How to be an excellent City Council Assistant

I greatly enjoyed my time as a City Council Assistant, also known as a Policy Aide. It gave me great insight into how local government works, and helped me hone many skills that would aid me in future job positions.

In this Hub, I will share some of the requirements to being a City Council Assistant, desirable traits and qualities, and my philosophy on being the best Assistant I could be.

Representing the Councilmember at a World War II Commemoration Event
Representing the Councilmember at a World War II Commemoration Event | Source

Qualifications

There are certain qualifications that are generally required or desired in most Council Assistants. These may include:

  • A Bachelor's degree in Political Science, Public Policy, Public Administration, Communications, or related field
  • Technical skills, such as in word processing, spreadsheet and database software, e-mail applications, and possibly website development
  • Oral and written communication skills
  • Research techniques and applications
  • Customer service skills

Other desirable skills that may not be necessary include:

  • Master's degree in a relevant field
  • Bilingual skills
  • Familiarity with the local government system
  • Familiarity with the Council District or the city in general

Qualities and Characteristics

In addition to the requirements to applying for a position as a Council Assistant, there are certain qualities and characteristics that an individual should be expected to have, such as:

  • Strong work ethic and flexibility
  • Ability to work in a team and maintain positive working relationships with other employees, external agencies and organizations, and the public
  • Organization
  • Multitasking and prioritization of tasks
  • Professionalism
  • Punctuality and ability to complete work promptly

Tasks and Responsibilities

Council Assistants may be responsible for a number of different tasks and policy areas, and should be expected to be flexible and open-minded as necessary.

Some of the policy areas may include:

  • Budget and Finance
  • Public Safety
  • Land Use
  • Economic Development/Business
  • Transportation
  • Housing/Homelessness
  • Environment
  • Neighborhood Services/Recreation
  • Education

The Assistants assigned to these areas may be responsible for researching these topics, developing policies around these areas, attending meetings, and answering questions from the public or other agencies.

Other tasks may involve:

  • Constituent Services: Addressing e-mails, phone calls, and visits from the public, and researching and/or following up with any issues as necessary
  • Media Relations: Preparing speeches and talking points, media advisories or press releases, articles or columns, newsletters, or other media materials
  • Publicity: Attending and representing your elected official and meetings and events
  • Event Planning: Planning and executing meetings and other events for employees or the public
  • Agenda Services: Compiling and organizing Council meeting and other meeting packets, binders, and other materials, and staffing the meetings as necessary
  • Disclosure: Submitting materials for public records requests; compiling information for public disclosure forms such as spending and fundraising forms, and submitting them according to deadlines and regulations
  • Ceremonials: Preparing commendations and proclamations for individuals or organizations nominated by staff or the public


Empowering citizens at a City Council meeting
Empowering citizens at a City Council meeting | Source

Going the Extra Mile

It was important to me to do more than the bare minimum as a City Council Assistant. I would remember that 1) I was being paid to fulfill the requests and needs of the public, and 2) I wanted to treat the citizens the way I wanted to be treated. Each resident was as important to me as the others, and even people who were irate or sometimes mentally unstable deserved attention.

I always tried to be as friendly and personable as I could to make people feel comfortable in expressing their opinions or concerns to me.

I also hated the idea of having things fall through the cracks. Seemingly small issues would still be addressed or referred, and I would try to stick with issues even through several correspondences and attempts at finding a solution.

The ability to make and maintain good relationships with other staff, agencies, and the public was SO important. The connections I would make would lead to greater trust, helpful resources, and more support for the Councilmember.

I really wanted to empower the public as best I could - to give them a voice, to help them learn to help themselves, and to help develop positive partnerships between citizens and local government.

It's also important to remember another overall goal of being a Council Assistant: to anticipate the needs of the Councilmember and do your best to meet them and exceed them. There's nothing as satisfying as making the Councilmember look the best they can, be as prepared as possible, and be as capable of helping the public as can be. An innovative staffer who can see a problem, propose a solution, develop a policy, and send it through the process to fruition is highly desired.

I feel that a lot of Assistants will do anything they can to be a "good" staffer, to attend as many meetings as possible, stay late, and volunteer for extra events and projects. To me, I would try not to go overboard because time with friends, family and myself was still very important to create a balance and be an even better staffer. Know your limits and emphasize your strengths!

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