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Take Advantage of the End of the Year

Take Advantage of the End of the Year

The end of the year is typically a busy time for local governments. Most entities will be doing the final review and adopting their budgets during November and December—all while working around the holidays—in addition to the normal, daily activities of serving constituents. That said, the end of the year also offers opportunities to help orient newly elected officials and to review citywide emergency management plans.

Help your newly elected officials hit the ground running

After the general election you have a fixed, and relatively short, period of time before the new officials’ terms begin. Happily, several organizations offer a variety of tools to ease the transition into office. For example, the Association of Washington Cities (AWC) typically schedules their Elected Officials Essentials workshops during this time.

The Washington State Association of Counties Newly Elected Officials Conference provides a wealth of valuable information both to those newly elected and to any incumbents who want a refresher, missed it the first time, or want to be a resource for the new members.  The 2016 conference takes place from December 6-8 in Olympia

MRSC has traditionally been a part of these programs as well, providing an overview of our valuable services and resources for staff and elected officials.

Now is also a good time to schedule an individual meeting with the newly elected official. In a previous MRSC Insight post, Speed Dating: It's Not Just for Your Social Life Anymore, I suggested:

How about an afternoon following local elections where the recently elected commissioners or councilmembers are rotated among department representatives for one-on-one conversations? Topics could include, not only the current issues facing the department, but also an exchange of sufficient personal information to scale the focus down from the levels of the campaign to a more human level.

During my previous tenure as city administrator, prior to the ready availability of resource materials in digital format, we used to send all newly elected officials a stack of MRSC and AWC publications, as well as a copy of our municipal code and comprehensive plan. The Mayor and Councilmember Handbook, the Code City Handbook, the County Commissioner Guide, and Knowing the Territory are key resources for newly-electeds. Now you can send the latest versions of these, and many other useful publications, in an email.

I can say from firsthand experience that these practices were helpful to, and sincerely welcomed by, a long line of elected officials who served their communities and were aided in their ability to “hit the ground running” on their first day in office.

Prepare for unexpected natural disasters

In  December 1983, the Enumclaw plateau and other areas in the Cascade foothills experienced a winter storm that included single-digit temperatures and 100+ mph winds. Here are the top emergency management takeaways I learned from experiencing this event as a city administrator:

  • Plan ahead for all types of disasters.  Although an earthquake seems to be the most likely threat in our region, you should have an emergency plan in place and adaptable to any kind of natural or manmade contingency.
  • Be prepared to do without outside help. If it’s a localized event, resources will be spread thin. The localized nature of the event I experienced meant regional agencies were unaware (or disbelieving) of the dangers and therefore, unprepared themselves. For years we’ve been told to be prepared for up to three days without help. More recent public service announcements recommend having 7-10 days’ worth of supplies on hand. That sounds more realistic based on experiences reported in recent disasters.
  • Expect the unexpected.  When the National Guard finally did arrive with generators for our city’s emergency shelter, these generators didn’t have the correct connections and couldn’t run; the diesel fuel was the consistency of jelly due to the cold.
  • Have your incident command structure tied down. When the governor’s office called to ask if we’d declared an emergency, the mayor was unavailable so I took the initiative to respond. In hindsight, we did a fairly good job of keeping track of the various city response efforts, but it was ad hoc rather than planned.
  • Consider your family. To work effectively, you and your staff need to be assured that your families are secure. Make sure to have a plan in place for them, too.
  • Do regular emergency training. After that incident, I, along with the rest of the city’s management team, spent nearly a year training locally. Then I attended the Integrated Emergency Management Course at the FEMA training center in Emmitsburg, Maryland. These efforts gave me the opportunity to go over the lessons learned during the Christmas storm and to reflect on what we did, both right and wrong.

Since that storm, the entire management team where I worked has turned over, and yours will too. You will have to review and renew your emergency planning regularly: FEMA recommends at least every two years for it to be effective when your local government most needs it.

Does your local government spend the last few months of the year orienting new officials or updating emergency management plans?  Let us know what tools and resources you use in the comments section.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

Photo of Lynn Nordby

About Lynn Nordby

Lynn’s public sector career included over 30 years in local government management and experience in virtually all municipal services including the operations of a wide variety of municipal utilities. He is now retired.