As the makeup of Maryland’s population shifts, the leadership of its cities and towns are changing to reflect that growing diversity.
So when the Maryland Municipal League convenes its annual convention on Sunday in Ocean City with representatives attending from 130 of the eligible 157 towns and cities, embracing diversity and the emergence of younger municipal officials will be major topics of discussion.
“It’s happening more, and more, and more, the people that are being elected in the communities are not only younger, but they’re also very diverse … So we want to make sure our elected officials and our appointed officials actually have the opportunity to learn a little bit about dealing with diversity if they haven’t had a lot of experience with that,” said Scott A. Hancock, executive director of the Maryland Municipal League.
Along with discussions on municipal budgeting and emergency preparation the conference also will offer sessions like the “Young Elected Leaders Power Hour” that will deal with some of the changes in the people who serve in local government.
“We’re just trying to keep everyone abreast to the new and best practices that are out there in the world of association management, or in the world of city management and city administration,” Hancock said.
Although there are no recent statistics available to show how many minorities in the state are serving in elected or appointed leadership at the local level, the change in the state’s overall population has been well-documented.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of July 2015 black residents made up 30 percent of the Maryland’s population, while Asians represented 6.5 percent and Hispanics 9.5 percent. All of those populations increased by at least 1 percent in the prior five years.
Edmonston Mayor Tracy Farrish Gant is one example of the shifting demographics among leaders in Maryland’s cities and towns. She’s the Maryland Municipal League’s incoming president and will also be the first woman of color to hold that position in the organization that was founded in 1936.
Gant said it’s important for cities to learn to deal with the diversity of their communities because it’s necessary if towns and cities want to achieve community goals ranging from having bike lanes built to addressing litter.
“We are coming from different sections of the globe and we do things differently, and we need to learn how to communicate with each other. And I think it’s important for us all to reach out to each other and to feel comfortable speaking to each other,” Gant said. “If we can do that we can combat a lot.”