Delta State University’s Local Government Leadership Institute (LGLI) received $251,250 from the Robert M. Hearin Foundation as the final installment of a three-year $702,750 grant to support municipal leaders in Mississippi Delta cities, towns, and counties. This concluding round of funding enables LGLI to offer workshops, training, resources, tools, networking, and other assistance to mayors, councilpersons, alderpersons, municipal clerks, city managers, county supervisors, and county administrators in all 18 counties in the Mississippi Delta. LGLI has been phasing in programming to six counties a year since its creation in 2017.
“We have been able to bring a unique curriculum of municipal training to the Mississippi Delta, in partnership with the John C. Stennis Institute of Government and Community Development at Mississippi State University and the Mississippi Municipal League (MML),” said Dr. Temika M. Simmons, LGLI director. “The value is in our customized focus on the distinctive needs of Delta area cities and towns. By offering training in the Delta and shaping it around topics identified by Delta-elected leaders as important, we are able to provide more practical tools and support to the work of municipal governance in our area.”
LGLI launched in 2017 in Delta State’s home county of Bolivar and the neighboring five counties of Coahoma, Humphreys, Leflore, Sunflower, and Washington. In 2018, LGLI expanded to Issaquena, Panola, Quitman, Sharkey, Tallahatchie, and Yazoo counties. This year, LGLI adds Carroll, DeSoto, Holmes, Tate, Tunica, and Warren counties. Since 2017 through LGLI, more than 300 elected officials across the Mississippi Delta have earned up to 30 Certified Municipal Officer elective hours apiece from MML, with a number of them reaching the level of “Professional Development,” the highest designation available.
The nonpartisan LGLI focuses on fundamental topics that officials must navigate for municipalities to run effectively and efficiently, such as city planning, economic growth, records management, community relations, workforce development, historic preservation, emergency preparedness, taxation matters, and race relations. A guiding principle is that the leadership, management, and infrastructure provided by local government are keys to a community’s delivery of services, quality-of-life efforts, and trust in public offices.
“The LGLI workshops at DSU has been a great educational tool for myself,” said Peggy Mengarelli, mayor of Shelby, “and Tommy Humphrey, vice mayor. We try to never miss a workshop. The knowledge they share has been an asset that we have been able to implement for improvement in the City of Shelby and we are thankful to be part of it.”
Mound Bayou Mayor Eulah Peterson agrees. “The Local Government Leadership Institute provides a great opportunity for governmental officials to acquire valuable skills that foster effective leadership. We have received information in areas that are essential to local government operation from a variety of experts. I am being prepared to better carry out my duties as a mayor because of my participation.”
This is exactly the point of the institute, said Delta State University President William N. LaForge. “The mayors are spot-on in their assessment, and I am very pleased that this new program has been able to hit its mark with our local government officials in the Delta,” he said. “I am grateful to them for their participation, to the Hearin and Casey Foundations for their terrific financial support, and to our partners—MSU’s Stennis Institute and MML. This is one of those programs that, over time, can have a significant impact on the Delta.”
LGLI formed through grass-roots interests. In fall 2015, Bolivar County officials approached President LaForge about the imperative to furnish a type of ongoing boot camp for civic issues for the Mississippi Delta. They discussed the topic in fall 2016 at the annual Delta Mayors’ Summit that LaForge hosts on campus and had established shortly after his inauguration in 2013. The Jackson-based Hearin Foundation gave Delta State $50,000 in seed money in December 2016 to explore the feasibility and pragmatics of such an endeavor as the first infusion of what would total $700,000-plus. Delta State invited MML and the Stennis Institute to partner in the development of “Government 101.”
LGLI also receives support from Casey Family Programs of Seattle, earmarked for municipal leaders and youth development in communities of color. In addition, the Stennis Institute leads the community project initiative of LGLI and provides on-site training and support awarded to participating municipalities.