This article appeared in the November 2017 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
One thing that invariably happens to us as elected officials is that people and organizations want our time, and they want us to engage with them. To be effective leaders that have a broad understanding of what is going on in our communities, regions and state, we should want to be engaged with others. It’s imperative that we are involved in the sharing of opinions, ideas and information, as well as actively working to solve the challenges we face. Simply put, engagement is important for us as city officials at a personal level and is essential in order for our democratic system of governance to work.
When you look up the definition of engage you’ll see, “to begin and carry on an enterprise or activity” or “choosing to involve oneself in or commit oneself to something.” The definition that caught my eye, however, is this: “the act or state of interlocking.” To me, that definition paints a vivid picture that more adequately relates to what we do as elected officials. We don’t just begin to “carry on an activity” or “commit to something.” Rather, I believe we are called to “interlock” with the other elected colleagues in our city, city staff, civic and community leaders, business leaders and state elected officials. That view of engagement binds us to one another and to shared outcomes, and portrays what our involvement should be with our association, GMA.
It has been said many times before, but it bears repeating that the strength of GMA is found in the diversity of its membership. In order to capitalize on this strength, we must be willing to engage—to “interlock”—with each other through participation in the opportunities afforded by the association.
This year, 56 cities have or will participate in a Hometown Connection, which involve approximately 50 legislators. Our Hometown Connection program is a key element in our advocacy effort. Your city’s participation is an important link to articulating the needs of cities to state elected officials.
This fall’s District Meetings are another example of where your engagement with other city officials and GMA is important. They are a great opportunity to get together and renew friendships. The biggest benefit to the meetings, however, is the chance to share information with each other and with outside speakers, learn about GMA’s priorities for the upcoming legislative session and to hear how GMA services can help your city save money and be more efficient.
There are plenty of other opportunities for city officials to be actively engaged through GMA. The forum on opioids was held in August, each year’s Georgia Cities Week, training program opportunities, the Annual Convention and Mayors’ Day Conference, our upcoming Small Cities Conference and community policing workshops, and the Mayors’ Christmas Motorcade that provides gifts for the clients in the state’s mental health institutions, just to name a few.
Though our cities are as different as can be, GMA provides numerous opportunities to learn and engage with others, and to begin to work together to solve our common problems. It’s only through proactive engagement that we can continue to thrive, both as cities and as an association. Yes, engagement is a part of the plan and don’t you love it when a plan comes together?