For Arizonans, the centennial presents the perfect opportunity to reflect on the past and envision the future of our state, as these are serious times. Based on a number of factors, it appears a unified vision is sorely lacking, and without it, we run the risk of declining prosperity and intractable problems with the ultimate consequence being a significant decline in our quality of life, which is at the very essence of Arizona.
Trends indicate a preference for smaller government, and the state Legislature, among many governing bodies statewide, is accelerating this trend. So what are the consequences to our quality of life if we persist in the idea of “vending machine” government? We often know what we don’t want government to do, but conversely, do we have a clear and shared understanding about the role of government as an enabler to our quality of life?
As an entrepreneur, former city manager, conference speaker, author, blogger, ASU grad (MPA, 1986), adjunct faculty member at ASU, father, husband, and resident of Arizona, I offer the following observations on several key issues that current and future leaders throughout the state should focus on.
Growth and economic development: The preoccupation with increasing numbers as a sign of prosperity and progress hopefully has leveled off. Thanks to the Great Recession, governments throughout the state have engaged in significant revisions to their growth strategies.
The challenge is, unless additional well-paying jobs of all collars — white, blue and green — descend upon our state, we remain over-reliant on housing construction, consumerism (i.e. spending) and service- related businesses as pillars of our economy. We must also recognize that states like Texas and California — which use a unified approach to building their economies and enlist active participation of the public, private and financial sectors — will continue to leave our state and its economy in the proverbial dust.
Effective and efficient government: To continue to provide necessary services, organizational leaders need to seriously consider merging some operations with other jurisdictions. The city of Reno, Nev., and Washoe County, Nev., are attempting to merge “back office” operations such as human resources, information technology and procurement as a way to share resources and ultimately cut costs. Taking an ax to government budgets is a lot like dieting — we may lose weight but we’re not always healthier as a result. Increasingly, the idea of using regional districts for the provision of water, sewer and even parks and recreation services is being examined by governments nationwide and should be explored more intently here in Arizona.
I remain amazed but not surprised at how so many pundits exist out there who seemingly make government employee-bashing a contact sport.
We should remember that public service is a noble profession, and providing effective and efficient government will have a major role in our continuing quality of life.
Community building: It’s a new world — a digital world. The days of public hearings and physical petitions being submitted to demonstrate the general public’s concerns are rapidly fading and being replaced by new citizen-engagement tools. Outlets like Facebook and Twitter are no longer a luxury for the public sector, especially at a time when government is front and center on so many significant issues. There are still government leaders, both elected and appointed, who view the entire subject of social marketing as something government doesn’t have to deal with. However, the idea that social media is a fad that leaders can simply wait out is risky. Social currency has always been vital to the credibility of government, and with the explosion of social media devices, governments need to accelerate their timetables for adopting and implementing contemporary strategies and tactics.
So, there it is — a version of the future of Arizona as fashioned by peering out the front windshield. Now is the time to stop longing for the good old days, looking in the rear view mirror. Opportunities exist all around us — we must decide whether Arizona’s future is already written for us or will it be written by us? It’s our choice.
— Patrick Ibarra owns and operates The Mejorando Group, an organizational improvement consulting firm.