Need Some Citizen Engagement In Your Life?


Citizen engagement is a challenge. Short of mind control, implementing programs that require public participation need some work. Ever wanted to get into the mind of someone who has done it, and done it successfully? Well grab a seat and take in some wisdom from Gloria Saenz, City Manager for the City of Kermit. The City of Kermit, with a population of 6,110, experienced first hand how the community was able to rally around recycling. I asked Ms. Saenz about her experiences as city manager, and how she was able to get a recycling program started from scratch.

If I remember correctly, you mentioned your daughter was the one who got you started on recycling. Can you tell me how she learned about it, whether it was from school or somewhere else?

That is correct. My oldest daughter first learned of recycling in Jr. High. She is now a 26 year old mother of three. She calls herself a tree hugger. She loves recycling and is passing it on to her daughters.

Who were your initial partners when recycling was first being discussed?

The City had no partners, per say. As far as product partners, we teamed up with Permian Basin Recycling out of Odessa. They educated us on the product most marketable in our area and took us through a tour of their recycling center to give us an idea of how it works. We than started educating our employees and the tasks to be expected of them if the City took on recycling.

How did you and your partners envision the process would look like?

Once we learned the process from Permian Basin Recycling we decided to take on the project. The Recycling Project started mid-year therefore there was no funding for the program.

Was there any opposition to the recycling program?  How was it overcome?

No opposition. Mayor and Council backed the program from the beginning.

Was the process of starting the recycling program different than how it was planned? If yes, how so?

No. We knew it would be a slow start, because again we did not have the funding. One of the first things the City of Kermit did was apply for a Solid Waste grant through the PBRPC [Permian Basin Regional Planning Commission] for the purchase of a baler. We were awarded the grant and started baling our product.

How were citizens engaged? Others (schools, businesses, etc.)?

Citizen engagement was by far the easiest part of the process. It’s almost as if people had been ready to recycle. They just needed someone to lead the way and a place to take their recyclables.  We initially visited with the School Superintendent, and he allowed the City to set containers at all the schools. We later started visiting local retailers and finally set containers at apartment complexes. All other citizens take their product to the Kermit Recycling Center.

What are the plans moving forward?

Additions to the Recycling Center include a circle drive behind the center, getting walls up, and adding slots where people will deposit their product (similar to the Odessa Time Machine).

Any obstacles that have surfaced which require an adjustment to the recycling program?

Costly electrical service but it was well worth the expense. Remember we are also saving on landfill fees because these products are not ending up at the landfill.

Any final pieces of advice to communities potentially facing similar situations?

Educate, educate, educate! If you have all your employees on the same page along with your citizens you are all working towards the same goal and so much more is accomplished.

Roman Alvarez is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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