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Keeping Elected Officials in Touch with Preservation at Home 

12-09-2015 17:35

In 1994 Massachusetts preservationists worked closely with key state legislators to reactivate the state`s Preservation Projects Fund. Their efforts resulted in the approval of a capital-outlay bill to provide $5 million in state matching grants to cities and towns for restoration of community landmarks.

In Augusta, Ga., broad public concern helped to secure the support of Governor Zell Miller, U.S. Senator Paul Coverdell, and then-Representative Don Johnson for preservation of the Augusta Canal. Rep. Johnson introduced legislation in the 103rd Congress to designate the canal as a site under the Heritage Partnership Program. The legislation became part of a larger bill later passed by the House.

Both these stories illustrate the successes that can reward preservationists who actively work with their elected officials to keep them informed of how preservation benefits their community, their state, and the nation.

Public policy can be a powerful instrument on behalf of preservation or a blunt object that blocks our efforts. Preservation activities are fueled by public funding and tax code incentives. The fate of historic structures and communities is determined by land use regulations and preservation statutes. State and federal transportation and environmental policies affect regional growth and sprawl. This year, Congress will almost certainly debate "takings" legislation that could undermine the National Historic Preservation Act, as well as state and local laws and ordinances. In many ways, the decisions of local, state, and federal officials have a direct impact on the breadth and depth of preservation activities in every community.

The best way to ensure public policies that benefit preservation is to make sure that elected officials know that preservation is not only about understanding and celebrating the past, but also about preparing for the future. When a neighborhood is designated a historic district, community stability improves. The labor-intensive work of rehabilitation and restoration means jobs for local citizens. When small town commercial districts are revitalized, local businesses grow and expand. In rural areas and inner city neighborhoods, preservation brings economic rebirth, hope, and pride.

Above all, preservation celebrates the uniqueness of place that members of Congress and state legislators are proud to represent in national and state capitals. But the key to ensuring preservation-friendly votes is helping them make that connection. Here are some techniques used by successful advocates to help legislators reconnect with preservation.

Take legislators on a tour of a preservation success.

The daily work of a legislator can be a largely abstract grind of hearings, votes, and analysis. Site visits that illustrate concrete results can be restorative and are tangible examples of the benefits of preservation. Don`t be shy about calling your state legislator or member of Congress and inquiring about his or her availability. Most legislators are excited to learn about what`s going on in their home districts.

Offer opportunities for participation.

Planning holiday tours of the historic district? Preparing for a ribbon cutting at a restored building? Celebrating a grant or loan, a new partnership or a special initiative? Be sure to include your legislators and, if possible, give them a special role in the event.

Pay a visit to the local or capital office.

If a legislator`s schedule does not permit a site visit, make an appointment to see him or her at the office. Be prepared to make a succinct presentation on what preservation has accomplished in your community. Cite specific examples. Bring along photographs, brochures, and fact sheets to leave behind.

Get to know legislative staff who handle preservation issues.

Legislators have diverse and extensive responsibilities; consequently, staff members play an important role in keeping them informed about key issues in their districts. Take the time to educate legislative staff members about preservation. This investment will serve you well when a crisis arises.

Above all, remember to be inclusive. Don`t discriminate on the basis of party affiliation. Preservation is a bipartisan issue. Your elected officials are there to serve all constituents. Take the time to be sure that each official understands what preservation has contributed to the community.

Publication Date: March/April 1995

#Advocacy #Lobbying #ForumNews

Author(s):Tamar Osterman

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