Enlisting local elected officials to strengthen civic health

The Common Ground for the Common Good report highlighted several solutions offered by the civic health roundtable discussion participants. One of those ideas involved creating training programs on respectful dialogues for candidates and elected leaders. The Summit participants explored this topic further and recommended ways to implement it.

Given this significant interest, the UW Evans School of Public Policy & Governance and The William D. Ruckelshaus Center, together with the Association of Washington Cities, gathered to consider possibilities. The group agreed that strong civic health reflects the ability of community members to address public challenges.

Yet, there are many indications that the public lacks the trust in government to do what is right. Specifically, Gallup Poll documents that trust in the U.S. government is as low as 39%. The same poll, however, noted that levels of trust in state government (57%) and local government (66%) are measurably higher. The partners believed this presented an opportunity in Washington state that must be seized, and created the Washington Collaborative Elected Leaders Institute (WA-CELI) — a four-month training program that invests in local elected officials’ capacity and courage to work collaboratively across differences to tackle pressing problems in their communities.

“47 elected officials from towns as small as Pateros and cities as large as Tacoma applied to participate in the inaugural cohort, because they want to be part of the solution to our civic health crisis,” said Deanna Dawson, CEO of AWC. “Through WA-CELI, they will develop the skills, knowledge, and connections needed to improve the civic health of Washington state.”

The primary goal of this program is to help reshape the political culture of Washington into one that is more collaborative, responsive, and community-minded through building a network of elected leaders and experiential learning.

“The Ruckelshaus Center is excited to partner on this program to build the civic health of our state. Participants will explore diverse strategies to navigate differing perspectives and foster collaboration to address complex policy issues within our cities and towns and achieve tangible outcomes for their constituents,” said Director Julia Carboni. “Beyond the invaluable training they will receive, participants will also gain insights into the unique challenges confronting communities across the state and forge meaningful connections with other elected leaders.”

Below are some key issues identified by the AWC Annual City Conditions Survey, which are the kinds of topics that will be discussed in the program:

  • Infrastructure conditions
  • Increased cost of city services
  • Housing affordability
  • Workforce affordability
  • Availability of behavioral health resources
  • Crime
  • Transportation

“Washington’s two premier public universities are partnering with the Association of Washington Cities to enable elected officials to practice a fundamental element in democratic decision-making: disagreeing without being disagreeable,” said Jodi Sandfort, Dean of UW Evans School. “The issues of the day require serious and civil debates and we are pleased that so many elected cities officials want to build their capacity in this important practice.”

To learn more about the program, please visit: Washington Collaborative Elected Leaders Institute (WA-CELI) application.