Newly elected mayors from all over the United States, including Boston Mayor-elect Martin Walsh, learned about issues that new mayors face at a conference that concluded Friday at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics.
Trey Grayson, director of Harvard Institute of Politics, said the goal of the seminar is to provide incoming mayors with valuable information they can apply to the problems they will face once in office.
“We recognize that in three days, they’re not going to become experts,” he said. “Every city is a little different, so we hope to get them to think about big-picture issues or lessons that they can apply to their own community, like how do you hire a police chief? How do you put together a budget? How do you reconcile all the different promises that you’ve made?”
A group of 25 incoming mayors gathered at the Institute of Politics for the 20th biennial Seminar on Transition and Leadership for Newly Elected Mayors, co-sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Kate Norton, spokeswoman for Walsh, said Walsh found the conference informative in terms of transitioning into office.
“Mayor-Elect Walsh had an opportunity to sit down with other newly elected mayors from around the country to discuss some of the issues he will be facing as the next Mayor of Boston,” she said in a Monday statement. “This was one of a few opportunities Mayor-elect Walsh has had, and will have throughout the transition period and beyond, to connect with other Mayors and learn from seasoned municipal leaders.”
Tom Cochran, USCM executive director and chief executive officer, said the seminar has been an ongoing program since the mid-1970s. Every two years, newly elected mayors from cities with a population of more than 75,000 people are invited and all the costs, including each newly elected mayor’s travel and hotel accommodations, are paid for by the Institute of Politics.
He said the mayors participated in a variety of sessions led by current and former mayors, academics and practitioners. The seminar included sessions on transitioning from campaign to City Hall, jobs, economy, education, technology, public safety, finance and administration.
“During the seminar, newly elected mayors discuss several different aspects of leadership, including all the various issues that mayors typically deal with at the local level — budgeting, police and fire departments, first responders, water and waste water issues and municipal services,” Cochran said.
Mayor Walter Maddox of Tuscaloosa, Ala. gave two presentations to newly elected mayors focused on disaster relief.
“Sharing Tuscaloosa’s disaster response experience with others is important,” he said in a Monday statement. “We learned a lot from those who were in similar situations before us and I hope that Tuscaloosa’s experience can provide insight into future disaster response planning.”
The conference also offers these new mayors with a sense of community, and Grayson said he hopes they will reach out to each other for advice in times of need.
“Another big goal is letting them know that there are all these other mayors around country, as well as other experts like Harvard professors, folks with the U.S. Conference of Mayors and others who want to help,” he said.
Grayson said another important lesson the program covers is modern-day aspects of governance, such as recognizing the role of Facebook and Twitter.
“If somebody’s trying to communicate with a mayor via social media, they can’t ignore them because they’re going to go spread the word to their friends and their followers that you’re not paying attention and not doing a good job, in their view,” he said.
Grayson said he was interested by how existing mayors cautioned new mayors to be careful with public pronouncements.
“You don’t want to change your mind and look like you’re waffling, so don’t be afraid to delay a decision if you don’t have sufficient information,” he said. “Now explain it, be transparent about why maybe you haven’t made the decision, but don’t be afraid to say you don’t know, especially at the beginning when people are going to be more forgiving of the fact that you don’t know something.”
Mayors who have attended the conference in the past have called the experience invaluable, Cochran said.
“Many of the mayors have never served in elected office, but also it is critical that they have an opportunity to meet and talk with their colleagues who will be dealing with and have dealt with many of the same challenges,” he said. “The seminar provides an opportunity for them to exchange information, innovative ideas and best practices.”