Listening to learn
One of the skills I can bring to the office of Village Trustee is listening. (This may not seem like much of a skill, but when was the last time you really felt listened to?) When I go around meeting people, I spend more time listening than talking. When I’m on social media, I do more reading than posting. That’s how I learn what Lansing residents are proud of, what they’d like to see improved, and what skills they might be willing to contribute to the process. That’s how I developed this platform.
What we’re proud of
Sometimes newcomers to Lansing find it easier to point out the positives. They chose Lansing, and they can tell you why! Things to love about Lansing include:
- Convenient transportation—Easy highway access, plenty of bus stops, nearby train stations, and even an airport make it easy to get to the city or across the country.
- Genuine community— “Everyone is so friendly!” I’ve heard this more than once from people who appreciate the hospitality of their neighbors, their schools, and their churches.
- Established organizations—The Patti Leach Youth Center, the Lansing Association for Community Events, churches with deep roots and open pantries, a park district that not only maintains 23 parks, but also offers a fitness center and a catalog full of classes and programs—those of us who grew up here might take all this for granted. Newer members of our community recognize that this is a unique wealth of services.
- Meaningful history—We’ve been around long enough to have “good ol’ days” that we can feel nostalgic about, and the Lansing Historical Society is actively involved in the community. Their insights inform many of the decisions that are made about events, commerce, and construction.
- Long-term thinking—Particularly during recent times of economic strain, our leaders have been willing to make tough short-term decisions in order to keep us healthy for generations to come. That kind of selflessness we should not take for granted.
What we could improve on
Building on the foundations laid by current elected officials and department heads, these are some changes that would serve Lansing well now and position us for future growth. First, some basic, tangible things:
- Beyond road repairs—In a 2015 Streets Assessment by Robinson Engineering, on a scale from “Failed” to “Excellent,” about 9% of Lansing roads were rated either “Failed” or “Poor.” Another 20% were rated “Inferior.” It would cost an estimated $20 million to fix all these roads, and the fact is, Lansing is not able to take on that level of debt right now, so it would be irresponsible to promise immediate road repaving. Moreover, roads are only one part of Lansing’s infrastructure, which also includes water management, sewers, electrical grids, and other less visible elements that most of us don’t even think about. By considering the overall infrastructure and making a comprehensive plan, we can avoid fixing a bad road only to have to tear it up again next year to replace a water main. Lansing has professional, trained staff leading key departments, and they do have an overall plan in place. They are also careful to follow funding guidelines related to TIFs, bonds, and other revenue sources—an important factor in Lansing’s fiscal health. Good work is being done, and wise decisions are being made to upgrade our entire infrastructure, but there is not enough communication with the general population about what’s being done. By electing Trustees who are intentionally inclusive and committed to communication, we can develop a system where community members give input about needs and priorities, and department heads report regular progress and updates. We’ve engaged in this kind of collaboration with special projects like Fox Pointe and the History Plaza. Active, engaged Trustees can make that kind of communication standard operating procedure.
- Website improvements—The current Village of Lansing website has a lot of capabilities, but its design needs to be updated, and the content needs to be reorganized into categories that are more logical to the average user. A reorganization will serve current residents well and may help in marketing Lansing to prospective residents and businesses. We already have staff in place with the technology skills to accomplish this. In a work atmosphere that is collaborative, we can make changes without making anyone feel threatened. My communications background, marketing experience, and website skills would be an asset in this area as well.
- How ’bout a dog park? Or other creative brainstorming?—In an online brainstorming session about a need first expressed offline, Lansing residents collaborated to offer innovative suggestions for creating a dog park based on a for-profit business model rather than a typical Parks Department model. The resulting concept could compete with dog parks in neighboring communities, put an empty lot to good use, serve Lansing dog owners, earn a profit for the business owners, and generate revenue for the Village. Perhaps more important, that one discussion became an exercise in creative problem-solving, so even if this specific project doesn’t become reality, those skills can be applied to other opportunities throughout our community. I’d love to see our Trustee Board add another meeting to their monthly calendars—a meeting devoted to brainstorming and ideation, with a requirement that every Trustee contribute to the agenda one item, one idea, that comes from a conversation with a member of the community.
Improving the culture
There are other, more abstract, cultural changes that would improve Lansing as well:
- Being more intentionally inclusive—The old, established, predominantly white Lansing and the new, younger, more diverse Lansing both have much to offer. Our diversity of ages, races, and experiences is a strength to be celebrated! I want to find ways to involve not only the experience of our Dutch senior citizens, but also the energy of our Latino youth. I want our savvy African-American teachers and our inquisitive Chinese exchange students to feel equally welcome here. I want old-timers to remember what it felt like to be new in a place, and reach out to newcomers with information and help and connections. Where there are racist misunderstandings, I want to encourage honest conversation that leads to healing and mutual respect. I have some experience with this through my professional work with an international organization, and through my volunteer work with Common Ground, a racial conversation program I have led as part of my multi-cultural church in Glenwood. By being intentional, we can make sure that all of Lansing is represented in traditions such as Autumn Fest and the Good Neighbor Parade, as well as in elected and appointed leadership positions.
- Being more intentionally positive—It is much easier to be critical than constructive. It’s much easier to spark fear than hope. But a culture of encouragement and innovation—in social media and in real life—attracts continual growth. I’d like to replace intimidation with innovation. I’d like to address challenges with a realism that acknowledges risk, and a hope that is willing to try new solutions. Being intentionally positive doesn’t mean we ignore problems; it means we address them energetically because we know they can be solved! Lansing is filled with people from all walks of life who are optimistic, eager, and hardworking. I’d love to be part of a leadership team who understands the power of positivity.
- Finding ways to work together—Lansing’s churches, businesses, schools, and government are all a rich source of expertise and assets. Looking for ways to collaborate rather than compete with each other benefits not only these institutions, but our entire community. For example:
- What if Lansing schools and churches worked together to connect savvy students with senior citizens who want to learn Facebook?
- What if Lansing church members “adopted” a business and not only shopped there, but also referred others and even advertised it in their church bulletin?
- What if Lansing businesses submitted real-world problems to high school classes and offered a reward for creative solutions?
Trustees who are actively engaged with local churches and schools—not just traditional high-profile organizations—and who are regularly meeting with their assigned department heads, would serve as a natural connection between needs as well as resources. Trustees who are willing to brainstorm, discuss, collaborate, and encourage? They create a culture of creative problem-solving that reaches all the way to the grass roots.
Ideas and ideals
Is it idealistic to believe that a message of hope and vision is compelling enough to get me elected as your Trustee? That remains to be seen. Fear and blame seem louder and stronger. But I believe there is a quiet majority of Lansing residents who are eager for positivity, possibility, and integrity. I believe this platform resonates with them!
If it resonates with you, and you want to see it happen, vote for me. In fact, vote for all the Independent candidates, so this kind of thinking will have a majority on our next Board!
Please share this vision with others. It’s going to take all of us to not only win this election, but also do the hard work of implementing these ideas!