Local Elected Officials Take Public Policy Lessons at USC

Local Elected Officials Take Public Policy Lessons at USC

By Merrill Balassone

USC Price Executive Education inaugural class
Photo by Tom Queally

For many local elected officials, political office means solving complex problems with tight budgets while cultivating trust with constituents who increasingly are wary of those in power.

Frank Zerunyan USC Price Executive Education Director Frank Zerunyan, right, leads a class discussion at Davidson Conference Center.
Photo by Tom Queally

With these challenges in mind, the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy launched its Executive Education Program for Local Leaders to help elected city officials develop a vision for their cities.

“Our program is yet another way for USC Price to deliver its mission to town squares,” said USC Price dean Jack H. Knott. “We are committed to translating ideas into innovations that benefit our constituencies, communities and society as a whole.”

The first class of elected officials included 16 mayors, mayors pro tem and council members from cities across Southern California.

The two-day intensive program on May 4 and 5 at USC featured classes on intersectoral leadership, public transparency and ethics, governance and environmental policy. Class sessions are structured to teach and provide a forum for officials to network and share solutions to common challenges under the guidance of USC Price faculty.

Talks about launching a customized Executive Education Program at USC Price began in fall 2010, just months after Southern Californians learned of the outsized salaries handed out to public officials in the working-class city of Bell. An extensive probe eventually led to criminal charges against a spate of current and former officials.

“While scandals like Bell are an aberration in local governments, it reminds us all of the need for continuing education for our local leaders,” said Frank Zerunyan, senior fellow and director of Executive Education at USC Price and a seasoned Rolling Hills Estates city council member.

“This program addresses a major need on the West Coast,” Zerunyan said. “We’re bringing important policymakers to get an education on cutting-edge and innovative approaches to addressing the most pressing challenges in local governments today.”

Cynthia Sternquist, mayor pro tem of Temple City and a recent graduate of the program, noted how the Executive Education program offers an opportunity that is “rare yet invaluable in helping us as local leaders to make better decisions to help our cities.”

“I wanted to do this to be the best public servant I can be,” she added.

The program also includes a separate track for global leaders and professional leaders with curriculum targeted to the needs of those in government agencies, the private and nonprofit sectors charged with crafting policy, public safety, public ethics and social innovation.

The next Local Leaders program is scheduled for October 12 and 13 at the USC Davidson Conference Center. The Local Leaders program will soon expand to include classes at USC Price in Sacramento.

For more information, visit www.usc.edu/price/exed