By Meridith St. Jean.
In celebration of Women’s Equality Day, we asked the president of NLC’s Women in Municipal Government (WIMG) constituency group – Vice Mayor Dot LaMarche of Farragut, Tennessee – for advice she would give to women aspiring to be effective local leaders. Here’s what she had to say.
1 — Run a Trustworthy and Clean Campaign — Always
Given the current climate of campaigns today, it’s easy to give into the temptation of running a negative campaign. But at the local level, your constituents are your friends and neighbors, and no one appreciates a smear campaign. Assess your skills and qualifications, and then sell them in a professional manner.
Use your experience to your advantage. I served as a registered nurse for 35 years, which helped me understand the value of service to others and helped me get to know the members of my community. I was also president of a home owner’s association, a member of my local zoning board of appeals, an alderwoman for my adopted home of Farragut – and most importantly, I’m a wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. When it came time to run for office, I leveraged all of my experiences, from bandaging boo-boos on the playground to coordinating patient care in the ER of Rex Hospital in Raleigh.
Win by taking pride in all of your work – not by taking away the pride others find in theirs.
2 — Communicate with Your Constituents
It goes without saying that your constituents are the reason we get elected into office in the first place. Never forget that.
We all know the stress of a full voicemail or a climbing number of unread messages in an inbox, but I have made it a habit to always respond to my constituents by letter, e-mail or phone. City leaders are very connected with the people they serve; we may shop in the same grocery store, go to the same PTA meetings, or attend the same church. Taking the time to say hello and chat goes a long way. They value when you listen, and will not forget what you say.
Communicating with your community is the best way to find out the needs of your residents, and the best first step in addressing their priorities.
3 — Never Stop Learning
I’ve been married 55 years and have been working even longer, but there is seldom a day that goes by when I don’t learn something new. Part of being an effective local leader is embracing learning as a full-time job requirement.
When I was first elected to city council in 2003, the world was a different place. We take them for granted now, but social media – especially Facebook and Twitter – has drastically changed the way we communicate with our residents. Part of being an effective leader is being able to use these new tools to reach our residents.
Once you are in office, constantly seek out ways to learn more about the issues facing your city and community. I have taken many educational seminars to refine my leadership and communication skills, and they have taken me far.
Your job is always changing, and there’s always room to improve.
4 — Network, Network, Network
This is my best advice for women in general.
Part of learning, is listening and sharing with your peers. Talk to other members of your town council, other leaders in your state and other local officials from around the country.
The networking opportunities that both my state municipal league and the National League of Cities (NLC) have afforded me are truly invaluable. In addition to making lifelong friends, attending annual conferences like City Summit and the Congressional City Conference allow city leaders from all around the country to meet and share their best practices and solutions.
But don’t stop there.
Women need to get involved and let our voices be heard. At NLC, you can make an impact by joining constituency groups, serving on federal advocacy committees, or applying to leadership positions. Choose groups that match your interests. Serving as the president of the Women in Municipal Government (WIMG) allows me to an advocate for women and raise awareness for the issues I care about most.
I can tell you one thing: more women need to get involved in local government!