Municipal Leadership Puts Children, Youth and Families Higher on Local Agendas
Keith, Anthony R., Jr., Nation's Cities Weekly
Municipal leadership has grown beyond traditional areas of infrastructure, law enforcement and economic development--it now includes public education, children and youth services, and family strengthening initiatives.
In some cities, there is a mayor's education advisor who looks out for the municipal interest in school reform, early childhood learning or higher education and who is a liaison to the city's private, parochial and charter schools.
In other localities, a coordinator between the city and county helps to strategize ways to promote youth participation and development, including working with at-risk youth.
Still other cities have a deputy mayor or assistant city manager responsible for the city's involvement in a wide variety of services affecting children and families.
"Changing Roles of Local Officials" was a featured workshop at the Congress of Cities. It provided participants with strategies to bring key stakeholders to the table, challenged the myth that children, youth and family issues are not a local government concern and highlighted methods to assess the needs of the community.
Challenging the Myth
"We recognize and value the lives of youth and families in Pasadena," said Mayor Bill Bogaard of Pasadena, Calif., in opening the session. "We also recognize that their needs are not always seen as a municipal issue."
Fellow panelists agreed that this is a common misconception among municipal leaders.
"When Mayor Anthony Williams first offered me the job as deputy mayor for children, youth, families and elders for Washington, D.C.," said panelist Neil Albert, "I wasn't too sure at the time that the city had the capacity to address these needs and that I was the man to do it."
A handful of city governments have deputy mayors, yet it is rare to find one that is specifically responsible for developing, implementing and improving city programs available for children, youth and families.
Another panelist, Robbyn Wahby, serves as the mayor's education advisor in the city of St. Louis, Mo. She has seen her role transformed from a part-time city staff person to a fulltime position that provides a bridge between the mayor, superintendent, school board and other community leaders.
"Schools in our city were in bad shape and a lot of changes needed to be made, yet no one wanted to step up to the plate," said Wahby. "But our mayor saw this as an opportunity to venture into unknown territory and create a gateway to educational success in our city's schools."
The result is a successful city/school initiative built upon the development of a common vision with various community stakeholders.
Working with a broad array of stakeholders is one approach any city can use. Although cities are diverse in many ways including size and ethnicity, they each experience similar global issues.
"After looking at the statistics from our youth mapping project in Columbus, Ind. …