The Importance of Explaining Why

Posted on July 30, 2011 at 3:02 PM

There is something about summertime that encourages us to sit back, take stock of things and reflect on the year so far and where we plan on going, once it cools down a little bit at least.

It is, for some people, a vacation, for others an early morning jog down Wyoming watching the sun rise, or sitting on a beach down the shore watching the sun set, or maybe just enjoying a cold drink or a book on a patio in the warm evening air. But whatever it is, however each of us, no matter how briefly, takes stock of things, it is a crucial phase of our yearly routine and evolution. And it’s no different at Village Hall.

After being thrown into the mix so quickly after the election, August offers the promise of having a chance, albeit briefly, to step back from the process that I have been so incredibly steeped in for the past 73 days and take stock.

By the time the fall rolls around, along with priorities, guidance and support from the Board, department heads and community members I’ll be putting forward a framework for progress that will help provide not just us, but the entire community, with a renewed sense of direction, priorities, values and goals, building upon and integrated with all of the work that so many have already been tirelessly contributing to the success of South Orange.

It’s no secret that taxes are pretty high around here. And this community demands an exceptionally high level of service in return, which the Village strives, and I think does a great job, to provide. But in budget times such as these, we are pressured to somehow figure out a way to do more with less. And that’s not all bad, as those kinds of pressures force us to re-evaluate, modernize and improve the way things are done. But part of that process is fully communicating not just what we are doing, but what we have done, what we will be doing, and perhaps most importantly why are we doing these things.

Having an understanding of why also helps us get through times of disagreement. It’s a lot easier to discuss a policy (a means) and come to a compromise or solution when we know that we agree on the reason why we are doing the policy (the ends).

Governments everywhere tend to be very process focused. But by looking at the ‘what’ and ‘how’ sometimes the ‘why’ can be lost or diminished. The ‘why’ gives perspective, context, reasoning, and places the ‘what’ and ‘how’ in a larger framework of ends, with the what and how (the means) now clearly articulated for a specific purpose and set of goals. We’re not paving the streets because the streets needs to be paved. We’re not talking about a special improvement district (SID) to talk about a SID. We’re not re-doing the website to have a re-done website.

Those things are all but means to a greater end.

The end is ensuring safe and traversable roadways that help people move about our town quickly and safely while maintaining our historic and aesthetic values. The end is attempting to continue progressing towards a downtown that people all throughout New Jersey hear about and can’t wait to visit and see the live concerts, unique retail, al fresco dining and diverse and artistic culture for themselves. The end is providing dynamic and interactive ways for people to learn about what is happening, get involved and provide the external community with an accurate screenshot of what kind of community South Orange is.

A big part of our job as a governing body is to help define, cultivate and communicate ends to our community that explain why we are doing what we are doing so that our community, every single step of the way, is not only aware of what we are doing but why - and is right there with us as we push the envelope for what a municipal government can do for its community.