today, we have a really awesome topic around this idea of community engagement, citizen engagement and how important that is for the success of our communities. Whether you're a county official that's listening, or a city official, a city manager or county manager, finance director, it just really doesn't matter. Because this idea of engagement, getting people connected to what we're trying to do, and US of course, listening to what they want. This idea of being connected to our communities, to our stakeholders to the citizens is so so critical, particularly today in our crazy world that we find ourselves in. So we're excited about this topic today. And we're gonna jump right in, we have a really special guest Mark Funkhouser, he is president, Funkhouser associate the stuff. Municipal Finance Expert and Former Mayor of Kansas City, Kansas City, who's served as a government official elected leader, and publisher of governing magazine. So he's a trusted and credible adviser to government officials who is uniquely qualified to help them put their communities on the path to fiscal sustainability. I did want to also mention that Mark holds a master's degree in social work from West Virginia. mountaineers right to MBA from Tennessee State and an interdisciplinary PhD in public administration and urban sociology from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. Wow. So Mark, great to have you with us. Good morning.
Good morning. I'm happy to be here.
Yeah, it's a real delight. What a great background. You know, I, as I was reading that was like, wow, this is a really very background, this financial background you have yet a May or yet a mayor. And I know you served in finance in a local government. It's I haven't really seen as many people with such a broad background as you. But it's really super to have you with us. And I know that this topic of of citizen engagement, community engagement, it's important topic to you. And so look forward to exploring that with you a little bit this morning. You know, tell us, I guess, just start off. Mayor, what? Why is citizen engagement so vital today? Where do you see it fitting in the larger context of government? What what's what's at stake here? Why why is this so important for cities and counties?
Well, there are two interrelated reasons. The first is that if you think about why we have a city government, or county government, it is to create certain community conditions, clean, safe neighborhoods, clean water, sewage, that works, you flush the toilet, it goes away, it's all fine. And those results, those community conditions are CO produced. We do that with our residents. We can't do any of that if they put the wrong stuff down the toilet. Things go wrong, if they choose not to comply with various traffic laws, if they if they choose not to support each other in terms of public safety, all that sort of thing. It falls apart and you see around the world. When there is lack of engagement when there is disconnect between the government and the people that it's supposed to be serving. Your government loses legitimacy when we ask them to do things If we haven't been engaged with them, if we haven't got relationships with them, they will not do it. So that's that's the first thing is that nothing we do is done by ourselves, I can, I'll give you a little quick story that to me really illustrates the example. You know, in Kansas City, we have tornadoes. And we had a bad tornado, north of the river. And one of the TV news stations put me in their little traffic helicopter, and put me up to look at the damage and look at what was going on, you know, in that area that had been hit by the tornado. And the guy asked me, What do you see down there, Mr. Mayor, and I said, I see a city that works. And here's what's going on, on the ground right down, is that neighbors, residents are cutting up trees that have fallen in their yard. But in their neighbor, the little old lady lives next door that does not have a chainsaw and cannot do this. We're dragging those to the street, where the Public Works crews, with their big trucks and their grappling arms are picking them up and putting them in most of the work. And when I was on the ground, walking around talking to residents, you know, most of the immediate response was not our first responders, the first person to help you out of your fallen down house was your neighbor. That's, you know, that's what works, you know, and the government was working in cooperation with the citizens. So that's the first thing is that the results that we want, are CO produced, we do not do this by ourselves. In fact, we cannot do it by ourselves. The second thing is, there's this. The first, well, the only woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, Elinor Ostrom. She has this whole theory of governing common pool resources, so fisheries, for us, water quality, and so forth. And it requires, she has eight principles. And I'll take a short segue here. The Government Finance Officers has a great book on finance, called financial foundations for thriving communities. And that book is built around Elinor Ostrom 's principles, because taxes, and fees, and so forth are a common pool resource. We all have to contribute. And if anybody has a shirker or a free rider, then everybody gets hurt. If somebody cheats and steals and takes too much, everybody gets hurt. And so that the principles of managing common pool resource require first and foremost communication. We'll be talking with each other about how to manage the resource. There's classic economics is about the tragedy of the commons, you know that everybody piles in, nobody pays their fair share, everybody takes out more than they're entitled to, and things go to hell. But that's not actually what has to happen. And now the reason Ostrom won a Nobel Prize is that she showed in countless examples where it didn't happen, where the tragedy of the commons didn't happen, because people were engaged with each other. And it's very important to understand that government can't do this by itself. It has to be agreement. We have to sort of, you know, you'll hear a lot of talk about consensus. And no, we're not going to get to consensus. But what we have to have is an honest dialogue, and then grudging acquiescence. We all go along. So that's why it's important, you know, the results are CO produced and what we're managing here as a common pool resource.
Yeah, yeah. So you know, and so I guess you could say the, the higher the engagement, the higher the quality of the engagement, the better the outcome, the lowering of the risk of this tragedy of the commons. So how do we do that? You know, most of the people listening to this podcast, our staff, it's a city manager, it's a county manager, department heads, public works, even down to the department level. Sometimes I wonder, how do we connect people To these, sorry for the phrase, sometimes boring services that we provide. Now sidewalks we love, right? Because we run our bikes on him. But you know, wastewater treatment, you know, pipes going down the road, it's maybe hard to engage the public in that kind of. So where do we engage in sort of how do we engage? I wonder if there's maybe we could talk just a minute about kind of the some of the practical aspects of getting the citizenry connected. Because right now, you know, Mayor, I see a lot of newsletters going out, which is awesome. A lot of good communication, I see Facebook activity, I see videos on YouTube. So cities are really getting communication savvy, in terms of communicating. But, but engagement is different, it's deeper, it's a relationship, it's a connection. And I just wonder how any any sort of practical ideas, you might, you might share with us.
Right there at the end, you nailed it, it is deeper, it is relationship. And so you have to focus on the relationship. And you have to, and you have to recognize that it takes time and effort on the part of the citizen, you're asking them. Now you're asking them to take the time and the effort to build a relationship with you so that they understand how the sewage treatment works. Because they don't want it backed up in their basement. They don't want things to go wrong. But if you're going to ask them, they're going to look at you and say That's your job. Make it happen. And you you have to recognize that Yes. You're asking them to do part of your job. And you can't do it without them. And you need them. And so you know, you have you know, that's that's the first thing. The second thing is, think about it. First of all, if you're thinking that, you know, why are we doing it, I mean, you have to have the you know, if I'm the public works director, what is my motivation? My motivation is that it helps me do my job better, I'm gonna do more work. But it's hard work. It's, you know, it's but but the payoff, the return on investment is there in terms of results. And I'll give you Well, think about this, if you're the public works director, or if you're the city manager, or if you're the finance director, you have a very different lens on the community, than your typical resident, you probably make more money, you probably have more education, you do not look at the world the same way they do, you don't have the same struggles that they have. And so you, you really have to put yourself in their shoes in lots of different ways. And there's a lot of there's a lot of civic design work now being done, and user experience work being done that is very useful in this issue. And that's part of the problem is that there is this disconnect between those of us who are sort of local government professionals, and then our average resonance, and it requires a lot of work. I'll give you a story that to me illustrates the the issue and the problem. Back when I was early in my career, my wife and I had one car, and she got to keep that car during the day. So I took the bus to work. And if I was a little bit late running to catch the bus, there was a sign on the front of the bus, bus 42 That's the one I want. There was upside on sign on the side bus 42 There is no sign on the back. And so the bus is pulling away. I don't know if that's my bus. And I'm going to have to wait another 20 minutes, or if that was a different bus, and mine is going to be there any second that whoever's set that up, had never tried to catch a bus. That's a fundamental problem. And then a couple of years later, they made a quote unquote, improvement. But they did not put a sign on the back of the bus. What they did was put in electronic signs. So an electronic sign on the front electronic sign in sign. And it would come on and it would say bus 42 for 20 seconds. And then it would take 10 seconds to change to say ride the bus, you know, have a great day and then another 10 seconds to check. And so there were long periods of time when I'm looking at a sign and it's not telling me you know, that sort of thing. And you can see count Less examples. There's a writer, Andy Lowry had a piece in The Atlantic the other day, taxing time, that was essentially all about this kind of disconnect between the user experience. And the people actually designing the government programs and so forth. If we want the program's to work, if we want the, if we want more ridership on the bus, and we want citizens satisfaction with the bus system to go up, we have to understand the user experience. I'll give you another quick Public Works example. In Kansas City. One of our citizen complaints when we do citizen surveys every year, and the thing that they were the least satisfied with, was the city streets, the maintenance of the streets, it was always rated really badly. In the public works department was upset with this when we pointed this out. And they said 90% of the streets are in are in good condition on the pavement index. And so basically, the citizens are stupid, they don't know what they're doing. And so we, we were very perplexed as the auditors, why'd Why is if the streets are 90%, why are the citizens unhappy? So what we did was we set up a bunch of normal routes, what would a person drive, go to the grocery store, go to work, go to school, so on and so forth. And we knew from other work that other people had done that what citizens are saying when they're driving on the street, is jolts, that's what they don't like, they don't like the car being jolted. And so we measure the number of jolts. And in a typical run in Kansas City of say, two and a half miles to the grocery store, there would be four or five significant jolts. So think about the street, if it's 90%, okay, then over the spirit of the space of whatever they're measuring, which is not a mile. There's one job for every nine. And so, they were looking at it differently than citizen citizens, or don't take these, they were measuring short segments, you know, and you put a bunch of those together, you know, and 10 segments to a mile, you had 10, not 90%, that sort of getting into that, and understanding. And so if I'm going to improve citizen satisfaction with the streets, I need to look at it. They don't want jolts. And they're driving more than nine segments.
Yeah, yeah. Well, you know, I'm sure as people are listening to this, I hope that you know, all of these customer touch points are probably coming to their mind, right, we have the Community Development Office, where you go in and you get a permit for your deck or additional in your home. You have you pay your water bill, those are all customer facing parts of local government, not to mention just walking in City Hall, or the government, the county government building, and just asking a question, right. And so these are all touchpoints, where we have stakeholders that that the developers, obviously they're, they're coming in every every two weeks to get something done for their development. And so I guess the encouragement here that I hear from you is maybe at a departmental level. And this would require leadership from the city or county manager is to identify those places where we have high opportunities for citizen engagement, not all departments are public facing, and, and sort of develop relationships with those stakeholders, and maybe foster those relationships so that at the right time when you need to engage them and ask questions, and maybe involve them in the process, hey, here's our process. Give us your thoughts. Now they're invested. Now we have their perspective, now we can modify our processes, so they're smoother for that stakeholder group. Is that kind of what I hear you saying,
that's, that's part of it, but But it's only part of it, you know, you have to essentially go where they are. And you have to identify who's not who's building illegally, not coming in for a permit. Why are they doing that? You know, that sort of thing. So, so yes, for the customers who show up, but if you're in business, you want to know what your non customers think. Why are they not customers? You know what's great and and it A key word that you said was relationship. You can't only ask them for their input when you have a problem. You have a great point why and going relationship relationship that is I talk about leadership. And to me, one of the things that I say is that leadership is about conversations that matter. conversations that matter, that are significant, that that count that important to the person on the other side. But in order to get to conversations that matter, you have to have a lot of normal chitchat. You have to have a lot of how's the wife and kids? You know, how about those chiefs? You know, you have to have, you can't, it can't all be now, I'm here from the government, I want to know what you think about our streets. You know, that's not how you build a relationship. You know, frankly, you want them to like you, you want them to feel, you know, so if I'm in Kansas City, I want them to be as happy to see a public works truck, or a water department truck as they are to see something from the chiefs. Were the Royals, I want them to feel proud. I want to build out of the basic city services. And I want them to identify with that. That's my public works truck. That's my parks crew. Don't you love what they're doing with the parks? And that's Jimmy over there. And I know him, he really watches after this park. That's, that's what we're looking for here.
Yeah, are there. You mentioned earlier, some work being done in civic design? And I don't know if that was directly connected to this engagement topic we're on. But I just wonder, are there? Are there cities out there that are doing this? Well? Are there case studies where you see this development of these relationships over time? And how it sort of transformed the way they see their services? And are there are there some good stories that we can go read about and learn from?
Yeah, there's the city of San Rafael, in California, seems to be doing this sort of work very well, engaging the community, engaging the employees, and that's a key part here. If your employees aren't engaged, you know, then you can't, there isn't they're not going to be working to engage residents. So as sort of first, the first step is get everybody on board. To the extent that you can remember there's no consensus. What we're looking for here is grudging acquiescence. But we want it from everybody. We want everybody to say, Yeah, that's right. You know, another one, the City of Olathe in Kansas, I went to see the mayor of Bo lathe up for something. And in the city hall, up by the mayor's office in the walls were covered with charts of resident satisfaction from the surveys that they had done. In other words, that was right there on the wall outside the mayor's office. And those charts, were all trending in the right way. And very high. That Wow. And they were extended over many years. Right. So they didn't just start yesterday. You know, here's, here's from 1997 9899. You know, and that's the other thing is it can't come and go with the term of a mayor. It can't come and go with the city manager, some new city manager comes in, I'm on a campaign to do this. No, it has to be embedded in the culture and if you get it, if you get it right, residents will come to expect it. And it will be hard to back up.
Yeah, yeah, I heard you earlier say that you did a survey every year. And I know there are a lot of great survey groups out there and National Citizen survey and others. It takes a commitment it sounds like to me to a continued every year every other year, whatever the cadence is of measuring citizen satisfaction I'm sure Amazon and FedEx measure customer satisfaction. Well Airbnb measures every time you stay at a facility. So but but you know what strikes me about this conversation is that this now you know this is going to take some time. And this is going to have to be a priority. It sounds like the if I really believe what you're saying that this engage to some important, and I'm a busy city manager, I'm a busy public works director, I, you know, I'm busy in the weeds, I'm delivering services. And, you know, could you just speak to that, because we can't do everything. So as leaders, we have to choose priorities, we have to make things important that need to be important. And this is important. These are the people we serve for crying out loud, right? So could you just encourage maybe the local government leaders listening to make this investment is that?
I think that the, the return on investment is really high. Yes, it's work. But again, if if people have pride in the parks, and they carry their trash out, as opposed to throwing it down, how much money did you save, picking up trash and empty in trash cans? You know, if the people do the things that they need to do to get along with each other? How much less police response do you have to have? If they're actually looking out for each other? That you know, it's? It is absolutely, again, I go back to the first principle, it is co-produced, the community. Why are you here? Madam city manager or Mr. City Manager? It's because the residents of pay your salary to create a certain kind of condition in the neighborhood I used to talk about, okay. We're not trying to change the world. I'm not trying to change. I'm not trying to create Nirvana, I'm shooting for Okay. I want to be able to sit on the porch at night and have a beer and have things be okay. Well, what do I need to know? I need it to be safe. I need it the water to work the sewage to work. I need there to be a nice park, I need to be street trees in front of my house. I need things. Again, not not gargantuan. But okay. And it's actually a lot of work is a turbulent, difficult world out there. Violent mill. You know, there are hurricanes and storms and floods and bad people doing bad stuff. And it's, you know, it's actually a lot of work to just have everything be okay.
Yeah, I when you're talking about the, the payoff, the ROI, the VA, and really some of the financial benefits of this, where you may have less work in the long term, because citizens are engaged, I think about Chick fil A, I consider myself almost an ambassador of Chick fil A, when I go in the men's restroom, and they're out of hand towels. I don't just begrudgingly, you know, stomp my feet and walk walk out, I go to the city, I go to the manager and I say, Hey, bud, you're you're on a paper towels. And I do that because I I care for their facility as much as they do. Because I'm a patron I'm I'm a guest and I feel connected to Chick fil A, in a deeper way than just a. Here's my $3. And so I think that's kind of where you're going. It's this extra layer of relationship that's been built somehow, mostly through time, and through someone investing in me. And so that's really good. I would love mark for any city or county manager, finance director that's listening or others that may want to get in touch with you or learn a little bit more about what you do. I know you have a tremendous financial background, could you just share a little bit about the kind of work you're doing in local governments today? And maybe how people could get in touch with you?
Yeah, we, we work with local governments to try to understand their issues and challenges and connect them with each other. So for local government, folks, we do events, we write stuff, you can go to our website, Mayor funk.com. And, you know, we're ambassadors and advocates for local government. I think that their community and democracy start in local government. So so that's the relationship. If you go to the website, you'll see public and private. So the relationship primarily with the public sector is connecting them with each other and helping them share information and ideas about the topics that they're dealing with, like like Citizen Engagement. It's a big deal that in a recent survey of 600, local government officials asked what their biggest challenges were over the next five years. citizen engagement was number one, it was 50% of them put that as their biggest challenge over time. So this kind of conversation with each other, is really important. And if you're still unsure, the city manager of a medium sized town in Ohio, you're busy, you got your head down, you're in the trenches. And it's nice every once in a while to like, have somebody go ahead and organize it so that you can lift your head up and talk to other folks and and talk to that guy in a lathe on the guy and the woman in San Rafael, who's doing the work. And oh, yeah, that's that. Because here's the thing, Bill, the human condition. People are the same, everywhere, everywhere. But the ways in which we respond to the challenges are very, very diverse, based on our culture, and our political systems now and local government to form a government. Some of them were strong mayor, some of them Council manager, some of them are big city, little cities, some of them are very diverse among very homogenous, that diversity of structure and demographics means that we learn from each other. So that's and then on the on the private sector side, what we do is we try to explain to companies, how their solution fits the problems that local government folks are having right at this moment.
Well, thank you for thank you for saying that. Again. I want to repeat the the website Mayor funk ma y orfunk.com. Right. marathon.com. And will you please please check that out if you have interest in in some of that. And it's been a great pleasure to have you with us. I appreciate your, your perspective and some of the experiences that you've had, it really makes these concepts I think more real real for people that are listening. And so thank you for your time today. It's been great having you and hope you have a wonderful day.
Thank you, Bill. It's been a real pleasure for me