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.