Archive for October, 2009

TIME TO RETREAT

October 27, 2009

By Constance Campanella, President and CEO

Fall is the usual time for corporate and association state government relations (SGR) executives to gather with their business colleagues, lobbyists and consultants for an annual “retreat” or planning session. With January sessions on the horizon, a couple of days of reflecting, planning, vetting, updating, arguing and bonding can be a great investment…..or not.

Over the past 21-plus years, I have attended many such gatherings and organized quite a few. I often recommend them to clients because the efficiency of sharing information and perspectives with the entire team combined with the dynamic exchanges that can occur among lobbyists and in-house players can be really valuable. The process – if done well – fully exploits the experience and knowledge of the entire team and delivers much more than could be achieved one-on-one.

But, too often “retreat” really means “mass download” of information. The program is essentially a monologue. Lots of time is spent, but little value is realized. Remember, “The mind won’t absorb what the posterior can’t endure.”

On the flip side, some “retreats” are just team gatherings with very little programming. Fun and light on substance, their only purpose appears to be bonding.

Here are my suggestions for a GREAT SGR RETREAT:

  1. Figure out what you want to accomplish. That may sound simplistic, but some of these events happen year after year like Groundhog Day – just because they always have. Is your goal to get fresh ideas about how to tackle your big issues next year? Or, to share information and perspective about changes within your company? Or to get to know your lobbyists better? And, is a retreat the best way to get your goals accomplished? Given the cost and time commitments involved, no retreat should be planned without a clear set of goals.
  2. Send all information that will be used at the retreat to participants at least one week in advance.
  3. Give HOMEWORK assignments – something they must be prepared to offer based on their reading of the materials. The most specific the better. You do not want just “plane thinking” you want real thoughtful consideration of your challenges. You are paying for the trip; you have the right to try to get the most from it.
  4. Use the time of your issue or business experts to answer questions, provide perspective and otherwise deepen understanding about the information you sent in advance. Hours and hours of speeches are less valuable and easily forgotten.
  5. Make the business case. For everything you share, explain the issue, why it is important to your organization and WHAT YOU WANT YOUR LOBBYISTS TO DO ABOUT IT. Do not just let it hang out there and assume people will know what to do with the information.
  6. Group Exercises. These are not for bonding, but that will occur as well. Ask the participants for advice about what you should be doing about a competitor, adverse legislation, or market share development with public sector clients. Spend 15 minutes on each of 4 topics. Do not let a few people dominate. Wade into the crowd and get everybody’s ideas. In addition to observations and advice you will get a better understanding about the capabilities of your team.

These annual gatherings can send everyone home with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for your program and a better understanding about the issues and challenges you face. So, if you have goals that can be addressed in this format, then by all means, RETREAT!

Piercing the “Regulatory Group” Veil

October 19, 2009

By Mark D. Anderson, Esq., Senior Vice President

There are numerous national groups of state regulators covering every imaginable regulatory arena. The Environmental Council of the States, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, the National Association of County Health Officials are just a few of the Regulatory Groups that meet on a regular basis to discuss national issues, advocate positions on federal policy and share information and best practices.

Like the more traditional groups that are more known and accessible to most government affairs professionals, regulatory groups can provide a valuable setting in which to develop key relationships and advance your position on issues. However, many view these organizations as being cloaked in secrecy. Therefore, becoming involved with a regulatory group can be challenging, frustrating and even intimidating.

Nevertheless, working with Regulatory Groups can provide substantial value to your government affairs program. The following are a few tips to follow when working with Regulatory Groups.

1. Regulatory Groups are not always open to the public. I have frequently heard gripes from the private sector that these meetings should not be closed due to state sunshine laws. But the reality is that these meetings are not used to develop state policies, they are used to share information and take positions on federal issues. So state sunshine laws do not apply. If you want to attend, you must be invited by the organization.

2. Most Regulatory Groups do not have corporate membership or programs. When you attend one of these meetings, you are attending as a guest. Most of the organizations that I have dealt with are extremely wary of being seen as influenced by the business community. So any involvement that you have is typically at an arms length. Don’t be surprised if your offer to take a member to dinner, buy a drink or even a cup of coffee is denied for this reason—even if there is no state restriction.

3. Lobbying Regulatory Group members is frowned upon. While is certainly occurs, and I would argue that it certainly should occur, it mostly done behind the scenes. Many of the individual state members of these organizations would agree with you that education from stakeholders is critical to good policymaking. However when state regulators are perceived to be influenced by lobbying from stakeholders, they lose credibility among their peers. In the long run, that hurts both of you.

4. Regulators appreciate your understanding of their area of expertise. One of the satisfying aspects of these national organizations for regulators is that they get to interact with people that deal in the same, sometimes very narrow, arena. I have found that the best way to develop good relationships with regulators is to begin by being proficient in discussing their area of expertise.

5. You cannot “fly under the radar” at a Regulatory Group meeting. These meetings are very sparsely attended by the private sector. If you attend one of these meetings, you and your organization will be noticed. Be prepared to explain why you are at the meeting and what particular issues interest you.

So if you have a policy issue to address, there is almost assuredly a Regulatory Group on whose agenda it falls. And if you keep these things in mind, working with these regulatory organizations can be an extremely effective way of engaging on issues.

Going It Alone

October 14, 2009

By Stateside Associates

While Congress continues to argue over climate change legislation, many local governments have decided to stop waiting for federal mandates, and instead are taking the lead on climate change. Look at New York City, San Francisco and Washington, DC. NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched “PlaNYC” in 2007 with the goal of reducing citywide carbon emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by the year 2030. San Francisco adopted a Climate Action Plan in 2002 to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by the year 2012. And Washington, DC launched “Green DC” in April, which establishes a “blueprint for a healthier, more sustainable city.”

Last week Mesa, Arizona Mayor Scott Smith became the 1,000th signatory to sign the U.S. Conference of Mayor’s (USCM) Climate Protection Agreement. USCM President, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels introduced the agreement in 2005 with 141 original mayors signing. By signing the Agreement, mayors commit to reduce emissions in their cities to seven percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012. USCM also established a “Climate Protection Center” in 2007, to provide assistance to the mayors in achieving the goal.

USCM clearly notes on their website that they are not going to wait on the federal government when it comes to climate change: “The establishment of the Mayors Climate Protection Center takes us a giant step beyond advocacy of a stronger federal role in reducing emissions. It acknowledges that while mayors recognize the need for a federal partner in this effort, they cannot and will not wait to act until Washington is ready to move on this problem.”

Cities are not the only local governments active on climate change. The National Association of Counties (NACo) launched its Green Government Initiative in 2007. The program provides comprehensive resources for local governments on all things green, including green government best practices, technical assistance training, information sharing and green products and services. Counties are encouraged to show off by uploading videos to YouTube on their green government efforts. (http://www.youtube.com/NACoVideo).

With all of this action by local governments on climate change, it is no surprise that they are asking Congress to enact legislation that recognizes and assists climate change actions by cities and counties. USCM passed a climate change resolution at its Annual Meeting in June that included urging the President and Congress to “enact ‘cap and trade’ legislation that supports local government initiatives and reduces greenhouse emissions.” In July at its Annual Conference, NACo passed a resolution urging “Congress to provide financial and technical assistance to local governments to help develop and implement local climate change adaption and mitigation plans and projects.”

It remains to be seen how Congress will treat local governments in the final version of the climate change legislation. Will all of the cities and counties early efforts on climate change be for naught?


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