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California City Solutions: Beverly Hills Develops Civic Engagement Program to Build Trust and Engagement

May 1, 2015
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award entries.
 
The 2014 entries are available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. TEAM Beverly Hills was submitted in 2014 for the Enhancing Public Trust, Ethics, and Community Involvement award category.Beverly-Hills-fire-demo.jpg
 
Beverly Hills is known for glamour, beautiful homes, celebrities and luxury. Although the city lives up to its stunning attractions, very few of its residents associated its unique environment to its municipal services. The city of Beverly Hills set out to create awareness and boost civic engagement for its city services and programs, launching TEAM Beverly Hills in 1996. The program is a hands-on, grassroots effort designed to build positive community relations between residents and the city as well as educate community members about city services, operations, public safety programs and partnering agencies.
 
Beverly-Hills-Greystone-Courtyard.jpgBeverly Hills is a 5.7 square-mile city in the middle of Los Angeles County with a population of less than 35,000. On any given day there could be up to 200,000 people within its city limits, including more than 76,000 workers.
 
Although Beverly Hills is a small city, it provides a full range of municipal services. Most commonly known as a tourist attraction, Beverly Hills found it challenging to engage residents and show them how the services and programs maintained by a small city can impact the community. This was especially difficult because the local papers were more interested in sharing glamorous lifestyle stories rather than important local government news.Beverly-Hills-parking-meter-shop.jpg
 
The city wanted to create an environment, built on the foundation of transparency and openness that fostered community pride by keeping residents informed of its structures, services, and processes. Additionally, the city wanted to engage residents in a variety of civic and volunteer activities, most specifically city commissions. With a five-member city council and 11 city commissions comprising approximately 60 commissioners, Beverly Hills has many opportunities for residents to become involved in local government.
 
TEAM Beverly Hills’ initial vision centered on developing and educating future commissioners. The city council hand-picked TEAM Beverly Hills class members and scheduled the program for evenings and the occasional weekend to accommodate working residents.Beverly-Hills-small-shovel-machine.jpg
 
Beverly-Hills-staff-giving-instructions.jpgThe program was originally designed as a nine-class lecture series taught over a six month period. TEAM Beverly Hills members could attend leadership workshops and actively participate in a diverse mix of interactive and memorable experiences. Each program concluded with a graduation ceremony attended by the mayor and city council, city manager, city commissioners, and city staff.
 
The first program featured high-profile executives and community leaders sharing experiences and education in developing various leadership skills. City officials also highlighted or demonstrated daily local government responsibilities, functions, and matters.
 
Although the program was very well received, with 94 applicants applying for 25 program spots, the city learned that participants preferred city-lead sessions. They reported an interest in more classes highlighting various city departments and less focus on leadership advice from high-profile members in the community.Beverly-Hills-suited-up-fire-dept.jpg
 
Beverly-Hills-water-treatment-facility-tour.jpgTEAM Beverly Hills progressed into a dynamic and interactive city-led program included: hands-on demonstrations; dialogue with city staff; meetings with officials and commissioners; behind-the-scenes walking and driving tours of city facilities and public/private sites; networking opportunities; teambuilding exercises; and small focus group interactions, which provided opportunities for discussing and understanding various issues, opportunities, and challenges facing the city.
 
By the program’s second year the city turned to a lottery system to select the TEAM Beverly Hills members to include a broader scope of residents in the leadership academy, better reflecting the diversity of the community. Members include residents — ranging in age from 17 to 70+ years old, renters, homeowners, business owners, entrepreneurs, stay-at-home moms, teachers, seniors, non-profit leaders, and most recently students. Each TEAM Beverly Hills class has increased from 25 to 42 members and includes two senior Beverly Hills High School students, which are selected by the school district.Beverly-Hills-tree-bucket-small.jpg
 
Since its inception, 536 residents have completed the TEAM Beverly Hills. The program’s first city mayor, elected in 2008, graduated from the inaugural TEAM Beverly Hills Class of 1996. TEAM alumni also comprise 68 percent of the commissioners serving on the city’s 11 commissions and two elected officials — the city treasurer and vice mayor.
 
Other TEAM Beverly Hills achievements include:
  • A high percentage of alumni members regularly volunteering at city events, assisting city departments, and providing feedback at community meetings and focus groups.
  • Residents applying for commission vacancies with a broader knowledge and understanding of city opportunities and challenges.Beverly-Hills-TEAM-group-shot.jpg
  • A General Fund cost savings as a result of centralizing and reducing the amount of time city staff previously needed to train and educate new commissioners and elected officials.
  • An enhanced sense of unity and pride from city employees who participate in the program and provide demonstrations and tours to TEAM members.


 
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