Since 1980, the Hispanic population of the United States has quadrupled to more than 62 million people, and the rate of growth is faster in regions not traditionally home to many Hispanics, such as the Upper Midwest and the South. That demographic growth is changing everything from workplaces and housing to schools and marketing. It is also changing local government, where Hispanics remain underrepresented and daily decisions impact Hispanic residents and businesses.
Hispanic Heritage Month begins September 15, marking an opportunity for local governments to evaluate their efforts to support Hispanic employees and community members. The Local Government Hispanic Network (LGHN) was founded with a mission to grow future local government leaders and increase the Hispanic cultural literacy of host communities. LGHN has grown alongside the country’s Hispanic population, from roughly 200 members in 2013 to around 1,000 in 2022, and is currently expanding its chapters across the United States.
“There’s a little secret formula to a successful LGHN chapter, and it’s not hard,” says LGHN board member Marcus Steele, finance manager for Mesa, Arizona’s arts and culture department. “You get city manager buy-in and a half-dozen people willing to do the work. That’s it, and once it’s built, people flock to it.”
As chapters are founded and begin to grow, they are taking on a range of issues related to LGHN’s mission. Here are stories from three existing and developing LGHN chapters and their efforts to raise the profiles of Hispanics in local government.
Mesa, Arizona: Growing Hispanic Leadership
In 2018, the city of Mesa, Arizona reviewed internal and external demographics and found that while the city was roughly one-third Hispanic, only about 15 percent of city
employees were, and the number dipped to about five percent in the city’s pool of managers. That same year, the city manager, Chris Brady, encouraged employees to start an affinity group for Hispanic employees, and the city’s chapter of the Local Government Hispanic Network (then known as the International Hispanic Network) was born.
One signature activity of the Mesa chapter is a lunch-and-learn series that brings in internal and external speakers to inspire employees. Speakers include local leaders such as former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes and Dr. Maria Harper-Marinick, former chancellor of the Maricopa County Community College District. Equally popular are presenters who speak to the region’s Hispanic culture, such as James Beard award-winning chef Silvana Salcido Esparza and members of a local low-rider club. There’s an annual event celebrating civil rights leader Cesar Chavez and events to commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month.
“We engage employees around professional development because LGHN is focused on recruiting and retaining Hispanic leaders, but the way you draw people in is through the cultural stuff,” says Steele.
An employee named Isaias Garcia Romero, with the help of LGHN, created a professional development apprenticeship program focused on helping field staff develop the skills to move into management. Romero, an Air Force veteran, moved from a temporary equipment operator to lead operator, then foreman, then council assistant, and now serves as the city’s solid waste business and programs administrator. He understood both the leadership potential of many field staff and how to build the specific skills they need to get there.
“[When] you do professional development, a lot of people who are desk jockeys flock to that sort of thing, but what we’re finding is we need to go out and reach our field staff—they’re so time-constrained,” Steele says.
The program enlists about 25 “folks in steel-toed boots” a year to learn how to use computer programs, the basics of human resources, and other skills needed for supervisory roles. The program has graduated about 70 people so far, with roughly half of them moving into management within a year of graduation.
“LGHN leverages the people in middle management to get involved and make an impact,” Steele says. “It’s a group of people that are truly the embodiment of public servants, not only to the residents, leaders and businesses of Mesa, but also to each other.”
Evanston, Illinois: Building Bridges to Employees and Residents
The city of Evanston, Illinois, is just north of Chicago, which is home to the country’s fifth-largest Hispanic population, numbering nearly 820,000. As elsewhere, the Chicago
region’s Hispanic population is spreading outward, from the city to the suburbs. In Chicago, the Hispanic population grew three percent from 2000 to 2010 and another five percent from 2010 to 2020, while Evanston’s Hispanic population nearly doubled between 2000 and 2020— albeit with significantly smaller numbers than the big city to the south.
With the growth in Evanston’s Hispanic population comes greater visibility and a corresponding need to provide services to Hispanic residents, businesses, and city employees. The city last year elected its first Hispanic official, City Clerk Stephanie Mendoza. And its Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations include a block party with food trucks, entertainment, and a chance for city officials to meet with residents.
As the city of Evanston’s LGHN chapter establishes itself, members are looking for how best to help both Hispanic employees and residents flourish in the city. A prime example is within the city’s library system, where LGHN board member Mariana Bojorquez serves as Latino engagement librarian for the Evanston Public Library. In the branch library located in the Robert Crown Community Center, for example, there is an emphasis on hiring bilingual speakers.
“From the moment (the library) opened, we have had a lot of bilingual visitors who came specifically because there are bilingual staff members there,” Bojorquez says.
Of course, that requires intentional work to accommodate and support both visitors and employees. Evanston can’t compete with Chicago when it comes to translating city documents into Spanish, since nearly everything in Chicago is routinely translated for the city’s hundreds of thousands of Hispanic residents. Because producing translated documents is expensive and time-consuming, Evanston officials must decide where to focus their translation efforts, which are expanding alongside the city’s growing Spanish-speaking population.
The city of Evanston’s Hispanic workforce has kept pace with the city’s overall Hispanic population. Hispanics make up roughly 10.4 percent of the city workforce, closely mirroring the city’s overall Hispanic population of 11.2 percent. In a time of great turnover throughout local government, retaining and promoting those employees is a priority for the local LGHN members.
That means ensuring the city is open to candidates with different backgrounds and experiences who can do a job well despite a lack of traditional qualifications. For instance, there aren’t many Spanish speakers with master’s degrees in library and information sciences, so hiring managers need to consider candidates who may lack an advanced degree but can contribute in other important ways—and then ensure they are supported throughout each stage of their careers.
“As we hire new Latino employees into the city, they’re faced with huge problems that they don’t know how to handle because of systemic issues,” Bojorquez says. “If the city supports this group and looks for solutions, they will be better able to respond to residents’ needs.”
San Antonio, Texas: Mentoring Future Leaders
San Antonio is a natural place for organizations like LGHN to flourish. As the seventh-largest city in the United States, with nearly two-thirds of its residents Hispanic, San
Antonio is the largest American city with a majority Hispanic population. While the San Antonio area is in the process of creating a regional LGHN chapter, the roots of the organization are deep there: in 2018, San Antonio hosted the first meeting of the ICMA Hispanic Network at the annual ICMA conference, with city and county managers from across the United States gathering to explore how to promote Hispanics within their local governments.
Former San Antonio City Manager Alex Briseno was a champion of the initiative, along with former assistant city managers Rolando Bono and Frances Gonzalez. Current City Manager Erik Walsh supports the plan to bring LGHN to local government throughout the region—Bexar County and smaller municipalities, as well as San Antonio.
“From my perspective, LGHN is a proven organization that provides a platform for Latinos to pursue professional development and career opportunities,” says Ramiro Salazar, library director for the San Antonio Public Library, who is working on the effort to launch the regional LGHN chapter.
For now that effort includes webinars, mini-conferences, networking opportunities, and the initiative that Salazar is perhaps most excited about: the Madrinas y Padrinos mentoring program. In some Hispanic cultures, padrinos and madrinas are godparents who provide wisdom and guidance; in the LGHN program, aspiring managers and others interested in career advancement are paired with seasoned, established leaders. The ensuing relationship allows for the passage of wisdom and the cultivation of skills that benefit both mentor and mentee. Salazar points to other mentoring programs as a model LGHN needs to follow.
“I’m very passionate about mentoring,” Salazar says. “I experience it and I practice it. There is a need to provide opportunities like these to people of color. In my profession I’ve had a lot of mentors, not necessarily people of color, but I understand the importance of it.”
More about LGHN
Membership in an LGHN regional chapter is an affordable option for local governments to grow their team and offer high-quality professional development experiences to more employees. Regional chapters offer unlimited membership to participating jurisdictions. Current and forming LGHN chapters include Phoenix, Mesa, and Glendale, Arizona; Austin and Bexar County/San Antonio, Texas; Oregon; Florida; Illinois; Washington; Washington, DC; and California.
For more information, visit www.lghn.org or email email@example.com. There are LGHN-affiliated events planned for the 2022 ICMA Annual Conference in Columbus, as well as the LGHN Annual Membership Meeting scheduled for November 4, 2022, in Chicago.
LGHN is an affiliate of ICMA and a conduit to ICMA resources, programs, and professional development offerings. LGHN develops and supports public-sector leaders who reflect the communities they serve. In addition to ICMA, LGHN maintains comparable affiliate relationships with a number of other local government membership organizations, including National Forum for Black Public Administrators (NFBPA), International Network of Asian Public Administrators (I-NAPA), National Association of County Administrators (NACA), and Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA).
In memory of Joel D. Valdez, a founder of LGHN, former city manager in Tucson, Arizona, and former ICMA board member.