Local Leadership Matters

Citrus Heights, CA (MPG)  |  Story and Photo by Jacqueline Fox
  Share this pic with friends!

Graduates from the 2016-17 Citrus Heights Leadership Program, alongside Citrus Heights Chamber of Commerce Board Chair, Johnnise Downs and City Councilwoman and program founder, Jeanne Bruins, prepare for a bus tour of the city as part of their culmination day celebration.

  Share this pic with friends!

After a five-year hiatus, the Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Citrus Heights program relaunched in fall of 2016 and, on June 7, 22 participants graduated from the 10-week civic and business engagement course designed to foster civic leaders and bolster business owners’ with tools for growth.

Launched initially in 2003 by City Councilwoman Jeanne Bruins, then the executive director of the chamber, the Leadership Citrus Heights program (LCH) is modeled on components of similar programs offered by various chambers’ of commerce across the region. The goal is to offer individuals who have an interest in civic engagement and business development issues a condensed, but comprehensive education on everything from city incorporation processes and fiscal management, to public safety, code enforcement policies, and even a history lesson or two about the city’s founders and growth.

“Most of the chambers offer a similar type of program and, at the time we launched this one, we were such a new city, and I felt we could really benefit from something like it,” said Bruins. “So, after we worked on the outline for it for about a year, we put a team of very capable people together that included city officials, business people and even faculty members from American River College, and then came up with our courses, which is very closely modeled on the program offered by the Folsom Chamber of Commerce.”

Although not a requirement, one of the goals is to develop community leaders, activists, visionaries and advocates who demonstrate an interest in the future of Citrus Heights, Bruins said. While some of the current cohort participants are already working for the city in various capacities, others are local business owners. The other purpose of the course is to help local business owners educate themselves about the city from the inside out in order to advance their goals and grow their customer base.

For Bruins, who attended the cohort graduation June 7, having 22 participants in the first session after five years on hiatus, is a good sign of solid community interest and support for the program.

“I’m thrilled to see so many tremendous people taking advantage of the program,” Bruins said before she, Chamber Board Chair Johnnise Downs, and 17 of the 22 grads boarded a hired coach for the final component of the curriculum: An hour tour of the city, which Bruins narrates.

“It’s kind of a tradition for me to be asked to do the city tour,” said Bruins, who said it includes stops to discuss current development projects, historical points of interest and city landmarks.

Leadership Citrus Heights (LCH) is broken up into monthly workshops or “modules,” each with their own area of focus, led by civic leaders, business executives and city officials alike. This cohort’s workshop leaders and topics included History of Incorporation, Ethics & Quality of Life, taught by Danny Vera, vice president of operations at San Juan Medical Center, among others. Community and Economic Development Director, Rhonda Sherman ran a course on Economic & Community Development/Conflict Resolution with Dale Covey, president of the Antelope Crossing Business Association. A Public Safety, Code Enforcement and Entrepreneurship and Strategic Planning course was led by Maurice Johnson, assistant chief of the Sacramento Metro Fire Department and Citrus Heights Police Sergeant, Jason Baldwin.

The cohort also got to sit in on mock city council meetings and attend a session with City Manager, Chris Boyd focused on management, finance and communication techniques.

Perhaps one of the best known LCH alumni is former Citrus Heights City Councilman, Mel Turner, who was elected to serve on the city council in 2010 and remained on the council until his passing earlier this year. Bruins said she encouraged Turner to take the LCR course when he told her he was thinking about running for his first election.

“I told Mel that if he was serious about running for city council, he had to get into the next LCH program because it would give him a solid foundation in how things work,” Bruins said.

Lizabeth Branbila, 18, a San Juan High School Senior, is one of the two high school students to receive a scholarship for the 2016-17 course. With plans to first study psychology at William Jessup University in Rocklin in fall, Branbila said one of her teachers at San Juan suggested she take advantage of the program.

“This was a really cool opportunity for me because it really taught me a lot about the city and how things work,” said Branbila. “Everyone who taught the modules brought something different to the table and it was very educational.”