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DCE Magazine

Learning to Lead in Local Government

Summer 2019

The Public Policy Making Academy prepares municipal leaders and aspiring candidates to master complex issues.

In today's highly charged political climate, more people are looking to get involved at the grassroots level and make a positive impact in their own communities. But civic leaders are also facing an increasingly complex and consequential set of public policy issues, as well as one of the most divisive environments in history.

In 2019 it takes far more than a single-issue politician to effectively navigate the maze of municipal government. In fact, getting elected might be the easy part. Mastering the depth of issues involved — managing bloated pensions and balancing budgets among them — requires a depth of knowledge and expertise that can be overwhelming to someone with little experience.

That's where UC Irvine's Public Policy Making Academy comes in, a dynamic month-long program designed to prepare prospective candidates and burnish the credentials of those who've been recently elected, said Michael Friend, former Academy student and a current administrator for the program.

“The PPMA program is intended for newly elected local government officials and anyone who wants to learn more about Orange County local government,” he said. “People who may consider running for an elected position are welcome, too. It deals with some of the most pressing issues facing many local elected officials, such as how to address rising pension obligations while still providing strong services and local infrastructure.”

Dealing with budget shortfalls is an especially relevant and complex issue, said Friend, policy analyst for the Association of California Cities, Orange County, which provides instructors and expertise to the Academy.

“Many cities may also face reductions to staff and service delivery to address budget shortfalls relating to pensions,” he added. “The Public Policy Making Academy addresses this topic in depth in the Public Safety, Labor Relations, and City Finance sessions.”

The Academy deals with all of these issues and more, preparing candidates for a successful career in city and regional politics — and maybe beyond.

Leading on local issues

It all comes together over a series of five weekly classes and workshops taught by seasoned members of local governments, city attorneys as well as prominent leaders of public and private agencies. They share their first-hand experience dealing with the most challenging aspects of city and regional government in the Orange County area.

“Typically, we have elected officials, senior city staff, and executive staff from special districts provide their knowledge and experience as instructors for the Academy,” Friend said. “Some of our recent speakers include Fullerton City Council member Jennifer Fitzgerald, Tustin Mayor Pro Tem ‘Doc’ Bernstein, and Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes.”

Each half-day class, held on-campus at UC Irvine, provides a deep dive into a single aspect of local government, Friend said.

“For instance, day one is devoted to Intergovernmental Relations, and we have speakers discuss city and county government, regional agencies, as well as how the Federal and California governments interact with municipalities,” he said. “The other days deal with Public Safety, Public Finance, and Municipal Services.”

The final day takes a more in-depth look at up to seven more regional agencies such as the Orange County Fire Authority and Orange County Sanitation District.

The Public Policy Making Academy runs on two tracks: The PPMA I session is an overview of city departments and services — a great entry point for those seeking a career in government.

PPMA II advances the curriculum even further with a deeper exploration of specific policy issues facing local governments such as housing, pension obligations, homelessness, and transportation.

Serving the community

The Association of California Cities, Orange County, is an invaluable resource for the Academy, not only providing experienced members to teach courses but also encouraging members to enroll in the Academy to learn, network, and gain a greater depth of knowledge about effectively administering public policy.

Representing the interests of Orange County cities on regional public policy issues, the core mission of the ACC–OC is “education, networking and advocacy on behalf of the cities and their members,” Friend said.

“Our membership base consists of most of the cities of Orange County and local government special districts, as well as affiliated businesses, non-profits, and higher education institutions,” he added. “The Academy gives yet another chance for our members to get to know each other, leading to later collaboration on many issues.”

Michael Friend has been on both sides. The longtime Orange County resident received his B.A. in Public Administration and began work at ACC–OC as policy analyst shortly afterward. He took the Public Policy Making Academy program and found that it greatly enhanced his grasp of complex local issues.

The Academy also allowed Friend to gain insight into long-term local planning that he found to be especially helpful for future endeavors.

“As a former student of PPMA II, I found the Academy to be very insightful,” he said. “I learned about specific policy issues such as economic development, housing, homelessness and transportation. I felt privileged to hear about these topics from those in charge of making or implementing the policies.

“Additionally, I received an inside scoop of key projects that are in the planning stages around Orange County. This course prepared me for my career by allowing me to think of policy issues five or 10 years into the future and beyond the present day.”

Learn more at ce.uci.edu/publicpolicy