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Commissioner’s Column: Community

2020 was a year that bruised and battered every one of us. Whether it came from the health crisis that has overwhelmed our nation, from the protests that have refocused our attention on the disparities in our communities, or the elections that saw disinformation and division as key hallmarks, there has been no shortage of powerful events that will define this year, and our lives, for many more years to come.

Our time often feels more like an endless grudge match rather than the process our Founding Fathers envisioned wherein citizens would thoughtfully deliberate about what matters to their communities and what sort of leaders they should have. Beneath the tragic news and layers of rhetoric, and beyond the personalities and arguments, remains the same fundamental question that generations of Pennsylvanians before us have faced: What do we want for our community and our commonwealth? To what future do we aspire?

Mt. Lebanon is an ideal community in almost every respect. Families move to the municipality for the schools and stay in the community for their friends and neighbors. Young adults may move away but are also often drawn back to raise their own children. There is a sense of shared purpose in Mt. Lebanon that transcends generations and has created the community that we call home.

Yet community is not a place. Roads and sewers no more make a community than bones make a person. A community is knitted together through intangible qualities. It is not built by government but by people who have a set of shared values and a sense of shared purpose. It is maintained by an unspoken commitment to care for the shared hopes for the future.

Government is a means for facilitating collective action on shared community interests. These interests are often very clear: we want our roads to be well maintained, our water and sewer systems to work, our trash and leaves to be picked up and our public safety professionals to be just a phone call away. These are the heart of the services that local government provides, and in Mt. Lebanon we are lucky to have some of the best civil servants in western Pennsylvania, who consistently deliver on these services time and time again.

However, there are areas where government may be more hindrance than help. How does an institution that is primarily dedicated to providing services for the long term ensure that its day-to-day operations foster the values of the community as they change through time?

As we passed through 2020, this has been a question that communities across the country have grappled with; as the coronavirus has raged around us, as social justice movements across the country gained new momentum in shining a glaring light on systemic racism, and as the very bedrock of democratic norms get challenged, what role can government serve to sustain the cohesiveness of the communities it serves?

The American Experiment has never been static. Each new generation adds its own indelible mark on the fabric of our nation. Similarly, community is not a destination. Community is a journey that we choose to take together. While there are values that we wish to hold close and traditions that we cherish, we must make room for new ideas and dreams that can breathe new wind in our sails. The community that we have in Mt. Lebanon today is a product of the visions of the future from decades ago and we too must set our eyes to the future and do our part to build a community that is vibrant and strong for our children.

Government plays an important role, but it is for each of us to create our community and to instill the values that we believe will make our community a better place. While we should expect our leaders to help guide our efforts and inspire our action, it is for each of us to stay engaged as we create the story that is Mt. Lebanon.

As we look beyond the struggles of 2020, may we recall the bonds that bring us together and strive for civil discourse and civic engagement. Most importantly, may we celebrate the community that has come to be, and recommit to the shared future that we aspire to; where each person is valued, welcomed and respected as they share the journey with us.



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