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Engaging Local Government Leaders: Your Next Cohort Experience

When I graduated, I had a diploma and a belief that networks make government stronger. Jean Coble, Gordon Whitaker, and David Ammons expected that each class would work to serve and support each other. Because of this, teamwork was baked into every part of the Carolina MPA experience.

I met my husband Kent Wyatt ‘02 while working for Tom Lundy ‘71 on a utility line extension analysis project in Catawba County (always a romance starter....). Fast forward fifteen years, and I’m proud to have co-founded and now serve as the executive director for the Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL) network.

Copying the Cohort

Although the concept seems simple, it was inaccessible when Kent and I needed it most: a generalized local government organization that we could join and learn from when we moved across the country to Oregon while looking for jobs in local government.

I started my local government career in finance and moved into management, while Kent worked in long-range planning and now works in communications. So, we started our own cohort focused on local-level general government service.

We knew we didn’t want the group to be overly focused on job title or function. And we wanted to welcome anyone working in public service to participate. On top of that, we believed that local government leadership was changing. There isn’t just one path to becoming a city manager, elected leader, or department director anymore.

Informed by the Carolina MPA cohort experience, we gathered 16 people in different roles from cities across the Portland region for lunch. Everyone had so much fun that we agreed to meet up the next month, and then the month after that.

Soon we started bringing in guest speakers to share what they were working on and how it affected cities, counties, and districts. Then we added a website and social media to share what we were learning. We called ourselves ELGL—the Engaging Local Government Leaders network.

About ELGL

Today, ELGL has 4,800 members in every state and six countries. Our mission is to engage the brightest minds in local government. We do this with a daily flow of blog posts and weekly GovLove podcast content. We also host exciting events like City Hall Selfie Day, Supper Clubs, and conferences. And all of these focus on increasing diversity and inclusion in local government and finding the joy in public service. 

We also spend our time on substantive topics like collecting data for the Diversity Dashboard (DiversityDashboard.org), a first-of-its-kind live database of the demographics of local government leaders nationwide. 

We recognize outstanding local government leaders, places, and employers via our awards program. In this spring’s #ELGLKnope recognition of the top parks in local government, Matt Roylance ‘97 shepherded Garner’s parks to the Elite Eight, showcasing this North Carolina town’s leadership and infrastructure investment. 

Our work is meaningful and fun. Anyone is welcome to join—our members are students, managers, police officers, librarians, accountants, civic tech startup founders, innovation directors, planners, and everyone in between. Why? Because we know that local government is stronger when we work together and welcome everyone to the ELGL table. 

Bringing #ELGL19 to Durham 

In May 2019, ELGL brought our annual conference to Durham, North Carolina, the perfect spot for a national local government conference. Not only does the city boast national accolades for programs like Innovate Durham and for improving opportunities for justice involved residents, but it also has a consistent track record of hiring and promoting the brightest minds in local government. Plus, Durham and the Triangle region have deep networks of Carolina MPA students and alumni who are active ELGL members. 

ELGL Board Member Ben Kittelson led the organizing effort for #ELGL19. His team included Josh Edwards ‘05, Sarah Hazel ‘14, Caley Patten ‘16, Ellis Johnson ‘18, and Rafael Baptista ‘15. They curated a speaker lineup that included Eric Marsh ‘17 as master of ceremonies and Monica Chaparro ‘05, plus a keynote panel with Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan and Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle. The attendee list included a who’s who of Carolina MPA local government leaders from across the country. 

#ELGL19 was made even more special thanks to a partnership with the Carolina MPA “Happy Hour Hub” program which brought local alumni to the #ELGL19 social event at Hi-Wire Brewing in Durham. 

Continuing Connections 

ELGL continues to build our relationship with the Carolina MPA program. And we’re proud of our relationships with 20 students (now 12 alumni and eight rising second year students). Like Kent and I did so many years ago, they are exploring issues of interest in local government in that same first-year consulting class. Students have worked on the Diversity Dashboard, researched paid family leave, studied trends in HR recruitment, and reviewed parks and recreation management. 

Without a doubt, we are proud to support the work of Carolina MPA faculty. Recently, we interviewed faculty members Leisha Dehart- Davis and Kim Nelson for GovLove on their “Near the Top” research about women and people of color in local government leadership. We’re also anxiously awaiting publication of David Ammons’ newest performance-measurement publication and hope to host an #ELGLBookClub discussion about it. John Stephens and ELGL share a love and social media following for civic data and open source government and found shared connections at the Code for America Summit in Oakland, California. And the MPA program continues to be an amazing advocate for ELGL, enrolling current students in the organization as part of the School of Government’s “All-In” membership level. If you missed #ELGL19 in Durham, we’ve already booked #ELGL20 scheduled for May 13–15, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. 

Learn more at elgl.org/membership

Listen to the GovLove podcast at elgl.org/govlove

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