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Administrator's Blog

Jul 14

Does Weston Have SOUL? -- UW Oshkosh Survey Results

Posted on July 14, 2016 at 11:02 AM by Renee Hodell

July 14, 2016

During graduate school, I was introduced to Robert Putnam, a political scientist, who published his book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community in 2000. In this influential work, the Harvard professor argued that what he called “social capital” – the connections that grease the wheels of our society – were breaking down, taking with them networks, trust and reciprocity that these connections advance.

Putnam drew together figures that highlighted falling civic engagement – everything from parents volunteering at their children’s school to churchgoing to dinner parties to citizens taking part in local government – and since I was working in and studying municipal management, I found his research fascinating. Putnam contends that social capital helps drive productivity, health, education, safety and the economy. He argues that we must start reconnecting with each other if we want to build vibrant and prosperous communities in this century.

Continuing Putnam’s research, the nationally recognized Soul of the Community study was completed in cities across the U.S. to research what attaches people to their communities. The methodology and approach to this investigation asked people’s satisfaction with various aspects of community and civic life, referred to as “drivers.”

The study found that the most important drivers create something in successful communities called “residential attachment.” The study’s authors advocated for local government and civic institutions to work toward achieving residential attachment as an important part of successful community and economic development.

Nationally, the Soul of the Community study concluded that the three most important drivers for creating residential attachment included aesthetics, openness, and social offerings. It was noteworthy to me that openness and social offerings, two important ingredients of health social capital in a community, were among the top three results. This begs the question:

How can our local government contribute to creating a vibrant social architecture in our Village and develop a community with strong residential attachment?

This spring, with the help and generosity of graduate students from UW-Oshkosh’s Public Administration program, the Village replicated the Knight Foundation/Gallup’s “Soul of the Community” survey to solicit feedback from Weston residents. In reading through the results of this survey, you will see the majority of responses are very positive.

n  67% of respondents, if they had the choice, would either stay in their neighborhood or move to another in Weston.

n  83% of respondents felt Weston was either as good, or a better place to live compared to five years ago (44% better/much better).

n  89% of respondents felt Weston will be as good, or a better place to live five years from now (54% better/much better).

Respondents were asked to rate on a 5-point Likert scale with 5 being “very good” and 1 being “very bad” the Village of Weston as a place to live for different groups of people, including young professionals, immigrants, ethnic minorities, families w/ young children, and w/o any children, LGBT people, and senior citizens. All categories rated above ‘3’ (The lowest was between 3.05 for young professionals and the highest was 4.11 for families with young children).

However, we must be cautious extrapolating these results as being reflective of the entire community, due to the lack of participation from the community in the survey. Looking at our total population, approximately 1% of Weston residents participated in this feedback effort. Yet, survey participation is not the only way that municipal leaders like myself can measure civic participation and engagement.

n  2010 Census Population: 12,079

n  2015 Population Estimate: 15,051

n  Survey Participation: 176

One could argue that other important civic activities, such as voting for example, could be a key indicator in community engagement and participation. This last spring election, we had 58% of registered voters participating in the election.

n  2012 Spring Election (Pres Preference Local Leaders)

q  2,006 total voters

n  2012 Fall Election (Presidential)

q  7,406 total voters

n  2014 Spring Election (Local Leaders

q  731 total voters

n  2014 Fall Election (Gubernatorial)

q  5,829 (Walker 3,465. Burke 2,254) total voters

n  2016 Spring Election (Pres Preference Local Leaders)

q  registered voters: 8,591 / 4,998 total voters participating

To summarize, I believe that Weston can increase its level of civic participation and social capital. As part of the Village’s strategic plan, one of our goals is to “Enhance Communications with Citizens, Employees and Stakeholders”. Our three major policy proscriptions for doing this are to 1) implement new tools to maximize communication with citizens, 2) implement new tools to communicate with community stakeholders, and 3) implement a comprehensive communication plan for the Village. Some of the specific tactics are already in progress or we are working on improving them.

We have 758 total members on Nextdoor with 672 of 7,894 (8%). We have over 5,000 likes between our four Facebook pages. Our weekly electronic newsletter, “This Week in Weston” has a weekly distribution of over 1,500 email addresses. Our bi-monthly newsletter, “The Weston Wire” gets delivered to approximately 8500 addresses in the Village every two months.

In conjunction with this effort, I would like to see Weston make more of an effort to build strong neighborhoods in our growing community. Part of building strong neighborhoods is identifying, training, and equipping neighborhood leaders. Are you interested in getting involved more in your community? Do you have a passion for service to your neighborhoods? Would you like to work with Village officials and staff to enhance your corner of the community? If so, please contact us at clerks@westonwi.gov. Our plan is to develop and implement a training program for neighborhood leaders later this year. I hope you’ll consider joining us!

Thank you for your interest in this effort. If you have any feedback or would like to discuss the results, please feel free to contact me at the Municipal Center at 715-359-6114 or by email at dguild@westonwi.gov.  

Soul of the Community Survey Results

Soul of the Community Questionnaire

Jun 23

Reflections on my Anniversary

Posted on June 23, 2016 at 3:06 PM by Nate Crowe

May 29, 2013

Today, May 29, marks my one-year anniversary since I started as the village administrator here in Weston. I am a sentimental fellow, so I could not let the occasion pass without some reflection on events past and share comment about the direction of our future. 


I want to publicly acknowledge the current members of the Board of Trustees (as well as former Trustee Mark Maloney) for their trust in giving me this opportunity to serve the citizens and taxpayers of the Village of Weston.

Any success that a local government manager may enjoy during their tenure is always predicated and rooted in the relationship that he enjoys with his elected officials. Having worked for two elected officials, six different local government agencies, two different state agencies, and a group of nonprofits, I have seen my share of good and bad officials over the years. In contrast, I can say without hesitation that the Board of Trustees for the Village of
Weston is among the best group of men and women that I have had the chance to work for. For this and other reasons, I want to say "Thank You!" to the trustees.

I also want to acknowledge all of the employees of the village, each of whom have assisted with my transition this past year. Together, we have endured a frenetic twelve months, including an operating budget deficit in excess of $800,000, as well as substantial cuts in state shared revenue. We have also seen significant public controversy regarding the availability of public transportation and historically unprecedented changes in public sector labor relations. The focused effort needed to address these and other concerns has not yet provided me with the time required to acquaint myself with all of you at the level that I would have liked, but I do look forward to developing deeper, stronger relationships with this team in the coming year. I know that transitions in management and work expectations are hard even in the best of circumstances. Most have shown me their resilience and have weathered the recent challenges extremely well. Our citizens, the Board of Trustees, and I all benefit daily from a fantastic group of Department Chiefs / Directors. Looking to the future and considering further changes, this agency is fortunate to have so much talent and work ethic among its employees. What we accomplish going forward will be built on this foundation.

After adoption of the 2013 budget, I have spent the past six months reviewing Weston's service portfolio, evaluating many of our procedures, assessing how we handle our business, and considering new options. As I have attempted to share throughout this past year, I believe that this decade faces different obstacles than the heady boom, borrow, and build days of yester-years and that this change is not a blip on the radar or a bump on the road. Last November's tax
levy referendum and the introduction of new fees-for-service have shown us that a stagnate economy has left our citizens with a limited ability to provide us with additional revenues. Despite significant efforts made last fall, I knew going into this year that the Board of Trustees would be facing choices that essentially boiled down to three
categories: raise revenues, make cuts, or make changes.

In keeping with the progression of these discussions, I will soon be introducing to the trustees, at their request, a series of proposals, some which will significantly adjust how Weston has previously gone about providing its services. I know that many of our employees were hopeful that we could find solutions that would be completely pain- / change-free. I also know that there were still a few anticipating solutions that could allow us to perpetuate the familiar, address our ongoing financial needs, and minimize discomfort. Though I have not relished the responsibility, I continue to believe that all of you deserve to know that change, subject to the approval of the Board of Trustees, could be coming. It is very probable that the knowledge of these new changes will lead to some added workplace stress. Even so, I am confident that this team will face our challenges collaboratively and continue to conduct ourselves all in a manner consistent with the high levels of customer service and professionalism that I have seen in all of you. Throughout these discussions, my door remains open to all of you. I am happy to talk with anyone about the 'hows' and the 'whys' of the plans going forward as they continue to be confirmed.

Ultimately, the paths taken, choices made, decisions implemented, etc. won't be driven by just one person. Keeping people safe, providing them with services, building community, and fostering resident attachment has been and will continued to be a cooperative process between village employees, citizen committee members, and our
elected Board of Trustees. For the opportunity to contribute, serve, share, and collaborate with all of you on this, my anniversary, I want to acknowledge all your contributions and express my gratitude for being part of this team. 
                                                                                                      
Thank you!