When will Hartford abandon its dysfunctional, balkanized local governance structure in favor of a unified collection of systems that optimizes efficiency and effectiveness while controlling cost? That is, if you believe how we manage the region doesn’t work, when are we going to get to some future Hartford that does work?

In his best seller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey examined the behaviors of successful people to determine what those people have in common. He wrote about and for individuals, but it is at least helpful for a community like ours to be guided by Covey’s conclusions as we plan for the future.

Covey’s first habit is BE PROACTIVE. When Covey was writing, “proactive” was already becoming something of a cliché. Cliché or not, proactivity is where future Hartford is to be found.

Our community makes decisions about its future every year, every week, every day. Covey teaches that we have a choice with each decision: we can respond to outside stimuli – we can be reactive, or we can seek to choose our future based on our own goals. Hartford is reactive; future Hartford can and must be proactive.

Is Hartford really reactive? That’s a question for the sociologists, and I’ve speculated about it elsewhere, but the superficial evidence is clear enough. Connecticut is the land of steady habits, and we’re proud of it. What does that mean, the land of steady habits? It means we’re set in our ways and we keep moving along in ways that have become, well, habitual. We’re slow to change. It’s easy to see that that behavioral style is more reactive than proactive. After all, a proactive style leads to change, and change means changing habits.

In the modern world, reactive doesn’t work, because the world changes so quickly that we always are behind the curve. While we’re reacting to last year’s changes, the proactive world already is moving on. In the modern world, we must be proactive or we will be left behind.

How has greater Hartford responded to the COVID-19 pandemic? So far as I can tell, we’ve reacted. We’ve followed the lead of the Governor. We have no regional program that attempts to meet the particular needs of people who live in the central Connecticut river valley. Where is the regional effort to deal with the crisis in nursing homes? Where is the regional effort to deal with the crumbling local economy? Where is the regional leadership? There is no regional leadership, of course, because the 400,000 people who live in and around Hartford are organized into eight separate towns, each with its own government.

Want some simple anecdotal evidence of what greater Hartford could be? The population of New Orleans is about the same size as the combined population of Hartford and the seven contiguous towns. Here’s the online guidance New Orleans offers its citizens about dealing with COVID-19: NOLA Ready. Compare it to what the City of Hartford offers online and what your town offers. I did, and here are a couple of reactions: New Orleans last updated their Corona virus landing page yesterday, Thursday, after 5 pm. Hartford last updated its page a day earlier. Why is it Hartford a day late? Because it can’t afford to stay current. The New Orleans page is bright, easy to navigate, with important information about what to if you feel sick or if you need help. Wethersfield’s page primarily gives me links to state and national websites.

Am I surprised that New Orleans is better at helping its citizens online than Wethersfield? No. By virtue of being one municipality instead of eight, New Orleans can devote more resources, by a factor of two or three or four, to its web-based communications than Wethersfield or Hartford can. New Orleans can do it better and at lower cost than our eight municipalities can do it separately.

Now, think for a minute about the actual services these municipalities can offer their citizens. Hartford is using its meager resources to offer emergency services and help. Are those services available to me? No, because I don’t live in Hartford. What is my town doing? Wethersfield is spending its limited dollars on band aids, because Wethersfield certainly doesn’t have the resources to mount any kind of meaningful emergency response. As limited as Hartford’s effort is, it is unquestionably better than Wethersfield’s. I would be much better served in this crisis if Wethersfield had merged with Hartford last year – I would at least have access to the services Hartford can offer.

New Orleans, on the other hand, actually has an 18-page COVID-19 Community Mitigation Plan, setting forth how the city government will respond to the needs of the community. It’s right there on its website. How’s your town doing along those lines?

Is New Orleans getting it all right? I’m sure they are not. New Orleans is hardly the poster child for outstanding municipal government. The point is that simply by virtue of its governance structure, New Orleans is able to use its available resources more effectively to respond to the needs of its citizens.

In the current crisis it’s more obvious than ever: One mayor can use the resources of 400,000 people better than eight mayors can use the resources of 50,000 people each. The governance structure of greater Hartford is woefully inadequate to serve the needs of our community.

The time is coming for a new beginning. As we emerge from the devastating effects of the pandemic, proactive urban areas will seize opportunities and move forward. Others, relatively speaking, will lag behind. Hartford has all all that it needs, most particularly the human capital, to be a relative winner among mid-sized American cities.

People create vibrant communities. If we want greater Hartford to thrive, we must be proactive. It’s up to us.

2 Replies to “BE PROACTIVE”

  1. Mark-

    Just random whatevers……

    The west is so different because we are still building out. I have little perspective. Who maintains the roads in these towns? How are those services coordinated?

    I don’t think New Orleans is a good comparison. It has enormous tourist revenue and enviornmental challenges. Charlotte I thought was good.

    • Marlis

      A state road through a town is maintained, I believe, by the state (but I suspect the state roads are plowed by the town). All other streets in the town are maintained by the town. What do you mean, coordinated? They aren’t coordinated. That’s the point! It’s eight separate towns running eight separate departments to maintain roads. In Charlotte, they have one department.

      As for whether New Orleans is comparable, all cities are unique. No two cities have all the same characteristics. In this case, how New Orleans raises revenue isn’t the point. The point is that they buy better internet and public relations service for their community, by far, than eight towns here, each doing it separately, and they buy it for less than the eight towns here spend collectively.

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