What's Tony Thinking

Grandiosity and Governance


Marc Dones, the Director of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, called it quits last week. The KCRHA had been the hoped for answer to homelessness in the region. The idea, a good one, was to get all the players at the same table to come up with regional responses. But the RHA has been mired in dysfunction during Dones 3 year tenure.

At the Seattle Times Danny Westneat asks, “What’s the point of the RHA really,” and is it worth keeping?

It’s a good question, and column, by Westneat, who has been covering the homelessness issue a lot of late and doing so from a more practical, less ideological, perspective. In his critique of the KCRHA, Westneat makes a good point with broader implications. The RHA under Dones leadership has framed the issues surrounding homelessness in such grand and sweeping terms that actual on-the-ground solutions got overlooked, underplayed or went MIA. Westneat’s apt word for this approach is “grandiosity.”

In Dones resignation statement. he writes, “In order to do better, we must all commit to telling the whole truth, not just about the work now, but also how generations of systemic racism and oppression, decisions made by people in positions of power, brought us here.”

“But,” observes Westneat, “it’s not a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It’s supposed to build shelter and help get homeless people up and off the streets.

“This same pretense,” continues Westneat, “lives strong in other arms of government, too, like the Seattle School Board. They take it upon themselves to confront society’s most serious ills, some of which, as Dones points out, are titanic and generational. It’s well meaning, but the more immediate, incremental tasks can get left undone. Like boosting reading scores. Or even the most basic ones, such as paying the bills.

“I would like to see the future RHA focus more on nuts and bolts like this, even if it isn’t the whole truth.”

One might also include, not only the KCRHA and School Board, but the Seattle City Council, at least in its recent incarnations, in this critique. The progressive social critique of patriarchy, systemic racism, the history of policing and capitalism — which has some truth in it — is so broad-scale that it overwhelms more modest efforts to make progress.

Another way to put this is that such arms of government need to make progress on the nuts and bolts, on fixing the streets, so to speak, if they are to have credibility on larger social issues.

In my world of ministry and church leadership we call this “paying the rent.” That is, a newish pastor does well to pay attention to a congregation’s expressed and felt needs in order to gain the trust and credit to take on larger issues.

You may think the big issue is the dealing with “the end of Christendom” and the role of the church in the post-Christian, post-modern world, but if the congregation is saying, “our Sunday School and program for kids isn’t working,” or “our stewardship program is in the crapper,” you are well-advised to pay attention to such laments. They shouldn’t be your end-point, but neither should you neglect such nuts and bolts issues while casting your big vision. Both — a larger picture and nuts and bolts — are needed. Leadership involves finding the right balance.

But often today, as with the KCRHA, at least some clergy see, or claim to see, the forest but miss the actual trees. Another way my mentors put it to me was, “If you haven’t been at the hospital bed sides or at the kitchen tables during the week, you got no business in the pulpit on Sunday.”

Dones and the RHA gave us lofty rhetoric but would have nothing to do with tiny homes as an interim solution. In the era of the Woke critique of society we’ve lost sight of the fact that governance is seldom glamorous, but is more often making progress on incremental steps, responding to felt needs and implementing solutions that people can see and feel. You do that and then, maybe, you gain enough trust and credit to take on bigger issues. You don’t do that and you just contribute to the larger distrust of government.



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