Connecting state and local government leaders
The annual celebration, created by Engaging Local Government Leaders, encourages municipal workers and citizens to celebrate their communities by posting selfies in front of city halls.
On Aug. 15, 2018, the cast of the Netflix show Queer Eye (or, as they’re better known, the Fab Five) posed for a group selfie on the roof of city hall in Kansas City, Missouri. They posted it on Twitter, using the hashtag #cityhallselfie.
A year earlier, the cast and crew of Law & Order: SVU did the same outside of New York City Hall.
They’re two of thousands of selfies taken in front of city halls across the globe, posted to social media each year in mid-August with the hashtag #cityhallselfie as part of an annual celebration of government work. The event, in its sixth year, was created and promoted by Engaging Local Government Leaders, or ELGL, a nonprofit member organization that aims to unite municipal employees.
City Hall Selfie Day began after ELGL leaders noticed that their members—local government nerds, one and all—were taking photos of themselves in front of city halls as they traveled for work or vacation.
“People were doing them throughout the year, and it kind of aligned with our mission and plan—to find the joy of local government,” said Kirsten Wyatt, the organization’s co-founder and executive director. “We made it an official event, and we picked the middle of August because that’s usually a quieter time for local government. People are often on vacation, so if they want to get a selfie in a new place, they can.”
Since that first year, the day—and the hashtag—have taken off, catching the attention of celebrities (Jimmy Smits, Spiderman), journalists and community members. People have used their city hall selfies to mark milestones in their personal relationships, including a pregnancy announcement.
Each year, ELGL volunteers field upwards of 6,000 submissions. The organization gives awards in a host of categories, including best family photos, best use of props, best dressed and best hat, among others. The #cityhallselfie hashtag trends nationally and often worldwide, as local government enthusiasts from Australia to Canada upload and tag their photos. Some government employees participate on their own, while others get their city or county involved in a more official way.
“The ones I think are really exciting are when local governments use it as a day to engage the community,” Wyatt said. “Some of them set up photo booths, some get really creative and plan ahead with props and costumes. It really goes back to our goal of finding joy in local government work, and showcasing the amazing people that have a lot of fun while they’re working in public service.”
That joy has taken on additional meaning since the start of the pandemic, which sent droves of government employees home and prompted others to recommend and enforce often unpopular health policies, including shutdowns and mask mandates.
Selfie day has adapted accordingly, Wyatt said—last year, the event had a separate hashtag (#cityhomeselfie) for employees working remotely, and this year’s will continue to incorporate prizes for the best masked photo, the best example of social distancing and the best picture including a pet.
“We know all over the country people are responding to covid and the delta surge in different ways,” she said. “We don’t want to diminish the ability to find that pride and find that joy even if people are working in different settings.”
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.