- What I’m Reading: Joanne Fluke’s Chocolate Cream Pie Murder, I like a good mystery, especially one that includes recipes.
- What I’m Watching: The Best Baker in America, if you enjoy cooking competitions, this most recent season has been a fun tour of America’s culinary traditions.
- What I’m Listening To: Small Town Podcast by Georgia Mayor Matt Seale (an enjoyable look into many of the small towns we in municipal government work for, and an exploration of what makes every place special).
When I decided to pursue a career in local government, one of my favorite things quickly became the welcoming nature of those in the field, a kinship that is rare to see in the professional world. One of my fondest memories of attending my first ICMA conference came when following the conclusion of the day’s events, my fellow students and I were at a restaurant, and we had probably five or six tables of city managers come over throughout the meal, eager to tell us about their careers and offer advice. This is something I have seen over and over again through job shadows, internships, and professional development that local government professionals love to connect. If you are new to the field and looking to make some connections, here are some ways you can do so:
- Join and take advantage of professional organizations. There is a professional organization for every type of local government professional, and these organizations often have free memberships for students or those new to the field. While you’re there: make sure you take full advantage of all they have to offer. Many of them offer mentorship programs or free professional development. Ask what is included in your membership, and make sure you read the newsletters they send out. They might connect you with another great group. Some examples of groups if you are looking to get started: ELGL, International City/County Manager’s Association, American Planning Association, Government Finance Officers Association, International Association for Public Participation, National Forum for Black Public Administrators, Local Government Hispanic Network, International Network of Asian Public Administrators, SheLeadsGov, American Public Works Association, National Association of County Administrators, and many many others.
- Connect with your state’s local government league. Every state has a local government league, which exists to help advocate for your cities. Your league may hold professional development opportunities, work with the state chapters of the aforementioned professional organizations, have committees you can serve on to gain more experience, and offer networking. I love the Michigan Municipal League, and so appreciate all of the work they do to keep us informed on state legislation, as well as coordinate information flows. I have also met many great friends through their programming and strengthened my relationships with the city managers in my region of the state. Through their facilitation of conversation, we had discussions on everything from pandemic mitigation strategies to how to best spend the American Rescue Plan dollars to regional strategies for shoreline erosion. They help to connect us on a regional level.
- Don’t be afraid to reach out. If you’re looking to break into the field, job shadows are a great way to get early connections and learn something new, or see if someone might want to meet for lunch. Some of the best things I’ve learned about the field have come from job shadows, and sometimes what it takes to kickstart your creative process is just to hear how someone else is dealing with or dealt with the same problem.
- There are a variety of ways you can volunteer in local government. You can give back to the profession by serving on a committee for a professional organization; by doing this you can meet other professionals with similar interests within your job. You can serve on a location-specific committee. For example, I serve on a committee for the Michigan Municipal League, and through that have gotten to meet other managers within the state. You could also see about serving on a committee that has a regional purpose such as a transportation authority or housing commission. Finally, other departments within your municipality or nearby municipalities might hold volunteer opportunities. Join your watershed council for a river cleanup, or the parks team in an invasive species pull, or the chamber of commerce in a community event. By doing so, you may meet new local government professionals, or people in fields adjacent to local government.
- Attend meetings. Especially if you have not yet entered the field, attending public meetings can be a great way to meet other local government professionals, as well as making observations about different strategies for work. With open meetings laws, you can attend not only council meetings, but often other boards and commissions, or other levels of government’s meetings. By attending these meetings (and introducing yourself afterwards), you can learn not only more about the communities you live in or near, but also network.