Preparations are underway across the state to celebrate National County Government Week (NCGW) set for April 6-12, with counties planning advertising campaigns, school visits, mock trials, special expos and “shadow days,” all geared toward educating the public on the value of grassroots government.
Last year the Victoria County Sheriff’s Department took students to the shooting range where the youngsters dressed in full gear while learning about the range, said Pam Lemke with Victoria County’s administrative services. In addition, the county sponsored a shadow day where local high school students followed an elected official for the day. The students and officials came together for a wrap-up meeting where the students shared their experiences with others.
“Each gained a new respect for the services and departments operating in the county,” Lemke said.
NCGW is sponsored by the National Association of Counties (NACo) and focuses on a special theme each year. This year activities will be geared around “Protecting our Children.”
Counties play an important role in serving and protecting children and families, said Eric Coleman, NACo president.
“From access to healthcare and public safety to maintaining our parks and providing year-round recreational activities, county services touch every family. When children are underserved, at risk or victimized, counties often serve as the safety net,” Coleman said.
First celebrated in 1991, NCGW was created to raise public awareness about the roles and responsibilities of the nation’s counties. The activities held during the week help citizens better understand how counties respond to their needs and serve the community.
Establish a County Government Week planning committee
The committee will initiate, organize and coordinate all activities relating to NCGW. Committee members should include representatives from the commissioners court, each county department, the school system, and a public information officer or county official experienced in working with the local media. All areas of county government and local schools should be involved in the planning effort.
Decide how extensive your activities will be
Plan weeklong activities, or perhaps just one or two days of events. Plan activities to reach different segments of your community, such as schools, community groups, business groups and news organizations. Activities should be designed to bring residents to county facilities or send county representatives to locations where residents are located.
Involve the media
Be sure the local media is aware of NCGW and the activities your committee is planning.
Give Them the Facts
NCGW offers an opportunity to address any negative or incorrect public perceptions of county government. One effective way to accomplish this goal is to simply present the facts. As part of NCGW, prepare and distribute “County Fact Sheets” on services provided to the community.
Children and family services
How many children received direct county services last year?
How many county programs are available to serve children exclusively?
How many county employees work directly with needy or at-risk children?
How many children participate in county recreational programs each year?
Other County Services Facts
How many bridges and miles of county roads are maintained each year?
How many calls were responded to last year by the county sheriff and fire departments?
How many building permits were approved last year?
How many building inspections were done last year?
How many seniors received direct county services last year?
How many documents were filed with the county clerk’s office last year?
How many inmates are housed in the county jail?
How many patients were served at the county hospital last year?
How many calls seeking information were received from the public and responded to last year?
How much money was saved last year through energy-efficiency initiatives?
How many old light bulbs were replaced with new, energy-efficient light bulbs last year?
Fact sheets can be distributed at county facilities, sent to local reporters, posted on the county Web site, and made available at community meetings.
Open the County to the Public
Your goal is to educate residents about county services either by getting them to visit county facilities or conducting outreach events where the people are assembled.
Hold an open house at the county courthouse/administration building
Have displays featuring county departments showing what each department does. Have employees on hand to describe the services they provide and their responsibilities. Focus on unique and interesting programs as well as those that provide essential services. Schedule tours through the courthouse/administration buildings.
Highlight your county’s history. Use your local historical society or library to put together presentations or displays to inform residents about your county’s rich history. Use visuals to tell the story of your county’s past.
If the weather is nice, have the displays outside in the plaza of the courthouse or nearby parking lot. Have music and entertainment for children. Make it a fun and interesting learning experience.
Tip: Schedule the open house for the best day and time people can attend such as early evenings or weekends. Promote it well in advance.
Schedule tours of county facilities
Schedule tours of facilities that are away from the courthouse/administration building. County parks, landfills, jails, sheriff and fire departments and public works facilities are all possibilities. Reach out to community groups, such as service clubs, 4-H, and Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, and encourage them to come as a group to see how various county facilities operate.
Bring informational displays and materials to the people
If it is unlikely that people will come to the county office buildings, bring exhibits to the people. For example, you could hold a public outreach event at a local mall, shopping center, library or other location where people are expected to gather. Arrange to set up displays. Provide fact sheets, brochures and conduct presentations on county services.
Tip: Other possible sites: community centers, school foyers, and other locations holding community events.
Schools play a critical role in “Protecting Our Children.” Use the opportunity to educate students about the roles and responsibilities of county government.
Presentations in schools
Plan visits to schools by various elected and appointed county officials. Discuss how county government is organized. Explain how local government works. Consider organizing a panel discussion with people who have been positively impacted by county programs. Make information on county government available to teachers to use in presentations or as part of their lesson plans.
Plan a career day at local high schools. Share information about various occupations within county government. Social workers, nurses, public works, parks and transportation employees, police officers, sheriff deputies and firefighters should be included. Emphasize the essential services that these workers provide to their communities.
Tours of county facilities
Encourage schools to set up tours of county offices and facilities. The approach should be part of a class lesson on government structure, the legislative process, public safety, health care and other services.
County official for a day
High school students interested in government could be part of a program to become a county official for a day or shadow an official for the day.
Sponsor a poster, essay or coloring contest involving a county services theme, such as parks and recreation or public safety. This is an ideal way to involve students of all ages.
Offer to speak to or teach a class at a college in your area. The topics could include economic development, technological improvements in the county, transportation projects, or a career in county government.
Encourage college and high school students to become involved in and aware of county issues by debating important and timely issues. Hold the debates in classrooms or as part of a high school assembly.
Meet With Your Legislators
NCGW is not only an ideal time to take your message to county residents, but it is also a great time to discuss county government with the members of the Texas Legislature. During NCGW, schedule a meeting with your representative or senator. Use the meeting to explain the great challenges facing your county.
In addition, invite members of the Legislature to attend your NCGW events.
Be prepared with facts and information about how specific issues affect your county. Know where your representative or senator stands on the issues.
Choose one or two major legislative issues to discuss. Your message should be focused, compelling and relevant.
Six Ways to Secure Positive Media Coverage
Proper media planning is essential to maximize public awareness of county government week and the county services and programs you are highlighting. Here are six ways to help secure positive media coverage:
Educate the Media
Inform local reporters, editors and broadcasters early and often about NCGW and your county’s plans to celebrate.
Plan to Make News
Carefully coordinate events or announcements to be newsworthy. You can launch new initiatives, announce plans for new programs, or publically honor county employees for their good work. Keep in mind that newspapers want in-depth facts, television stations want good visuals, and radio personalities want snappy sound bites from knowledgeable and articulate interviewees.
Publish a Calendar of Events
Publish a calendar of county government week events on the county’s Web site. 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 advisories in advance for specific county government week 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 the day of special county government week events for the reporters who attend as well as those who did not. Highlight what’s new, beneficial and cost-effective. Use lively, concise quotes from appropriate county officials. Provide contact information. (See sample release, page ?.)
Take Your Message to the Media
Do not assume the media will cover your county government events. Ask for a meeting with the newspaper’s editorial board, volunteer to stop by the television station for an interview, or be an in-studio guest on a local radio program. Be accessible, proactive and most of all enthusiastic about County Government Week and the services the county provides to the community. Take your own digital photographs of county government week events, write the photo captions, and send the photos to the newspapers. Be sure to post the photos on the county’s Web site too.
For more information about media relations strategies, contact Jim Philipps at 202-942-4220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.