Getting Your Newly Elected Officials Ready to Hit the Ground Running
Every election cycle potentially introduces new members to your policy board or chief executive’s office. You have an opportunity to give the newly elected members of the team a “leg up” so that they can begin their term of office as ready as possible on day one.
From my years of experience, here are some methods to help make sure your newly elected officials are as prepared as possible before they take office.
Pre-Filing Candidate Workshop
Recognizing that this opportunity has passed for this cycle, in future elections, consider organizing a pre-filing candidate workshop. Coordinate with other entities in your community (schools, special districts, etc.) to set up a one-day workshop where each agency with elected positions that will be open for the next term gives a briefing about the entity, its mission, current issues, and so on. Explain some of the basic election law obligations, such as public disclosure requirements or limits on public employee participation and use of facilities, and provide a list of resources, contacts, and copies of necessary forms. The MRSC publication Getting into Office: Being Elected or Appointed into Office in Washington Counties, Cities, Towns, and Special Districts is an excellent resource for any prospective candidate.
After the filing deadline, send a welcome letter from the board chair or mayor thanking them for their interest in participating in the public life of the community in this way and letting them know that you will begin distributing meeting agenda packets to the candidates. They’ll begin to pick up on the ongoing processes and become familiar with any running issues.
Set Up Meet and Greets
Following the primary election, if necessary, again have the board chair or mayor send a congratulatory letter to each candidate. Offer each candidate an opportunity to have a general informational meeting with the mayor or board chair and the chief administrative officer. Since our election cycle overlaps the annual budget cycle, this is also a good time to include the candidates in the distribution of preliminary budget documents, including any useful background materials to support or explain budget issues that may not be readily apparent.
Take Advantage of the End of the Year
After the general election you have a fixed, and relatively short, period of time before the new officials terms begin. This interval also coincides with a lot of activity. Most entities will be doing the final review and adopting their budgets during November and December, and you’ll be working around the holidays. The Association of Washington Cities (AWC) now schedules their Elected Officials Essentials workshops during this time (December 5 this year),where a wealth of valuable information is provided to both those newly elected and any incumbents who want a refresher, missed it the first time, or want to be a resource for the new members. MRSC has traditionally been a part of this program as well, to provide an overview of our valuable services and resources for staff and elected officials.
This 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 publications from MRSC and AWC as well as a copy of our municipal code and comprehensive plan. Handbooks like the Mayor and Councilmember Handbook, the Code City Handbook, the County Commissioner Guide, and Knowing the Territory are key resources for newly-electeds. Now of course, it’s as easy as putting links to all of them in an email. You can rest assured that the latest versions of these, and many other useful publications, are at their fingertips.
I can say from first-hand 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. Only once did a newly elected councilmember decline to receive any material until after they took office.
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