Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Time at the Illinois Municipal League 96th Annual Conference

I had a great learning experience last week at the Illinois Municipal League 96th Annual Conference. I attended Friday and Saturday sessions but the conference started Thursday.

I attended 4 workshops and the general session. The general session and two of the workshops are what I'd like to share (and hear from you about).

Our general session was packed with star power - on the day he was to leave for Copenhagen to hopefully secure the 2016 Olympic Games, Chicago's Mayor Richard M. Daley started the morning with a short address to encourage us as the "front line" in the economic crisis. He spent a few minutes describing the Olympic effort and legacy of how the Olympics have changed the lives of many but particularly two Chicagoans who competed in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalf. Regardless your politics - I am here to tell you that the Olympic Games would be tremendous for Chicago. I worked at the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta and I can tell you first hand that it will benefit the city much more than it will harm us. Before the Olympics - Atlanta was just another southern city - home to big corporations, Delta, UPS and of course, Coca-Cola. The games transformed Atlanta to the hub of economic activity for the south and catapulted its Hartsfield International Airport to the busiest in the world - supplanting Chicago's O'Hare. But I digress.

Christopher Gardner, NY Bestselling Author of The Pursuit of Happyness and subject of the film starring Will Smith of the same name, was the headliner of the general session and worth every cent Walgreens paid to bring him to us. His talk - "Breaking Cycles" touched on every possible inspirational theme known to man and excited me at every turn. If you walked out of that room unmotivated - well to quote him "If that don't set you on Fire, then your wood must be wet." He was comfortable on the stage and reminded us to do what we loved. I was 100% validated in my current journey by his talk. Honestly - that talk was worth the whole conference to me and I could have gone home. But I decided I should at least try and attend some of the workshops designed for municipal officials.

The two that struck a cord with me the most were "Parks and Recreation: Identifying the Real Needs and Desires of Your Community" and "Using Social Networking Tools To Manage Your Message."

The Parks and Recreation workshop was extremely insightful and energized me for one of my passions for running for office in the first place - providing quality, affordable programs for village residents. The talk challenged us to get feedback and ask our constituents what it was they wanted in the way of programming before we had our strategic planning and gave us tips on how to gather and make actionable the feedback we collect. The passion and energy of our facilitators was infectious and I have already made contact with one of them for some follow-up idea exchange.

Using Social Networking talks was sort of a sales pitch for the company that conducted the workshop but very informative on how to properly utilize these new and every changing media tools to engage your residents. Luckily, Lake in the Hills is already making steps in this direction with its recently redesigned website and e-newsletter, Resident Insider, that goes out weekly. If you are not signed up for it - click here to enroll. They are a great way to be plugged in to what is happening around our community on a more timely basis than our quarterly printed newsletter. There were several discussions on the use of Twitter - which I have not been able to get into personally - and how the IML uses it during legislative sessions in Springfield. I will take a peek at that and I am sure I'll subscribe just out of curiosity.

Overall - I was extremely impressed at the quality of opportunities to learn and network with other municipal officials from throughout the state. I met some very interesting people and look forward to putting in to practice some of the principles I learned this past week.

I would love to hear any feedback and answer any questions you have about this conference. Shoot me a note and I will respond as soon as I can.

Until next time - Happy Fall, Lake in the Hills!

Monday, September 14, 2009

My Take on the 1st Quarterly Coffee Talk with a Trustee

This past Saturday I hosted a coffee talk for residents of Lake in the Hills. I've got several key thoughts about the event and ideas on what I need to do for the future. Before I share them, thought I'd link you to the press coverage of the event.

First Electric Newspaper coverage here
McHenry County Blog coverage here

The Good

Nice coverage for a very busy news Saturday with the protesters in Crystal Lake and Lake in the Hills on Randall Road. Two reporters showing up while the one citizen was there definitely was better than them showing up to me and 8 year old only. Additionally, it was good to introduce myself and my ideas to them. Neither had very much information about me and it was good to share my story.

Great day for it. The weather cooperated.

Got to meet a Parks and Recreation Board Member who was sitting there enjoying the Saturday as the whole event came and went. In the end, he quickly introduced himself and we connected. I look forward to working with him in the future.

One citizen took the time out of their morning activities to come and ask me a few questions. Just like my campaigning - meeting people, one-to-one is a good thing.

The Opportunity

With only one citizen showing up - clearly I need to get the word out better for my next meeting. Since I am looking to do it quarterly - technically that puts us in December - clearly not a good time so I will shoot for January. I will look begin identifying a date and place in the next few weeks.

In describing my thoughts about politics and life in general - I will recap from my point of view. So here's the context of my soundbites...

Gen X not loyal. This is my belief that as a generality, my generation is much more concerned with individuals vs. groups. We vote for people. We choose our places of work based on our needs and we leave as easily as we come if we are not able to contribute the way we want to contribute. I spoke about it as it relates to the current party system. It is tough on the two major parties our thinking and behavior. We are not loyal for loyal sake. I think the reporter was 100% on is saying that I am not fixed in my ideology.

Shameless plug for Urban Faith - I have written articles and book reviews for This site is part of Urban Ministries that creates content targeted to Christian African-Americans. Very cool site.

Recruited by Paula Yensen - Paula is a close friend and political mentor. When we were working hard to get her elected last fall (precisely now and I certainly don't remember it being this nice outside but I digress), we barely discussed me as a possible candidate. In fact - I brought it up to her after I'd finished canvassing my precinct for her. I felt so comfortable at the door and did think - "man if I can do this for her - I can do this for me". My only uneasiness with the "recruiting" sounded like this "party machine" and it simply was not so. I am extroverted and a leader who has always loved politics. Timing was really the number one recruiter.

"maybe the only Black Elected official in McHenry County and race as irrelevant" - This one is interesting. Race was clearly irrelevant to the residents who voted for me. And I appreciate that. I believe people heard what I had to say and wanted to give me chance. Period.

Still have not checked on my status as the only black official - if someone knows - let me know, it is an interesting fact that would be a great trivia question for my 25th high school reunion. Point here - not important. Again - I believe my generation is the first that truly integrated our lives with those who are different than we are and we are less likely to have deep ingrained issues with race. Of course, we saw the Kanye clip from last night and I will say on the record - he's younger than me. By a lot. He's a millenial.

Finally - I grew in Chicago Heights and it is where I got my "Italian" roots. Forgive me.

SO - I appreciate anyone who is following this journey and ask for your feedback on how to get more folks out to my next coffee. I have a feeling a snowy January Saturday morning offering free coffee might be more relevant.

Next week, I am attending the Illinois Municipal League's 94th conference and will blog about my experiences there.

Tune in.