Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA)
The best way to "deal" with local politics is to not deal with them at all. If the phrase "dealing with local politics" sounds like handling toxic materials then it may be a symptom of relationships that need mending. CATA's lack of negative experiences with local politics cannot be attributed to good luck. Conflicts thrive when relationships and communication are weak or non-existent. They can drain valuable time and energy needed to effectively manage a transit system. So, what is that healthy design for governmental relations?
It starts with service. We work tirelessly to respond to the public need in a positive manner. Whether it is a mayor, a township supervisor or a customer, all requests are carefully considered and if the proposed change is for the public good and resources allow, we try to be responsive to those needs. Occasionally an idea comes forward that is flawed. But, with those relationships in good shape, we can freely discuss alternative solutions that make sense. Our local leaders trust that CATA is where the local transportation expertise resides.
Underneath that relational approach is a constant understanding that our customers, our board and our elected officials are at the helm. Their needs, their funding and their support are why and how we exist as public transit agencies. The term "public service" only becomes an empty cliché when we don't conduct ourselves, at all levels of our organizations, as the public servants that we are. Those of us serving in the capacity of CEO should remember that we are paid staff of the local politicians. Even if they are not seated on our board, they represent local citizens who power our work. That citizen power stems from their transportation needs, as well as their valuable support at the ballot box and the payment of property taxes.
In addition to responsive service design, healthy governmental and community stakeholder relationships are nurtured by encouraging management personnel participation on area boards and committees. Being on a first-name basis with community leaders raises awareness of plans that could impact transit planning and operations. When people know you and trust you, communication thrives.
In addition to being ‘in the know', a second benefit of employee participation on community boards and projects is the reinforcement of an organization's positive reputation. Reputation is based on the singular actions taken by people in an organization.
A less formal approach, but one that is often most influential, are the one-to-one meetings with area leaders. Taking time to go to those weekend and evening receptions can be a pain, but in the long run, they serve as a pain ‘block'. The more we get to know people, the more we connect with them, the better the chances are that we will reduce or eliminate the need to "overcome" or "deal with" those who we serve. It does work — 34 years at this organization proves that it does!
Metropolitan Tulsa Transit Authority
As an introduction to our area's public transit system, Tulsa Transit makes a point of taking new city councilors and other elected officials for a "get acquainted" bus ride soon after they come into office.
Not long ago, after making our introductions to a newly elected city councilor at the downtown station, a passenger who was waiting for a bus came over to me and began telling me how our service was too sparse and how we needed to add a lot more service if we expected to get people to ride the bus. Having the new city councilor standing next to me in a position to personally hear his constituent's complaints couldn't have been better choreographed.
Since I have been in the public transit field it has been my experience that most elected officials are generally in favor of the idea of public transit and genuinely believe in the benefits it provides to our citizens. The problem is that there are never enough resources to fund all the worthy government programs these officials are asked to fund.