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Government 101: Communication, compromise, collaborate
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Chris Matthews, host of the MSNBC television show, “Hardball,” is the author of a book entitled “Tip and The Gipper — When Politics Worked,” that should be required reading for anyone in a political leadership position. Drawing on his experiences working for Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tip O’Neill, during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, Matthews tells how these two powerful political figures, while having diametrically opposed political views, could find a way to get the peoples’ business done.

Matthews, a self-described liberal — some would say extremely liberal — presents a relatively balanced evaluation of how Reagan and O’Neill got major legislation through a Congress that was significantly different from its predecessors. It was a Congress with several members elected on a promise to fix some of the things that led to Watergate and the resignation of a president of the United States. Reagan and the Speaker had their work cut out for them and they knew it. But using a secret weapon that they honed to near perfection, they went to work. What was their secret weapon? Hidden in plain view — respect for each other’s office and dedication to the idea that the best solutions come from communication, compromise and collaboration.

Fortunately, for most of Newton County, that secret weapon was discovered more than a decade ago when local political and business leaders decided that problems that seem overwhelming can be dealt with when those responsible for finding a solution work together. Supporting the notion that respectful communication was the key, those leaders came up with the idea of meeting in a neutral place where all participants were afforded an equal opportunity to speak their mind. Thus was born The Center for Community Preservation and Planning, home to Newton County Tomorrow (NCT), a 501 (c) (3) non-profit incorporated in the state of Georgia.

Reorganized in 2015, NCT is governed by a board consisting of the mayors of Newton County’s five cities, the Chair of the Board of Commissioners, the Superintendent of the Newton County Public School System, the Executive Director of the Newton County Water and Sewer Authority, the President of the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce and 11 private citizens. In addition to providing a neutral meeting place, NCT sponsors independent research and reporting on topics of interest to the local governments and the general public.

Recently, NCT sponsored a panel discussion of Newton County’s water system. The panel included several engineers with special training and experience in water system evaluation. All of Newton County’s cities, and many residents of the county, rely on water processed by the county and distributed through a network of water lines owned by the cities and NCWSA. Commercial and industrial users rely on this same system. That report and one to be prepared by the county water management team will provide a valuable blueprint for meeting Newton County’s water needs today and in the future.

Meeting federal and state requirements can be daunting — especially for small communities with limited resources. NCT works with state agencies and commissions to assist local governments in meeting many of these requirements at little or no expense to the community. One example of this is the requirement that every local government meet periodically with Regional Commission representatives and demonstrate compliance with the state’s planning requirements. NCT brought everyone together at The Center and, working with the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, accomplished in one day what would otherwise have taken several meetings over several days.

Another example of working together: NCT facilitated the acquisition of the WaterFirst designation for the entire Newton County water system (at that time, it was the only entire county certification in the state). Sponsored by the State of Georgia, the WaterFirst designation enables the cities, county and authorities to borrow funds for water projects at greatly reduced rates. NCWSA is saving more than one million dollars in interest payments because of the WaterFirst program. Cities that are replacing old water lines and using GEFA funding will realize savings of approximately $100,000 for every $1 million borrowed.

Chris Matthews’ account of how Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan reached an agreement with Congress on a plan to help keep the Social Security program solvent is a great example of utilizing the three C’s. After much give and take, an agreement was reached. But when it came time to reduce it to writing, they couldn’t reach an agreement on the wording of the agreement. Finally, both sides issued statements saying they understood the other side supported the agreement and, that being the case, they would support the agreement. It was an interesting way of avoiding being left alone on that proverbial limb. Communication, compromise and collaboration at work.

Roseberry is the mayor of the city of Oxford.