Member Spotlight: Sandi Seader
The City of Longmont, Colorado, a community of over 90,000 on the east side of the Rockies within view of Long’s Peak, the City’s namesake, is a full service municipality providing all utilities—water, wastewater, electricity, broadband, trash removal, public safety and a variety of community services.
Assistant City Manager for Shared Services, Sandi Seader, oversees the City’s Community Engagement efforts and is Chair of the Community Involvement Team, which makes sure everyone from city employees to community volunteers engaged in leadership roles has the training and tools to provide effective community engagement.
“When you’re funded entirely from taxes and fees, it’s especially important to make sure everyone has a voice in local decisions. Everybody’s job involves the community in some way or another.”
Sandi was introduced to IAP2 and Appreciative Inquiry following the North American Conference in 2001 when she was introduced to Barbara Lewis. “Appreciative Inquiry helps people see the best core values in themselves and how to manifest that in the future. We’ve used the methodology as the basis for our planning many times over the years.” Barbara and Sandi currently serve as officers with the IAP2 USA Colorado Chapter, “Colorado is very cutting edge when it comes to community engagement.”
The City of Longmont has also adopted the IAP2 Spectrum as the City’s framework for community involvement, and is a Government member of IAP2 USA. “We took community involvement to another level when we asked ourselves, ‘How do we move from community engagement to community capacity building? How do we help the community help themselves?’”
And the investment paid off. The City had a devastating 500-year flood in 2013 that forced neighborhoods to evacuate and major streets to close.
“While the experience was devastating, it was also an unbelievable validation of the work we had put into capacity building and building trust. We do community engagement all the time in that we rarely make a decision that doesn’t involve the community, but to do this work then have something horrible happen and to watch how the community was so resilient because of the groundwork was amazing.”
- How to interact with their government
- Where to find information and resources
- Their roles in the community as neighborhood and community leaders,
- How to take care of themselves and each other
As the disaster unfolded, the community was cut in half by the St. Vrain River.
“I was at a shelter helping with public information. Three years prior we had begun to get better information from FEMA about where the floodplain would be, and we held community meetings and went door-to-door to collect emergency contact information for our Emergency Response Plan. At the time, we also let people know, ‘If a flood should happen, we won’t be interested in saving your property, we’ll be interested in saving you.’”
2:45 a.m. River overtops nearby roads; Emergency Alert calls activated
3:30 a.m. Shelter opened
4:30 a.m. 700 homes evacuated
“In a hour and a half, we had 700 homes evacuated. At the shelter, people recognized me from the meetings. They weren’t angry. They were reassuring, telling me, ‘You guys were open and honest, we knew it might happen, we knew what to do.’ It’s phenomenal we had no loss of life.”
Although strategic planning was the initial impetus, the outcome was community resilience and trust that has carried through the process of rebuilding. “We had $160 million in damage to public infrastructure and the community has really pulled together to help us figure out how to make the repairs.”
IAP2 USA has Sandi to thank for the new Government Membership program. “We talked at the chapter level about how the membership scheme for IAP2 didn’t make sense for local government. I was receiving and further distributing the information, and wanted everyone to be involved in public participation, but when we had someone who wanted to attend a webinar or an event, it put me in a moral quandary, ‘How to do I ethically share these resources without overstepping the boundaries of my professional membership?’ I wanted to sign up my whole organization.”
Sandi shared her concerns with the Member Services Committee and talked about the challenges with how local governments work. “That’s what started the conversation about the Government Membership. I wanted to make sure IAP2’s wonderful resources are broadly available. As a framework for engagement, the Spectrum is huge. The webinars and ongoing opportunities are huge. Now people can register for webinars directly. They can sign up for events and trainings at member rates. It feels so much more ethical than just passing on the information and then telling them, ‘Well no, you can’t participate, you’re not a member.’”
Practically speaking, the new Government membership hasn’t changed Sandi’s role. She still gets the information from IAP2 USA and forwards it across the organization, and sometimes she’ll schedule a conference room so people can participate in a webinar together, but now she can stay true to herself and her role as an IAP2 member.