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Hundreds of city officials gather virtually for Cal Cities New Mayors and Council Members Academy

February 3, 2021
The League of California Cities welcomed more than 650 newly elected city officials to the all-virtual New Mayors and Council Members Academy, designed for newly elected city officials in California and for veterans wanting a refresher course. 
The academy took place over the last two Thursdays and Fridays, covering information and tools to help newly elected officials govern even more effectively in their community. Academy sessions included a briefing on top priorities facing California cities in 2021, the importance of working closely with legislators to advance local priorities, city council and city management relationships, changing how you do business to be more inclusive, community engagement, and financial responsibilities. 

Week one of the academy focused on the many relationships newly elected officials will have between city staff, other council members, residents, and Cal Cities. Advocacy and policy were the main focus of the second week. 

Academy session highlights

Newly elected local leaders got to dive into the ins and outs of the League of California Cities in the session, “Your Cal Cities and How to Use It.” Cal Cities President and El Centro Mayor Cheryl Viegas Walker and Cal Cities Executive Director and CEO Carolyn Coleman provided an engaging introduction with an overview of the organization and its day-to-day activities, tips on how to get involved, and advice on how newly elected officials can most benefit from Cal Cities.

“We are here to help you in all aspects of your job. I hope that in four years you are able to say you made a difference and carried out the promises you made to your community because of your engagement with Cal Cities,” said President Viegas Walker.

Effective advocacy and key city issues

Cal Cities’ advocacy team provided a crash course on effective advocacy and key city issues, and introduced new city leaders to Cal Cities’ 2021 Strategic Advocacy Priorities and trending issues in the state Legislature. The team also shared tips and tricks about how to make a compelling argument for city interests to state and federal lawmakers.

From dangerous discourse to extraordinary engagement: Changing the conversation on inclusion

This session focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and offered specific strategies for changing how to do business to be more inclusive. Attendees discovered how to differentiate between diversity and inclusion, how intentional inclusion is an important strategy for changing how you do business, and what tools to use to enhance inclusion within communities.

Policy role in land use planning

Seeing the future is difficult, but an important responsibility of a city official is land use planning. Creating a vision for a community can have lasting, long-term impacts. Speakers in this session talked about the importance of having a good, but not overly complex, general plan to guide the vision for a city’s community. Other tools in the process include specific plans — to help implement the goals of the general plan — zoning, and engaging the community. Some important tips include listening to city staff, asking questions, and a willingness to be flexible.

Communications and civic engagement

With constant advancements in social media over the last several years, it is a challenge to keep up with which platforms are most effective to get information out and to engage with residents. Speakers in this session outlined what cities should be doing to communicate with their constituents in the 21st century, and the rules that elected officials need to follow. While a lot of city officials are wary about the risks of social media, public relations expert and Partner of Bicker, Castillo & Fairbanks Brandon Castillo said, “When you are not on social media you send a message to your constituents that you don’t care about their involvement, because that’s where they are.”

Castillo also warned of the risks of engaging on social media and how to navigate them: You need to have a tough skin and put up with negative comments. Don’t be combative, just stick to the facts. Move conversations offline when possible. Correct the record and get out. And remember, it’s a two-way conversation, so especially during the pandemic, this is a great way to engage with your residents when we cannot meet in person.

The academy also hosted virtual networking opportunities where elected officials had the opportunity to get to know each other, and through peer-to-peer interactions to provide invaluable support to one another.

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