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Building A Public Official Mentoring Program

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Marvin Pichla
March 12, 2018

Today, more than ever before, the challenge of engaging—PROGRESSIVELY engaging—young adults in the action of running for public office seems to be overwhelming. There are probably more reasons and rationale for the engagement disconnect than we realize, but several possibilities interpreted from basic observational research include:

  • The ever-increasing demand of time required of informed public officials;
  • The early lack of positive understanding of the local and regional roles of elected public officials;
  • The continuous battle between factions of the public, and hence little compromise on critical issues;
  • The lack of support for the opportunity to think independently and not be restricted by traditional party politics; and,
  • The existing elected public official age range, which in most cases is 50 or older.

One could continue this segment of the article with additional facts and figures on the need to inject a more youthful spirit into the membership slate of local elected officials.  One could also go into detail on the “public sector voids and divides” we are creating by not focusing public administration leadership on this issue. No, instead of rehashing the reality, it is important to move forward and take some GREAT advice from author Dennis Gabor in his book Inventing the Future, “The future cannot be predicted… but futures can be invented!”

Inventing a structured linkage between young adults and those serving in local elected official positions is truly an appropriate public administration innovation objective! Therefore, let’s begin the invention process by announcing a plan to create a “Building a Public Official Mentoring Program.” It is first important to note that this Program will not replace nor compete with internships, job shadowing, the congressional page opportunity and other similar traditional learning options. The Building a Public Official Mentoring Program will be simple in design, but will have a very special public service experience purpose. The goal would be for selected students nearing graduation from high school or those in their first two years of post-secondary education to be mentored in the tasks of elected public official responsibilities and decisionmaking.

Simplicity will be critical in our design of a multi-governmental Public Official Mentoring Program. To that end, it would be strategic to embrace a mentoring structure like the one utilized by the Big Brothers-Big Sisters organizations. Their mentor/mentee matching system has endured the test of time and has remained operationally simple for all to understand. Consider the following example of an early Public Official Mentoring Program prototype and modest basic start-up steps:

  1. Six local elected officials would be matched with a student candidate who has acceptable grades and has expressed an interest in public service.
  2. The local elected officials would mentor their student for approximately six months.
  3. Elected official mentoring topics could include but not be limited to:
  • The process of getting elected;
  • Assignments to organizational committees;
  • Areas of responsibility and decisionmaking;
  • Personnel policies and employee wages;
  • Drafting resolutions to be voted on;
  • Conduct of public meetings; and,
  • Intergovernmental relations.
  1. Students assigned a mentor would attend the majority of open-to-the-public organizational meetings during their six-month assignment.
  2. A Public Official Mentoring Agreement would be drafted in partnership with participating schools and governmental units.

The Public Official Mentoring Agreement would include items specific to every participating governmental unit/public organization. However, mentors and mentees would focus primarily on elected official activities and not specific topics thereby avoiding legal questions regarding participation in the Program. The Agreement could also have creative Public Official Mentoring Program constructs which would add-value to this two-way learning experience:

  • High schools and colleges awarding academic credit for participation;
  • Payment of stipends to mentored students to off-set travel and/or special participation costs;
  • Possible designation of mentored students as “ex-officio” members to the governmental group they are participating with;
  • Special recognitional of the mentored students by different Associations involved in public administration continuous improvement; and,
  • Requirements that mentored students serve as Ambassadors for the Public Official Mentoring Program and assist in selecting future candidates.

In this time of low voter turnout, aging public officials and emphasis on greater transparency of public organization actions, there is a vital need for having electable young adult candidates participate in the process. We must ensure that not only do they have a greater awareness of public official decisionmaking, but also a mentoring experience to draw on for service in the field of public administration. This area of public service—local elected officials—is often not given enough instructional attention through traditional means and thereby is taken for granted by many local communities. By inventing a more proactive option for developing our decisionmakers of tomorrow, leadership-from-the-ground-up will be our benchmark.

Author: Marvin N. Pichla, Ph.D., is the owner and creative adviser of Inspiring Innovations, Inc. Sharing his unique entrepreneurship and innovation in public service experience, Marv consults with public and private business, education and community organizations to develop new and different problem-solving methods through real-life, example-based learning. Email: [email protected], @TRIPLEIIITIME

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