Working with Local Government

Working with local government can be a rewarding experience, if the right approach is applied. Complaining to government officials and staff often offends and results in negative responses. Presenting your opinions, supported by facts, shows you fully understand the issue, and you will be received better by elected officials and staff.

General principles:

  • Know the structure and purpose of local government.
  • Understand the decision making process.
  • Get to know your elected officials (Mayor and City Council), Boards & Commissions chairs and staff members.
  • Keep elected officials and staff informed; don't surprise them with unexpected actions.
  • Never threaten staff or elected officials.
  • Understand the issue; do research if needed (Government officials and staff can provide additional background information about an issue, if needed).

When meeting with elected officials/staff:

  • Start with the person most directly responsible for your concern then work your way up.
  • Make it clear if you represent a group. Identify the name of your group and its purpose.
  • Get solid answers. Ask specific information: dates, places and times.
  • Be realistic. Be open to suggestions. Take suggestions seriously and follow up on them.
  • Prepare a follow-up memo summarizing the discussion and the outcome. Check to see if whatever has been agreed to is being done.
  • Keep the neighborhood informed by writing a newsletter or discussing the issue at meetings.

Speaking at public hearings:

Giving personal testimony at a public hearing is one opportunity to express your opinions and concerns. Your personal testimony describes to decision-makers how the issue at hand impacts your life. To be the most effective, public testimony should be well presented (short and to the point) and supported by factual information.