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Jennifer Rose Hale Image
Jennifer Rose Hale
Former Client Partner, Texas Association of School Boards

Elevating your impact as a local government leader

July 8, 2024
0 min read
Elevating your impact as a local government leader

In managing our communities, local government councils have always played a critical role. In recent years, however, these teams have become more prominent in addressing issues around public health, climate change, and social and cultural debates. By introducing urgent issues at the local level and speeding along the adoption of streamed meetings, the pandemic introduced a new level of visibility and accountability that today’s local government council members are still adapting to.

Consider a couple of examples of city councils that, with the help of technology, have responded to new demands from constituents:

  • In Colorado, the Town of Carbondale made council meetings more accessible by providing board documents in a format that can be translated easily into Spanish for the town’s sizable Latino population
  • Officials in the Municipality of Resolute Bay in Nunavut, Canada, were able to publish meeting minutes for the first time in Inuktitut, a local language made up of syllabic characters.

Council members must adapt to these expectations, but greater visibility also demands greater accountability. So how can you as a city council member be a star for your municipality? And how does technology help this goal?

Why engagement matters for local government council members

The local and state levels of governance are the most accessible interfaces between citizens and their representatives. Your leadership and decision-making directly affect where citizens own or rent homes, work and run businesses, go to school and live all aspects of their lives. For most citizens, this is the most direct contact they’ll have with government leaders.

Because of this potential for access and strong effect on citizens’ daily lives, council members have the ability to make their communities better — but only if every team member is listening to constituents, ideating solutions, participating in discussions, making informed decisions and more. In other words, every council needs to be effective and efficient, and every council member needs to be fully engaged.

3 tips for local government council members

Council members are under a lot of pressure to do their jobs well. Whether at the local or state level, government council members can focus on three key areas to ensure full engagement for the leadership team: learning and improvement, relationship-building and setting an example.

1. Embrace continuous learning and improvement

With community needs rapidly shifting, government representatives must be in a mode of constant learning from every direction. As Jon Mutchler, mayor of Ferndale, California, wrote, “There is an ego boost when elected that brings a misguided sense of ‘I should know it all.’ Well, we don’t, and six of the smartest words an elected official can use are: ‘I don’t understand, can you help?’ We call it teachability, openness and a willingness to learn.”

Consider these tips:

  • Make sure you know where to find information about board roles and responsibilities, including fiduciary responsibilities and codes of conduct, and regularly review it
  • Cultivate in-depth knowledge about your community’s features, strengths, opportunities for improvement, demographics, growth trends and more
  • Stay informed about local issues, policies and regulations and threats (such as cyberrisk — a growing concern for local governments)
  • Study winning examples of effective decision-making and policy development
  • Look for relevant workshops, webinars and other training opportunities

2. Focus on relationship-building

Elected officials come into the role having experienced a crash-course in developing relationships, and that work continues once on the council.

  • Build productive relationships with your fellow local government council members and also with staff. Members may come in from different political viewpoints, but once they are on the council, they must find a way to work together.
  • Be an effective communicator, having respect for professional boundaries and how to offer constructive feedback. This doesn’t come naturally for everyone and may take practice.
  • Stay open to new ideas, strategies and technologies that can benefit the board. Technology in particular is raising expectations for how quickly new solutions can be implemented. Discover what is working for similar municipalities and be willing to explore nontraditional solutions.
  • Meet the community where they are, attending events, hosting accessible meet-and-greets and maintaining open lines of communication.

3. Model good behavior

As a star basketball player, Charles Barkley famously rejected the title of role model. Council members should instead embrace it, as polls continually show that citizens trust their local governments more than that at the national level (67% versus 32% in the 2023 Gallup poll). Preserving that trust should be a priority for every local government representative.

  • Promote transparency, accountability and open communication in your role as a council member
  • Uphold high ethical standards, acting with integrity in all your interactions and decision-making processes, avoiding conflicts of interest
  • Make sure you always stay compliant with regulations and legislation such as open meeting laws
  • Embrace equity, striving to be inclusive in your decision-making processes and ensuring that all voices are heard and represented
  • Lead by example with ethical behavior, professionalism and dedication

How board management software serves city councils

Council members are under a lot of pressure, but the right technology choices can take the pressure off.

Continuous learning and improvement

A well designed board management solution can serve as a single point of reference for local governments. A tool like Diligent Community has robust and searchable document storage in which onboarding and continuing education materials can be saved for easy access. Council members can use the dashboard to quickly scan for current issues, tasks, status on initiatives, committee updates and more.

Training opportunities can be offered through the board management software, either through links to resources, archived training and reference materials or other paths.

Relationship-building and communications

Council members must navigate the tightrope between effective communications and open-meetings requirements, a path a good board management solution can help with. Diligent Community streamlines voting and offers workflows for policy development, approvals and other contributions by the council, staff and others. It helps council members stay compliant by having everything in one place with controlled communication rather than on email chains which could result in a quorum being formed. With one-click access to related documents, council members can easily review necessary materials before taking action.

Diligent Community can also send automated notifications to the team, constituents and other audiences, and it allows members to use their own devices to access resources. It also offers live digital voting to speed team decisions and workrooms for committee and team meetings.

Ethics, accountability and transparency

The board management tool enables easy publishing of meeting agendas, minutes and other supporting materials that help voters see how the city council is taking action. With an easy-to-use tool for streaming meetings, the ability for citizens to participate only grows.

Moreover, granular permissions, such as those in Diligent Community, keep sensitive materials secure while public information remains within easy reach to everyone.

Next steps

Council members make a real difference to their communities and their citizens. Being the first interface of governance for neighbors and constituents is a demanding role, but the right strategies and tools can help. Look to board management software to make the myriad responsibilities of council membership easier to manage.

At Diligent, we appreciate the unique needs of local government officials. We’ve developed Diligent Community to serve these decision-making teams by offering an easy-to-use, all-in-one platform for governance. Let’s find out how we can help your team.

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