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Yesterday’s Elections: Three Tips to Keep Your Eye on the Local Government Prize

April 8, 2020

Local elections around the country are being held this spring and many Colorado localities chose new leadership yesterday.  The constant onslaught of news regarding COVID-19, economic recession, and oil markets likely took local elections off your radar, and we think they are worth a closer look.

Local governments and their elected leaders have become increasingly important to any business engaged in local land use, even when no regulatory oversight is needed.  For years, extractive industries have been working to earn their “Social License to Operate” or mitigate their social risk in communities.  At Adamantine, we define social risk as the combined political, policy, and community factors that could delay, increase costs for, or stop your project.  

We believe the power of engaging local elected officials is under-estimated and under-utilized.  Local elected leaders can use massive influence in favor of or in opposition to your project even if they aren’t directly voting on it.  They can provide valuable insight to your community partnership efforts that are instrumental in building relationships with more stakeholders and setting the right tone with the local staff working on your project permits.

Change in leadership from municipal elections is an appropriate catalyst for improving relations with local elected leaders.  Here are three tips for taking advantage of this moment:

  1. Prepare, then prepare some more. The period between local elections and seating a new council or board is a great time to do your background research.  Whether your company has a full community profile for your operating area or you have never visited a local government website, there is prep work to be done.  Search for biographies of new and existing local elected leaders and gather any interviews they have participated in.  Use the information to identify their community priorities and nonprofit organization involvement; both reveal the issues that matter to them.  Work to understand the community’s past and current issues through their website, social media, and news.  Does this community struggle with keeping up with roads or are they working to raise money for recreational space?  Focus on understanding which information demonstrates that you have done the necessary groundwork and take community concerns seriously. During the COVID-19 response, stay attuned to their needs and challenges.
  2. Be thoughtful with timing. When it comes to newly elected officials, the right time to reach out is once they’ve been seated.  Because there are many other constituents and businesses vying for their attention, the most appropriate outreach is a phone call or email introducing yourself and your company, your role in the community, and your interest in a meeting once they are acclimated to their new position.  For re-elected or existing local leaders that you may have overlooked, use the election or the current crisis as a catalyst for outreach.  Outreach to local leaders during the current crisis requires a delicate balance.  You should be making sure local elected officials know you are engaged during good times and bad, but be respectful of their limited time.  Sticking with a brief, but purposeful email is a great way to show empathy.  Include your interest in an in-person meeting when it is safe for public health and ensure they know you are a resource at any time until then. 
  3. Focus on what they need. Whether you are reaching out to a newly elected leader or a seasoned civic servant, now is not the time for an ask.  Use this opportunity to build rapport by introducing or re-introducing yourself and asking what they need, even if you can’t help right now because of your own constraints.  Find out what information would be helpful to them about your projects or operations and ask them which nonprofit organizations need support. Now might not be the time to use your background research in conversations, but it will pay off during a community’s eventual recovery.  With the context you have, you can ask if their priorities have changed and how they envision their community’s future.  Understanding their refreshed thinking will help you adjust your project’s strategy to best fit into their vision.

In the next few months, local elected leaders will be taking stock of the community partners that have stood by them.  Although you and your company might be having trouble keeping up with less resources, simple outreach can go a long way. 

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