William Washington is on a mission in Warsaw.
And the town councilman and music teacher is hoping to enlist as many citizens, business owners and interested parties as possible in his effort to battle misconceptions about the town and help pave the way for a brighter future.
“I know I always voice my frustration with the role of local government being kind of reactive rather than proactive,” Washington said at a recent council meeting.
“What I tend to hear that I don’t like is that Warsaw doesn’t want anything here and I just feel like something needs to be done to offset that public perception,” Washington said.
Towards that end, he has created a series of focus group meetings designed to help promote positive change and open the lines of communication between the public and elected officials.
“Let them bring in their dream lists, their wish lists and their grievances and just kind of power a community sound-off about Warsaw,” Washington said. “What I am hoping happens is that we start shared visioning and…maybe we can get some ideas and support out of it.”
On the input series’ website, Washington said that the events would be casual focus group sessions where anyone can voice their recommendations and concerns about the current and future state of the town.
“I keep saying this, and it is a theme every month, it feels like people think we are this mystic organization that meets in the shadows somewhere and drops down gavels and says ‘These are the rules,’” Washington said during an Oct. 11 meeting. “People need to understand that we would love to hear what they have to say because they are the ones that are affected. Change theory is that if you, of all people that are affected, get to change the process, the [change] process is more likely to recur, stay and maintain.”
Although the initiative was first discussed at a public meeting, Washington was quick to note on his website that the group will not have any governmental affiliations.
“It is important to understand that this is not, in any way, a politically motivated conversation,” he said. “The goal is to make Warsaw a better place to work, live and play. These sessions are exercises in collaboration, community spirit and positivity. This is an opportunity for people to speak freely without fear of recourse and to contribute to the development of our town.”
He added that the think tank was entirely his idea and had no roots in town council.
“I feel as if Warsaw feels that local government makes policy and simply informs its citizens. I believe it is time for the citizens to inform Warsaw,” Washington said, adding that change does not happen in a vacuum and that is time to open the doors and allow more people to become substantial contributors in transforming Warsaw into one of the most desirable small towns in America.
“We need to start a discussion that determines our needs and values as a community. Then, we need to start defining what it is we’re really trying to become,” he said. “It is very difficult to build something if there’s no blueprint. People want Warsaw to be better, but this begs the question, ‘What exactly is better?’”
Washington said that the sessions would allow the community to come together and build a shared vision, shared values, and shared expectations for the town.
Town Attorney Bill Lewis said that the group could become an integral part of shaping a new comprehensive plan for the town, adding that some current ordinances may be adding to the public’s negative perception of the town.
“Look at procedures and see if you can streamline them so that businesses can come in and open sooner,” Lewis said. “I’ve been Town Attorney for Tappahannock for 20 years. I don’t remember a business coming before town council for anything. It just doesn’t happen.”
He added that Washington’s idea could open undiscovered avenues of conversation and be a springboard for the local economy.
“This while [region] needs the economic stimulus and anything that local governments can encourage people to do to come and live and work here is just critical to all of these communities… and the future of rural life,” Lewis said.
Washington agreed, noting on his site that even if there are needs that are beyond people’s control, having a conversation about them helps everyone understand and accept the parameters involved and may lead the discovery of untapped resources.
“So, I suppose the short answer to ‘Why are you doing this?’ is simply to make Warsaw better,” he said.
Washington encouraged anyone interested in his group to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about his initiative, visit http://www.makewarsawbetter.blogspot.com.