Focused, purposeful outreach is the first step to engaging in the community, and I’ve had conversations with countless organizations, neighbors, and community leaders to learn what they expect from a Fort Collins City Councilperson.
In running for City Council, organizations and groups often reach out to you directly. For instance:
Here are my responses to The Coloradoan’s Jacy Marmaduke and her very thoughtful and thorough 20 questions, to ASCSU’s Voter Guide, and the Chamber of Commerce’s questionnaire.
On Monday, the League of Women Voters will provide their Voter411 resource and I’ll send out a separate link for that, too.
While filling out these questionnaires can be both helpful and informative for the community, I made it a point to reach out to neighbors as well as many service, non-profit, and business organizations serving our community with my own questions to learn what they expected of their City Councilperson and how I could best serve them.
Here are a few key points that I’ve learned.
#1: Most people are surprised that their future City Councilperson is asking them about the City.
My approach to building communities isn’t novel or new – I go to the people I want to serve and I include them in conversations. It’s not hard, but it does take a lot of effort and time to do well. This speaks to the necessity of teaching civic education on a broader scale – as often the voices that speak the loudest aren’t the most representative of the community.
My goal in running for City Council is to expand the platform for the community to speak, elevate the voices that aren’t currently being heard and allow them to speak (as opposed to speaking for them), and step back so they can not only share their story, but so that we can commit to acting on what we hear and learn. Actively listening and connecting resources into our community is a key part of a City Councilperson’s job.
That many neighbors feel this isn’t happening, and that so many neighbors feel ignored and disenfranchised, is indicative that the status quo isn’t working. It’s gotta change:
#2: Half-baked solutions create rampant externalities
One of the things we’ve learned from the Library Park neighborhood was that ongoing, consistent effort is required to cohesively address and solve problems. Neighbors banding together to address the challenges of merging high-traffic areas with highly-walkable areas, compassionately and considerately work to elevate the homeless population, and partnerships between the City, non-profits, and neighbors have resulted in some good progress.
Even so, implementing one-off solutions or applying duct-tape fixes where more resources are required to fill in gaps means those efforts often fall short or stall out before a durable fix is created. More support, attention, and effort are required from the City Council to create comprehensive solutions to issues that are creating daily externalities and safety concerns for these neighbors.
Two pathways exist for these neighbors, disenfranchised burnout or empowered solution building. I’d rather see empowered solutions!
#3: Local businesses need our ongoing support, not just in shopping locally, but with local acquisition and retention of talented workers
Our local employers are having a hard time recruiting and retaining the best and brightest minds, and workers faced with the difficulties of navigating working during COVID are taxed both mentally and socially.
Mental health impacts will linger for businesses in terms of leave and bigger requests for compensation and/or benefits – and so we have to help our local employers by creating programs for job training and placement and talent retention – for skilled and unskilled labor alike. Many of our local employers are having a hard time finding skilled laborers who can also afford to live in our City, and for kids who want a different path – they don’t always feel supported to navigate those choices. That’s problematic. Creative collaboration between the City, County, and our local businesses and service organizations is required to help bridge this gap.
This is hitting our differently-abled community the hardest, where workers with various physical and mental hurdles already face wages not keeping pace with peers, but now COVID shifts have reduced hours and reduced flexibility – and job-hopping for this community is a big ask and more support is needed in this space.
Moreover, many of our hardest working creatives (who have built work you’ve seen in and around the city) are now seeking refuge in the gig-economy, working as delivery drivers or temp help. This doesn’t have to be the case, and if we want to reclaim our cultural, artistic, and musical vibrancy, we have to do the work to rescue not only the performers but our venues as well.
#4: Diversity and Inclusion go way beyond “sharing a perspective”. Representation and purposeful action is truly required to address long-standing issues – a multicultural resource center needs to be in our short-term plan, women-owned businesses need more visibility and funding.
COVID-19 blew open existing cracks in support structures for families in our community who have language or technology gaps – this was readily apparent in the City’s efforts to connect with the latinx community during the early days of COVID – the discovery was that families in the community sometimes relied on the Chromebooks provided by PSD as their only household computer, meaning that when school wasn’t in session, these same families had access only to phones as their primary tech device.
As a result of the fantastic work of the United Way, the Poudre River Public Library District, the City of Fort Collins, and in particular, Jose Luis Ramos, many of these families now have a dedicated chromebook to utilize to learn vital tech and job skills, access resources to grow their small business, and so much more.
Meanwhile, the lack of City services for neighborhoods away from the core of the City and comprehensive training for HOA Boards means that our BIPOC neighbors often have interactions with the police for things as minor as cars being parked in the wrong place or bylaw/covenant questions. It’s a policy approach that tends to increase unjust outcomes and it’s an egregious waste of our City’s resources. On the business front, BIPOC employees are also less likely to hold equity-earning positions with regional employers and startups – instead, being offered titles that come with higher pay but no ownership stake.
There are also long-standing needs in our community to ensure that Spanish-speaking families in our community have access to proper legal representation and protection, access to emergency support services in cases of domestic violence, addiction, and recovery, and worker protection – even things as simple as connecting with and sharing ideas at City Council are sometimes hindered by language translation barriers… and in the 4th largest City in Colorado, that’s ridiculous.
The creation of a Multicultural Resource Center would help offset these roadblocks to a better quality of life that often spill over into externalities for the whole community. Further, an MRC would provide an important sales tax income hub providing event space, arts and creative cultural sales, and an economic boost to an area of District 1 that desperately needs attention – the abandoned Albertsons on North College.
So many of our talented artists and community members have had to seek refuge in the gig-economy. If we had a more vibrant and readily-available platform for them (beyond FortCollinsMarketplace.com of course), the recovery efforts will be more achievable and actionable.
#5: Pedestrian Safety is a Key Concern Across District 1
From 2′ sidewalks to disconnected trails and bike lanes, the key concern I hear from many neighbors of District 1 is pedestrian safety.
Poor infrastructure and disconnections between sidewalks, bike lanes, and trails creates dangerous interactions between cars and pedestrians and has horrendous effects on our quality of life, environment, and our economy.
All of this is an externality writ large of a single-minded focus on requiring developers to pay and plan their own way for literally every aspect of a community – and many don’t have the resources to do it well or cohesively. This is readily apparent in District 1 where so many of our neighborhoods are disconnected from the rest of Fort Collins.
This lack of accountability results in an over-dependency on cars, which leads to sprawl and congestion as we must commute by car to the places we work, learn, shop, and play – and if we instead focused on making our neighborhoods more walkable and partnering with new community builders to reduce book, park, service, and food deserts in our neighborhoods, we could have an immediate boost to our quality of life and environmental and economic goals.
The big takeaway is this: the city is full of hope and hard workers. A great leader will bring them to the table.
A City Councilperson’s job is to bring great leaders to the table. So many of our neighbors don’t feel that’s happening right now – and there is a choice.
Tell your friends, tell your neighbors – we can work together to have a better, more connected, more creative future for Fort Collins.