Meet the New Golden Valley Mayor: Part II
While campaigning, Shep Harris said communication between the city and its residents needs to improve, and he has several ideas for how to do it.
Editor's Note: This is the second article in a three-part series focusing on Shep Harris, who takes office as the new Golden Valley mayor on Jan. 3. For more on his campaign and political aspirations, see Part I here.
On any given day, you might find Golden Valley mayor-elect Shep Harris talking with city staff, attending a PTO meeting or reading with hundreds of kids.
"Being in the public eye means more than just smiling for photo ops," Harris said. "Linda has done a good job of being more than a mayor in name only, and she deserves a lot of credit for the work she's done."
While Harris applauds Loomis' work on committees like the Bassett Creek Watershed Management Commission and several others, he said he doesn't think he'll be on so many committees. Instead, Harris said he wants to put communication at the top of his priority list.
"One of the things I preached was outreach, and I'm going trying to practice what I preach before I get into office," he said.
It's why you'll see him at big events and small meetings around the community this month, and why he's already planning for the goal-setting session with City Council in mid-January—a session that often takes place at the beginning of a new term.
"We're looking at five hours of ideas and planning," he said. "This is retreat material, and I'm excited to see what's going to come out of it."
He said he wants people to feel they have a say in important issues—unless they don't know what those issues are.
"Take the Bottineau Light Rail Line. Does it cut through the eastern part of Golden Valley or through north Minneapolis? Do residents even know?" he said. "Some decisions are going to be made that have serious impact, and residents simply haven't made their voices heard. I would feel much more comfortable getting more public input before putting any official word from the city out there."
So how does Harris intend to reach residents that the city somehow isn't reaching through its newsletters or website?
"I need to be attending neighborhood meetings and hearing from people in person. I need to be visible in the community," he said. "One of my ideas is to set up a table in that area near Starbucks on a Saturday and just have people come up and talk with me."
That idea's not a sure thing, and Harris admits not all of his ideas will come to fruition. He said he hopes the city will become more active in using social media like Facebook, but he said he knows with the data practices act, it might not be feasible.
Harris also admits there's such a thing as too much communication.
"Call it 'outreach burnout.'" he said. "We don't want all the city's reaching out to become white noise."
That's one reason he'd like the city to conduct a study—so he can do more listening.
"We haven't done one in five years, and a lot has changed in five years," he said. "But then we have to look at the budget. We might not be able to afford it. But we should still consider the idea."
As for ideas, Harris offered plenty during his campaign. So does he still think an ampitheatre is a good idea? And what would he have done to help neighbors in the North Tyrol Park area after the May 22 tornado?
We take a look back and a look forward in the third article in our series next week.