National County Government Month (NCGM) conducted each April is an annual celebration of counties and their contributions to communities. Since 1991, the National Association of Counties (NACo) has encouraged counties to actively promote the services and programs they offer. This year’s theme is “Smart Justice: Creating Safer Communities.”
Give Them the Facts
NCGM is also an opportunity to address misinformation about county government. One effective way is to present the facts. As part of NCGM, perhaps your county could prepare and distribute county fact sheets. In the past some counties have rolled out a “County Fact of the Day” or distributed fact sheets representing key county departments, such as public safety, parks and recreation, transportation and healthcare. Tell them things many residents do not know about county services, but need to know. Send the fact sheets to the media, post on the county website, and distribute via social media. Other ideas include:
Presentations in Schools
Plan visits to schools by various elected and appointed county officials. Discuss interesting historic facts about the county, such as famous residents or important events. Discuss how county government is structured and define its roles and responsibilities. Explain how the county works in conjunction with the state and federal government. Consider organizing a panel discussion with residents who have been positively affected by county programs. Make information on county government available to teachers to use in presentations or as part of their lesson plans.
Plan career days at local high schools. Share information about various occupations within county government such as sheriff’s deputies, police officers, social workers, nurses, court clerks, tax collectors, elections officials, parks and recreation employees, transportation department workers, librarians, corrections officers, firefighters and emergency dispatchers. Emphasize the essential services that these public servants provide each day to the community.
Tours of County Facilities
Encourage schools to set up tours of county offices and facilities. The approach should be part of a class lesson plan on government structure, the legislative process, public safety, healthcare and other services.
County Official for a Day
This is a popular activity for many students. High school students interested in government could be part of a program to become a county official for a day (“shadow” a county official) and share the experience with other students.
For younger students, sponsor a poster, essay, or coloring contest involving the “Smart Justice” theme or other county government theme.
Offer to teach a class at the community college or give a lecture. The topics could include healthcare, green government, economic development, technology, public safety, disaster preparedness, infrastructure and transportation, or careers in county government.
Encourage college and high school students to address issues affecting local government through debates. Conduct the debates in classrooms or as part of a high school assembly.
Educate the News Media
Inform local reporters, editors, and broadcasters early and often about NCGM and your county’s plans to celebrate.
Plan to Make News
Coordinate newsworthy events or announcements. You can launch new initiatives, announce plans for new programs, or recognize county employees for their excellent public service. Keep in mind that newspapers seek in-depth facts, television stations want good visuals, and radio reporters want snappy sounds bites. All reporters seek good stories. They want access to knowledgeable and articulate sources to make their stories interesting and informative.
Publish a Calendar of Events
Publish a calendar of NCGM events on your county’s website. Ask the local newspapers to publish the calendar. Ask the local television, cable, and radio stations to air public service announcements about county services or events.
Write Media Advisories
Prepare and send media notices well in advance for specific NCGM events, such as an open house, tour of the hospital, or visit to a local school. Describe who, what, where, when and why. Make it newsworthy.
Write News Releases
Have news releases ready to distribute to the media the day of special NCGM events.
Highlight what’s new, beneficial and cost-effective. Use lively, concise quotes from appropriate county officials. Provide contact information.
Take Your Message
to the Media
Do not assume the news media will cover your events or announcements. Ask for a meeting with the newspaper’s editorial board; volunteer to stop by the television station for an interview; or serve as an in-studio guest on a local radio program. Be accessible, proactive, and enthusiastic about county government and the services provided to the community.
Social Media Strategies
The emergence of social media in recent years provides tremendous opportunities to promote your NCGM events. If you already have a Facebook or Twitter account, use it to promote county government month activities. Coordinate a county government month “social media team” to plan social media outreach efforts.
Apply for the NCGM Award Program
The purpose of the National County Government Month Award is to encourage participation and recognize those counties that sponsor outstanding programs to reach out and educate citizens about county government during the month of April. The entries will also be posted online and will serve as a database of ideas for other counties to use.
Eligibility: To be eligible for the competition, the program must be conducted by a current NACo member during the month of April as part of NCGM.
Criteria: Programs will be judged on the following factors: citizen participation, involvement of elected officials, utilization of existing resources, amount of positive media coverage generated by the event(s), and how the program was promoted by the county (i.e. press releases, social media, utility mailers, etc.).
Nominations: Applications must be received by May 24 to be eligible for the competition. The winning counties will be recognized during the NACo Annual Conference in July. Three counties will receive the top award – rural counties (population less than 100,000); suburban counties (population between 100,000 and 500,000) and metropolitan counties (population above 500,000). Second place awards will also be presented.
The 2012 NCGM Award program winners were:
First Place (Rural Category) – Wicomico County, Md. “Building Bridges, Building Communities”
Second Place (Rural Category) – Eagle County, Colo. “Healthy Living in Eagle County”
First Place (Suburban Category) – Manatee County, Fla. “Manatee County Government Celebrates Healthy Counties, Healthy Families Month”
Second Place (Suburban Category) – Durham County, N.C. “Durham County Health and Wellness Education Fair”
First Place (Metropolitan Category) – El Paso County, Colo. “El Paso County Celebrates Healthy Counties, Healthy Families and Student Art Event,” and
Second Place (Metropolitan Category) – DeKalb County, Ga. “2012 CEO’s Community Hero’s Award, Lunch and Learn Series and Renewable Natural Gas Facility Ribbon Cutting.”
A brief description of the first-place programs may give your county a program or project idea. Last year’s theme was “Healthy Counties, Healthy Families.”
Wicomico County, Md.
This was the first time Wicomico County participated in NCGM. Activities included a proclamation; public service announcements on several radio stations; fact sheets and posts on the county executive’s Facebook page; invitations to attend County Government Day during the annual budget meeting; several community forum presentations around the county hosted by the county executive; library events such as “Healthy Cooking, Healthy Families”; health department Lunch-n-Learn events; public works facility tours to showcase recycling and methane collection functions; law enforcement displays of emergency vehicles; and updates on the county’s website to highlight NCGM and showcase photos of current county employees.
Manatee County, Fla.
Manatee County Government, the Manatee County Health Department, and the Manatee County Clerk of Court’s office hosted more than 50 events to focus on five parameters of health including physical, social, behavioral, environmental and economic health. Events included a Torch Run sponsored by the Manatee Sheriff’s Office; a Health Department Farm Stand; Knee Pain workshop; horseshoe tournament; classes and learning opportunities on topics such as water conservation, physical activity, disease prevention and healthy eating; and several Relay for Life Events. Manatee County used the health emphasis to promote a regional fitness challenge when One Bay hosted the Walk to the Moon Challenge which urged businesses and community groups throughout Tampa Bay to join in walking 238,857 miles – the distance from earth to the moon – during the month.
El Paso County, Colo.
El Paso County celebrated the “Healthy Counties, Healthy Families” theme with a month-long series of events specifically designed to showcase “good-for-your-health” programs and activities. Events included a third-grade art contest; a free public health education program in partnership with Kaiser Permanente; household hazardous waste collection day; family-centered hiking event; a lunch-and-learn program for county employees; child abuse prevention and child trauma educational event in partnership with Northwestern University; water stewardship day that included water-consuming invasive plant removal and water-wise garden preparation; community recycling and cleanup event; and a free community health event featuring information and healthy local food, as well as a feature presentation of a documentary film “Children in Crisis” that focused on the damaging effects of childhood obesity.
For more information, go to http://www.naco.org/programs/countiesdo/Pages/ncgm.aspx and