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SANDUSKY, OH – Ruth & Bob Haag on Leadership

October 23, 2009
Published October 2009 inside Sandusky Bay Journal & Disseminated by The Erie Wire

Leading Our Cities Out of Crisis

by Ruth and Bob Haag

Bob & Ruth Haag. Image source:

Bob & Ruth Haag. Image source:

Many of our mid-western cities are facing the same set of problems.  Old manufacturing jobs have disappeared and new manufacturing jobs are not on the horizon.  For many, the days of high-paying factory jobs are over.

Will white knights save us?

When financial problems arise, our first hope is for a white knight to come and solve the problems.  These white knights often come in the form of consultants, who will do a study to determine what our city needs.  The studies are often too hard to understand or too costly to implement, so they are usually placed on a shelf somewhere.

Another form of white knight is an outside developer.  Lately, these developers generally promise that they will create a shop-work-live-play environment.  They come with plans, and they begin to make agreements with our cities.  Time and again in many rust belt cities, these plans have failed to go forward.  Some fall apart when the developer discovers that the city is not planning to put any money into the project.  Some dissolve when everyone finally understands how tax increment financing (TIF) really works.  In some cases, some citizens object strongly to the development concept, and manage to stop it.

If there will not be manufacturing at the level of the 1960s, and if consultant studies cannot be implemented, and if development by outsiders can’t get off the ground, what is left for us to do?

Use our own resources and keep the dollars at home

One of the reasons that outside consultants and developers are preferred is because we all know the failings of our local people.  We delude ourselves into believing that outside people are better. This is the grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side-of-the-fence syndrome.

The reason that we should use local consultants and developers is that we already know their failings, and we can plan and work around them during the project.  Expect no surprises; we know what they will do wrong (and right).

Using local people also keeps the local government’s money at home.  Keeping the money at home can provide a large stimulus to the local economy.  In our own study of the City of Sandusky’s 2007 spending, we observed that 71% of the City’s dollars were spent outside the City.  We found that 53% of the City’s dollars were spent outside the immediate county. (See page 3 of this paper, or page 6 of

Focus on sustainability

It will be a long time before we can again afford high-maintenance structures.  All of our new projects should be focusing on sustainability.  In this context, “sustainability” means “no maintenance required.”  Solar powered signage, wind powered lighting, grass and plantings that don’t require mowing…these are all things that should be considered.

Find leaders who care about people

No improvement can occur until we have good leaders in place. Let’s examine what we mean by “good leaders.”

There are two extreme ways in which people in power think about their role.  One group thinks that they were given the power in order to do what they personally think is best for “The People.”  They use whatever life experiences they have to decide what is best for everyone else.  If this type of leader is challenged, they respond with something like:  “Trust me, I’m doing what is best for you.”

The other extreme type of leader feels that they are in a position of power to carry out the will of the people they are leading.  These types of leaders are always checking on what their followers want, and acting on it.  They may have to provide alternatives for “The People” to consider.  And they often have to invite “The People” to participate.  Their goal is to figure out what others want, and then deliver it to them.  We lean more to this style, when we define “good leaders.”  Following are our definitions.

Leadership is about:

1. Caring more about others than you care about yourself.

2. Being willing to let projects be what the group wants, rather than what you want.

3. Guiding a group to a conclusion, rather than ramming your ideas down their throats.

4. Bringing knowledge and experience to bear, generally learned from your own past mistakes.

5. Abandoning what has failed, then examining other ideas and other ways to look at things.

6. Focusing on what can be done, and then doing it.

For our rust belt cities to get out of our current financial problems, we will need strong, selfless leaders who are willing to involve citizens in their own salvation.

Haag Press | 315 East Market Street | Sandusky, OH  44870
(419) 621-9311 |

Copyright © 2009 – Haag Press

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