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LOCAL GOVERNMENT DAY 

On Jan. 13th, the Leadership Modesto class embarked on Local Government Day. The day began in the basement of 1010 10th St. in a building co-occupied by both City of Modesto and Stanislaus County employees. It was here in the basement that we learned about the adventures that awaited us. Each of us got a chance to share what we were most looking forward to that day. “Putting a face to the name,” “getting a chance to ask questions,” and “a general learning about our local government” were consistent themes echoed by the class.

On our first stop, we engaged in a local government 101 class headed by Joe Lopez and Jody Hayes. This comedic duo informed the class about the many challenges that are faced by the City and County. We learned about the fiscal challenges our community faces. It was here that we first heard of a common theme that would ring loudly throughout the rest of the day: teamwork. No single group can accomplish their goals without working together with other groups.

Our next stop had us learning about the County Budget. Common challenges include staffing to capacity, how to fund obligations when recessions hit, and how to responsibly plan for the future. We also learned that even though there is a large budget, many of the fiscal obligations are legally required, leaving a much smaller pool of money for discretionary spending.

With budgets still running through our mind, the class got a chance to live this out by participating in an activity entitled, “Department Wars: The Budget Awakens.” Thomas Hedegard educated us in regards to how the City’s budget is divided amongst several departments. It was here we were reminded that it is often impossible to make everyone happy all the time. While our groups did our best to make cuts where possible, there was always someone to let you know that you made the wrong decision.

During lunch the Leadership class had a chance to hear from a panel of individuals who have recently helped someone run, or run themselves, for local office. Mike Lynch, Mani Grewal, Kristi Ah You, and Ron Hurst shared about their experiences running for office and what they feel it takes to get elected. From knocking on doors to sending out mailers, we learned that you have to be willing to put yourself out there and be passionate about the issues.

After lunch, we ventured to the sixth floor to meet with Joe Lopez and Patricia Hill Thomas. Our class was greeted with the following quote regarding leadership, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams. We also learned that no single group can solve every problem by themselves. It takes teamwork and a shared understanding of the obstacles we face.

Upon returning to Council & Board of Supervisors Chambers, we engaged in a mock city council meeting. Ruben Imperial and Jeanette Fabela presented a proposal to tackle some of the challenges the city is facing. Some members of the class acted as city council members while the remaining class was split into two groups (those in favor of the proposal and those against).

Our final activity allowed us to participate in a Q&A with Mayor Branvold, Councilmember Ridenour, and Supervisors Chiesa and Olsen. The topics ranged all over, but when asked what characteristic(s) make up a great leader, the answers were simple. Work together for the benefit of others; don’t get caught up in ego, and listen to both sides. This is the way that local government works best. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or Democrat. It doesn’t matter if you are a new hire or been on staff for years. The only things that matter are a deep caring about the community in which we all live and wanting to make a positive impact in that community. Do you care about your community? Then if you’re not already involved, I would like to encourage you. Discover what you are passionate about, and find a way to make a difference.

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