Restoring Public Trust


By John Kefalas


As a Larimer County commissioner, restoring public trust through active listening and strengthening relationships is very important. Stay with me as we explore the meaning of trust, honest relationships, and active listening – how these three aspects of our lives relate to restoring and rebuilding trust between government and our communities. Meaningful community involvement is necessary if we are to solve problems together and get along with mutual respect and understanding. 

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, trust is an “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength or truth of someone or something.” The definition also reads, “one in which confidence is placed.” Regarding honest relationships, here is an excerpt of a description from the internet that resonated with me. “When you’re being honest in a relationship, it means you’re straightforward and say what you really think and feel. It means you don’t willfully omit or misdirect others. There’s no manipulation with true honesty.” 

As for active listening, the Compassionate Listening Project [started in 1991 doing  reconciliation work in Israel and Palestine] states that “compassionate listening requires non-judgmental listening and deepening, non-adversarial questions.” In other words, listeners must strive to set aside their own biases and accept what others say as valid perceptions. Such listening from the heart can help us to humanize the other person and reduce defensive and mistrust barriers to create a safe space for a better understanding of different opinions. Listening to each other in such a way can help reduce fear and allow us to be more open to changing our opinions and making informed decisions. In 2001, I participated in a profound multi-faith, compassionate listening delegation to Israel and Palestine and saw this practice in action.

Restoring public trust in local government and among community members is crucial for building resilient, cohesive communities. In a time when skepticism towards public institutions prevails, we must face the challenge of fostering trust and collaboration in inclusive ways [everyone is welcome at the table] and encourage a sense of community among all of us. To face this challenge effectively, some key pillars provide us with a framework and guidance for progress: transparency and open communication, meaningful community engagement and participation, accountability and integrity, building community relations, and education and information.

Larimer County is doing its best to abide by these pillars. Everything we do is available to the public for review, and we strive to respond in a timely and helpful manner to inquiries and concerns. We host community conversations throughout the county, including Red Feather Lakes, Livermore, Laporte, and Wellington and work hard to be present in the community often. All our master and strategic plans include community involvement and engagement to gain input from folks with lived experience and expertise from all walks of life. We encourage folks to join our 30-plus boards and commissions to help us make informed decisions. We also conduct a 10-week class, Larimer County 101, that shows participants all the different services Larimer County provides our community every day. 

Restoring public trust is a multifaceted challenge that requires commitment, transparency, and collaboration. Building trust is a gradual process, but with consistent effort, it is possible to foster a more trusting and engaged community. Can we do better? Yes, and I will focus on this topic in my next column.

John Kefalas is a Larimer County commissioner representing all of Larimer County.


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