The voice and regional impact of Orange County’s cities were significantly enhanced last month when the city of Irvine, the city of Villa Park and the county of Orange joined the Association of California Cities — Orange County (ACC-OC).

Already established as the “hub for good public policy in Orange County,” these new members allow ACC-OC to offer even more tangible member-city benefits to a greater number of local governments, resulting in a much higher return on investment for local taxpayers.

Integral to ACC-OC’s success has been the collaborative, consensus-based nature of the organization. It’s not unusual to see city and county elected officials, city staff, business and nonprofit leaders gathered around ACC-OC’s conference table working toward community-based solutions to some of our most pressing issues. During the past 15 short months, ACC-OC has quickly become a vital resource for ideas and information, successfully creating partnerships with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.

Last year, for example, ACC-OC’s pension reform committee members embraced this collaborative approach as they crafted important pension reform guidelines. This set of guidelines has served as a model for several Orange County cities grappling with mounting pension and health care costs for retired employees.

It’s important to note that it’s not ACC-OC staff developing these policies. ACC-OC provides the laboratory in which the dedicated professionals and volunteers that make up our city and local government leaders can work together, helping each other better serve their constituents in more innovative ways.

Another key differentiator for ACC-OC is the Orange County-centric focus of its members. Some argue that we would be better served by setting aside our local interests and taking a seat at the table set in Sacramento.

ACC-OC’s formation was due in part to our belief that the best policy solutions come from the communities they impact. When it comes to local public policy, one size does not fit all. Orange County is unique and requires its own voice when advocating on important regional public policy issues. Without a strong, independent and cohesive voice, we become lost in the crowd and risk losing our voice altogether.

As Irvine City Councilwoman Beth Krom said before voting to join ACC-OC: “This is a county that either stands together or falls apart.”

Through ACC-OC, local government leaders have a platform on which they can stand united in support of their collective work on behalf of Orange County’s taxpayers.

Along with the expanded advocacy opportunities, continued membership growth allows cities to tap into a broader pool of intellectual and management resources. Members already have access to time and money-saving proprietary tools and information devised to help them more effectively and efficiently manage their cities.

But it’s the human element — the relationships — and the forum in which public professionals and elected officials can share ideas and assist each other with best practices that truly make ACC-OC the “hub for good public policy.”

A product of this was the establishment of ACC-OC’s Local Government Innovation Committee. Spearheaded by Newport Beach Mayor Keith Curry in response to the many novel and outside-the-box strategies being employed in Orange County cities, the committee began diligently working to highlight, promote and encourage the incorporation of several tax-saving operational innovations. Many of these efforts were sparked by necessity.

Forced to reduce its staff to 20 deputies and eight professional service employees in the wake of the economic downturn, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s operations in Stanton adopted a mantra of “doing more with less” without having to sacrifice services to its citizens.

One notable “cutting-edge” approach employed by Stanton was the development of its “Volunteer in Policing” program. This innovative strategy invites local residents to serve their city by performing nonpublic safety roles within the department. It saves tax dollars and offers residents who walk in the door a liaison who can help them navigate the system.

This is just one of several dozen examples of innovation taking place in Orange County’s cities. We’re honored to serve as a conduit through which these best practices can be shared among members.

So ACC-OC, through the collaborative work of its public- and private-sector members, is thriving as the hub of and advocate for good public policy in Orange County. The addition of Irvine, Villa Park and the county of Orange has enriched the member experience, leveraging even more resources — intellectual, financial and otherwise — to help local governments more effectively and efficiently serve their taxpayers while enhancing Orange County’s collective voice.

Lacy Kelly is CEO for the Association of California Cities — Orange County and is also on the Voice of OC Community Editorial Board.

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