It is overdue that all government agencies become open and transparent … The LBL Issue

LBL morning landscape

Land Between The Lakes

To Those Interested:

Sadly, it is once again time to have our elected officials at the local, state and federal level step to the plate and stop the US Forest Service at Land Between The Lakes from making a mockery of the commitments made to the former residents, users, visitors and taxpayers.

The most recent petition drive to stop the clear-cutting and burning at this 170,000 national outdoor recreation, education and resource management area is the latest eruption in the ongoing battle to get a federal agency back in line to serve its constituency.

Everyone should understand that the USFS actions directly impacts the local tourism economy of western Kentucky and ultimately the Commonwealth’ s economy, so I am sure the Governor and Kentucky State legislators are already in touch with the locally elected officials to stop these actions. If not, now is the time for them to step up and speak out.

I commend the work of Lyon Judge Wade White and Trigg County Judge Hollis White, and Professor David Nickell and others who have committed to engaging in openness and transparency to inform and educate those with an interest in LBL  – this is something that too many local, state and federal governments only say they will do.

They are effectively using social and traditional media to push their opposition on the USFS actions out to the people that count – the former residents, the taxpayers, the users and the visitors to this national treasure. They must keep up the openness and transparency and continue to inform, educate and collaborate with those they serve and insist that the federal managers come to the table to resolve this crisis that the USFS created.

Any well-read or TV-versed person knows that the Obama administration has demonstrated they are “big on hat, short on cattle” when it comes to openness and transparency and, therefore, it seems the US Forest Service can be the same. Well, USFS you are wrong! You have been called out.

I am not surprised that Land Between The Lakes talking head Jan Bush says U.S. Forestry officials don’t plan to attend the February 26th public meeting, but they look forward to the dialogue that follows. I have to ask, how will you know what that dialogue is Ms. Bush if you don’t attend?

Knowing how the federal government works, after spending almost two decades trying to make it an open and transparent government that sought out public opinion and dialogue before making decisions that impacted its customers, all I can say is “I am sure the USFS management and employees are waiting with baited breathe over at LBL to hear the outcome of this meeting.”

According to local media sources, Wade White of Lyon County and Hollis Alexander of Trigg County are encouraging community members to voice concerns at a public meeting they’re planning for February 26th in Grand Rivers. White says logging and burning ongoing in the northern portion of LBL makes the landscape look devastated.

“If we truly are a recreational area like what was promised back in the 60s, to draw in people so it helps our economies all around, that’s not happening,” said White. “That’s not going to happen if it becomes a tree farm.”

White has been publicly critical of logging and burning operations in LBL both on his and Lyon County’s Facebook page. He’s raising funds to bolster his efforts with a media campaign, says the tax funded National Public Radio website WKMS at Murray State University.

Judge White I strongly urge you to sit down with the all the tourism commissions in the area and voice your concern. Kentucky Western Waterlands, Inc. should be speaking up on behalf of the regional tourism businesses.

Also, Judge White and Alexander please contact the Southeast Outdoor Press Association (http://seopa.org); The Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers Association (http://aglowinfo.org); The National Outdoor Writers Association (http://owaa.org); the Tennessee and Kentucky Press associations and outdoor writer association and such imminent and respected outdoor writers as Wade Bourne (http://www.wadebourneoutdoors.com/ ) in Clarksville, Tenn.; Steve Vantress in Paducah, and Bill Evans, Vice President of Operations and News at WPSD-TV and let them know of this egregious issue and the opposition and give them interviews, fact sheets, photographs and video. Take this story to the world and I assure you these people will respond.

We support Judge White and Judge Alexander; however, just as we saw with the US Corps of Engineers attempts to recently ram down a new policy about fishing below Barkley Dam without public input and consideration these judges will have to have the total support of Congressman Whitfield and Senators McConnell and Paul to stop this outrageous activity. Now, is the time to insist that the state and federal representatives publicly speak up and demonstrate their support of your viewpoints.

This time federal legislation must be designed to also include a provision that stops such excessive forestry practices and ensures that all roads to all cemeteries in LBL will be maintained and remain open at all times. The legislation should focus any agency that runs this project on operation and maintenance of existing facilities, confine them to the facilities they currently have with no more commercialization expansion and insist that they are at all times engaged with the public seeking input, comment and collaborative decision-making.

Make no mistake to stop this action will require federal legislation, supported by the state of Kentucky and Tennessee and the local and state elected officials.

As concerned citizens and taxpayers, call and write your federally elected officials, your Governor and state legislators and insist they attend this meeting. Ask them the federally elected representatives to intervene legislatively and insist while they are at it that they insist the USFS demonstrate enough courage to come to these meetings and hear the public’s views, issues, concerns and dialogue.

It is time that government at all levels actively seek out and engage those who pay their salaries and fund their budgets — the taxpayers. In fact, that time is long overdue!

Finally, drive over to LBL and see this situation for yourselves. Call Judge White and Alexander and talk to them and express your opinions, attend this meeting on February 26th in Grand Rivers; call WPSD-TV, the Paducah Sun and your local newspapers and insist they attend.

Use your own personal social media sites to get your messages and opinions out there, whatever they might be and insist that the USFS become open and transparent.

Finally, Judge White and Alexander file Freedom of Information Acts requesting all documents dealing with this and all management issues of concern and if it is found that someone sitting in the southwestern United States wrote this management plan reveal that fact to the public.

Go to these sites to learn more and attend these meetings to voice your opinions, your outrage and or your concern:

https://www.facebook.com/lblcoalition

http://lblcoalition.org/wp/2015/02/please-take-a-drive-to-see-for-yourself/

Solve problems by involving those who have them

In 1973, I was fortunate enough to be selected for a position at what was then the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Land Between The Lakes. I had been a newspaper reporter and editor up until then, and I was excited about working in the field of “public relations.”I was chosen to be the Reports Editor, a title that really meant nothing. Reports Editor is one of those arcane titles that the federal government uses to “hide their real intent.” I was in this position from 1973-1979.Looking back, I would say that this job probably taught me more than any of the others.Local people in western Kentucky and Tennessee have feelings that run deep even to this day about TVA. Those people, especially the ones who were forced from their homes for TVA’s national demonstration area in outdoor recreation and environmental education, will never get over it.However, when I was 23, I saw this opportunity as a great challenge. I decided from day one to reach out and engage all members of the public who had an interest in the project, especially the former residents and the business community. I sought to develop working relationships among diverse groups.More than once, management questioned why I spent many extra hours attending meetings of the tourist associations, chambers, economic development committees and the various state agency public hearings.

I may not have been able to articulate it then, but now I realize what the answer to this question was. If you truly want to solve a problem, you must involve the people with the problem in the solution. You must develop meaningful and sustainable relationships with them based on trust.

I took my responsibility of being a “public servant” seriously. I believed then, just as I do today, that all government employees have an obligation to engage the taxpayers (the very people who pay taxes to provide government employees’ salaries) in meaningful discussions to find appropriate solutions to difficult problems.

Many of my colleagues thought and felt, as they expressed to me, that I was wasting my time trying to develop relationships with the very people who wanted TVA to take the proverbial hike.

They were wrong then, and government agencies that still play at public involvement and engagement without meaningful intent are even more wrong now.

Since the taxpayers’ money pays government employee salaries, the taxpaying public has the right to be engaged in helping agencies make the best possible decisions.

Allow me to give you an example.

Recently, I was asked to facilitate a series of public meetings for a federal agency. I quickly determined after the first meeting, a nightmare for all involved, that two things were readily apparent:

– The federal agency didn’t really want a facilitated meeting. Facilitated meetings in my world are set up to bring all the people to the table and keep them there, no matter how long, until an agreed upon path forward is determined.

– The agency really wanted a traffic cop or a moderator for these meetings. The second meeting we moderated, even though I thought it unwise to do. The meeting went well although I voiced my professional opinion, something I rarely do when I am conducting a meeting.

I told the public that we had advised the agency that its meeting model should be changed to a more educational and involvement model rather than just an informational model. An educational model would allow for significantly more public involvement and, at the least, shared assessment of the problem, if not some shared decision-making.

Needless to say, the agency and my former contractor have decided they “really don’t have the funds to have a facilitator.”

Frankly, I am glad they came to that decision. I was going to be forced to walk away from the project anyway, something I have done in the past when agencies tried to fake public engagement by applying only the necessary rules and regulations.

This leads me back to the need to solve the problems by involving the people directly affected.

There are six steps I recommend to truly involve the people directly affected, whether it is a small business or a government agency manager:

– Ask those involved to share the information they want to share, not just the information you want them to share. Be prepared to keep your mouth closed and your ears open.

Ask open-ended questions like, “What else do we need to know that is important for you to share?”

Questions like these not only enable the customer or the member of the public (stakeholder) to vent. It also allows them to be involved in the assessment of the problem.

– Ask them to prioritize information they have shared. Because they are venting, this is their therapy, and you will get a significant information dump. Have them help you figure out the really important information they have shared.

It annoys people with a problem or complaint when you assume you know what concerns them most.

– Ask them for their advice or opinions.

Oh, I know foresters, fishery experts, nuclear specialists and government managers all know what they are doing more so than the public does, However, they (read taxpayer here for government agencies and customer for small business) do have opinions and advice to share.

Being willing to ask for advice and opinions does not mean that you will necessarily take it. This should also be stated up front. However, when you understand their priorities, their values and their viewpoints, a solution can often be created which meets the needs of all parties involved.

– Offer them alternatives.

People are more committed to decisions that they help make. Not only are they committed, they have a stake in the decision and, as such, will help defend the decision, if need be.

In addition, if you are a small business person, you will demonstrate to the customer that you are taking that extra step to satisfy the complaint or meet the request.

When the request can’t be met, for whatever reason, be prepared to offer alternatives.

– Determine the minimum need.

Ask the customer or the stakeholder what he or she would like you to do immediately. This helps to diffuse their anger rather quickly. If this is not done correctly, especially in the government world, outrage can and often does result.

When members of the public become outraged, it often results in unwanted political or media involvement. Don’t believe this? Did you watch the public outrage over the shooting of the unarmed minority teenager in Florida? Or, perhaps you recall the “Occupiers” movement in the larger cities?

By taking some action, you gain some additional time to take care of the greater problem.

– Ask them to provide you some alternative solutions.

Be direct in your request. If you are a small business person say something like, “Ms. Jones, I’m stumped. I’ve offered you all the alternative solutions I can. What kind of solution would you propose?”

Often this makes people realize they are being unreasonable, or at the very least, it lessens the tension and re-engages all parties toward working to a mutually acceptable path forward.

You probably have figured this out by now. Underlying all these actions is your intention to build workable and meaningful relationships.

When you have built meaningful and sustainable relationships, and you have demonstrated that your behaviors match your words (you walk your talk), then your chances of building workable solutions greatly increases. Your willingness to involve the people impacted can make all the difference in solving a mutual problem.

Dr. L. Darryl Armstrong, Armstrong and Associates, is a consultant and counselor. He can be reached at drdarryl@aol.com or 1-888-340-2006 or www.ldarrylarmstrong.com

Strategic planning can resolve or prevent a simmering, emerging or latent crisis

Strategic crisis communication planning and thoughtful preparation can help you deal effectively with those simmering, latent and emerging crises, disasters, emergencies or other unusual events that may cause unfavorable publicity or perceptions of you and your organization even if you have created the crisis yourself …

  • Be prepared – Although emergencies by their very nature are unpredictable, unless of course you create the crisis either intentionally or unintentionally by your behavior, it is possible to list and prepare for those potential negative scenarios that might occur during chapter activities. It also is possible to set up a communication system that can be activated in almost any emergency situation.
  • Do the right thing – In any emergency situation it is imperative that you put the public interest ahead of the organization’s and your personal interest. Your first responsibility is to the safety and well being of the people involved. Once safety has been restored, face the public and face the facts. Never try to minimize a serious problem or “smooth it over” in the hopes that no one will notice. Conversely, don’t blow minor incidents out of proportion or allow others to do so.
  • Communicate quickly and accurately – Positive, assertive communication focuses attention on the most important aspects of the problem and moves the entire process forward to resolution, even in a negative environment or with an antagonistic news media. Understand that the main stream media representatives have an obligation to provide reliable information to their audiences, and they will get that information whether or not you cooperate. If you won’t comment on the situation, you can be sure someone else will. You maintain some control by making sure you are at least one of the major sources of media information in a crisis. Give factual information, don’t speculate.
  • Use social media – If you have established electronic relationships via Facebook and Twitter in advance of the crisis, now is the time to use social media to shape the message and quickly correct any mis-information being relayed by other sources.
  • Follow up – Make amends to those affected and then do whatever is necessary to restore your organizations reputation in the community. Change internal policies or institute new ones to minimize a repeat of the crisis situation. Also, revise your crisis communication plan based on your experience.
  • Successful communication will depend, in large part, on the preparations and relationships you have established long before the crisis occurs.
MOre information is available at: www.ldarrylarmstrong.com