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Tigard's local public sector work group is growing, and its expanding its mission to match

WyattThink of it as a cross between The Atlantic magazine and Buzzfeed. Equal parts issues on public policy and videos of cute cats.

That’s one way Kent Wyatt has heard people describe his local nonprofit organization Emerging Local Government Leaders.

Wyatt, a senior management analyst for the city of Tigard, started the nonprofit, known as ELGL, with his wife Kirsten in 2010.

Wyatt's organization offers web seminars and articles devoted to the public sector. Its posts are often as likely to deal with serious issues such as “Why government is failing” as it is to include funny pictures and videos.

Wyatt said the idea is to make the public sector fun.

“To me, that’s the ultimate goal in the way that we communicate and try to make government interesting," Wyatt said. "(That's an area) which, in my personal opinion, cities are failing at across the board right now.”

The organization quickly filled a niche, attracting members from 60 agencies across the state in its first two years, and it hasn’t slowed down. Today, ELGL boasts more than 850 members spread across 32 states.

“The cool thing about it for my wife and I is that there is no staff,” Wyatt said. “There used to be just us two, but now there are so many of us. We compare it to open-source networking. People can drop in articles at their leisure. Nowhere else will you find people in local government writing about local government. A lot of associations have staff who write about it, but (here) it’s all us.”

Bigger issues

Ostensibly, ELGL is about networking, Wyatt said. It’s a place where government employees across the country can come together to promote interconnectivitiy.

“I benefit from knowing public works folks, attorneys and people in other areas of cities,” Wyatt said. “If I need something in Lake Oswego, to know a name there helps those connections. It fills a void.”

But recently, ELGL has begun tackling larger issues, penning articles about the need for more diversity in local governments.

Only 13 percent of local government managers are female, a statistic that has not changed since 1984.

“I was 6 years old in 1984. It’s amazing that we couldn’t trip over ourselves and get to 14 percent,” Wyatt said.

That hits home for the father of two young daughters.

“If they want to be in my position someday, are there equal opportunities for them?” he said. “When it comes down to it, my kids are a huge motivator. I want to have an impact so that when I’m not here, my kids can look back and see a legacy that’s left. That makes getting up early worth it, or doing things after work, or organizing networking events. The content is worthwhile.”

A new generation

The issues go beyond getting more women involved in government work, Wyatt said. Government agencies are in dire need of young people who are excited about entering the public sector.

“Raising awareness about the diversity issue is huge,” he said. “When I am in all-staff meetings at my job, I’m the youngest person there and I’m 36. There’s not a succession plan for who will take on those management leadership roles.”

One way to get more young people interested in government is to embrace change, something governments typically don't do.

That includes changes in technology, an area that cities are constantly trying to catch up with.

“There is an app where, if people see a pothole, they can report it immediately to the city and they will respond," Wyatt said. "It goes back to improving customer service. We are really trying to open up our eyes along those lines.”

It’s an uphill battle, he said, but it’s important.

“It’s about raising awareness and establishing long-term programs,” Wyatt said. “There is not a solution out there that will change this next week.”

Wyatt said he wants ELGL to continue its expansion, eventually reaching every state in the country, while continuing to advocate for change in local government.

“Beyond making a difference in every state and growing, we want to bring the diversity issue and technology into the mix more, and break down the barriers that exist,” he said. “It’s refreshing to know that there are others out there who agree some changes are needed in how we approach local government."

By Geoff Pursinger
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