Emerging Local Government Leaders: An interview with Kent Wyatt

Interested in local government? Want to learn more from others in the field?
Share your own experiences? Looking to expand your network?

Check out ELGL!

Emerging Local Government Leaders

Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL) began in Oregon when a group of local government leaders saw a need to better connect with one another. ELGL aims to encourage new leaders in local government through original content, networking opportunities, and information sharing.

Here’s the coolest part – a one-year student membership can be yours for free! Join here.

In the words of Ben McCready, Assistant to the City Manager of Rock Island, Illinois, ELGL is “preparing the next generation of leaders.” He writes, “Once aspiring professionals enter the field of local government, ELGL offers a platform for original content which reflects the way a new generation of leaders are thinking, viewing, and perceiving the profession as well as the communities we serve.”

ELGL also comes highly recommended by Bonnie Svrcek, Past President of ICMA and our keynote speaker at the 2014 Villanova MPA Dinner!

To tell you the ELGL story, I talked to Kent Wyatt, one of the organization’s founders, and Senior Management Analyst for the City of Tigard, Oregon. Our email interview allowed me to delve a little deeper into the history of the organization, and find out how we, as Villanova MPA students and alumni, can become involved.

Shanna Lodge: What inspired you and the rest of the ELGL leaders to start the organization?

Kent Wyatt: Two events inspired the creation of ELGL.

I moved from Richmond, VA to Portland, OR in January 2008. I landed in the Pacific Northwest without a job and without a network. I completed numerous information interviews, applied for more than 100 jobs, and revised my resume more times than I count. After six months, I landed a temporary position with the City of Salem, OR which required commuting an hour each way. I spent a year in Salem before I was hired by the City of Tigard (which is best known for Dolan v. Tigard). This experience was frustrating and made me consider a different career path. But, instead of leaving, I used it as motivation to create experiences that will help others transition into local government or help them stay in local government.

When I started in Tigard, my projects involved finding out what other cities were doing. This turned out to be a harder task that expected. Ninety-five percent of what local government does is public record, yet requesting an ordinance or document from another city can be a painstaking process. I began to realize turnaround was faster when I had a contact that I could call on. To make our lives easier, 16 of us met three years ago with the goal of meeting once a month at a different city hall. We envisioned a monthly opportunity to network and hear from a topical speaker. We grew slowly through word-of-mouth until we developed our web and social presence.

Fast forward to May 2014 and ELGL has grown into a registered non-profit with more than 500 members from all areas of the local government arena. We are the only local government association focused on cross-functional networking for everyone in the local government arena. You will find MPA students, librarians, public works directors, accountants, lawyers, and city managers among our membership.

SL: What initiative of ELGL are you most proud of?

KW: I am most proud of ELGL’s ability to attract and retain talented professionals to local government. We accomplish this in three ways:

The Resume Book: We are in the process of publishing the 3rd edition of the Resume Book. We compile the resumes of our members and then publish them into an electronic book. The e-book is distributed to local government recruiting firms, human resource professionals, and ELGL members. Upon issuing the Resume Book, we issue the “Five Minute Challenge” which asks other members to contact at least one person in the book. This is a quick, easy way to expand your network.

Original Content: Any ELGL member can write a column for us. We’ve had MPA students, economic developers, local government attorneys, professionals in transition, and retired city managers contribute to our site. The Knope of the Week draws the most attention and recognizes high achievers in the local government arena. Rafael Baptista, a UNC MPA student, documented the process for deciding on an MPA school; Josh Gregor and Josh Halladay, conducted informational interviews and documented each interview in “Josh’s Job Search.” Josh Gregor, who had just received an undergraduate degree, parlayed the experience into a position with the City of Portland. During the interview process, he was able to point to a specific work product (the column) that demonstrated the ability to effectively communicate in written and oral form. In the tight local government job market, being proactive, like Josh was, is how you stand out in a crowded pool of applicants.

Project Assistants: ELGL is a volunteer organization with no paid or full time staff. We rely heavily on MPA students who gain experience while coordinating events, writing articles, and developing partnerships with other professional associations. We will offer anyone who is interested a valuable work experience. Dan Englund, an acoustic engineer and Portland State University MPA student, completed his capstone project for graduate school by creating the ELGL strategic plan – The ELGL Strategic Plan: From Strategery to Tenawesome. Here’s the current position that we are recruiting for – ELGL Is Looking for a Public Affairs Assistant.

SL: How have your members benefited most from their involvement with ELGL?

KW: This answer might vary depending on who you ask but I will pinpoint three benefits.

Expanded and diversified network. ELGL offers the opportunity to interact with all functions of government from across the country. I measure success when I see on my LinkedIn feed that an ELGL member from South Carolina who is a city manager has connected with a planner in California.

We also cultivate relationships by partnering with other professional associations. We co-hosted with a professional association of engineers an event for the Portland Transportation Director; we’re sponsoring and presenting at the Center for Priority Based Budget conference in Denver; we’re teaming up with 3CMA on a regional conference; and we organized a Happy Hour with the Oregon finance officers to discuss, “Budgets as Communication Tools.”

Exposure to different viewpoints: Our website’s exclusive content ranges from a former reporter writing about the media’s opinion of local government to a former city manager writing about the last 60 days on the job.

Hiring decisions: A finance director for a medium-sized city told me that the reason he comes to ELGL forums is to decide who he is going to hire next. I would not have thought of that as a reason for attending ELGL events but it makes sense. People are coming to ELGL to find the next employees – that is pretty cool.

SL: Tell me about your regional chapters.

KW: ELGL has four chapters (Pacific, Southeast, Midwest, and Southwest) for a total of more than 500 members from 20 states. We are exploring two other opportunities to create chapters. Each chapter has an advisory board composed of a diverse group of professionals from the public and private sector. For example, the Southeast ELGL board is composed of a UNC professor, Bonnie Svrcek, past ICMA president, UNC MPA students, NC legislative analyst, founder of a local government affairs firm, and a Roanoke (VA) project manager.

The creation of Midwest ELGL highlights the uniqueness of ELGL. Ben McCready, Rock Island (IL) assistant to the city manager, relocated from Salem, OR to Illinois. He expressed an interest in creating programming specific to the Midwest region. Around that time, Bridget Doyle, a Chicago Tribune reporter turned Village of Lombard (IL) communications coordinator, learned about ELGL from a American City/County magazine article. She contacted us about creating an ELGL chapter in the Midwest. We connected her with Ben and they have been off and running.

SL: Because you’re based in Oregon, what’s the best way for students from out here in Pennsylvania to get involved? (Other than joining as student members!)

KW: Geographic boundaries are no longer a constraint for membership. We have four chapters and are exploring the creation of two others. But, regardless of whether you live in Pennsylvania or California, you receive the same benefits and value from ELGL. We offer monthly webinars for our members. Past webinars include Leigh Gallagher, the End of the Suburbs and Mark Binelli author of “Detroit City is the Place to Be.”

We also connect members through our communications tools. We have an active website which is updated multiple times a day and attracts more than 14,000 views a month. Interestingly, our Twitter feed (@ELGL50) has been mentioned by a number of members as how they first heard about ELGL. Michael O’Brien, MOB Advocacy is one example of finding us through Twitter.

#ELGL14 is our annual conference that brings together our members from across the country. Our conference last year was named one of the can’t miss networking events by Mac’s List.

Cate Schneider and Kent Wyatt at the 2013 ELGL Conference

Cate Schneider and Kent Wyatt at #ELGL13

Cate Schneider, City Recorder for Lake Oswego, OR and one of ELGL’s original members, is also a Villanova MPA alum! What did she have to say about the organization?

 “I was lucky enough to get involved with ELGL while the organization was still in its infancy. I happened to go to one of the early brown-bag lunch events because our City Manager at the time, Alex McIntyre, was the featured speaker. From then on, I was hooked. The chance to meet, interact with, and really get to know, other local government professionals, especially other young professionals, has been invaluable. As Kent mentioned, the benefits of belonging to ELGL are extensive: from easier research access on what other cities are doing to developing a much more diverse network through ELGL than our state or national professional associations provide. And, importantly, ELGL has not only brought me into contact with a broad cross-section local government practitioners, but also a broad cross-section of professionals at varying points in their careers, from interns to City Managers. The job postings and social happy hour opportunities alone are compelling side-benefits.

I would encourage any MPA student to join and use ELGL’s web resources – the content is smart, relevant, fun and the networking possibilities awesome. Better yet, bring a Villanova delegation to the second annual conference this October and see for yourself.”

As a new member of ELGL, I can attest to the opportunities this organization offers, and I’ve only just scratched the surface. Members can write a column, join a committee, or share their own public service story. ELGL is an opportunity you don’t want to miss.

– Shanna Lodge, MPA student, Leaders’ Lounge Webmaster, and new member of ELGL