COLUMN: Organizational meetings offer an opportunity to lay out a plan

The first few weeks of January are often some of the most interesting of the entire year. Gov. Andrew Cuomo gives his State of the State address and prepares to unveil a budget proposal, the state legislative season kicks off, and on the local stage, governing bodies of all shapes and sizes reorganize for the new year.

It’s so rare in life to get a fresh start but that is precisely what reorganizational meetings provide. Like every January, local legislatures and boards of supervisors held meetings to lay out goals, identify leaders for various posts and administrative roles, and set the general tone for 2018. Taking stock of some area results, Cayuga and Yates legislatures both elected new chairs while Ontario, Seneca, and Wayne counties went with existing leadership for 2018, opting against an ever-tempting changeover.

When it comes to the new year and new legislative calendar I don’t like focusing on who was elected to individual positions or seats. There’s a reason why reorganizational meetings happen each January and terms are annual. Understandably, some will argue that many boards and legislative bodies squander or mismanage the reorganizing. Some might even argue that they lack the understanding of “reorganization” as an administrative process.

It means so much more than simply identifying a chairman, naming people to committees or even assigning administrative roles. It means working as a group to understand what the major goals of the body are, how attainable they are, and how they can be accomplished during that year’s session.

The chair has only one vote, and while they can, by nature of the position, do some things to impact the course of policy, they still have just that single vote.

Calling the first month of politics in New York among the most interesting is largely due to the implications of the decisions made then. It is the time for change. It is the time for a fresh look at various things happening in the community. It is when we hear all of the promises that are made to taxpayers.

As a point of reflection, think about all the issues that were either sidelined, tabled or put on a shelf — “for a later date” — because the governing body didn’t want to take a stand or draw a line in the sand. Now ask yourself how many of those issues are actually addressed after they’re put on that shelf.

Those items are often lost in the shuffle and forgotten until brought up again later. Point being, this is an area where government could learn a little bit from the private sector. It also is an area where government could make great strides in being better in operational effectiveness and execution.

Imagine a scenario in which a governing body doesn’t just elect new chairmen and/or assign administrative roles at reorganizational meetings. Think about these governing bodies coming together, establishing a policy plan for the year, creating open dialogue about that direction, and determining the best steps and methods to achieve and measure success. It would literally be as easy as showing up.

We hear a lot about goals during election season, and we hear individual elected leaders talk about the things they want to accomplish — in the grand scheme of governing — but how often do those elected officials all get together and talk about those large, big-picture goals in an official group setting?

It breaks down to three simple components, which all are part of communication:

• Identify policy goals for the new year;

• Determine ways to accomplish those goals; and

• Identify ways to measure progress and success along the way.

It would kick off the legislative year with a bang, provide context for what taxpayers and employees should expect and require elected officials to own the action — or inaction — that follows on their watch. Not bluster or politics, but rather a focus on substance and context.

Taxpayers have made it clear that they’re frustrated with a system in New York that takes more from them than is given back or that works on their behalf. The least local officials could do is come up with better policy agendas to make life a little better for those just looking to call communities in the Finger Lakes “home.”

This column originally appeared in the Finger Lakes Times on Jan. 16, 2018.

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