Reimagining Local Government: Strengthening Democracy in Our Communities

Local government matters. While Washington commands more media attention, local government affects people's lives the most on a daily basis. In California, more than two-thirds of all public money is spent by nearly 7000 local government entities, such as counties, cities, school and special districts.

In recent years, municipal governments have suffered under declines in press coverage, civic engagement, and voting turnout. Nearly all local governments have faced pressing fiscal challenges, which have forced several to declare bankruptcy. Some have been rocked by political scandals.

The news isn't all bad. While the state and federal governments face gridlock, local governments in California have taken the lead in problem solving and policy innovation.

Chapman University’s political science department, in collaboration with Zocalo Public Square, is pleased to present the second annual conference on local government. The conference is made possible due to a generous grant from Fieldstead and Company.

Click here for more information and to RVSP.

Conference Agenda

  • Reception 9 - 10 a.m. - Argyros Forum 209ABC
  • Panel #1 - Improving Democratic Engagement: How Do You Create The Right Environment for Local Democracy?               10 - 11:30 a.m. - Argyros Forum 209ABC

Political differences are best resolved when people treat each other in a "civil" manner.  Unfortunately, the public square has coarsened, with one result being that more and more people are exiting the system -- by not voting, and by declining to participate in public meetings and conversation. This panel will discuss ways local institutions (e.g., service clubs, business, family, religious communities, media and entertainment institutions) can strengthen civil society and foster democracy, especially in contexts where there is low voter turnout and disengagement with local government decision-making.

Moderator: Fred Smoller, Associate Professor of Political Science, Chapman University.

Tom Tait, Mayor of Anaheim.

Rick Cole is the City Manager of the City of Santa Monica, California.

Matt Leighninger is Vice President for Public Engagement, and Director of the Yankelovich Center for Public Judgment, at Public Agenda.

Antonio Gonzalez is President of the William C. Velasquez Institute.

  • Lunch and Poster Session 11:45 a.m. - 1:15 p.m. - Beckman Hall 404

Students will display and discuss their research.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla

  • Panel #2 - Democracy and Public Spaces, 1:30 p.m.. - 3 p.m. - Argyros Forum 209ABC

Local governance can’t take place in a vacuum. It requires spaces for people to gather, talk, debate and vote. How can the built environment best foster citizenship and participation? What are the most significant physical barriers to local democracy today--and how can they be overcome? How can big investments in infrastructure -- be in transit or waterways or civic spaces -- contribute to informed and engaged communities? What type of public spaces contribute to an informed, engaged community? What structures do the opposite?

Moderator: John Compton, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Chapman University.

Arthur Blaser is a Professor of Peace Studies and Political Science at Chapman University, and holds the Delp-Wilkinson Chair in Peace Studies.

Sam Adams former Mayor of Portland, Oregon and Director of the World Resources Institute U.S. Climate Initiative.

Clarence Eckerson, Jr. Director of Streetfilms.

Mia Lehrer, architect, Mia Lehrer and Associates.

  • Panel #3 - Reconsidering cities and counties for the 21st century - 3:30 p.m.. - 5 p.m. - Argyros Forum 209ABC

Does the current configuration of local government, centered on cities and counties, fit the needs of the 21st century?  If not, how should cities and counties be reshaped and contoured to promote democracy, deliberation, representation, and efficiency? Should the government or the private sector determine these new forms of government? 

Moderator: Fred Smoller, Associate Professor of Political Science, Chapman University.

Tim Draper, venture capital investor and founder and CEO of Innovate Your State.

Myron Orfield is the Director of the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota.

William Fulton is Director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University.

  • Panel #4 - Lessons from abroad: What Are the Best Ideas for Creating an Effective 21st Century Local Government?     6:30-8 p.m.. - Kennedy Hall (KH) 237A&B

California businesses and cultural institutions are envied for being on the forefront of innovation--in part because they look for the best ideas and people from around the country and the world, and bring them to California. But our state, city, and county governments do very little of this. This panel will explore innovative approaches from all over the globe to local efficiency, fiscal management and participation, and suggest ways to incorporate these ideas in California communities, and specifically in Orange County, which was one of the largest municipalities in the world to go bankrupt.

Moderator: Joe Mathews, California and Innovation Editor, Zocalo Public Square.

Bruno Kaufmann is a trained political scientist, conflict researcher and journalist and member of the city government in Falun, Sweden. He is the editor and chief of

Maria Vassilakou is the deputy mayor of Vienna, Austria.

Daniel Schugurensky, is the head of Arizona State University’s (Argentina) Participatory Governance Initiative.

February 25, 2016 at 9am - 5pm
Chapman University

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