“It takes a village.” Municipal governance works best when key players are working together. How local elected officials can foster coalitions to tackle policy issues was the focus of discussion for the National League of Cities National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials during their Annual Summer Conference.
Conversations touched on a number of issues and the unique impact or challenge for minority communities. From the U.S. Census to tensions between civil rights and law enforcement, affordable housing, and financial stewardship, more than 150 municipal leaders gained insights on how strong coalitions were crucial to building their communities. Here are a few takeaways on building effective collaborations that strengthen local policy:
Strengthen community engagement: Coalitions are most impactful when they increase public awareness and involvement. The upcoming 2020 Census offers an unprecedented opportunity to rally community involvement, particularly in Hispanic, immigrant, and black communities. Municipal leaders are encouraged to form Complete Count Committees, which should include residents. Complete Count Committees play a crucial role in ensuring accuracy of address rosters and community awareness about the 2020 Census’ move from paper to online. While municipal governments play a key role in census outreach, using community engagement to “get out the count” and help spread awareness of the Census’ importance can dramatically increase public participation.
Coalitions require diverse voices:Strong coalitions combine common interests among diverse groups. Historically, coalition building in black communities has involved a number of interests – from the church to local businesses and unions. Today, this diversity is still a strength. Coalition building can help the African-American community by educating constituents on issues, connecting people to resources and opportunities, and building Black wealth through minority-owned business. Collaboration between municipal officials and engaged groups foster progress, showing that an empowered community can get more done.
Empower public-private partnerships: Some issues require unique collaboration. In recent years, municipal leaders have seen the utility of public-private partnerships. During the NBC-LEO conference, local leaders discussed the effectiveness of public-private partnerships to address the housing crisis affecting all communities in the United States. From financing initiatives to supply, and maintenance, housing remains an area that responds positively to public-private collaboration.
In recent years, some issues have fostered different types of collaboration. Civil rights attorney Ben Crump spoke with elected officials on his experiences and insights from working on civil rights cases, especially those involving police brutality. Crump stressed that municipal officials are the leaders that can empower and engage their residents to be involved and speak up. He encouraged politicians to apply common sense and due process to instances of violence to combat increasing polarization.
Overall, African-American leaders learned that local government is often the first line of defense to challenges in black and immigrant communities. Consequently, local elected officials are not just selected to govern, but to be leaders in their community that engage with different key players to collaboratively push their cities, towns, and villages forward. Forming coalitions can ensure that policies are crafted and instituted in equitable, effective, and wide-reaching ways. NLC and NBC-LEO are not just committed to showcasing the diversity of local government, but in fostering discussion and increasing elected officials’ skills to improve municipal governance for all residents.
Eli Frankel is an NLC intern supporting its constituency groups, including NBC-LEO, Hispanic Elected Local Officials, Women in Municipal Government, Asian Pacific American Municipal Elected Officials, and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Local Elected Officials.
Melissa Williams is a communications and marketing specialist at NLC. She supports NLC’s membership and partnership teams.