Observations from Under the Saguaro by Christian M. Williams @MyPublicTweeter
He’s back! Goodyear, AZ ‘s Christian Williams asks: What is your city doing to get citizens, particularly millennials, engaged in local government?
Time and time again a question comes up, “How did you end up working in government?” This question comes up not only from friends but also from people I meet and inform that I work for the City, or in their eyes the “government”. This question generally comes before or after, “What does local government even do?” Aside from me responding with, “How do you think your street lights get turned on”, I generally answer the former question, which I’m asked most often.
For me, this experience occurred many years before I was looking at a career in government. My first step into local government came from involvement with the Youth Advisory Board in my hometown of Peoria, Arizona. The opportunities from the program gave me great insight into some of the services that local governments provide. Events like Youth Government Day facilitated opportunities for peers with similar interests from other local high schools to interact with government.
The second beneficial experience I had with local government was my internship opportunity. When we think of internship opportunities we often think of college or graduate work. In my experience my first internship occurred as a senior in high school. This internship not only gave me exposure to government professionals but also helped me learn about the path they took to get to where they are. In looking at colleges and course paths I relied on the information given to me by these local government professionals to make important foundational decisions. Similarly, for college students it is important to keep them engaged in matters of local government through internship opportunities and projects that build real life experiences and help with building a resume/portfolio.
Now, in the workplace I have found it useful to be asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” or as cliché as it sounds, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” Questions like that really start the conversation about short term goals or end game to advance your career to the next level. Being asked about your career journey prompts exploration of how you plan to navigate in the future to get from point “A” to point “B”.
I wanted to know what we were doing in Goodyear to get people talking about and excited over local government. With that purpose in mind, I walked down the hall to Assistant to the Council, Lauren Valencia. I asked her about the Youth Commission that we have here in Goodyear. She informed me that the City of Goodyear’s Youth Commission provides a venue for high school students to develop leadership skills through involvement in local government, empowering and engaging our community’s highly-motivated young adults. Youth Commissioners undergo training and education focusing on city departments and services, and are responsible for planning and executing local community service projects. The seventeen members of the City’s Youth Commission are often excited to be involved in local government, and have generally become more actively engaged in each of their neighborhoods and local communities. Each Youth Commissioner has expressed a desire to continue his or her involvement in serving the city going forward.
Our Human Resources Department keeps citizens connected to local government by facilitating a robust volunteer program. With over 700 volunteers contributing in more than ten of our City departments we are truly engaging the community, helping them make a difference in their neighbors’ everyday lives, and providing valuable insight into local government. Our volunteers put in more than 25,000 hours annually which accounts for a $648,000 savings to this city.
In addition to getting insight through volunteering, the City has a Citizens Academy to educate members of the public on what the City does. One observation I made while presenting at the Citizens Academy was the lack of participation from millennials. I have noticed this lack of participation is not unique to Goodyear but in various communities I have encountered.
As I mentioned earlier, I am often asked, “What does local government even do?” To me it seems obvious but this is a very common question, especially among some of my friends and other acquaintances. The lack of familiarity with local government functions is one of the major reasons people between the ages of 18-30ish don’t vote. This age group, among others, tends to have very limited understanding of how local government, the level of government closest to our daily lives, impacts the quality of their everyday life. I am truly searching for an answer to the question, “What we can do, as local government leaders, to get millennials informed, engaged, and involved in local government?” I am interested to getting to know how involved millennials are in your community and what you are doing to improve participation.