Jul 22, 2022 - Politics

Mayor Ken Welch gets schooled at Bloomberg Harvard program for mayors

St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch speaking in front of his name tag at the Bloomberg Harvard initiative for mayors.
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch talks with Boston Mayor Michelle Wu at the workshop in New York City. Photo courtesy of Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative

School may be out for summer, but it just began for St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch.

Driving the news: Welch just returned from a four-day workshop in New York City as part of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative.

  • He's one of 40 mayors from around the world selected to participate in the yearlong leadership and professional development program.

Between the lines: The private sector invests more than $42 billion each year in executive development for company heads and CEOs, but elected officials have to learn on the job since there is no equivalent in the public sector, according to Bloomberg Philanthropies, which seeks to close that gap.

  • Welch's predecessor, Mayor Rick Kriseman, was in the initiative's third class in 2019.

What he's saying: "You build this camaraderie with mayors who are coming in," Welch told Axios. "We learn best practices together. It just was a tremendous opportunity to do that in a real intense classroom environment."

Point of intrigue: After learning about how Joseph Curatone, the former mayor of Somerville, Massachusetts, built out data-analytic capabilities in his city government, Welch said he decided to pursue coursework designed to help city officials better utilize data systems.

  • St. Pete's software systems are due for an upgrade, he said, and instead of having research collected in places like Google Sheets and Excel, the city's databases could be streamlined and integrated to better use its information.

How it works: Initiative leaders will consult with St. Petersburg staff on data usage for problem solving and efficiency and customize applications for the city.

  • "It's a perfect time for us to do that in a way that really meets the needs of the city but also gives our key managers and administrators the information they need to make better decisions," Welch said, noting that it could be used in the redevelopment of Tropicana Field.

What's next: Welch's deputy mayor, Stephanie Owens, and city administrator, Rob Gerdes, who are also taking part in the initiative, will head to New York City for their classroom experience in August.

  • Welch still has lots of homework ahead. He'll be taking virtual monthly classes as part of the program through the next year.
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