Partner with everyone; compete with no one

By: Folsom City Manager Evert Palmer
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Partner with everyone; compete with no one. This principle seems counterintuitive in the hyper-competitive, “Best of” world in which we live in today. Yes, governments should operate like a business, as the accountability and efficiencies gained by adopting quality management principles forged in the competitive private sector marketplace can improve policy outcomes. We also know that competition sorts out the strong from the weak, in business and in sports. However, carried too far in their application, competitive practices can result in the government unfairly competing with other community stakeholders – businesses, non-profits and schools – to the detriment of the community and with an unfair advantage – regulatory authority and taxpayer’s money.

Of the five key principles of building a vibrant community, this final principle is key to making the other principles work. Simply, this is the principle of facilitation. Bring people together; do not drive them apart. Do not create winners and losers; help everyone win. There is no trophy for the local government official who finishes on top, only a field of constituents who feel like they lost. Upon close examination, one can find hints of this principle of facilitation in each of the previous four.

For example, during the Historic Folsom Revitalization Project, engineers and constructors were compelled to complete the project using less-efficient construction means, methods and schedules to ensure that businesses would survive when the entirety of Sutter Street was torn up – 15 feet down and threshold to threshold. The city did not compete with the merchants to complete the construction in the most efficient and least expensive manner possible. Instead, the city partnered with the merchants to revitalize the area so all could flourish. That is putting community first. What is the purpose of revitalization if all the businesses closed due to the impact of construction? If we do what is right by the community, then our actions can have no result other than a positive impact on the city organization. During the time of construction in the Historic District, the city suffered no appreciable loss of sales tax revenue.

In facilitating business growth, successful local governments partner with business groups, such as chambers of commerce, local economic development councils and other local businesses, as we do here in Folsom, to understand the needs of business and the keys to attracting businesses compatible with our community. Local chamber executive Joe Gagliardi and Greater Sacramento CEO Barry Broom are key to these efforts. Businesses understand businesses. Businesses tolerate government.

Maximizing the synergy between the built and natural environments means balancing individual assets to improve the whole. Well-designed neighborhoods preserve open spaces. Good transportation networks balance road capacity, traffic dispersion and open space preservation to enhance the sense of place. No one element wins at the expense of the other; rather each is supported as an important part of the whole.

Finally, vibrant cities support an ecosystem of volunteer organizations and efforts to support the community. As the old proverb goes, “It takes a village to raise a child,” so too in building a vibrant community. Everyone “works” together – businesses, governments, merchant associations, schools, service groups and just plain good people. We should not compete. Ever. A vibrant volunteer ecosystem provides an equal opportunity for all to contribute.

Of course, there are activities for which local governments have the exclusive responsibility, such as parks, public safety and streets. As local officials are free from the pressure of competition to ensure quality public facilities and services, it is incumbent upon them to pursue excellence altruistically and to be accountable politically. The bottom line for local government? Help when we can and stay out of the way when we should.

Well, this completes the Vibrant Community series, and as many in the community are aware, it is time for me to offer my farewell. Laura and I are ready to spend more time with Gibbs (Our Golden Retriever rescue), our daughters and sons-in-law, our eight grandkids and our many friends we have met along life’s journey – most of whom are now retired as well. I have enjoyed every single day of my time here, and together, we have accomplished a great deal. Folsom is a safe, prosperous and vibrant city. What better accolade can one bestow on a city than the No. 1 Place to Raise a Family? That says it all. Folsom is – and will remain – a great community because of the quality of its leadership, the dedication of its employees and the involvement of its citizens. As I move into retirement, I will always have fond memories of my 22-plus years spent in service to the Folsom community. Thank you all for your contributions to this great city. Best wishes to you, and to Folsom, CA, 95630.