Partnerships, collaboration urged in local government forum

Leaders from across the state of New York gathered at Cornell University earlier this month to discuss ways local government officials could build meaningful partnerships both within and outside the public sector.

In conjunction with Hofstra University and Cornell’s Community and Rural Development Institute (CaRDI), the second annual forum was part of New York State Comptroller’s Local Government Leadership Institute. This year’s theme was, “Beyond the Fiscal Crisis: How to Build Partnerships and Leverage Opportunities.”

And among the key discussions was initiating collaboration among members of different government silos. An emphasis of cross training is one of the guiding principles of the Comptroller’s Institute. Training sessions tend to group village officials with village officials, education officials with education officials, health officials with health officials, and so on.

According to Vanessa Lockel, of the State Comptroller’s Office, the Institute and CaRDI offered six panels, featuring a mix of local government leaders, state officials as well as representatives of higher education that shared real world experiences and case studies.

“I think we had a really good mix of panelists, representing the diverse interests of the State of New York,” she said in an interview. “It’s the Comptroller’s belief that a well-trained pool of local government officials is essential,” for accountable government to serve its citizens.

The panelists focused on subjects such as municipal shared services, developing public and private sector partnerships, regional cooperation to address fiscal difficulties, and leveraging educational institutions to achieve greener communities.

Former Mayor of the District of Columbia, Anthony Williams kicked off the Institute’s second meeting this year. “Mr. Williams’ speech really struck the tone we wanted to set,” Ms. Lockel said. “We were excited to have his perspective on how our local government leaders could leverage regional and private sector partnerships to address some of their challenges.” Other speakers, panelists and moderators included members of academia, state agency heads, regional and county officials, as well as private sector consultants.

One of those moderators was Assistant Director of Community and Economic Vitality the Cornell Cooperative Extension and CaRDI Executive Director Rod Howe. Dr. Howe presided over a panel that examined ways to incorporate private sector and civic participation to make greener communities. The session examined programs, policies and strategies that promote sustainable communities through energy saving initiatives, land use practices, and alternative energy use.

“Our conversation was centered on how investments in sustainability and environmentally sensitive practices could help save the bottom line,” Dr. Howe said. Going green is an issue that is gaining momentum in many parts of the state, rural and urban alike, Dr. Howe indicated.

One of the panelists, Irondequoit Town Supervisor Mary Ellen Heyman, has been working hard to promote conservation in her town, Dr. Howe said. In 2007, Irondequoit became one of the first communities in the state to adopt a comprehensive environmental and energy policy. And over the next three months, the town’s Conservation Board will hold a lecture series lecture series to draw attention to environmental topics ranging from Storm Water Management, to the status of the Double Crested Cormorants on Irondequoit Bay, to a discussion of invasive species.

Although time will tell what kinds of initiatives or partnerships will result from this meeting, both Ms. Lockel and Dr. Howe believe in the power of collaboration and are optimistic about the benefits of giving local government leaders a way to share and network about challenges they are facing.

“It’s always hard to tell what the conversation will be after conferences such as [the Leadership Institute], but one hope’s that ideas will be taken back to [the home district],” Dr. Howe said.

Ms. Lockel agreed, “I think we’ll know more in a few months. We’re already hearing about a possible partnership that could have positive implications for a pair of local governments.”

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