Northside civic organization the Local Government Academy has issued a challenge to all Western Pennsylvania candidates running for election during this year’s primary to pledge to dedicate themselves to good governance if elected.
The Pledge to Excellence began in 2007 as a way to highlight the unique challenges of local government and increase awareness among candidates, said LGA Outreach and Communications Manager Sarah Welch.
By signing the pledge, candidates are committing to taking LGA’s Newly Elected Officials Course, which will teach them the basics of local government, how to govern ethically and how to deal with a host of other issues, Welch said.
In Pittsburgh, only school board District 8 candidate Lisa Freeman has signed the pledge as of press time. Across the 10 county region, about 50 candidates have signed.
Lisa Freeman said that she hopes the course would prepare her for her job on school board if she wins.
“I signed the pledge because I always want to be held accountable,” Freeman said.
“One needs not to be so arrogant to think that I know it all,” she added. “And I don’t. I want to be well prepared to serve the families and children I am elected to represent.”
Welch likened the Newly Elected Officials Course to job training, and said officials who complete it have less of a learning curve than their peers.
LGA brings in instructors from many sectors, including business, government, civic and academic. The 10-session, 45-hour course covers topics like powers and duties, budget and finance, community development, ethics, intergovernmental communication and more.
Local government has some unique challenges, Welch said, like dealing with emergency management, zoning and code enforcement. Many of those things happen primarily on the local level, whereas state and federal officials deal with creating those codes and more big-picture legislation.
Welch said that signing the pledge could also make candidates stand out to voters. She added that it is a way of saying, “If you elect me, I’m going to go to training so I can better understand my role as an elected official.”
In many cases, the municipality will pick up the bill for the course, because they see it as an investment.
In some cases, officials will take the course without having first signed the pledge. In 2009, no candidates from Pittsburgh signed the pledge, but both Councilman Daniel Lavelle, District 6, and Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, District 4, took the class, Welch said.