Harry Armstrong’s way: Always do the right thing

Harry Armstrong’s way: Always do the right thing

Clovis City Councilman and five-time Mayor Harry Armstrong will officially retire Monday from a 50-year public service career in our community – beginning with a 1966 appointment to the Clovis Planning Commission and a 1970 election to the City Council with 10 consecutive re-elections to that position.

On occasions like this, it is often said that such an event marks the end of an era. But Harry, a man of few words who is rarely prone to political hyperbole, would never use those words to describe his service. Yet, the definition of an era is “a period of time marked by distinctive character or events.” As his colleagues on the council, we would respectfully suggest that his retirement does, in fact, represent the end of an era.

 Harry has left an indelible mark on our community. There is the tangible evidence of his leadership, from Highway 168 to the revitalization of Old Town to our new Public Safety headquarters, the Miss Winkles Pet Adoption Center, and the Research and Technology Park.

These are places that have added great value to this community we all love. It is nearly impossible to reflect on any significant contribution in our city over the last 50 years without seeing Harry’s influence.

Maybe as important as the tangible signs of Harry’s leadership are the lessons Clovis’ leading statesman has modeled for all the city’s residents. For those of us sitting next to Harry on the dais, the valuable lessons he has taught us about community, local government, service and leadership are so simple and so fundamental to community service, engaged residents and the long-term success of our city:

Always act in the best interests of Clovis, not in your own self-interest. Agree or disagree as a council, but always be thoughtful, respectful of one another and then act and move on. Treat residents who come before the council with respect, knowing that we serve them and not the other way around.

Always keep your eye on the shared vision of our community. Never confuse a long-term goal for the community with a short-term gain. Do not be distracted by “bright, shiny objects” or the latest scheme to generate revenue. Build a “full service” community and make sure every decision we make is good for today and for the next 50 years.

Never lose sight of the basic competencies of local government and do them consistently well.

Always ensure that our residents are safe, that they have strong public infrastructure, enjoy a clean community, live in a financially sound community and always receive great customer service. In other words, create a government that residents can trust.

Always celebrate and support the staff’s skill and professionalism. Truth be told, in Clovis, the success of our community over the decades has been largely due to the competence of our staff members and their shared commitment to our community.

Harry has led the way in building relationships with the Clovis Unified School District, the Fresno Metropolitan Flood Control District, the Fresno County Council of Governments, Caltrans and every other public agency doing business in our community. He has taught us to make Clovis an easy place to do business for employers large and small.

Harry’s lesson to us all includes the importance of leading locally, regionally and at the state level because our success as a community depends, in part, on the success of the region. That means working together with the city and county of Fresno and all others in our Valley, Sacramento and Washington, D.C. Never compromise our city’s core values in the process.

While Harry’s retirement is the end of an era, it is not the end of his influence. There are many projects underway that will continue to be guided by Harry’s vision – the new Senior Center, library project and expansion of Old Town, just to name a few.

More significantly and more fundamental to our community is the fact that we have all been changed by Harry’s leadership. The quality of our Clovis city government is all the better for that. We on the City Council have become better at our own service because of his lessons.

Harry, if we can carry on your legacy with our own daily actions, that will be our highest tribute to you – and the greatest service to our community.

So, Harry, on behalf of all those who call Clovis “home,” thank you for 50 years of unselfish service. If success is defined as leaving a place better than when you found it, then that surely defines you.

From those of us serving with you on the Clovis City Council, we will never forget perhaps your most important lesson: “Always do the right thing.” That will be our promise to you.

Thank you, Harry.

Hopeless about the homeless? Don’t sit at the intersection, step up

Hopeless about the homeless? Don’t sit at the intersection, step up

It is easy to sit at almost any intersection in our community, spot a person we presume to be homeless, mentally ill (or both), and think to ourselves “No one is doing anything about this.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

First, make no mistake. The challenges of homelessness, mental illness, substance abuse and general disenfranchisement from our community are complex. There are no simple solutions.

Five years ago, our community was in crisis. County mental health services were unraveling. Calls to law enforcement were on the rise. The number of mental health patients arriving in our hospital emergency rooms was spiraling out of control.

Homeless folks were gathering in increasing numbers across the community. Our faith-based and community-based organizations were overwhelmed with needs they could not meet. The convergence of these factors was creating a dangerous and unsustainable situation.

In 2011, a small group of community leaders from all sectors came together to have a conversation about what we all could do – collectively – to significantly transform our mental health system of care. We gathered to consider this seemingly intractable challenge. We toured communities like San Antonio and San Diego to learn about what worked. And what didn’t.

Our group, Community Conversations, has stayed together since 2011 and represents an amazing collaboration of community leaders: police chiefs from Fresno, Clovis, and Selma; the sheriff’s office; Superior Court; the district attorney; Fresno County Probation; hospital CEOs; the Fresno mayor’s office; Fresno County Department of Behavioral Health and Emergency Medical System; Veterans Affairs; community health clinics; housing providers; community- and faith-based leaders; Fresno State, Fresno Pacific and Alliant universities; mental health providers; family members; and more.

Our group is driven by several core principles. First, if any one sector could have solved the issues of mental health, homelessness and substance abuse on its own, it would have. But they couldn’t. Silos came down. Our shared vision keeps us at the table.

Second, at every meeting, the group is reminded that the political will to change our system and improve the lives of the people we serve is at that table. Remain committed or step away. Thankfully, the group has grown as participants have recognized that the power of this collaborative to substantively change our community for the better is far greater than the power of any one of our organizations on our own.

Third, we are driven by outcomes. Not talk, but real outcomes we can see and measure.

This month, we celebrated the one-year anniversary of the MAP Point at the Pov (Poverello House, a homeless shelter). MAP Point, the Multi-Agency Access Partnership, was launched last year to provide a single point of entry into the very complex systems of behavioral health, substance abuse treatment, social services, housing and more.

Since its inception, the MAP Point at the Pov has encountered nearly 3,700 individuals, some more than once. Of that number, we have helped establish 681 households – including 324 veteran households – through federally funded programs, reunification with family or friends or self-resolution. We made 1,785 linkages to services, including mental health, substance abuse and employment. We served men, women and a growing number of families through our first MAP Point.

At our one-year celebration, we had the privilege of hearing from Bill. Bill recounted his story of many start-and-stop attempts at finding help, none of which were successful until he ventured into the MAP Point and connected with his case manager, Ernesto.

Ernesto became Bill’s “navigator,” ensuring he had the help he needed for housing, medical care and more. Within 30 days, Bill signed an apartment lease, his health has improved, and he is contributing to our community in far more productive ways.

The county Department of Behavioral Health will take the lead on expanding our network of MAP Points to rural communities and to underserved populations in our communities. We firmly believe that getting services to where folks are – and having all the services where and when they need them – is our best chance at restoring the individuals we serve to their highest and best selves.

And after all, isn’t that the responsibility and challenge of leadership?

To quote Mayor Ashley Swearengin, there is no reason for Fresno to be “hopeless about homelessness.” To the contrary, we have all the pieces in place to effectively address issues of homelessness and mental health better than most places in the country.

We invite you to be part of the solution, instead of just sitting at the intersection.

Sticking with the basics

Sticking with the basics

The amount and pace of economic change affecting our national, state and local governments has caused me to think once again about the notion of community stewardship: the idea of choosing ‘service over self-interest.’

Our community has been fortunate because this concept of stewardship is personified in Clovis’ rich tradition of community-focused families like Sassano, Smittcamp, Rogers, Cook, Harlan, Ikeda, MacFarlane, Sandoval, Takahashi and many more. Through nearly a century of our existence, these and many other individuals and families have provided the civic foundation that has guided our community.

Maybe it is because of this strong, consistent civic stewardship that we have also had the good fortune that the majority of our elected officials throughout history not only embraced those same community values and civic commitments, but reflected them in their visionary decision-making, as well.

Today we are all enjoying community benefits that are the legacy of choices made long ago by Clovis’ previous generations of elected officials. We owe today’s community to former council members and mayors like Prindiville, King, Bos, Wynne, Hamlin and Waterston. When asked about their most important decisions and the lessons they learned from them, their answers were consistently similar:

  • Make decisions that will stand up 30, 40, 50 years from now.
  • Work hard, focus, and don’t spend money you don’t have.
  • Preserve the core of our city and our individuality as a significant city in our own right.
  • Honoring our traditions always informs good choices.
  • Set high expectations and accept nothing less from yourself, the Council, the staff and the community.
  • Resisting influence or pressure is always a wise choice and making decisions based on individual political ambition rarely is.
  • Keep talking about differences.

What I hear from Clovis residents and business owners are that they expect three simple things from local government:

Competence. Results. Humanity.

And while the confidence in State and federal government to deliver these is quite low, residents still have very high expectations for Clovis.

“I like that Clovis is safe.” “I like that Clovis is clean.” “I like that Clovis works.” “Just do the basics well.” These are the sentiments I hear from citizens every day. With the growth and rapid pace of change that we are facing in Clovis, there is plenty to keep us busy on the City Council without spending time, energy or other resources on issues for which we are not accountable and that we cannot resolve for the benefit of all local residents.

Now more than ever, our community and its elected officials need to work together to maintain our focus on Clovis issues within our power to manage – the very thing that has brought us the success we have experienced to date.

Clovis: Distinctions that define our community

Clovis: Distinctions that define our community

There is something unique about our community. Clovis local government is viewed as an accessible, “local” resource, not some gigantic bureaucracy where there is little response and less action. When I speak with Clovis residents individually at the grocery store or at a school activity, they always end up saying something like “Clovis feels manageable” or “I called City Hall and they talked to me about it” or “I emailed so and so about it and they connected me with the right person.”
So what are the community distinctions about Clovis that make a difference? With the rise of chain stores, “big box” retail centers, and global branding, it is becoming harder and harder for communities to distinguish themselves.

But, fundamentally, Clovis residents do NOT believe their community is the same as other places in our Valley.

Our population is approaching 100,000. We are maintaining our Old Town, reinvesting in our older neighborhoods like the Historic Helm Ranch area in Southwest Clovis, creating new neighborhoods with distinct identities through our “urban villages” strategy, and adding new living wage jobs each year.

The Shaw Avenue Committee is a model collaborative for productive work between government and the private sector. It informally operates as a business improvement district, adding marketing signage, improving landscaping, and renewing private sector commitment in the corridor.

When you ask folks why they moved to Clovis, they will always tell you one of two things, each of which speaks to the power of fundamental competency as a core value: schools and public safety.

Clovis residents also demand that the people who make decisions for them be good stewards of water and land – today and for the next generation.

To keep our community involved, we have worked aggressively and have learned a lot about citizen engagement and communication. In Clovis, small groups of citizens can still make a significant difference.

As Clovis has been dealing with change over the last few decades, our residents have been saying clearly and loudly that they want the values reflected in our Clovis community identity and our shared way of life to remain at the core of our decision making.

These are uncertain times in our world, difficult times for our country, and almost unmanageable financial times for California and its cities. Yet, even as we begin dealing with the changes and new constraints of the next few years, our residents are still telling me they want to avoid the degradation other cities has quietly allowed over the years – they want Clovis to maintain our distinct community identity, our standards of personal service , and our shared way of life.

Those important community distinctions remain at the core of my decision making.

Core Community Values

Core Community Values

As we look forward, Clovis residents are saying they want us to continue operating with the core values that define our uniqueness and that have preserved our history.

  1. Clovis must continue to have a vision for itself.
  2. Local Clovis government must continue being transparent and remain accessible for resident engagement.
  3. High standards of competence must remain the entry level standard for staff and elected officials
  4. Clovis must remain the safest city in the Valley.
  5. Solid planning, innovative design, creative solutions, solvency, and strong financial management must continue as the minimum operational standard for our city’s departments and public institutions because that is the path to stability and self-sufficiency.
  6. Because rising tides lift all boats, Clovis must continue pursuing collaborative solutions to regional issues, knowing that our self interest is best served by progress on our shared interests.

Institutional competency becomes a growing challenge as cities and their processes grow more complex. Most of us experience large institutions as more complex, less flexible, less personal, more focused on managing a transaction on the system’s terms, and less capable of being accountable for providing real solutions to real people – that the system works more for those in it than for those its suppose to be serving. As our community grows, our local government must remain focused on accessibility, personal service, and results.

As we grow, so, too, do the number of folks in our midst who cannot afford a home or food or clothing. Clovis residents want their city to be prepared to help those folks in an organized, thoughtful way that respects their humanity and ours.

So, Clovis is more than houses, schools, and shopping centers. We are a community of distinctions based on core values and refined over a century. With care on all of our parts and a desire to live them daily, our shared values in Clovis and this Valley will serve us well for the next 100 years.

Lynne’s Principles of Civic Leadership

Lynne’s Principles of Civic Leadership

  1. Civic leadership starts with civic engagement. Vote. Pay attention. Know who is in office. Know how that vacant parcel of land in your neighborhood is slated to develop. Attend a City Council meeting now and then. Model civic engagement for your children. Participate in ways large and small.
  2. Learn more about our community…how it started…where Clovis Cole’s first ranch was located…and make sure your neighbors know, as well. Preserving our traditions is an important part of civic leadership today. In your community, just like in your family, past is prologue – history and traditions help us forge a more successful future.
  3. To whom much is given, much is expected. Choose one thing to do…one way to make a difference in your neighborhood, at your children’s school, in our city. There is much to be done…if everyone who was able just did ONE thing, think of all that might be possible! If not you…who?There is a distinct difference between public opinion, political will and “civic will.” Elected officials come and go…but civic leaders are a constant. Deciding to ACT as a “citizen” means we are the cause of our environment…not the effect of it. Civic engagement is not a spectator sport.
  4. Act on what matters to you…not just what sustains the status quo.
  5. There is a fundamental difference between service and self-interest.Choose to be a steward of our community. Be present where you are today. Be aware of the distinction between ambition and civic leadership …and wary of those seeking office as a “stepping stone” who do not know or respect the difference. The decisions you get are vastly different.
  6. Ships in harbors are safe…but that is not what ships were made for.Leadership would be safe if our community only faced problems for which we knew the solutions.
  7. Consider the whole. Single-issue or partisan advocacy often oversimplifies complex public policy problems…and community issues are rarely simple and are always linked to something else. Focus on solving problems rather than blocking others from implementing their solutions.
  8. A rising tide lifts all boats. Clovis is not an island or “walled city” immune from the issues of surrounding communities. Stand for efforts that help our region succeed.