What happens when in a relationship there is a sense of mistrust because of a perceived lack of sincerity, forwardness, and commitment to open communication? Without purposeful action to remedy such apprehensions, the relationship spiral towards a dismal end where both parties are viewed as adversaries centered on destroying the other. How is this problem magnified when this relationship is between a community and those that lead them— political and social leaders? This is a dilemma facing many urban and ethnic communities across the country and Fresno is no different.
Over the summer, residents of southwest Fresno have been bombarded with scenarios and real life situations that have heaped onto years of feeling neglected, unimportant, and disregarded by their representatives at all levels of government. From gang violence to the Running Horse ‘gone wild’, the attendance at recent town hall meetings demonstrates residents’ frustration with the circumstances surrounding their quality of life. At the most recent town hall meeting hosted by Councilmember Cynthia Sterling, residents repeatedly raised concerns about the lack of communication from City Hall. Their fears regarding the Trump Running Horse, redevelopment and eminent domain stemmed from mixed messages transmitted by mainstream media. These rumors and media stories were put to rest in a truth-telling setting where Sterling, Mayor Alan Autry and current owner, Mick Evans along with a host of city officials from police, redevelopment and city management provided the community with an in-depth explanation of past and current events surrounding Running Horse.
What I heard was not that residents’ were resistant to development but objected to the fact of not knowing. For most people, one of the greatest fears is uncertainty or unpredictability. It’s what drives the purchase of insurance of any type (reallocating risk) to the value of modern technology that allows accuracy and access to information. The politics of yester generations, where information was held tight and confidential by the government leaving citizens in the dark is over. Due to technology—instant messaging, camera phones, television/radio news, the internet along the Freedom of Information Act, people can readily obtain information on just about any subject within a short period of time thus demanding its government to respond respectively.
One good outcome from the last town hall meeting was the Mayor’s commitment to continuous communication and the establishment of a community communications taskforce. The taskforce compromised of Dr. Mary Curry, Keith Kelley, Les Kimber, LaVera Williams amongst others were charged to manage the governance of the taskforce including how to increase the composition of the group and act as a liaison between City Hall and the community. Some may ask, why is direct contact the form of communication key to maintaining a respectful relationship between leaders and an urban ethnic community? Despite today’s many mediums, leaders must not forget that direct oral communication is the one that leaves residents with a sense of sincerity and the opportunity to express their concerns.
Hopefully, the taskforce will take this as an opportunity to open a true channel of communication between an often disfranchised group of residents and those with the given authority to be their voice in our representative government.