Plugging the public sector
ELGL caters to next generation of local government leaders
It's been awhile since people have seen a career in local government as a cool and exciting one, but Kirsten Wyatt, West Linn's assistant city manager, is working to change that perception.
Wyatt's group, Oregon Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL), gathers local government employees together to increase the effectiveness of and the interest in their profession.
The group's numbers have exploded in the last two years, increasing from 16 members to 260 from more than 60 government agencies and municipalities across Oregon. A new Central Oregon branch held its first meeting recently.
Wyatt and her husband, Kent, a systems analyst for the city of Tigard, started ELGL in 2010 as a way to meet other local government employees in the area.
'We saw a need for local government professionals to have the opportunity to connect and talk with one another,' she said.
Word about ELGL has spread mostly through the Wyatts' grassroots efforts.
'There's just been such an interest across all disciplines to come together,' she said. 'It's different than anything that exists right now, because typically people are kind of siloed into their professional fields.'
However, ELGL brings public sector employees - whether they are planners, managers or public works officials - together in one place to share a commitment to local government professionalism, as you never know what path someone will take to become a city manager, she said.
Once a month, ELGL hosts speakers from various local governments and private organizations to share their professional expertise. Some past and future speakers include Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, Mike Golub, chief operating officer for the Portland Timbers and Bruce Goldberg, director of the Oregon Health Authority.
ELGL also operates a blog, which is updated almost daily, and communicates to members via social media sites such as Facebook and Pinterest.
The group even gives out a 'Knope of the Week' award - a shout-out to 'Parks and Recreation,' the hit NBC television series, and its enthusiastic assistant parks department manager, Leslie Knope, played by Amy Poehler. The award is given to a member who has done something to further ELGL or stand out in his or her own local government, Wyatt said.
The Wyatts oversee much of the group's communication, several volunteers handle ELGL's outreach and research and an advisory group meets to direct the group's overall mission.
All of this is done on their own time in the mornings or in the evenings, Wyatt said.
'It's not something we're doing during the day or at our public jobs,' she said.
Next year, she said, the group hopes to incorporate as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization to further establish itself as an independent professional organization.
Kent Wyatt said he hates the term 'networking' but admitted ELGL is a place for public sector employees to get together and be more engaged in what other cities and counties are doing.
'There is a lot to be said for knowing who you're at the table with,' he said. 'It leads to more efficient government.'
ELGL saves a lot of time and resources for its members, Kirsten Wyatt said.
'A lot of what we do in cities - you don't want to reinvent the wheel, you want to be able to go and see what other cities are doing and learn from that as a jumping-off point,' she said.
She said it has been gratifying to see the dedication with which her peers approach local government work.
'I think it's a great organization,' said Randy Ealy, an ELGL member who serves as Beaverton's chief administrative officer. 'Most of the members are young, aspiring public professionals, and this is an opportunity for them to work together and network and get exposed to some of the great mentoring opportunities that they wouldn't otherwise have access to.
'I wish it had been around when I was coming up early on in my career. What a great vehicle to get to know each other and support each other.'
Cate Schneider, city recorder for the city of Lake Oswego, said she joined ELGL in January 2011 after attending a meeting to hear former Lake Oswego City Manager Alex McIntyre speak.
'It was inspiring to see other people my age in the profession or on the road to the profession,' she said. 'It's made me more aware of the work being done in other cities and more plugged in to the value of developing a network. I wouldn't hesitate to reach out to ask for help if a project or question came up that had already been covered by another city.'
Kirsten Wyatt said many of ELGL's members are in their 20s and 30s and are at the beginning of their public sector careers. And, with public trends pointing to a mass retirement of many government employees in the next five to 10 years, many of the group's discussions revolve around preparing its members for this transition - and around reinvigorating public perception of the profession.
'The problems of local government are fascinating and inordinately complex,' Schneider said. 'Smart, creative people are needed - there's no reason that the stereotype of boring government drone should prevail.'
Kent Wyatt agreed.
'I want to have an energy in government,' he said. 'There are a lot of strict things you have to follow, but it can be a fun profession. It doesn't have to be one way.'
ELGL's next meeting will be May 2 featuring Patrick Quinton, executive director for the Portland Development Commission. The session will be held at 11:45 a.m. at 1900 S.W. 4th St. in Portland, Suite 2500A.
- Geoff Pursinger of Pamplin Media Group contributed to this story.