Source: New Haven Independent
In many ways, local government is about taking advantage of opportunities as they come up.
Whether it was getting elected to a position as First Selectman in Durham or taking advantage of funding opportunities as Deputy Director at the South Central Regional Council of Governments (SCRCOG), Laura Francis has built a reputation of knowing to not let a good opportunity pass.
Francis joined us on a recent episode of the Municipal Voice, a collaboration between the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and WNHH LP 103.5FM, to talk about her career and her path forward.
After being exposed to the ins and outs of government at all levels during college, she became enamored with local government, saying that is where you can have the biggest impact on people’s lives.
When she moved to Durham, her time in local government began with an opportunity that grew into a position at the top – “I was very fortunate to have the confidence of the electorate to allow me to challenge myself in that new role [as First Selectman].”
Throughout her time in Durham, she seized opportunities left and right, explaining that when she took office she inherited an aging infrastructure. Through careful prioritizing, “the hard work of [Durham’s] Public Works Department, and the generosity of [their] taxpayers,” they were able to renovate the town.
Part of what drew her to her new role as the Deputy Director at SCRCOG was that Durham was the “poster child for regionalization.”
Towns and cities are challenged in many ways, from staffing to limited funds, making investing in projects difficult. Councils of Governments are stepping up, especially after county-level equivalency has now made Connecticut eligible for more federal funding.
Francis hopes that COGs can take advantage of this opportunity to fill gaps for municipalities in areas as diverse as cyber security and composting.
She explains that the impacts don’t always stay inside town lines. A municipality hit by a cyber attack can affect residents in the greater area, local vendors and more. Towns and cities often share material destinations. Working together is an opportunity to learn from each other and provide better services for residents throughout Connecticut; 2022 and beyond is a time where funding from federal and state sources has never been greater.
“I’ve been in local government long enough to remember the days when all of these opportunities and funding opportunities came as a trickle – drip, drip, drip – right now it’s a fire hose. And while that is all good, it has been a challenge keep up with all it.”
Applying for grants takes time, and people to prepare those grants, develop the projects, and prioritize based on impact, she said. The COGs are trying to maximize their opportunities, but with competition from every angle for staff, it is too important to let an opportunity like this pass.
Fortunately, in her time in local government, she’s seen a new cohort take a new approach to government.
Young leaders “have such facility with technology, and they’re bringing that perspective to problem solving. They seem to be much more collaborative.”
And that means, of course, taking advantage of opportunities, no matter what they are. “I think government on every level is a little bit more open to out-of-the-box solutions. You don’t hear people say anymore ‘this is what we’ve always done.’”
Click here to watch the entire episode of The Municipal Voice.