Article City Forum by Melissa Kuehne

Resources for Newly Elected Officials

Melissa Kuehne is communications and development manager for the Institute for Local Government and can be reached at

Cities throughout California welcomed new mayors and council members in January. While assuming a leadership role is exciting, it’s not always easy. Today’s local elected leaders face many challenges. From their first day in office onward, they must balance multiple competing priorities with limited resources. And because cities provide a broad array of essential services to their communities, serving on the city council requires a basic understanding of diverse city operations and issues such as land use and planning, community services, public safety, disaster response and personnel. 

To make this transition easier, the Institute for Local Government (ILG) offers a variety of materials (available at to help newly elected local officials and their staff get up to speed quickly on key topics. 

Local officials and staff interested in learning about city governance issues can take advantage of ILG’s articles, videos and other resources on:

  • Budgeting and finance;
  • Leadership skills;
  • Making decisions;
  • Engaging the public;
  • Media relations;
  • Working with staff;
  • Dealing with adverse events;
  • Land use and planning;
  • Responsibilities and powers;
  • Public trust and transparency; and
  • Personnel, labor relations and pensions.

Tips for Effective Governing

Governing with colleagues on a council is a challenging part of public service. Many aspects of leadership and governance are not intuitive. ILG, in conjunction with the League and the California chapter of the International City/County Management Association (Cal-ICMA), has compiled tips and materials to help elected officials navigate these relationships and duties. These include resources on council-city manager relations and Cal-ICMA’s report on Challenges and Strategies: Maximizing Success for City and County Managers in California. In addition, ILG has identified the attributes of highly functioning, exceptional city councils. These characteristics include:

  • Developing a sense of team and a partnership with the city manager to govern and manage the city;
  • Creating clear roles and responsibilities that are understood and adhered to;
  • Honoring the relationship with staff and each other;
  • Conducting effective meetings;
  • Holding themselves and the city accountable; and
  • Practicing continuous personal learning and development.

For additional information and tips related to these practices, visit

Public Trust and Transparency

In California, state and federal laws create a complex set of requirements and laws that guide elected officials and agency staff in their service to their communities. ILG offers a number of resources (available at to help newly elected officials understand these laws and requirements, including:

  • Training and self-test options to help comply with California’s legal requirement that local officials receive training on public service ethics laws and principles; 
  • Information about transparency, fair processes, consequences, federal ethics laws and regulations related to personal gain, gifts and other perks in ILG’s publication Understanding the Basics of Public Service Ethics Laws; and
  • A Good Governance Checklist to help local officials and staff identify practices they can implement to promote public trust and confidence and minimize the risk of missteps that can undermine that trust. This checklist includes options for exceeding the current minimum legal requirements for elected officials. 

Orientation Materials for Newly Elected Officials

Are you a staffer seeking to help newly elected officials? In addition to your agency’s own materials (such as policies, calendars and staff rosters), ILG resources can help officials understand and fulfill their leadership role.

Learn more at