It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light

Mwen se echantiyon yon ras kap boujonnen men ki poko donnen

Si vous voulez vous faire des ennemis essayer de changer les choses

Monday, August 27, 2007

Manual For Incumbent State Legislators

Office Organization
As a state legislator sacking reelection, now is the time to reassess your legislative office operation. The key to that assessment lies in the answer to a fundamental question - the same question your constituents will be asking themselves when they once again pull the lever for their state legislator. How well does my state legislative office work for me?

Legislative Operating Budget
No doubt, by now, you have analyzed your legislative operating budget. You know whether your state automatically provides staff support, or whether the full or part-time paid staff is paid out of your operating budget. Depending on your budget, you may want to consider the possibility of recruiting interns (including college students from your district). You will probably find individuals who are more than willing to be a part of your support staff in exchange for the unique opportunity to work in a state legislator's office. And, finally, you know what type of constituent mailings can be charged against your postal allowance. Some states provide you with postage to send regular or semi-regular mailings to your whole district. Others limit your postal allowance to cover responses to constituent requests only. Make sure you understand any restrictions on content, size, amount and timing of legislative mailings since this will have an effect on when and what you communicate to your constituents.

So far, you have the makings of a working operation. But, does it really work - for your constituents?

The “Satisfied Constituent” Test
The quality of your office organization can be determined by how quickly and effectively you and your staff can respond to your constituents. Teat your office set-up by responding to the following questions:

1. Does your office respond to every telephone conversation, letter or personal meeting with a constituent?

2. Does your office have en accurate end up-to-date filing system? You may want to create one file 6y name, and a duplicate file by subject, for recording constituent requests and responses.

3. Do you have a quick and accurate method for obtaining the information you need to properly assist your constituents?

4. Do you have a system in place for keeping your constituents informed of the progress you are making regarding their requests?

5. Does your office have a handy reference of those agencies end departments you routinely need to contact on behalf of your constituents? The list should include the key contacts within those offices, as well as their addresses end phone numbers.

6. Have you established a district office to make the services of your office available to (hose who cannot visit your state capital headquarters?

Effective constituent service is the mainstay of an elected officeholder, and it is what will keep you in office. On Election Day, a constituent will probably forgive you for "voting against them" on a particular issue. But do not expect constituents to forgive, or forget, what they perceive to be poor service from your office.
As an elected official, you will be asked for every possible type of assistance. Some of these requests will fell under your jurisdiction as a state legislator; many will not. In some instances, you may not get directly involved in, but you may be able to lead your constituents to the appropriate sours for help. But, in most cases, you probably will be able to provide the assistance your constituent is seeking.

Developing a good record of constituent service does not mean you will meet 100 percent of the voters- requests. However, it does mean you should treat all of the requests and problem with enthusiasm, sensitivity, and high priority.

Handling Constitute Requests
Each state legislator's office has different resources for handling constituent service requests. Many state legislators establish a set of criteria for handling constituent requests. If you do not have a reliable system in place, the following suggestions provide guidelines for a simple, workable response system.

Casework System

Step I - Constituent Service Form

Whether each legislative session brings with it 25 constituent requests or 250, you end your staff should keep an accurate record of each request. Creating a standardized constituent service form will enable each of your staff members to obtain all the pertinent information, and will better prepare you to determine what type of assistance is needed and from whom.

You should decide which organization, whether it be a government agency or department, or a private or nonprofit organization, would be the best source of help. Once you have made that assessment, call that office personally and request assistance on behalf of your constituent. Ask that the office respond directly to you. In turn, your office should respond directly to the constituent.

For reference, your office should have a list of state and federal agencies, as well as consumer service organizations, that maintain toll-free numbers. Most states have government agency and department phone directories, usually listed with contact names. (A list of the telephone numbers and addresses for the intergovernmental affairs offices of federal agencies and departments is included in this chapter.)

Never guarantee that you can solve a constituent's problems. Also, until you are certain that a particular organization can provide the proper assistance, never refer a constituent to another person or office. After being transferred from office to office, he or she will have nothing but irritating memories about the experience, end thus, about your operation.

Step 2 - Casework Manager

Regardless of how simple or complicated a constituent request is, your office should have a mechanism in place to quickly retrieve any information you need about a pending case. While it is important for you to ensure that constituent requests receive top priority from your office, time will not permit you to personally keep track of all requests for assistance. For this reason, a casework system should be developed and put into place. The first step is your constituent service request forms.
Ideally, you should now appoint someone on your staff to act as the casework manager. With constituent request forms in hand, your casework manager will be able to easily review the number of pending requests, prioritize them for you, and keep you posted on the daily progress.

For a state legislator who makes constituent service a top priority, few things are more rewarding than knowing your personal efforts have helped someone resolve a problem. For a constituent rocking a request, taw things can be more frustrating than being told "someone will get back to you" and then never hearing from anyone again. Constituents often vent their frustration at the polls.

Always let your constituents know how their requests are progressing. Ideally, send them a personal letter explaining any action you are taking on their behalf. If the case is complicated, and a final resolution will take time, letters should be sent at appropriate intervals. (Sample constituent service response letters are included in this chapter.) Contact all constituents with pending requests for assistance at least once a month. All action, phone calls to agencies or constituents, copies of letters, etc.. should be recorded or attached to the constituent service request form. That way, your casework manager will always have a complete, up-to-date rile for your review.

Take every available opportunity to respond to your constituents. By doing so, you will be fulfilling your responsibility as a dedicated public official and earning goodwill, and good marks, from your voters.

Keeping in mind your ultimate goal, to be responsive to the voters, your overall organizational plan should include providing as many of your constituents as possible with direct access to their state legislator.

Many times, this means establishing a district office. Unlike your capitol office, where many services are provided for you, setting up a district office is more of a personal venture - and a necessary step. Most likely, the majority of your constituents will not have the opportunity to visit your capitol office. Maintaining a district office, however, will go a long way toward providing your constituents access to you.

Guidelines for Establishing a District Office
District Office

Location: This is usually the hardest decision to snake. Keep in mind you want the office to be conveniently located for your constituents, preferably in an area accessible by public transportation- Perhaps a friend has vacant or unused office space you could use as your district office. Furthermore, if you plan to use volunteers, locate in an area where you have strong support.

Furniture/ Equipment: You will probably need to rent or borrow office furniture and any necessary equipment. Since a district office may be the only place a constituent has the opportunity to see you in action, take care that the office conveys an image you want your constituents to take home with them.

While a district office certainly is not expected to be lavish, it should be clean and organized, and should operate in the same professional atmosphere as your capital office.

District Office Schedule: Once you decide how much time you will spend in your district office, keep the same schedule every week. Establish specific open office hours, and stick to them. Your constituents will appreciate, and remember, your willingness to commit a block of time to them. Use your local media outlets to publicize your district office location and open office hours. And enlist the aid of your volunteers to help spread the word.

District Mobile Office

If your constituents cannot come to you, go to your constituents. If you represent a district that is very large or spread out, establish a district mobile office. For example, you may want to set aside one day per month, or every other month, to visit several different areas within your district and allow your constituents the opportunity to meet with you. In one area, you may want to set up an "office" in a heavily trafficked shopping mall; in another, perhaps a local business would donate the use of a small office.

As with a district office, the key to your success will be in establishing a set schedule and sticking to it. With a mobile office, enlisting the aid of your local media is all the more important. Make sure you publicize the time and location of each of your stops well in advance.
Alternatives to a District Office

While a district office is a useful tool for keeping in touch with your constituents, many states due to size and budgets do not provide funding for such offices. So, absent district offices, legislators must be more creative in developing methods to communicate with constituents.

Some suggestions include:

1. Just prior to the session mail questionnaires to constituents seeking their opinions on major issues

2. Write columns regularly for the local weekly or daily newspapers.

3. He visible in the community by attending the meetings of city/town council, school boards, cultural civic and business organizations.

4. Mail newsletters to constituents summarizing the results of the session

Regardless of the method, the key to success for any state legislator is a prompt and thorough response to constituent inquiries and needs, which will testify to your effectiveness as a communicator. Success on Election Day will be measured as much by your performance as it is perceived at home than by performance at the capitol.

Seeking the opinions and advice of your constituents is a prime responsibility of a legislator. The reward for doing so is reelection.