Collaboration and Compromise

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The Eight Secrets of a Successful Small Community

The birth, growth and dying of small towns. Heavy sighs of old-timers holding back tear-causing memories of better times, carefree children, now generations grown trying to understand what happened and why. Did it really happen so quickly? Wasn’t there a warning, a chance to keep what was once here? Where did everything go?

If we can be honest with ourselves, towns don’t just die, we kill them.

It begins with the residents and stays with them for a very long time. Our tendency is to learn too late that planning could have been done better. Should have been done better. Everyone is responsible.

Infrastructure (repairs and replacement) present themselves to communities like no one realized they were wearing out, in decay, or out of date. This action, to defer actions to a later date, can devastate any organization if the action isn’t carefully monitored. Every revenue and expense of a budget cycle is very important to a responsibly run organization, from the smallest to the largest of them.

A New Hampshire municipal association listed Eight Secrets of Successful Small Communities in 2018, not as legal advice but as suggestions to be seriously considered:

  • Have a vision for the future.
  • Inventory assets
  • Build plans on the enhancement of existing assets.
  • Use education and incentives, not just regulation.
  • Pick and choose among development projects.
  • Cooperate with neighbors for mutual benefit.
  • Pay attention to community aesthetics.
  • Have strong leaders and committed citizens.

Having energetic and effective leadership is vital. “Strong leaders and committed citizens” are the most important suggestion and perhaps the most difficult to achieve. Even the definitions of “strong leaders” and “committed citizens” is a challenge for a majority of resident citizens to define. Given that, definitions should be written and provided to every community citizen prior to developing the community’s own “Eight Secrets”.

A popular agreement that the Eight Secrets are valid and acceptable by a majority of citizens is important.Our focus is easily changed or forgotten. Even the smallest of towns can be overwhelmed with responsibilities demanding attention, interrupting workflow. Small town priorities are only priorities if they are firm when necessary and flexible only when the new important issue outranks the importance of the priority item. Knowing how to rank priority activities often requires a collaborative decision-making process. An unimportant item to one person may be the most urgent to another until a compromise agreement is accepted – in peaceful ways.

Emotions should not get in the way of a focused agenda, and won’t with an Eight Secrets of Success kind of understanding.

A culture of cooperation among community members is essential to creating a lasting attitude that will assure success in the community. These are necessary in committee meetings to develop a lasting system of sustainable budgeting, and every other committee in the small town.

Greg Henderson

Greg Henderson is the retired founder of the Southern Oregon Business Journal. A
University of Oregon graduate and a six-year U.S. Air Force veteran.

Photo of Ghost Town by Kevin Noble on Unsplash

Photo of super-hero leader by DALL-E 3 on

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