Mayor launches civic leadership academy
20 Pittsburgh residents will be chosen for the course
Monday, July 12, 2010
By Joe Smydo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is launching a "civic leadership academy" to give residents and business owners a hands-on look at how city government operates.
About 20 residents will be selected for the inaugural course, which begins in September. Starting today, applications are available online at www.city.pittsburgh.pa.us.
"The Civic Leadership Academy will serve to educate residents about city government and how our operations seek to improve their quality of life," Mr. Ravenstahl said in an e-mail notifying department heads of the program.
"In addition, the academy will promote the building of positive relationships and communications between city government officials and the citizens whom we serve. An informed citizen is more likely to be an engaged citizen."
The city was widely criticized for its handling of last winter's snowstorms, but mayoral spokeswoman Joanna Doven said the interest in relationship-building didn't evolve from that.
Modeled on initiatives in Austin, Texas, and Bloomington, Ind., the course will consist of 10 weekly, two-hour sessions.
Mr. Ravenstahl will speak at the first class, "City Government 101: City Organization and Vision," which will be held Sept. 14. Following sessions will cover finance; city planning; the police, fire and EMS bureaus; parks and recreation; economic development; and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.
A "graduation" for participants is scheduled Nov. 16.
Ms. Doven said activities may include a ride-along with an EMS crew and a discussion of how conflicting financial priorities make for tough decision-making.
She said department heads or their subordinates will discuss "the issues of the day," but won't use the program to promote Mr. Ravenstahl's agenda.
Leadership Pittsburgh Inc., Downtown, already includes information about city government in a program that grooms residents and businesspeople for greater community and regional involvement. Ms. Doven, who attended Leadership Pittsburgh, said Mr. Ravenstahl's initiative offers a much deeper look at city operations.
Doug Matthews, chief communications director for Austin, Texas, said that city's inaugural CityWorks Academy last year drew about 300 applications for 30 slots.
"Austin is a pretty intensely involved community," Mr. Matthews said. "There seemed to be a latent need for us to have a program allowing these very active and interested people to get a stronger understanding of the services we provide and the range and scope of what we do."
About 200 people already have signed up for this year's program, he said.
Mr. Matthews said the program can help the city build a pool of residents willing to serve on boards and commissions, spread the word about the city's work and serve as a sounding board on policy matters.
The hands-on program enables participants to weigh competing budget concerns and consider the sometimes-conflicting environmental, noise, tax and traffic considerations of an economic development proposal. Sessions with the police and fire departments are especially popular, he said, because they "have all the toys."
"It's one thing to show people a fire hose," he said. "It's another to hold it in your hand and see what it actually does."
Joe Smydo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1548.PG article here.