By James Szwedo
President, Niagara Street Neighborhood Revitalization Organization, Inc.
Last week, I wrote, Niagara Falls Citizens Make Decisions Based on Safety Concerns. In it, I wrote about how the city has found itself in endless decline.
Acknowledging Past Mistakes: A Step Towards Progress in Niagara Falls
How do we move Niagara Falls forward for the benefit of all its citizens? The answer is twofold.
First, we must look to our past and acknowledge that the decisions our elected officials have made over and over again – supposedly on our behalf – is not working.
What’s that old saying? “Repeating something over and over again and expecting different results is not progress, but rather the definition of insanity.”
Let’s look at it this way: after “serving” the citizens of Niagara Falls, most of our city’s elected officials went on to bigger and better careers. Better positions elsewhere, more lucrative county and state jobs, or excellent retirement with taxpayer-funded perks and healthcare.
The city’s citizens have not shared the same quality-of-life benefits because of their city officials’ past leadership, supposedly on their behalf. So admitting neither the City of Niagara Falls nor the citizens that live here are not benefiting or moving forward, is step one.
Step two is easier: let’s find, within Niagara Falls, an organization that truly works for the benefit of all of Niagara Falls’s residents, which maybe our current administration could learn from.
A functioning government organization that exists within Niagara Falls for the benefit of its citizens.
Current city administration: please take notes, and you’ll learn something.
Niagara Falls City School District: A Model for Government by the People
Let’s start with the number-one driver for the benefit of change for all the citizens of Niagara Falls: The Niagara Falls City School District. This group of forward-thinking individuals, led by Superintendent Mark Laurrie and the School Board President Russel Petrozzi, represents, in a way, a government as it should be: a government by the people and acting on behalf of the residents it represents. I begin by giving credit at the top, because, as everyone knows, change rolls downhill. But the group has so many talented administrators, principals, vice principals, and educators working together with clarity and forward thinking to achieve their goals for a better Niagara Falls through education, community involvement, and acting on the needs of the citizens they serve.
While the mission statement of the school district and city government are different, the Niagara Falls City School District goes beyond its scope by reaching out to individuals and organizations for valuable input to the needs of the citizens it serves. In the school district, public hearings are held, and opinions are valued and considered for the welfare of all citizens of Niagara Falls.
The School District achieves its high level of success through involvement, rather than exclusion of the opinions of the citizens they serve.
Over the past years, I’ve had the pleasure of sitting in on proposals for projects affecting and benefiting the community. I’ve seen them assemble stakeholders from around the City and beyond to solicit input on the benefits of the proposals versus the drawbacks. All opinions are valued. A true consensus is formed, not just on the immediate effects of the project, but also on the future impact and benefits.
This is also how the city government should be working – moving the city forward through cooperation, collaboration, and involvement of all city stakeholders.
Inclusion, Collaboration, and Public Involvement: Key to a Sustainable Future for Niagara Falls
This premise for success achieves sustainable answers for not just the current problems, but also the future. Cooperation, negotiation, collaboration, and public involvement is the key to establishing a better future for Niagara Falls. This creates a solution where a collaborative vision for the city is cultivated, rather than just a single person’s vision.
Our City Council should learn to cooperate, rather than dictate their individual opinions for self-promotion.
Our Mayor should not consider his vision the only path to a better Niagara Falls, but rather a beginning of a vision achieved through the inclusion of all stakeholders and citizens in Niagara Falls.
This inclusion is the only way to achieve a sustainable answer to our city’s problems. By making all citizens participants in the future vision of Niagara Falls, it also makes them share in the responsibility of turning their vision into reality. Inclusion, rather than exclusion, has been the simple answer that’s been missing all these years.
As always, I thank you for listening.