NEW CASTLE, March 11, 2015 — Because local officials are closer to the people they serve, local authorities can be more responsive to the needs of their constituents than state, national and international officials can. Unfortunately, inadequate scrutiny, cultural divisions, self-serving politics and insufficient civil engagement leave local governments susceptible to the same lack of responsive and dysfunction seen on the state and national level.
One example where local political dysfunction has helped create a divided community and unresponsive leadership is New Castle, Pennsylvania.
New Castle has a long history of corruption and deeply entrenched social divisions. Mirroring America’s national issues, New Castle also has an economy where a once-vibrant industrial base helped the community thrive.
Despite to economic collapse and stagnation, the local economy allows the more affluent members and their cronies to thrive. The needs of the majority are neglected, and massive amounts of government spending subsidizes what the local economy should provide.
Unlike the state and national levels, however, New Castle political and social leaders cannot simply blame the other side for their failure of leadership and a lack of solution-driven politics. When confronted about issues within the community, leaders either need to make excuses, which can be dispelled, or embrace solutions.
Hosting the FocusNC show on the local news station NCTV45, this writer is witnessing the impact of constructive confrontations. Although New Castle played a pivotal role in the history of the television and movie industry, it has not had a local news station since the 1960s.
Despite suffering from production issues and an insufficient budget, the accountability the station brings to local leaders is forcing changes in the community.
How people view the world affects what they do and how they treat others. In New Castle, negative perceptions of the downtown, for example, have inhibited the revival of the city by keeping people away. In fact, denial on behalf of community leaders has helped segregate the community into economic, religious, ethnic, racial and geographical divisions.
With the return of guest Larry Corvi from the New Visions organization to FocusNC, host Matthew Geiger discussed updates on the volunteer organization’s activities, reviewed their “collective impact” methodology and discovered some changes in how leaders like Corvi perceive the issues facing New Castle.
In Corvi’s first visit with host Matthew Geiger, he seemed to doubt that a significant percentage of residents believe community leaders are indifferent to the needs of others while many view downtown as a dangerous, ugly place. In his update, he began to recognize that both perceptions need to be confronted and dispelled.
As Corvi is the representative of a large group of community members, the notion that the community has serious divisions is apparently starting to resonate among the community’s leaders.
In Corvi’s updates, he went so far as to discuss the need to reach out to the less fortunate members of the community and the need to be more responsive to the interests of everyone in the New Castle community.
Consequently, confronting economic and social issues is an important step in addressing those issues. When there is a failure to even recognize there are issues within a community or to understand the true nature of those issues, the act of confronting them can lead to change. Success, however, depends on the leaders’ taking responsibility for their role in the solution-building process.