Monthly Archives: November, 2014

Bridging the Generations in Local Government – 16

Cookingham Connection - Ed ZWe’re in the 16th week of our Cookingham Connection series today as we hear from Ed Zuercher. He is the City Manager for the City of Phoenix, a position he has held February 2014. Zuercher’s 20-year career with the city started as a management intern and eventually grew to include assistant city manager. Zuercher holds an MPA from the University of Kansas.

Guidepost #16

“Don’t pursue your program at a faster pace than the council, the employees, and public can follow. You will always see plenty of things to do and have plenty of changes to make, but be sure that everyone understands why you are doing this and how it will benefit the city of its government before you proceed.

A mayor I worked with a few years ago used to say about difficult zoning cases, “If you try to go fast, you’re going to go slow.” In other words, rushing the residents or City Council on a difficult land use decision involving community desires, public safety, property rights and other emotional subjects simply leads them to put on the brakes. In fact, it’s been said that managing in the local government environment is like driving a bus on which every passenger has a brake pedal.

We have to work hard to minimize unnecessary braking. Everything todayincluding the Fast Company magazine car insurance commercialstells us faster is better. In cases of commodity operations like the internet or the warehouse store, faster is more desirable. Who doesn’t want to download that airfare bargain instantly? But in local government, Cookingham had it rightunlike high-speed internet, the correct speed for success in public policy is not always the fastest. We don’t work in a commodity business in local government. We work with people who have changing and conflicting values and desires.

As University of Kansas professor John Nalbandian teaches, we work on problems with “no right answers” and we navigate the conflicting values of representation, individual rights, equity and efficiency considerations. Speed doesn’t always identify the answers or balance the conflicts.

Further complicating things, answers to very complex problems don’t simply exist; they have to be reached through dialogue, give-and-take, trial-and-error, and compromise. Since none of these is necessarily fast, how do we manage in this environment? In Phoenix in 2014, we solved a $37.7 million budget deficit through a four-month process involving numerous Council meetings and over 20 public hearings, which includeed over 2,000 participants both in person and on-line.

At the same time, we negotiated new contracts and agreements with our seven employee unions and associations. The result in Maycompensation concessions, small revenue increases, and cuts to administrative costswas not exactly what I as the manager proposed in February, or even in April.

In fact, it wouldn’t have been possible for a proposal in February to be the ultimate answer. We had to have time for the Council and the community to weigh in. It took time for everyone to agree that there was a budget deficit, and then to understand the options and trade-offs. Then it took time to reach a majority consensus about the right balance between contract concessions and saving jobs, or between keeping senior programs versus raising membership rates at senior centers. And in the end, the Mayor and City Council led the community to a decision of shared solutions to solve our deficit, preserve services, and maintain investment in the future without layoffs.

Now, I am not saying that slow is good either. In a crisis, speed can be critical. When the fire is raging or the investigation is high-profile, the incident commander doesn’t have time to convene group dialogue. But even then, blind speed isn’t the answer. Seasoned investigative detectives will tell you that moving too quickly on a case can lead to shortcuts and errors that hinder prosecution or delay justice down the line. What seems like speed can become delay.

After our budget difficulties this year, I put in place a process. We call it Comprehensive Organizational Review Exercise or CORE. The purpose is for each department to engage, from top to bottom, with employees on how to do the work better and more efficiently and to decide what work is central to our mission and what isn’t.

It’s going to take the whole summer and fall. But already, groups large and small throughout our organization are talking with each other about the future, priorities, and smarter ways to work. It’s not a fast process, but it’s the right one. And ultimately, the answers reached together will be theirs, not mine. It won’t be the speed of the internet, but it will be the speed of success.

The Cookingham Connection blog series is published in partnership with Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL). ELGL members are local government leaders with a passion for connecting, communicating, and educating.

If You Want Something Done Right…

You probably tried to finish the title of this blog post by saying, “… do it yourself.”

Besides, that’s the motto we all grew up saying.

Were you that kid who hated team projects because you knew you were going to be the one stuck doing the brunt of it all? I know I was. I trusted the wrong people to do their part of the assignment, and it blew up in my face on the due date.

Even in the workplace, I’ve dealt with employees—and bosses—who continuously dropped the ball on a major task. I know you have, too.

In a perfect world, it’d be okay to make the choice to take on all the responsibility for every task that’s handed your way to make sure it’s done to your liking.

But, guess what? That’s not possible (especially in this age of “doing more with less”).

There’s no way to get around the fact that you have to collaborate to succeed in your career. I know it’s hard to believe, but you don’t know it all; and you must tap into the knowledge of others to supplement your ignorance.

 “…learning to collaborate is part of equipping yourself for effectiveness, problem solving, innovation, and life-long learning in an ever-changing networked economy.” –Don Tapscott

So, you’re actually doing yourself a disservice by continuing your solo act.

The good really does outweigh the bad. Yes, you might have to deal with tough personalities, but it’s also an opportunity to better your “people management” skills.  The advantages of learning from others, networking, and expanding your thought process is invaluable.

Hope Boyd
Written by:
Hope Boyd
Director of Communications, Strategic Government Resources

The Leadership Checklist

How does a leader make the most of every day? With so many interruptions, a bunch of mini-crises, and a major catastrophe or two all before lunch, who has time to lead effectively, right?

Like it or not, interruptions make up a normal, not an abnormal, day. Most of life is done in an interruption of an interruption, wrapped between two other interruptions. Good leaders get used to it and live with it. However, just because a leader is used to it, doesn’t automatically mean that he/she is leading effectively.

I have found that looking carefully at some of the things that leadership experts have suggested is very helpful. There’s a reason that their writings stand out over time, and it’s always good to let their lessons inform your approach.

No one in the leadership world is more respected than Peter Drucker, and when it comes to articulating exactly what a great leader does, it’s pretty hard to improve upon his analysis.

Drucker identified eight things that make a leader effective. I’ve found that checking myself against some of these criteria helps keep me moving forward as a leader—rather than just moving from putting out one fire to another.

  1. Ask yourself, “What needs to be done here?”
    Whether that question applies to the overall organization or the immediate moment, it’s a clarifying question that every leader needs to ask intentionally.
  1. Ask yourself, “What’s best for the organization?”
    At SGR, we talk a lot about servant leadership versus political leadership. Political leadership asks, “What’s best for me?” Servant leadership looks at what’s best for the organization—even if it’s less optimal for the leader.
  1. Develop action plans.
    Leaders are doers. Leaders take action. Leaders mobilize others to act. Yes, you have to be careful to analyze things properly, but the difference between a leader and an analyst is that leaders impact the situation by creating avenues to move people beyond analyzing.
  1. Take responsibility for decisions.
    One of the frustrations that I hear often is, “We have meetings, but at the end of the meeting, we don’t make any decisions.” This is not good leadership. Your decision may be to postpone action, but that’s a decision, too; and it needs to be clearly communicated. Good leaders make decisions, and then take responsibility for those decisions, whether they are applauded, criticized, or both.
  1. Take responsibility for communicating.
    Everywhere I go, I hear the same thing, “We have problems with communication.” Of course, some of that is merely the perception. It’s subjective. However, I believe that a leader must accept responsibility for the communication within his/her team and the communication from his/her team. Once the leader accepts that he/she is responsible for it—and that it’s not someone else’s job, problem, or fault—I’ve noticed that mechanisms tend to be put in place that improve communication. Until then, the answer remains shrouded in mystery.
  1. Focus on opportunities, not problems.
    This is really about maintaining a positive attitude versus a negative attitude. Sure, we all have problems. However, great leaders re-frame those problems into opportunities to improve, to change, to innovate, and to grow. Merely seeing it as a problem magnifies the problem and demoralizes the people.
  1. Run productive meetings.
    This relates back to numbers 4 and 5. Decisions may or may not be made in the meeting, but they are most certainly communicated during the meetings. However, productive meetings are not just about making decisions. Running a productive meeting relates to the kind of culture that is instilled, the effectiveness of processes and communication, and the stewardship of time. A leader who can run a productive meeting balances the right display of self-confidence and humility to make team members feel motivated and happy to be a part of the team.
  1. Focus on “we” not “me”.
    Don’t just say it. Mean it. Walk the talk. Put the team, not yourself, out front. Always. If you haven’t figured out yet, it takes the whole team—not just you. And let me tell you a secret: your team already knows this. And if they’ve figured out that you haven’t figured it out yet, that may be the single biggest obstacle to your success as a leader.

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Chief Operations Officer, Strategic Government Resources

Emerging Generations in Local Government – 15

Cookingham Connection - Jim LWe’re continuing our series in the Cookingham Connection with a perspective from an emerging leader in local government. You heard what the city manager of Durham, North Carolina had to say about Cookingham’s 15th guidepost. Now hear it from the perspective of Jim Lenner. Jim is the Village Manager for Johnstown, Ohio. Prior to that, he was the village’s planner. He earned his MA in Public Affairs from Park University in Kansas City, Missouri.

Guidepost #15:

Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut during council meetings. This is one of the most important principles in the field of council-manager relations. I have known more managers who have talked themselves out of jobs than into jobs. The members of the council are elected by the people and know something about the business of municipal government. When they want information from the manager, they will ask him for it, and it is well to have the information when requested.

They call the meetings “council meetings” and not “city manager meetings” for a reason. The council meetings are a venue to discuss public business, and our jobs as managers is to make sure our council members have the best information, analysis, and data available to them. It is their time to show the public they are doing their job and doing it well.

We are often questioned by members of the public or by council members about information or impacts on policy issues. In my first few council meetings, I found myself making an educated guess at a question that ended up being inaccurate. That is not what you want in an open meeting setting, or any other setting for that matter. When questions are pointed at you and you are not 100% sure of the answer, I have found it best to simple state that “I will research your question and report back in two weeks.” I make sure I listen intently to their question to ensure accuracy in my reporting. To date, that process has proven invaluable.

The role of running the meeting is not ours as managers. I often tried to control the meeting so that it ran smoothly. I learned the meeting is not ours to control, but that of the council. I also learned meetings don’t run smoothly, and that is okay. Sometimes the best discussion came from dissent and confusion during a public meeting. By keeping my mouth closed, I was able to listen to opposing thoughts and ideas of both council members and the public on policy decisions.

I recently learned by experience that council meetings are not just for dialogue between the council, manager, and public, but with department directors and staff. I found myself talking about topics that I had limited knowledge of. I once spoke of a new wastewater treatment process when the service director was there and could recite the data in his sleep. Why was I attempting to talk about a foreign topic when the subject matter expert was sitting in the audience? I needed to keep my ears open and my mouth shut at that time. In this worst-case scenario, the information I was speaking about was misinformation at best and not entirely true at worst.

Our society loves immediate information and reaction as soon as it is available. We prepare ourselves for most situations during a council meeting, but cannot prepare for all situations. It is best to get the information to council members prior to the meeting so they can make informed decisions and lessen the amount of questioning during the meeting. However, members of the public usually want answers immediately, and they do not want to wait. That is something you cannot control as easily. Be sure to listen to the request and answer truthfully if you do not know.

The Cookingham Connection blog series is published in partnership with Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL). ELGL members are local government leaders with a passion for connecting, communicating, and educating.

Let’s Hear It for the Invisibles

“Welcome to the world of realitythere is no audience. No one to applaud, to admire. No one to see you. Do you understand? Here is the truth – actual heroism receives no ovation, entertains no one. No one queues up to see it.”
– David Foster Wallace, The Pale King

“If you come to define success, in both business and in life, as philosophers and religions have for millennia, by the satisfaction derived from work itself and not the degree of attention you receive for it… Ask yourself: do I want to find lasting reward by challenging myself?”
– David Zweig, The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion

We’re certainly full-fledged into celebrity culture. The famous 15 minutes of fame prediction is now upon us. So we look for our posts to go viral, and we sit waiting with full-fledged anticipation at the latest Kardashian development. And CEOs are now as big on the celebrity circuit as actors and musicians.

But the world works because of the anonymous work of the manythe “invisibles.”

After the Ebola scare in Dallas, and the wonderful news that the two health care workers who exposed themselves to Ebola by treating Mr. Duncan and contracted the illness in the process are now free of it, I thought about all the nurses, and health care professionals, from the doctors to the “lowest” assistants who care for the human needs of people who suffer with illness. What would we do without these anonymous workers, serving real human need, day after day? No applause; no recognition.

The same can be said about numerous positions in the local government realm.

It reminded me of the book Nickel and Dimed by Barbare Ehrenreich. She took on low-paying jobs and wrote about her experiences. One of her observations was that these “unskilled workers” were in fact very skilled. And, many of them work very hard at their jobs. Here’s a key quote from that book:

The “working poor,” as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else.

I’ve been reading Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion by David Zweig. In it, he writes about three characteristics of the “invisibles,” which he first discovered in research for an article for The Atlantic. From the book:

I found they all consistently embody three traits:

  1. Ambivalence toward recognition
  2. Meticulousness
  3. Savoring of responsibility

In other words, they work hard at their jobs (they are meticulous), they find meaning from within, and you can genuinely count on them.

These really are the people that make our workplaces and our lives work, so make sure you show your appreciation for them whenever possible.

Let’s hear it for the invisibles!

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Bridging the Generations in Local Government – 15

Cookingham Connection - Tom BWe’re in the 15th week of our Cookingham Connection series today as we hear from Tom Bonfield. He is the City Manager for the City of Durham, North Carolina, a position he has held since 2008. He is also an ICMA Credentialed Manager with over 35 years of experience in local government. Bonfield holds a BA in Accounting and an MBA.

Guidepost #15

Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut during council meetings. This is one of the most important principles in the field of council-manager relations. I have known more managers who have talked themselves out of jobs than into jobs. The members of the council are elected by the people and know something about the business of municipal government. When they want information from the manager, they will ask him for it, and it is well to have the information when requested.

As a young manager, I was always anxious to speak up and interject my thoughts during Council Meetings. I suppose in part to show the Mayor and City Council how smart and on top of things I was. I also felt it was my responsibility to be sure that City Council meetings went off smoothly, and somehow by interjecting myself, I could assure that.

Today, after over 35 years in the profession, I rarely speak or interject myself at a City Council meeting unless called upon. So what changed? I learned that City Council meetings are the Council’s meeting and not the manager’s.

They are the opportunity for elected officials to (hopefully) shine, as they debate and articulate policies and decisions assigned to them by City Charter. Council members are best able to articulate, debate, and vote on issues when they have been fully briefed in advance by the manager and staff through clearly written and verbalized staff reports, recommendations, analysis, and communications. Providing or repeating this information for during a City Council meeting without being asked creates many more problems than it can hopefully help.

I encourage elected officials to not wait for the Council Meeting to ask questions to avoid an answer they do not want to be surprised about. I also encourage Council members to ask the manager or staff questions during City Council meetings, even if they already know the answer to assist them in substantiating a particular point.

In no way does this mean the manager is complacent and not attentive and not an active participant in City Council meetings. The manager must be attentive to situations that continually play out during even the most routine City Council meetings. In particular, the manager must be prepared to interject when staff members are making reports and presentations to the elected body to help clarify or emphasize important points or to support staff from overzealous elected officials.

How and when to do this comes with experience, circumstances, and the individuals involved. Always be courteous and avoid interrupting at all times. One effective technique I have found is to interject, when recognized by the chair, by asking staff members questionseven if you already know the answer. This technique allows the manager to indirectly interject thoughts and ideas without appearing to interfere or inappropriately become involved in discussions of the elected body.

Finally, if you are not sure of an answer, don’t guess and don’t be afraid to say you are not sure or do not know; but instead that you will find out and report back to the elected body. Council members are much more willing to accept this answer than to make a decision based on incorrect information from the manager or staff.

It’s called a City Council meeting for a reason!

The Cookingham Connection blog series is published in partnership with Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL). ELGL members are local government leaders with a passion for connecting, communicating, and educating.

What’s Keeping You From Moving Forward?

When I start a new workout program, there’s an ongoing self-conflict that I have to overcome.

My body says I need to workout, but my mind somehow always finds a great excuse to wait a little bit longer.

“I’m tired, and studies show those who have enough rest actually lose more weight.”
“Ewww… it’s raining outside. I’ll wait until it’s nice and sunny. Then, I’ll be more motivated.”
“I’ll perfect my diet now and start working out on Monday. Who starts a workout mid-week?”

Every time I get into that “excuse” thought cycle, I end up waiting weeks before I actually start an exercise routine. But I heard something during a TV interview that grabbed my attention and will forever shake me out of my lazy mindset:

“There’s no such thing as a stagnant athlete. You’re either working out consistently and getting better, or not working out consistently and regressing.”

Basically, every day that ended in me not working out was a day I was not becoming a better me. What a waste of time!

Sometimes we get so caught up in the planning process that we’re so slow to act.

Leaders do. They don’t just talk about “doing.” They don’t put “doing” on their never-ending to-do list. They just do. And the longer they don’t do, the longer their team suffers from a lack of progress.

Don’t fall into the trap of wanting something to be flawless before starting. (Remember the paralysis of analysis?) You can always make excuses for why now isn’t the right time. And if you wait for the “perfect time” to do anything, nothing will get done.

Just like anything you begin, there will be kinks to work through. But you can’t get better or see results if you never start.

I’m not trying to trivialize the complex decisions leaders have to make. Yes, you should think it through and consider all possible outcomes. However, you have to know when to pull the trigger and let your plan take its course.

And if your plan fails, remember the wise words of Victor Kiam: “Even if you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward.”

So, how are you helping your organization move forward today?

Hope Boyd
Written by:
Hope Boyd
Director of Communications, Strategic Government Resources

Emotional Intelligence: What if They Just Don’t Have It?

We hear the phrase “Emotional Intelligence” (EI) used a lot in leadership circles. Since Daniel Goleman introduced the phrase “Emotional Intelligence” many years ago, it’s gained more and more acceptance as a key part of a successful leader’s personality. In fact, it’s so common to hear someone remark something like, “She has a lot of emotional intelligence,” or “He lacks the emotional intelligence to understand how he’s being perceived,” that we often don’t even think about what it means. We just recognize it, or, perhaps we just recognize its absence.

However, that becomes a problem when we ask the question, “How does a person with a low level of emotional intelligence improve?” Some would argue that by the time a person is far enough into his/her career for emotional intelligence to be seen as a problem, it’s too late to do anything about it. However, that seems like a pretty cynical and pessimistic attitude, and one that I refuse to embrace. On the other hand, if we cannot break it down into recognizable and distinct components, then the pessimists may be right. It will be difficult to help a person improve.

Fortunately, as is so often the case, if you go back to the original writer, you discover that Goleman had a lot to say about exactly what “Emotional Intelligence” is. As he breaks it down, it becomes evident that these components can be isolated, observed, and developed. What are they?

  • Self-awareness – The ability to recognize and understand your own moods, emotions, and drives and how those things are affecting others around you. People with a high level of self-awareness will possess a realistic assessment of themselves.
  • Self-regulation – This is the ability to control or redirect negative impulses or moods. This kind of person practices Covey’s theory that “between stimulus and response, there is space.” They are comfortable with functioning in the midst of ambiguity without letting anxiety control their behavior.
  • Motivation – This means that a person recognizes his/her intrinsic motivations and is propelled by these more than extrinsic motivations. People with high motivation are able to remain optimistic, even while honestly facing the brutal facts.
  • Empathy – This is the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people and to know how interact with them, in light of their emotional mindset. This is why people with good “Emotional Intelligence” are great at building and retaining talent, and those who struggle with EI will always struggle at building and keeping great teams together.
  • Social Skill – Goleman used this term to refer to the power to manage relationships and build rapport with people based on common ground. He suggested that people with good social skills are persuasive and effective at leading change.

Here are my three takeaways from this related to developing EI in leaders:

  1. The first three traits are about managing yourself. You cannot lead, nor manage others, if you cannot manage yourself and your own emotions.
  1. The last two traits are about managing relationships with others. Social skills is the culmination of EI. However, it seems we often expect people to be high in this area, even though they are clueless in the previous four categories.
  1. If we want to improve a person’s EI, we have to start at the foundation, which is self-awareness and move up from there. It isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible; and without doing it that way, there is no hope for improving emotional intelligence.

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Chief Operations Officer, Strategic Government Resources

A Lesson in World-Class Coaching

What does the best coach do?

First, I think the best coach notices what the person being coached is doing rightand what the person is doing wrong.

Which means the best coach knows what to look for. If the person being coached does things right, then all is well. If the person being coached is not doing these things right, then you’ve got trouble. But it takes a very good coach to see this.

So, the best coach has a very, very attentive eye.

Those thoughts were prompted by one amazing paragraph. In case you have not heard, we’ve just seen the greatest pitching performance in the World Series since Sandy Koufax in 1965and one of the greatest of all time. Madison Bumgarner pretty much single-handedly shut down the Kansas City Royals hitters. He notched two wins and one save in the four Giants victories. His ERA was 0.43 for this World Series. His overall World Series ERA is 0.25, the best of all time.

In this article, author Tyler Kepner talked about how his coach and teammates pretty much left Bumgarner alone, saying nothing to him, asking him nothing, during his final game-saving relief assignment. But, his primary coach, Pitching Coach Dave Righetti, knew what to look for. This is a very trained coaching eye. Here’s the great observation:

“After that, Dave Righetti said, he studied the fingers on Bumgarner’s left hand. If he was keeping them on top of the ball, Righetti said, he would not make mistakes. That is where Bumgarner kept them.”

Where were the pitcher’s fingers? I don’t know much about that level of observation about pitching prowess. But Righetti does. And as good as Bumgarner is, it took a coach that was his match to help him rise to this level.

This strikes me as a pretty high bar for all coachesin all arenas. Coaches have to become world-class noticers. They know what to look for, and they have to be able to see, and understand, the smallest signals.

Impressive! Impressive pitching and impressive coaching.

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Emerging Generations in Local Government – 14

Cookingham Connection - Kyler LWe’re continuing our series in the Cookingham Connection with a perspective from an emerging leader in local government. You heard what the city administrator of Fort Smith, Arkansas had to say about Cookingham’s 14th guidepost. Now hear it from the perspective of Kyler Ludwig. Kyler is the Assistant to the City Administrator for the City of Goddard, Kansas. He earned his MPA from the University of Kansas.

Guidepost #14:

Be sure to develop good press relations; give all the time necessary to help the press, radio, and other media to keep the public informed, because any one of these media can ruin your program with very little effort.

In the story of Rip Van Winkle written by Washington Irving, the protagonist, Rip Van Winkle, escapes the nagging of his wife by wandering into the mountains. While in the mountains, Rip falls into a deep sleep for twenty years. During this twenty years, Rip slept through the American Revolution, the death of his wife, the marriage of his daughter, and the birth of his grandson.

In many ways, mediaespecially social mediacan feel like Van Winkle’s nagging wife to a city manager, but like the story explains, trying to escape or ignore the situation will only lead to missing out on revolution and one of the most exciting times in history.

Though looking to the 1950s for a guide to dealing with social media might seem absurd, “The Guideposts for City Managers” given by L.P. Cookingham in 1956 remain relevant when received through a lens of media changes. Cookingham suggests keeping the public informed through good relationships with the press. This is sound advice for any city manager, but it is important to know who the press is in a media climate that is quite different from that of the mid-1900s.

One of the major changes we have seen in media has developed over the last decade with the  devolution of power from the nightly news anchors  to anybody with internet access or a smartphone. At one time, figures like Edward R. Murrow commanded the stream of information that came into a home. Today, Twitter feeds and blogs are a 24-hour source of news and opinions. Even major world events have been broken via tweets@keithurbahn broke the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death before it was publicly announced, while Bin Laden’s neighbor unknowingly live tweeted the Seal Team 6 mission (@ReallyVirtual). Social media has become so integrated in society that news organizations cannot deny their influence now dedicating entire programing segments to trending topics.

This devolution of media authority has changed the game dramatically. Controlling the message to the press is no longer something that can take place at the golf course or at a restaurant over lunch. Every teen with a smartphone is a news anchor, and every mom with a blog is a journalist. If Cookingham saw this exchange of power, I believe he would advise managers to consider everyone with whom they talk to be a member of the press and to evolve the idea of fostering relations with the press to taking responsibility to devote the time necessary to engage with and inform the public directly through social media, and a more natural engagement process.

Though I would never consider myself a popular guy (I would probably be better considered a nerd), my Facebook account instantly puts my opinions, ideas, and interests into the hands hundreds of people. With a simple click, my posts can then be shared with my Facebook friends’ followers, making my influence potentially exponential. This change in media can be intimidating for many, especially those who have been in the profession longer than I have been alive, but this fast-moving social network also has the ability to help make government more open, and help reduce the information asymmetries that exist between residents and bureaucrats.

Social media is a great way for the City to control the information going to the public. In August of 2014, the residents of Goddard voted on a one-cent sales tax without a sunset. In a fiscally conservative city, during a primary election, the ballot initiative passed with 74% in favor. There was some press coverage, so a relationship with newspaper staff and television reporters was crucial, but a great deal of the positive press was seen on the internet. The City controlled a positive message about the purpose for the tax to help educate citizens on the vote’s impact. Prior to the election, the City’s website saw the number of visitors double, and the Facebook analytics showed that Facebook posts were being seen by ten times the average audience. Controlling the message in social media was a major factor in why the sales tax passed so dramatically.

Cookingham’s guidepost regarding media relations ends with the warning that a rough relationship with the press can “ruin your program with very little effort”; however, it is important to remember that a positive relationship can result in building, promoting, and engaging residents in a city’s programs, organizations, and processes. Seeing residents as citizens, newsmakers, and journalists can develop new relationship ties to involve individuals in numbers never before seen and with an interest only social media can create, which is definitely not something to sleep through.

The Cookingham Connection blog series is published in partnership with Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL). ELGL members are local government leaders with a passion for connecting, communicating, and educating.

%d bloggers like this: