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Letter to the Editor: Bravo for Hermosa Beach's 'Community Dialogue'

Dear Editor:

Bravo “Community Dialogue” as a public engagement process reflective of the visionary leadership of the Hermosa Beach City Council and City Manager [Tom] Bakaly demonstrating belief in the value of empowering stakeholders in community decision making. It is in stark contrast to the Manhattan Beach City Council and City Manager [David] Carmany patronizing its residents through public participation (e.g., limited three minutes to address issues at council meetings).

Public participation represents the status quo. Public engagement represents moving forward. Public participation represents passive communication whereas public engagement represents two-way deliberation, hence, dialogue. Public participation represents a parent-child relationship between a governing body and its residents. Public engagement represents transformation into an adult-adult relationship with community members. 

Public participation represents interest-group politics and win-lose decision-making based on the balance of power. Public engagement represents decision-making based on community-wide collaboration and consensus building among stakeholders. Public participation represents closed-system representative democracy. Public engagement represents open government consultative democracy. 

Public engagement is increasingly necessary in generating community support on critical issues, especially generating resources in the wake of citizen revolt against increasing taxation. Further, the new shape of the public sector requires networking with internal and external stakeholders because city governments are no longer self-sufficient monolithic organizations.

A 2013 study of 500 civic leaders by the non-partisan Public Agenda reflected they “feel that the relationship between the public and local government is deeply strained on both sides” and “believe the traditional formats for addressing public issues do not work.”   

The same study of 900 local officials resisted public engagement because it perceived the “public as largely disengaged” but were “confident in their capacity to implement a deliberative public engagement process.”  Manhattan Beach has failed. Hermosa Beach has succeeded. Bravo!


Edward C. Caprielian, Ph.D.

Manhattan Beach

Attachments from Caprielian

  • “Public Engagement in California,” Info Graphic Highlights from Research Study by Public Agenda*
  •  “Testing the Waters: Local Governments Experiment with New Ways to Engage the Public,” a Report by Public Agenda, Executive Summary*
  • “Beyond Business as Usual: Leaders of California’s Civic Organizations Seek New Ways to Engage the Public,” a report by Public Agenda, Executive Summary*

 *For full reports on this study by the non-partisan Public Agenda in conjunction with Pepperdine University’s Davenport Institute of Public Engagement and the Institute of Local Government see, http://www.ca-ilg.org/overview/new-research-public-participation-local-government-decision-making

Editor's Note: Letters to the editor are welcome and can be emailed to liz.spear@patch.com or use the comments section that goes with each post to express yourself.


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