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Clarify Local Government Role

Seedlings on Windowsill

The fourth step in the start-up phase of food council development is to clarify the relationship of the council to local government.

Why does this matter?

In some cases, a council forms as an official local government advisory board; in others, local government works with community members in a cross between a government advisory board and a grassroots group. Even if a group forms as a grassroots or non-profit entity, a relationship with local government is vital.

Any policy or institutional program change, requires local government engagement. Getting buy-in from the beginning saves the council time,  in creating something that will work, and in garnering support to ensure its implementation. Simply getting a policy or program change authorized doesn’t equate to getting it implemented. For example, an adopted farmland preservation plan may sit on a shelf; a local purchasing vendor preference may fail if no one knows who to purchase from locally.

A community – local government partnership is mutually beneficial.

  • Local governments have the opportunity to engage with the community in a positive and proactive way.
  • Community groups can direct their tax dollars toward solutions that matter to them.

Such a partnership can leverage institutional resources and provide a group with access meeting space, staff support, printing costs, a mailing address, IT support, communications networks, etc. and allows council members to focus on food issues and less on administration.

Examples of linkages:

  • Reserving seats on the council for local government appointment
  • Allowing local government staff to serve on the council
  • Committing to provide an annual report to elected officials
  • Drafting MOUs regarding use of local government resources

What does the process look like?

It is impossible to define a relationship with only one party represented. When local government leaders are in support of council development, it is relatively easy to get local government staff to help the organizing group identify possible linkages.

If local government staff are not part of the organizing group, finding a way to include them in the conversation is the first step.

Opportunities to leverage local government resources come out at different points in the organizing group’s work.

For these reasons, do everything possible to get local government staff to participate in organizing group meetings at the earliest stages.

What else should you consider?

In our experience, the public information officer has served as a liaison between the organizing group and the local government (often in addition to other government staff such as cooperative extension, tourism, or public health departments). This has helped with fleshing out the council’s relationship to government,and provided a resource for assistance with drafting their charter and enabling access to communication channels for informing the public of the group’s work.

Here are helpful tools and resources for clarifying the relationship between councils and local government