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9 maxims each for local leaders and the citizens they serve
by Sarah Glade Gurney
After 18.5 years on the Sebastopol City Council, Sarah Glade Gurney offered her advice for the new city council as well as for the community of Sebastopol. She sent these remarks in a longer letter to her supporters and used them as the basis for her remarks at her last City Council meeting last Tuesday.
I don’t want to listen to myself talk about my accomplishments or my vision for Sebastopol. So I had to figure out how to do this. I’ve decided to offer heartfelt advice to the new Council Members, our future Councils, our citizens, and honorary citizens. Unsolicited advice. I hope you’ll listen, take notes, and read these remarks again and often.
Recognized for my “institutional memory” and the duration of my service, I’ve been asked for “my pearls of wisdom.” I’m not very pearl like and I seldom feel wise So I’ve relied on my experience as an attorney. Attorneys know about the codified “maxims of jurisprudence,” so I’m offering you my “maxims for public service.” There are 9 for each, then my appreciations.
Maxim - a general truth, fundamental principle, or rule of conduct. - Webster’s
My encouragement for the newly elected Council Members and the next Council
MAXIM # 1. Show up. Do the work. And let go of the result. That’s your new job, in a nutshell....or rather in a maxim.
2. Don’t take it personally. You’ll be hearing from people who may feel threatened or insecure, or terrified of public speaking. People who need help. People who have never interfaced with government before or may not trust you because “you’re IN government.” Address the feelings and focus on the content.
3. Realize that you have the words “Information Booth” or “Complaint Department” written on your forehead. You may not see them but the folks out there – in the grocery store or on the sidewalk - sure do. Work to get them answers and help.
4. Resist becoming a “politician.” This is a small town so you’re really a community activist. There’s no big league here, but rather a whole lot of wonderful people to meet and serve and a whole lot of energy to channel into great work.
5. Communicate effectively. Answer emails and respond to phone messages. And stay in rapport with Staff.
6. Don’t ever think you are the “smartest person in the room.” That sort of arrogance will cause you to, quoting the Honorable Bill Roventini, “Lose friends and make enemies.” Remember that there will always be a member of our community who knows more about a topic, or someone who is more deeply engaged in the issue and its history.
7. Don’t wait, saying to yourself, “I’ll learn my way and figure this out over the next two years.” Schedule the orientation with Larry and Mary. Hold a retreat. Get to know each other as people: your communication styles and your leadership styles. Plan on discussing your goals, your individual ones and those you hold as a group. Believe in yourselves and support each other. In our world of climate catastrophe, economic fragility, and social dysfunction, you need to seize the day.
8. Remember to care for yourself, your significant other, and your close circle. You will need their help and support through the challenges of office, the role upon which you are about to enter.
9. Above all else, think with your heart.
My suggestions to our community for interacting with the Council
MAXIM # 1. No more darkness, menace, and meanness, as expressed over the last two years. Throw out the black box or photo or canned message. Share your face on zoom, give your name and address. Own your role as the Council’s public and show your self-respect.
2. Prepare before you comment. For instance, if you’re speaking on an agenda item, read the Staff Report. Do your own research if you need to. Organize your thoughts. Focus your remarks. Double check to make sure you are speaking based on accurate, verified information or from actual experience.
3. Consider the tone of your remarks, whether written or oral.
4. Contact your Council Members ahead of time, so the examination of an agendized issue doesn’t all pour in at one meeting. If you have a new idea or new approach, you’ll give it time to percolate.
5. Start your remarks with your conclusion or request, then explain how you got there. Then summarize.
6. Be watchful of your non-verbal communication.
7. Give your Council Members your feedback. Whether constructive or critical feedback, show respect for the office and the person.
8. Offer your Council Members your gratitude and support. They cannot be encouraged and appreciated enough.
9. Work together.
The video of the City Council meeting where Sarah presented her two sets of maxim can be found here — she begins at about 36:10 in the video.
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