As the city of Bell recovers from the recent scandal involving the misappropriation of public funds, a fresh cohort of city council members has answered the call to serve the community. Two of these council members — Ana Maria Quintana and Nestor Valencia — in October attended the Local Leaders Program, part of the Executive Education Forum for Policy and Administration (EXED) at the USC Price School of Public Policy.
“It was important to us to have council members from Bell because it symbolizes what the program is all about,” said Frank Zerunyan, senior fellow and director of executive education at USC Price, and mayor of Rolling Hills Estates. “It’s all about education and transfer of innovation. This is to build capacity in various arenas of public administration or public policy for them to serve their communities better.”
Designed for local elected officials, the two-day program offered a focused curriculum in ethics, governance, leadership and public policy.
“What I found valuable about it was really the information that was given because it was directed specifically to city needs,” Quintana said.
Valencia added, “I certainly needed this perspective, particularly with regard to economic development, where I could take it back to my peers in the city of Bell, take it back to the city manager and the staff and say, ‘Why aren’t we doing this or can we do this?’ ”
At the beginning of the session, Quintana, Valencia and the rest of the 25-person cohort got acquainted at the USC football game against the University of Arizona.
The next morning, they explored ways to improve Southern California’s transportation system during a module taught by Senior Associate Dean and Professor Genevieve Giuliano, director of Metrans; the Honorable Diane DuBois, chair of the Metro board of directors and council member of the city of Lakewood; and Art Leahy, CEO of Metro. They then learned about economic development through the arts from Associate Professor Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, housing policy from Professor Raphael Bostic and leadership and collaborative governance from Zerunyan.
Later that day, three USC Price students — undergraduate Uriel Kim, Master of Public Policy student Matthew González and Master of Planning student Jesus Herrera — had the opportunity to network with the cohort, including the council members from Bell.
“The luncheon provided me with an opportunity to share my transportation planning interests with public management and governance professionals, who may need to implement changes to their communities’ transportation systems in order to improve their cities,” Herrera said. “Such conversations prepare me for some of the potential realities I will face if I work in the public sector.”
Since the inception of the Local Leaders Program in 2012, more than 100 mayors, council members, special district board members, city managers and other senior executives have taken part in the curriculum, which has been offered four times on the University Park Campus and once at the USC State Capital Center in Sacramento. The next cohort is scheduled for Feb. 20-22 in Los Angeles.
“The networking that USC offers is incredible,” said Norwalk Vice Mayor Marcel Rodarte, who also completed the program.
The League of California Cities Latino Caucus has also requested a special two-day session specifically tailored to its membership.
“The Local Leaders Program is extremely valuable for our elected officials,” said Diane Martinez, president of the Latino Caucus and vice mayor of the city of Paramount. “It educates them on specific issues, teaches them to make better decisions for their communities and helps them to become stronger leaders.”
The model has been so successful that Zerunyan is now taking it on the road as the Global Leaders Program. In partnership with the United Nations, the program offers customized educational and training for domestic and foreign governments, government agencies and policy-driven organizations.
Zerunyan recently offered sessions in the Kingdom of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. His upcoming itinerary includes the United Nations headquarters in New York, Australia, Brazil, Ethiopia, India and Kazakhstan.
“Years ago, I was struck by a speech delivered by then-USC Provost C. L. Max Nikias titled ‘Beyond the Ivory Tower.’ In that speech, President Nikias encouraged us to live in more than one world. He encouraged us to bring the ivory tower to town square for the effective transfer of innovation. As someone who lives in more than one world, I took this to heart,” Zerunyan said. “So that’s precisely what we’re doing in our local and global leaders programs.”