Article President’s Message By League of California Cities President Ali Sajjad Taj

Trust is critical to governing and advocacy

There is no job description to refer to when someone decides to run for local government. But most of us can agree that having a clear vision and passion for the community, an aptitude for building coalitions and partnerships, and truly listening to the needs of residents are all building blocks for success. Perhaps the most important skill that many effective elected officials possess is the ability to build and maintain public trust.

Trust from constituents is critical to ensuring a functional democracy and thriving community. Residents who trust their city officials are often more engaged and supportive of policy changes. Public trust ultimately allows us to make better decisions for our residents and our cities. But it’s important to remember that public trust is not a given — it’s something that must be earned and constantly cultivated.   

In a world that feels increasingly polarized, divisive, and pessimistic, building and maintaining public trust can feel especially daunting. Just 20% of Americans say they trust the federal government will do the right thing always or most of the time. Distrust and uncertainty do not live just in the United States. According to Edelman’s annual trust barometer study, economic optimism is collapsing worldwide, and globally residents trust businesses more than they trust government.     

This data can be deflating for even the most positive elected officials, but as city leaders, we can take heart. Time and time again, the data also shows us that local government remains the most trusted form of government. According to Pew Research Center, about 66% of Americans have a favorable view of their local government, compared to a 54% favorability view of state government. Just 32% have a favorable view of the federal government.

As someone who has served 10 years as a city official and has met thousands of my colleagues throughout the state and from across the country, this data makes sense. City halls are in the heart of our communities, and our residents have easy access to local leaders. We visit the same libraries, and we shop at the same grocery stores.

Our residents’ trust in us is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. Just as our residents count on us to deliver services, they also trust us to govern in a way that considers their best interests and improves their communities.

At the core of this responsibility is advocating for our communities. City officials are the most powerful advocate for their residents. This advocacy most often happens on the dais in city hall, but it can also happen at the state Capitol and on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

As the League of California Cities President, I have had the unique opportunity to advocate on behalf of not only my residents in the city of Artesia, but for every resident who lives in a city or town in California. Advocating for our cities is a top priority for me, at both the state and federal levels. Through meetings with over half of the members of the state Legislature, four trips to Washington, D.C., and two visits to the White House, I’ve lobbied lawmakers and policymakers on Cal Cities’ state and federal advocacy priorities.

As the competition for resources gets fiercer, our collective voice needs to get louder.

Effective advocacy allows us to deliver for our residents and makes that foundation of public trust even stronger. There is power in numbers, and our voice at the state and federal capitols is so much stronger when it is echoed by city officials from cities and towns throughout the state. As public servants, we owe it to our residents to be stewards of public interests. United, we can ensure our cities and towns remain thriving communities for all our residents.