Minnesota Cities Magazine
More from Jan-Feb 2018 issue

Message Matters: Tips for Communicating with Legislators

By Heather Corcoran

City operations are affected in many ways by the decisions of individual legislators. Whether it’s water requirements, city street funding, or local government aid, the contact you have with your legislators—and the relationships you build with them—can make a difference.

Make sure you’re ready to communicate effectively with legislators before the session begins on Feb. 20. The first step is to stay informed, and the League of Minnesota Cities has a variety of resources to help you with that at www.lmc.org/legupdates. Here are a few more tips that will help you get your legislators’ attention.

Tips for Communicating
with LegislatorsBuild relationships
Just like maintaining a good road or water treatment plant, a little regularly scheduled relationship maintenance can go a long way. Before the session starts, send your legislators a brief email to introduce (or reintroduce) yourself and your city and maybe even schedule a short meeting to chat about any issues of concern. Then maintain that relationship by doing the following:

  • Check in every month with your legislators. Share news about important events in your city, ask them about the status of a bill, or schedule a quick phone meeting to discuss a pressing issue. Don’t wait until you need something urgently to contact your legislators.
  • If your legislators have an e-newsletter, be sure to read it and then send comments or questions to them about the information. They will appreciate the time you spent to thoughtfully consider their messages.
  • Invite your legislators to attend a council meeting in your city during the next session break.

Coordinate your communication efforts
A little planning can produce big results. Take the time to determine what your priorities are for the legislative session and then do the following:

  • Make sure everyone in city hall understands the priorities and the key messages you want to share with legislators. If different people from your city are talking with legislators, make sure the messages are consistent. Consider appointing a legislative point person, if needed.
  • If your city passes a resolution related to legislation, be sure to send it to your legislators, as well as to local media. Communicate not only with your own House and Senate members, but also with legislators who are chairs of relevant committees. Reaching out to the governor’s office can also be key, especially for bonding projects. (Please let the League know about your resolutions, too.)
  • Organize a day for your city to come to the Capitol. Invite city staff, as well as a few local business owners, and school district, county, and township officials from your area. Consider wearing a similar color or pattern, and hand out a one-page fact sheet on a priority issue. For examples of the League’s fact sheets, visit www.lmc.org/advocacy.

Show and tell
If your city has a specific issue that needs legislative attention, show your legislators what the problem, issue, or opportunity is in person, if possible. For example, invite them for a tour of the wastewater treatment plant that’s in need of upgrades, or invite them to the council meeting where you approve the budget. If your legislators can’t see the problem in person, send them pictures or videos.

As you show them the problem, tell them stories that illustrate how the issue affects your residents. Have city experts available to answer legislators’ questions about the specifics (costs, other solutions you explored, etc.).

If you don’t know the answer to a question, tell the legislators you will get back to them (and do!). Ask how the legislator wants to receive more information—should you contact his or her staff or contact the legislator directly via email or phone?

The League can help
If you need help contacting a legislator, setting up your city day at the Capitol, finding out the status of a bill, or anything else related to the legislative session, contact any member of the League’s intergovernmental relations (IGR) staff. They will be happy to provide assistance. For contact information, visit www.lmc.org/igr-staff.

Heather Corcoran is IGR member relations coordinator with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: hcorcoran@lmc.org or (651) 281-1256.

Read the Jan-Feb 2018 issue of Minnesota Cities magazine

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