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East Lansing Mayor Ron Bacon highly recommends city residents interested in being involved in local government apply for the Emerging Leaders Program. As a graduate, he knows the worth of the program and being active in the community.

“I’m a huge supporter,” Bacon said in an email to ELi. “I would recommend it to anyone looking to have a better understanding of how the city operates and local government within it. It helped me understand boards and commissions and definitely played a role in my [City Council] campaign success.”

Along with Bacon, three other council members are graduates, according to a representative in the city manager’s office. Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg, Councilmember Dana Watson and outgoing Councilmember Lisa Babcock completed the program.

Applications are being accepted for the next year-long program, which begins Feb. 16 and runs through Dec. 14, 2023. The deadline to submit a brief application is Jan. 6. 

Participation requires being available one Thursday a month from 5-8 p.m., plus availability for group discussions in various locations throughout the city. The cost is $55; scholarships are available. There are no tests included in the program curriculum, according to Nicole Mosteller of the city manager’s office.

City of East Lansing

The 2023 East Lansing Emerging Leaders Program tentative schedule.

The Emerging Leaders Program began in 2007 with the goal of educating residents on local government and potentially gaining interest in serving on the city’s boards and commissions, Mosteller explained. The age of participants has ranged from students to retirees. The minimum age required is 18.

Councilwoman Gregg said the program, which she went through five years ago, was a huge help for her as she became an elected official. Elected and appointed officials don’t get a lengthy preparation for office, she said.

“Having an opportunity to learn the systems involved with more depth, more time and the opportunity to ask questions is very valuable,” she said.

One topic covered in the program is election administration. East Lansing’s City Clerk’s office will educate leadership trainees on how the election process works. That session was added for the 2022 cohort based on staff’s interest in presenting to the Emerging Leaders group, Mosteller said in an email to ELi. 

“Election administration staff wanted to gain interest from community members to help with upcoming elections,” she said.

Other topics include: Finance and budgeting, the “built environment” (for example, sewers, facilities, roads, etc.), environment, transportation, sustainability, public safety, economic development, parks, recreation and the arts.

“You will learn something that you didn’t know before the training,” Bacon said.

Photo courtesy of City of East Lansing

Participants in the 2022 Emerging Leaders Program were honored during a graduation ceremony held Thursday, Dec. 15. East Lansing Mayor Ron Bacon and City Manager George Lahanas made remarks at the event.

In the past, the program has included people from a wide range of backgrounds and ages. But Bacon hopes to see more young people participate.

“I think they are a missing voice and a huge source of new ideas,” he said.

Gregg said she would like to see more members of the city’s Arab and Middle Eastern population as well as residents with South Asian Indian heritage participate.

What did the mayor learn from the program that he didn’t already know?

Bacon said it helped him understand the needs of the city’s different neighborhoods. “This was a huge advantage, particularly helping to understand the local politics,” he said. 

As for her favorite session, Gregg said it would have to be the sewage treatment plant tour.

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