By John Titkanich, City Manager, City of Cocoa
One of the early ideas discussed and embarked upon for the FCCMA Communications Committee was to enhance, as managers, our level of engagement with newly-elected or re-elected members of the Florida Senate or Florida House of Representatives. As manager’s we serve on the front lines and in the trenches, and many times more quickly foresee the impact of proposed legislation. Moreover, working with our legislative advocacy partners at the Florida League of Cities and Florida Association of Counties we are frequently called upon to provide information and data regarding the impacts of legislation.
Working with Committee Vice Chair Jamie Titcomb, Legislative Sub-committee Chair Mark Ryan, and FCCMA Executive Director Casey Cook we developed a template for managers to engage elected legislators early on and invite them to tap into the FCCMA as a resource for local government. Critically important was to help them see the importance of Home Rule and how decisions they make should be viewed through the lens of Home Rule to understand the impact to their constituent communities. In addition to drafting a template letter for FCCMA members, we also developed a template Legislator Briefing Binder.
I had the opportunity to schedule appointments with both our newly-elected State Representative and Senator prior to the Legislative Session. Many bills had already been filed and both legislators were heavily engulfed in committee meetings. First lesson learned, in addition to congratulating them and allowing them to get their sea legs with the onslaught of meetings and legislative orientation, I encourage you to get on their calendar early, and, if possible, before committee weeks and your Local Legislative Delegation Meetings. Ideally, just after the Legislature’s Organizational Session. This will enable you to establish and reinforce that relationship and remind them you and the collective members of the FCCMA are ready to serve as their local government resource. Work to schedule a follow-up appointment just prior to the beginning of the Session to circle back and discuss legislation that had been filed with local government impact.
Second, we prepared and brought two copies of the Briefing Binder to our meetings. Be willing to offer up yours if they need a third. The initial idea was to bring two copies, one for the Legislator and one for legislative staff to provide them a resource in local constituent services. That’s great, until the legislative aide that will be assisting the legislator during session, uses the second to make notes along with the legislator. Next year, I will bring three briefing binders. A comment about the binders, both Senator Wright and Representative Sirois commented they were very helpful, and Senator Wright expressed he wished other communities in the district would’ve prepared one (hint hint). Equally, legislative staff was appreciative of the information and a recurring comment was they liked the infographs as they helped present the pertinent information and were easily readable.
Third, next year my intent is to update our Briefing Binder with critical information and leave out the session entitled Currently Filed Bills with Local Impact and just include our Legislative Priorities. This goes to my earlier point, create the opportunity to build on your relationship, discuss home rule, local governance and your Legislative Priorities and then share with them you look forward to meeting before session to discuss filed bills with potential local government impact. While on this topic, one staff member noted, besides an overview of the bill, note whether you support, oppose or are concerned and briefly state why. Assistant City Manager Matt Fuhrer and I met with Representative Sirois’ office first, and this enabled me to be better prepared for my meeting with Senator Wright, as I brought copies of proposed bills with highlights of objectionable language about which our city was concerned.
Fourth, in your meetings, if you don’t have your legislator’s cell phone numbers to enhance your advocacy efforts during the session for last minute communication, kindly ask them. Remind them how they can get in touch with you and ask them for their cell phone numbers assuring them that you will be respectful of reaching out to them during session. Also, be sure to get key legislative staff’s cell phone numbers.
Fifth, remember, you will get an appointment of likely no more than 45 minutes. Prepare and take into consideration that some issues may generate a discussion, but remember, there is another constituent or community group waiting behind you to meet. Be respectful of their time, be prepared. So, an early meeting followed up by a meeting prior to the session is highly recommended. In the first meeting, provide your community information, brief them on your city or county legislative agenda, reinforce home rule and offer yourself up to help them throughout the session. In your meeting prior to the session beginning, be focused on legislation that will impact local governments. Also, this does not preclude you from reaching out and expressing your communities’ position if you are aware during committee week of legislation being discussed.
Finally, make sure to provide your elected officials a copy of the Briefing Binder so they are informed of your efforts on behalf of your agency. A lesson learned, while in our letter explaining the briefing binder to our newly-elected legislators, I introduced and offered the professional managers of FCCMA as a resource. A member of our City Council noted they were listed under Tab 1 versus being included in the Welcome Section of the Briefing Binder. Thus, next year we will reformat our Welcome Section to include our Mayor and City Council. We also provided our state lobbyist a copy of the Briefing Binder to ensure they were aware of what we provided our legislators.
Again, we developed a template that can be modified to meet the needs of your local community and is presented to our members as a resource as you work with the Florida Legislature to protect and enhance our local communities and protect Home Rule and local governance. A special thanks to City of Cocoa’s Assistant to the City Manager and Public Relations Specialist Samantha Senger, APR, who was instrumental in helping to prepare and format the City of Cocoa’s Legislator Briefing Binder.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to encourage each FCCMA member to consider serving alongside our elected officials by joining the Florida League of Cities or Florida Association of Counties in their legislative advocacy efforts. Join a legislative policy committee and offer up your expertise.
Click here to access the City of Cocoa’s Legislator Briefing.