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Trip Report for 2019 City Summit

Me, Mesa Councilmember David Luna, and Councilmember Gwen Calhoun

This past November I had the privilege of traveling to San Antonio, Texas to join over 4,000 other local officials, partners and municipal staff from all 50 states for this year's NLC City Summit. Along with the general sessions, there were workshops, mobile workshops, solution sessions, meetings, and networking events (to name a few) that quickly filled up each day. I mainly attended solutions sessions and workshops. The solution sessions were run by industry experts with strategies and best practices proven to have moved the needle, giving us an opportunity to view some of the same issues through the lens of the private sector. These sessions were only offered on Thursday so I tried to go to as many as I could the first morning I was there.

Highlights from Thursday, November 21st:

I started my day with a session on How to Gather the Opinions of Hard to Reach Residents. This one intrigued me, after all, engagement is part of our strategic plan. We can always do better on getting information to residents and hearing back from them on key issues. Good civic engagement is about nourishing a healthy relationship between residents and their local government. This is why we want to reach and engage everyone we can. So who are the "hard to reach" residents? This was the question asked of us in attendance at the start of the session. In short, the answer is (nearly) everyone. Data presented at the session showed that over that past 25 years, fewer than 20% of residents EVER attended a council meeting. When the burden to participate is high, we tend to hear most often from those with extreme views on either side of an issue. Lowering the barrier for engagement is the key to re-introducing voices that we don't typically hear from but really need to. Then making sure that we demonstrate benefit to those that take the time to participate. This session panelists gave us some new ideas and suggestions to implement. Some we already do, some we are currently working on/improving upon, and some we need to do more of or considering starting. I marked "demonstrating benefit" as a big one for us to work on. Making sure we give residents feedback when we use their opinion to make changes based on their participation. Although I know the City already does this, it's an area we could certainly improve upon as well. An example of this would be the way the City accepted feedback from the community when seeking local artists for the water tower mural. Using that feedback, and changing the entire application process greatly improved the respondent rate, therefor the Arts and Humanities Commission, and ultimately the Council had an impressive list of concepts to choose from. When discussing the idea of better demonstrating the benefit of involvement with Councilmember Calhoun, one idea she suggested was having a luncheon for our commissioners as a way of saying thank you, and for us (Council and City staff) to have an opportunity to briefly go over what we've accomplished with their help over the past year, in addition to the certificate currently awarded by the Mayor at the end of their term. I really like that idea and I think it's one example of how we can build on and foster continued engagement in our community and show our appreciation for their time.

A big one that was talked about was meeting people where they are, whether it's in person or online. Coincidently, I remember saying something similar in my interview with the Herald/Review a year ago when I was first elected and as I said, is now part of our strategic plan.

Engaging our community listed as one of four main objectives for Council's strategic plan.

It's understandable that not everyone can attend council meetings, or find the time to watch every meeting and re