I recently was asked to speak to a joint meeting of town councils of four communities in Eastern North Carolina. The subject they asked me to speak about was community engagement. What I ended up spending most of my time talking about were two frames for thinking about the role of local government in the overall process of community building. The two frames are local government as vending machine and local government as barn raising. In 1996, Frank Benest, former city manager of Palo Alto, California, wrote an article in ICMA’s Public Management (PM) magazine asking whether local government was serving customers or engaging citizens. He used the metaphor of the vending machine (which he attributed to another city manager, Rick Cole) to describe the common way local government’s are thought of.
Rebuilding trust in American democracy was a central theme among public communicators who gathered at the City-County Communicators and Marketing Association (3CMA) www.3cma.org conference Sept. 6-8 in Anaheim, Calif.
#3CMAAnnual: “How can local government earn trust in the era of fake news?”
Explaining the “why” as part of a sustained story is a better strategy than regular blurt-outs to engage with the public, said Santa Monica City Manager Rick Cole in the opening conference session. Invest in the time to develop key messages. Think about the way people feel about their government. He urged local government communicators to Continue Reading
An important movement is growing, in Durham (NC) and across the country, to support and elect candidates from traditionally underrepresented populations to office and to better engage voters from those same populations. While this work was happening before the 2016 election, it is gaining momentum.
There are a variety of organizations working to equip black people, young people, immigrants, women, working class people, LGBTQ people, and others to run for local, state, and national office. Durham For All, a local political organization, is working to politically engage working-class people of color in order to make Durham’s local government more progressive and accountable to the needs of its working-class residents. One highly publicized example of the success of organizations like the ones linked above iis the election of Chokwe Antar Lumumba as the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi.
Happy Fourth, y’all!
I had a ton of ideas saved for this next blog post. There’s a cool story about how Brownsville , Brooklyn, created a neighborhood plan through text messaging with their local government. There’s another cool series on ELGL, my favorite local gov nerd group, called “The Local Government Nerve Center,” about the importance of the often-overlooked positions of clerks and recorders in local government, including this great love letter to city recorders.
But it’s the Fourth of July, and everything smells like grill smoke, and for the past four nights we’ve all been falling asleep listening to far-off fireworks. It’s a strange holiday this year, with so much political division and screaming headlines, but that reminds me even more strongly how important it is. There’s one group of people across the country who are, unlike you and I, working on this Tuesday, and they work for your local governments (and provide one of the services few can argue with or rail against): the folks who inspect all the fireworks shows you’ll see towns and counties put on. Continue Reading
On a Monday night in late September 2016, community members filled the Charlotte City Council Chambers to capacity. One by one, they expressed fear, anger and frustration about the officer-involved shooting of Keith Lamont Scott and the state of the community. The response to what was heard both in the Chambers and during days of protests would prove to be a defining moment for the city.
Local government tends to work quietly in the background. When streets are passable, water is safe, and trash is being collected, we don’t think much about it. All that changes when our “normal” is threatened. A political battle, a big weather event, even a computer glitch can upset services we depend on. In some
cases, the effects can be more extreme. For example, the state of Illinois has no budget at the moment, in part because of a political standoff that has lasted for months.
Live somewhere long enough, and there’s a good chance you’ll need information from your local government. Because we don’t think about local government very often, we may not know how to get started. The good news is that most of the time, you have access to your local government and to elected officials. This is a key distinction between local government and the federal government; while few of us could personally take our praise or grievances to the president or lawmakers, we can have a conversation with elected officials at the local level pretty easily. How you go about it can affect your chances of getting what you want from the conversation.
In the wake of the recent election and political upheaval across the country, my favorite professional organization – Emerging Local Government Leaders, fondly called ELGL – issued a call for people to begin channeling that civic involvement into issues and advocacy at the local level.
It’s a simple idea, but the recent election and unprecedented civic engagement mean that more people than ever are engaging with the public service matters that affect us most. So, ELGL said:
“If you want to get involved, no matter which political party you’re from – why don’t you take another look at local government?”
ELGL has been listed as a top national professional association, providing cutting-edge resources for new strategies in local government leadership. Continue Reading
I am a long time consistent voter – one of the ones that even shows up for primaries in off year local elections! Perhaps that is not surprising since I am a political science professor. But what might surprise you is that I had never volunteered for any “on the ground” election activities like poll greeting, poll watching, or poll assistance. This year I decided to do that, in part because I was expecting my students to engage in some kind of political activity for class and I thought I ought to do what I was expecting them to do, and in part because I was concerned about claims that the election system was” rigged” in some way (I heard this claim from both sides of the aisle). This blog post is a reflection on what I learned and experienced when I left the “ivory tower” and volunteered as a poll observer on election day.
Collaboration with neighborhood leaders is an instrumental component to the success of engagement initiatives for local government. The partnership, sharing of ideas and exchange of knowledge can lead to lasting benefits for the community. The City of Charlotte’s Neighborhood & Business Services (N&BS) department has spent over a decade building programs to help communities thrive through engagement, trainings, board retreats and awards.
The Neighborhood Leadership Awards only recognizes superior work in Charlotte communities, particularly those communities that receive assistance through the City’s Neighborhood Matching Grant program for projects such as community gardens, neighborhood watches or playgrounds.
However, the program is part of comprehensive approach to impact neighborhoods several other components such a semiannual board retreats for communities. Continue Reading
It’s a great icebreaker for public servants. The next time you’re talking with someone who works in local or state government, ask about unrelated phone calls and emails. Almost every week (or day in some cases), public sector employees will field requests for information that have no connection to their organization.
The first time I heard of this was in the 1990s when some 911 dispatchers in a rural county near Raleigh told me how busy Friday nights were. For the most part, the calls weren’t emergencies; they were mostly questions about high school football scores. Driving directions were also a popular request. Continue Reading
By Krystel Green
Have you ever met a fascinating person who engages you with probing questions, thoughtful commentary and interesting facts? The two of you then embark on a lively conversation where you might gain or give a different perspective and learn something new. When parting ways, you’ve probably said, “Let’s keep in touch” and exchanged contact information. This is the dynamic that the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) looks to create with the public. Continue Reading
Recently, I had an opportunity to sit down with Willie Ratchford, executive director of Community Relations for the City of Charlotte. Willie just celebrated 40 years working with the city, and I wanted to get his perspective on how community relations and engagement have changed throughout the years. I was also curious to get his take on the current role of local government considering the drastically different community landscape.
When Willie started with the city, the year was 1975. During that year Microsoft was founded, “Saturday Night Live” premiered, the Thrilla in Manila took place and the blockbuster hit “Jaws” was filmed on Martha’s Vineyard. We may have social media and 3D video games today, but one of the most popular (and odd) gifts for kids during the holiday season in that year was the Pet Rock. So yes, times have changed. Significantly.
Willie has seen a lot throughout his life and career – from the desegregation of schools to his involvement in the administration of Charlotte’s fair housing law in 1988. In 1994, Willie became the executive director of Community Relations. He felt that this role was a defining moment in his career because he had the opportunity to impact race relations in Charlotte. He firmly believes that it is the responsibility of local government to promote community harmony. Continue Reading
There is a somewhat widespread notion that citizens by-and-large just aren’t that engaged in community affairs, particularly local government affairs. I often hear local government observe that when they try to engage citizens they only see a small handful of people and that there is a “silent majority” that they rarely, if ever, see. But what if engagement is more widespread than we think? I’d like to suggest that perhaps that is the case, particularly when you stop to consider co-production as a form of deep community engagement with local government.
It’s a great thing when community engagement is a primary focus of many organizations. However, the challenge for some may be changing the engagement status quo into what it can be in the future. With the abundance of tools available and the desire to do more engagement, there is an opportunity for creativity and innovation. So, how does this all come together to build something that can impact not only a community but those in public service as well?
For local government, employees at all levels across an entire organization can play a key role in developing new ways to engage the public. Four city of Charlotte employees were recently selected as finalists in the Knight Cities Challenge, a national call for new ideas that would make communities a better place to live and work. Two of the employee ideas focused on engaging the community in a very unique way.
The employees are pictured above: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services, Alyssa Dodd – in the left photo, with Carlos Alzate; and Sarah Hazel (holding the “No Barriers” sign).
Alyssa’s idea is centered around city employees taking 10 minutes once a week to have a conversation with a member of the community to discuss how we can make our city a better place to live, work and play. Just think, if every employee did this, we could collectively engage more than 364,000 people a year in one-on-one conversations. These conversations could lead to new relationships being formed with the community and have a lasting impact on the employees who participate. The city could gain new perspectives and fresh ideas from residents. In turn, residents could feel a stronger connection to the city and its employees.