PM Magazine, February 2020

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A Century of Budgeting Innovation 12 Proactive Planning 20 A New Budgeting Framework 30

Mark Wood, ICMA-CM, assistant city manager, on his town’s simple yet effective budgeting strategy

Budgeting and Planning



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FEBRUARY 2020 VOL. 102 NO. 2



LOCAL GOVER NMENT REVIEW Puttin g Resear ch Into Practi ce


Effective Charter Review Commissions: Challenges and Solutions for Success

Near the Top: Understanding Gender Imbalanc e in Local Government Management




12 A Century of Budgeting Innovation

A new private government era is on the horizon that will position managers as the custodians of democracy. Robert (Bob) Bland, University of North Texas, and Michael Overton, University of Idaho

20 Proactive Planning: Where Art Meets Science

Driving responsive change in your community. Kel Wang and Michael Sambir, Edmonton, Canada

24 Putting the “Collective” in Collective Bargaining

Sometimes seen as an adversarial and tense process, collective bargaining takes on a different light in Colerain Township. Jeff Weckbach, Colerain Township, Ohio

30 A New Framework for Budgeting

Involving customer service, innovation, and employee engagement in the process. Mike Letcher, ICMA-CM, Tucson, Arizona

34 Start at Zero

How Colleyville, Texas, achieves success with the effective tax rate. Mark Wood, ICMA-CM, Colleyville, Texas

36 Humanizing the Budget Process

Advancing equity and increasing community engagement through participatory budgeting. Andrew Holland and Robin Baker, Durham, North Carolina

20 D E PA RT M E N T S 2 Ethics Matter! Conflicts of Interest

4 Women in Leadership Building A Supportive Community Around Women in Leadership

6 ICMA Award Spotlight Can You Afford to Not Know? Lake Zurich’s 20-Year Community Investment Plan


8 Career Track

“We’ve Always Done It That Way” Is Over—What’s Next? Part 1: Change Is a Process, Not an Event

60 Professional Services Directory

International City/County Management Association



Conflicts of Interest


Why you need to pay more attention to this common issue Of all the ethical conflicts you will

encounter in your professional career, a conflict of interest is the most likely. Why? Because a conflict of interest, in its simplest form and by its very definition, occurs when your personal interests or loyalties compete with your professional obligations. Managing the Unexpected

MARTHA PEREGO, ICMA-CM, is director of member services and ethics director, ICMA, Washington, D.C. (

In its most benign form, the conflict of interest appears as the unforeseen situation that delivers you to the intersection of your personal life and work. Think about it. Unless you live the monastic life or build a truly impenetrable firewall between your life and work (both of which are a huge challenge for anyone working in local government), the probability that it will happen to you is high. Perhaps you have found yourself in one of these situations: • Custody and likely adoption of children in your immediate family is happening. You need legal assistance and the expert in town happens to be your county commissioner. • Your spouse is a partner in an LLC interior design firm that will be relocating its business. A storefront in your business district looks very attractive. • The church, where you attend services and serve on the board, is planning a capital campaign to expand their facilities.

• •

• • •

Your youthful but aging parents love your city and want to move there. They will need your financial assistance to buy a new place. You relocated your family to take a new position. Now your artist spouse must explore career opportunities. One option is direct sales at outdoor festivals and markets, including those in the town you now manage. Newly married, your son and daughter-in-law are keen on buying an old historic building in your town to renovate as a private residence. The new CPA in your household lands a job with an international accounting firm that also serves as your organization’s auditor. Your family is outgrowing your home. The numberone realtor in town works for the firm owned by one of your city council members.

Outrageous Intentional Acts

At the opposite end of the spectrum, in its most serious form, conflicts of interest arise because someone intentionally decides to leverage their position or office for personal gain, a.k.a. self-dealing. What examples come to mind? Google “Healthy Holly” to learn more about the ethical conflicts involving the former mayor of Baltimore. She received substantial compensation for selling her book to entities with which she had a direct official relationship. Public Management (PM)

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February 2020

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Slightly less obvious but still ethically questionable is the elected official who bought acres of undeveloped land in the county based on intel gleaned from staff discussions about future economic development plan. It’s speculation, of course, but designed for personal financial gain. Elected officials don’t own this domain. There are unfortunate examples where appointed officials and staff have engaged in self-dealing. One city manager joined with others, including the mayor, in the private purchase of vacant land located within their resort destination city. The land was subsequently rezoned by the city, substantially increasing the value of the manager’s partnership interest. The director of a housing authority secured a housing loan from the authority based on financial records and loan documents compiled by a subordinate employee. The lack of a third-party neutral review created the appearance of a conflict of interest at a minimum. A manager secured a personal loan from the owner of a business that was awarded numerous projects in two different organizations that the member managed. The manager oversaw the projects and recommended the firm for future county business. The loan was not properly disclosed to the governing body. The manager also engaged in outside employment with the firm, which was also not disclosed. While more transparency was needed, disclosure could not cure this conflict. An IT director, operating within the limits of the purchasing policies, directed staff to enter into a contract to hire their brother-in-law’s firm for a project and was less than forthcoming about the relationship. 2019–2020 ICMA Executive Board PRESIDENT

Jane Brautigam* City Manager, Boulder, Colorado PRESIDENT-ELECT

James Malloy* Town Manager, Lexington, Massachusetts PAST PRESIDENT

Karen Pinkos* City Manager, El Cerrito, California VICE PRESIDENTS

International Region

Tim Anderson Chief Administrative Officer, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada Sue Bidrose Chief Executive Officer, Dunedin City Council, New Zealand Robert Kristof City Manager, Timisoara, Romania

When this conduct gets exposed, it undermines the public’s trust and confidence that these individuals, elected or appointed, were acting in the public’s interest. Managing the Middle Ground

In between the unexpected conflict and the intentional self-dealing lies the opportunity to explore new terrain that may present some conflicts. One scenario common to the profession is using the talent and expertise gained in your career to consult. Consulting in your encore career presents minimal issues if you respect the relationship with your former colleagues. Not so though when you engage in a consulting venture while still working for a local government. Given that the local government position is your primary employment, this terrain needs more exploration and consideration before moving forward. More Exploration and Guidance

Tenet 12 of the ICMA Code of Ethics reminds us that, “Public office is a public trust. A member shall not leverage his or her position for personal gain or benefit.” The guidelines that accompany the tenet provide practical advice on managing investments, personal relationships, outside employment, and other potential conflicts of interest. Setting aside the outrageous acts of self-dealing, if a private connection or interest leads to the perception that your official judgment was not objective, it has the same outcome: bad faith and no trust. Facts matter, but appearances often overwhelm the facts when it comes to public perception. This is a complex issue. Stay tuned as we explore these conflicts of interest in future editions of “Ethics Matter!”

Midwest Region

Southeast Region

Wally Bobkiewicz* City Administrator, Issaquah, Washington**

W. Lane Bailey* City Manager, Salisbury, North Carolina

Clint Gridley* City Administrator, Woodbury, Minnesota Molly Mehner* Deputy City Manager, Cape Girardeau, Missouri

Laura Fitzpatrick* Deputy City Manager, Chesapeake, Virginia Michael Kaigler* Assistant County Manager, Chatham County, Georgia

ICMA Executive Director Marc Ott Director, Member Publications

Lynne Scott

Managing Editor

Kerry Hansen

West Coast Region

Newsletter Editor

Kathleen Karas

Michael Land* City Manager, Coppell, Texas

Maria Hurtado* Assistant City Manager, Hayward, California

Design & Production

Raymond Gonzales County Manager, Adams County, Colorado

Edward Shikada* City Manager, Palo Alto, California

Northeast Region

Peter Troedsson* City Manager, Albany, Oregon

Mountain Plains Region

Heather Geyer* City Manager, Northglenn, Colorado

Matthew Hart* Town Manager, West Hartford, Connecticut Christopher Coleman* Town Manager, Westwood, Massachusetts Teresa Tieman* Town Manager, Fenwick Island, Delaware

* ICMA Credentialed Manager (ICMA-CM) ** Serving the region from a different location as is permissible in the ICMA Constitution.



Building a Supportive Community Around Women in Leadership


He called me sweet pea. The actual phrase

ALISHA JANES is assistant town manager, Winter Park, Colorado, and chair of Colorado Women Leading Government (

was, “Well, I gotta tell you sweet pea....” The intention was to soften direct feedback, but the impact was that I momentarily felt small and belittled. The rest of the conversation was utterly professional. And then there was the hugger. No matter how assertively I extended my hand for a handshake, which was always the gesture offered to my male colleague, I received a hug. I understood the intent to be friendly and welcoming. But the impact was a reminder that I was different from the rest of my team. I wish these were the only examples, but of course, there are many more. And yet, I am lucky. My stories all end with me being unharmed, and I always had someone with whom I could confide and seek support. My professional response to these road bumps was to keep working toward the bigger goals of serving my community. I saw these as only small distractions and told myself that the best way to move forward was to be so wildly successful that calling me sweet pea would sound as absurd to everyone else as it seemed to me, and I refuse to let someone make me feel small. Truth be told, I am also a hugger. However, I was hoping that the next time I got an unsolicited hug after my coworkers got handshakes, it would be as congratulations for a significant accomplishment for the community. These small moments stand out not for their impact, but for their ubiquity. I hope they offer a glimpse into the daily experience of leading while female. However, the real


story in both situations was the response of my team. My male colleague understood that it wasn’t wise in this particular situation to call out the hugger, but he noticed and broached the subject with me first and told me that it bothered him, too—and that changed everything! It turns out my colleagues also already thought “sweet pea” was absurd, and we shared a good hearty laugh over the whole situation. More small moments like this will inevitably continue to happen. Even as we are working to create more opportunities and space for women to succeed, social norms are sticky and habits are hard to break. Yet, I like to think about John Gottman’s magic relationship ratio, recommending five positive interactions for every one unfavorable exchange.1 My supportive managers and colleagues have assured me that for each communication that belittled or questioned, I had five or more that made me feel respected and appreciated. It is possible to rewrite the narrative by controlling your response and ensuring that subsequent interactions are professional and positive. I hope this story also illustrates compelling examples of how one positive ally can change the entire story, and motivates you to provide respect and appreciation to a female colleague who may need it. I have always worked in a local government space that had a support network for women. I met fellow members of Colorado Women Leading Government (CWLG) only a few weeks into my first local government job. I am so thankful for the work they have done to help support and advance women within the profession, including me. And it is not difficult to imagine that one reason my team was ready to be so supportive was because of the work CWLG had already done. We all have stories, and groups like CWLG help us navigate the workplace together. So, if you are not yet a member of the League of Women in Government, join for free today. If you live in a state that doesn’t have a local chapter of the League of Women in Government, reach out—let’s start one! One of the reasons I choose to lead is to help ensure that I can motivate and lead my colleagues to continue to build a local government workplace and community that is welcoming to all. Supporting women in government is no longer just a mission; it’s a movement! ENDNOTE 1


Can You Afford to Not Know? Lake Zurich’s 20-Year Community Investment Plan

Lake Zurich, Illinois—2019 Recipient, Program Excellence Award, Strategic Leadership and Governance (10,000 to 49,999 Population) “Can we afford to not know?” That was the

question Lake Zurich, Illinois, asked itself when considering its long-term infrastructure and equipment needs. The village had maintained a five-year capital infrastructure program and an accompanying vehicle replacement schedule, and it successfully funded smaller projects and replacement vehicles on an annual basis whenever possible. But these limited tools did not provide a strategic view of the village’s long-term equipment or infrastructure needs, which led to deferring large infrastructure upgrades and paying more for emergency repairs. In 2017, determined to make capital investment more intentional, the village surveyed, evaluated, and prioritized the community’s capital and equipment needs for the next 20 years through a community investment plan (CIP). This approach enabled the village to better plan for these costs over a longer time period and avoid disrupting operations or compromising essential infrastructure. A core team from the village manager’s office and the departments of innovation, public works, and finance worked with every department to prepare a standardized “asset page” for each piece of equipment, vehicle, or infrastructure element that exceeded $20,000 in value. Each asset/project was rated based on its current condition, priority ranking (1 to 4), life expectancy, and replacement cost. Priority 1 projects reflected either an imminent threat (e.g., a compromised sewer) or a regulatory requirement. Priority 4 projects were complementary or enhancement projects, including those contingent on opportunistic funding (e.g., impact fees, grants), which were listed separately. All projects were ultimately 6 | PUBLIC MANAGEMENT | FEBRUARY 2020

integrated into a master list based on priority, cost, and timeline for subsequent replacements. The resulting CIP was immediately incorporated into the FY 2018 budget. Elected officials and the broader community embraced the effort, praising how the information informed their decision-making, particularly the elegantly simple design of the asset pages and the easy-to-understand project lists. The project also enjoyed successful buy-in from departments, including working supervisors, superintendents, and administrative assistants. In FY 2018, the CIP guided the prioritization of approximately $11.8 million in infrastructure and equipment investments across all funds. It helped the village recognize the longer-term impacts of individual decisions, such as whether to replace specific vehicles on schedule. Overall, the community investment plan provided a good understanding of what needs to be done and when, and it provided a guide for making intentional capital investments. To maintain its relevance, the CIP will be updated every other year.


“We’ve Always Done It That Way” Is Over—


Progress is impossible without change; and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

—George Bernard Shaw

PART 1: Change Is a Process, Not an Event The mindset of “we’ve always done it that way” is over.

PATRICK IBARRA is a former city manager and co-founder and partner, The Mejorando Group, Glendale, Arizona, an organizational effectiveness consulting practice (patrick@

Now the question is, what’s next? Are you and your organization changing as fast as the world around us? What lenses are you using to analyze the performance of your contributions and those of your organization? How do you know for sure that you’re being effective, and moreover, your organization is successful? How credible is your organization as a community builder? You should never interpret the absence of mistakes as constituting success. I contend that often in government, it’s extremely difficult to know what’s broken until there’s a crisis, and then you have to deal with the emotional upheaval it creates and weigh the political calculus on how best to proceed. During these times of unprecedented and disruptive change, leaders in local government must improve their ability to manage a perplexing paradox—how to stay focused on today’s business while building tomorrow’s. This is the “new normal” that allows leaders the opportunity to hit the organization’s reset button. They use the instability of the present to build on and create organizations that are capable of continuous self-renewal in the absence of a crisis. Leaders must develop—both within themselves and in their employees—the BY PATRICK IBARRA


ability to toggle between being responsive and proactive; this type of versatility is mission critical. The challenge is that traditional organizations like those in the public sector are built to resist change. Their numerous rules, regulations, and policies limit experimentation, program in traditional behaviors, and reward consistent performance. They have many checks and balances in place to ensure that the organization operates in the prescribed manner. This approach is consistent with the objective of achieving success under current business conditions, but it is entirely inconsistent with achieving continuing success when change is needed. Change must become the new norm; it should be contagious among members of the organization. Organizations should always be changing, both adapting to new circumstances, as well as driving strategic change in anticipation of what’s on the horizon. Throughout this year, my intent is to sharpen your collective 20/20 focus on the future and translate the headwinds of change into a tailwind. I’ll employ various lenses—binoculars, wide angle, telephoto, microscope, and magnifying glass—as I explore topics in depth for each of my quarterly Career Track articles. In this article, I’ll examine the anatomy of the change process. Occasionally leaders have a solution searching for a problem; they return from a conference or finish reading a book and believe they have found the silver bullet, not realizing these don’t exist. Cautionary tales abound of leaders who decided to adopt a change process, only to find that those initiatives not only did not bring the intended results, but also produced inertia—their organizations became stale and ineffective. I refer to this as change fatigue. Every organization has a cemetery full of good ideas, but the merit of an idea is not enough to achieve success. Problems or issues define solutions. The challenge is that people are so busy searching for the solution, they forget what the question is. When I’m invited into an organization, sometimes my client has already identified the solution. While I want to rely on their insight and assessment, it’s beneficial when we discuss the current situation and I ask them questions such as “what’s not happening that you wish were happening?” and “what’s happening that you wish would stop?” An assessment segment is crucial before embarking on any change, transitional (i.e., small) or transformational (i.e., large). It is a symbol of poor leadership if the only changes that occur in an organization are inevitable and unplanned. Where this happens, it is a demonstration of reluctance or inability to look ahead and prepare the organization to meet future opportunities and constraints. While planning cannot completely eliminate the need for unplanned


changes, it helps the organization prepare itself for changes that can be anticipated and minimizes the number of situations where hasty changes have been made in the atmosphere of panic. Fundamental to motivating change in an organization, it is necessary to have some dissatisfaction with how things are. In that pursuit, leaders and managers need to foster a work environment that enlists the involvement of employees in the performance and future of the organization; to create and sustain a learning-oriented, feedback-seeking climate is strongly encouraged. By doing so, leaders develop their organization’s capability by building up their people. Their focus should be on creating a high-(employee) commitment culture as the main lever to institute change. This can happen through a variety of means—providing feedback organization-wide about the agency’s performance, engaging employees in random discussions about the impact of trends on the agency, to name just two. In the spirit of the idea that “what gets talked about gets done,” substantive discussions should be regularly held at all levels about the forces for change and how their respective organization intends to respond. Some typical questions addressed in planning change and strategies of organizational change are: • What changes are occurring in the environment? What will be their implications for our organization? Our community? Our workforce? • What changes should we foresee in order to achieve our objectives, improve our performance, increase our standing as a credible community builder, etc.? • What undesirable changes will occur in the organization if we do not take timely steps to prevent them or at the minimum, mitigate their negative impact? • What sort of and how much change will our employees be able to absorb and support? How should we help them cope with change? • Should we implement changes in stages or all at once? • What will be the relationship between various changes that we intend to make? How will they be coordinated? • How should we manage change? Do we need a consultant? What would be the consultant’s role? • What should be our time horizon and timetable for implementing change? FEBRUARY 2020 | PUBLIC MANAGEMENT | 9

Organizational change involves moving from the known to the unknown. As you evaluate your responses, consider reading the book Reinvention by Kate Sweetman, who asserts there are three degrees of change: • Continuous improvement: Consistently upgrading your abilities to achieve results. • Renovation: Performing a refresh in order to make a meaningful leap in performance. • Reinvention: Third and most powerful, totally rethinking your business model and your ability to compete. People often have a big appetite for change until they read the menu of what it will require in terms of time, effort, and energy, then they decide to go through the drive thru, so to speak. It’s extremely difficult to build up capacity for improvement and to leverage change by taking the drive-thru route. Occasionally you have to enjoy a good sit-down meal.

Change must focus on content, people, and process. Content refers to what specifically about the organization needs to change—strategy, structure, systems, processes, technology, or work practices. People refers to the behaviors, emotions, minds, and spirits of the people who are being impacted by the change. Process refers to how the content and people changes will be planned for, designed, and implemented. All three aspects must be woven together into one unified change effort. Often there is an overreliance on the content aspect of the equation and much less attention paid to the people side, with the assumption that people know intuitively what to do once the change has been announced. Simply put, content is the what, people the who, and process the how. All three must be synchronized for the change initiative to succeed. Essentially, changing is what organizations do, not what you do to an organization. It’s a continuous process of an organization trying to align itself with shifts in their external world. It’s an attempt to synchronize purpose, process, structures, people, information, rewards, and management systems with itself and with that world they operate in, which is very unintegrated. We really can’t change


other people; only the conditions. Beth Comstock, in her book Imagine it Forward, refers to two types of people in the pursuit of change: goalkeepers and gatekeepers. Goalkeepers help you accomplish your goals, while gatekeepers try to keep people from reaching them. We’ve all worked with these people. Gatekeepers are guardians of the status quo. Not everyone is for progress, especially those who stand to gain the most from maintaining the status quo. Organizational change involves moving from the known to the unknown. Employees invariably have expectations about the results of organizational change, which play an important role in generating motivation for change. Expectations can sometimes be a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading employees to invest energy in change processes that they expect will succeed. When employees expect success, they are likely to develop greater commitment to the change process and to direct more energy into the constructive behaviors needed to implement it. An important aspect in achieving these positive effects is to communicate realistic, positive expectations about the organizational changes. Information about why the change

is occurring, the impacts to the roles and responsibilities for employees, how it will benefit the department, and how employees will be involved in the design and implementation is most helpful. The following are what I refer to as the Key Principles of Change, which I use when I’m partnering with a client: 1. The person spearheading the change must be credible. If not, the change initiative will be unsuccessful. 2. Successful change is a continual journey of learning, growing, improving, adapting, and managing the change process. Staying the same or relying on past success is a formula for eventual failure. 3. Quick-fix solutions rarely last. A successful change effort takes time. 4. The incentives (positive or negative) for change must be greater than the incentive (reasons and excuses) for keeping the status quo.

5. A change effort seldom succeeds without the support of one or more change champions. 6. The change process (how change is accomplished) is equally as important as the change product (what is targeted for change). The appropriate steps must be conducted correctly for change to succeed. 7. Involving the employees of the organization in the change process increases their understanding, commitment, and ownership. 8. Positive change is more effective than negative change. In other words, adopting new behaviors and practices is more likely to be successful, rather than simply telling employees to stop doing something. 9. The more that is at stake, the greater the resistance to change and the greater the need to manage the change process carefully.

In order for change to succeed, leaders of organizations must encourage innovation, experiments, and entrepreneurship. To those in leadership roles, this means not only tolerating departures from routine and tradition, and accepting that this entails some risk, but deliberately employing innovators, giving them some freedom of action (i.e., discretion), supporting them, and referring to their example in showing what the organization is able to achieve. Today’s unpredictable environment requires a resilient climate of ongoing improvement. To that end, organizations must treat change as an ongoing process, not an event with a start and end date. Organizational change is not an end in itself. It is a means of adjusting to new conditions and sustaining or increasing performance and effectiveness. Remember, change should happen instantly and should happen instantly every day!

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Budgets and their underlying processes provide the cornerstones for building communities. A legacy of the twentieth century in the United States was the unfolding of a series of budget reforms that have shaped the nation’s local governments. BY BOB BLAND AND MICHAEL OVERTON 12 | PUBLIC MANAGEMENT | FEBRUARY 2020


What began at the outset of the last century as a singular line-by-line itemization of spending had morphed by the end of the century into elaborate processes for measuring performance, incentivizing competition, and using technology to engineer a smarter urban life. The budget had become more than a single purpose tool to control government spending. The budget process is central to the orderly functioning of a democracy and those charged with administering its operations. We begin by synthesizing the last century’s progression of innovations using a double helix to depict the three basic purposes that budgets fulfill (Figure 1): 1. Allocative efficiency. 2. Productive efficiency. 3. Resident engagement. Three Purposes of Budgets

Budgets put in to action the powers granted to local governments by state law and local charters. The process that produces the final budget creates a dynamic forum where policy problems are identified, prioritized, and resolved or at least deferred. These policy problems are matters that concern the “ends” of government—who gets how much of what. V.O. Key (1940) posed these concerns in his now familiar rhetorical question, “On what basis shall it be decided to allocate X dollars to activity A instead of activity B?” We characterize these decisions as matters of allocative efficiency. Other problems are matters of administration that concern the “means” of government— producing goods and services


Source: Robert L. Bland and Michael R. Overton (2019). A Budgeting Guide for Local Government. Washington, D.C.: International City/County Management Association, p. 12.

at the lowest possible cost. If governments through their budget processes can successfully reduce costs, those resources can be reallocated for other spending priorities or for reductions in taxes and fees. We characterize these decisions as matters of productive efficiency. Underlying these two processes has been the quest for innovations that legitimize government’s actions with residents. That quest has steadily evolved as the role of residents in the governing process has changed. We characterize this progression as matters of resident engagement.


The Progression of Residents’ Roles

Budget innovations have always been shaped by the political values of the day as local leaders sought to respond to residents’ preferences, legitimize government choices, and ultimately garner approval at the ballot box. As their roles evolved, residents’ expectations changed accordingly. New budget innovations followed, enabling residents to participate in budget deliberations appropriate to each budget era. The earliest role of residents was that of subjects to a monarch. They worked the land and produced the goods

owned by the sovereign. Democratic governance ushered in a radically new view of residents as clients who received the public services that were crafted by their elected representatives and an increasingly professional bureaucracy. By the mid-twentieth century, residents had gained a greater direct voice as constituents who occupied the top of the pyramid on organization charts, participated in public hearings, and had a federal mandate of “maximum feasible participation” in how grant awards were allocated. Then in 1978, the landslide approval of Proposition 13 by California voters kindled latent antipathy for what some believed was the unchecked expansion of government. Public services had become less distinguishable from the plethora of private goods and services in the minds of consumers. Residents voiced concerns with the seemingly unchecked increase in the cost of those services and acted on those concerns through their expanded access to the tools of direct democracy. By the end of the twentieth century, restive residents had found their voice and were now pressing for more choices in public services. These consumers had now become customers who expected choices in the quantity and quality of public services. Entrepreneurial managers were expected to provide their customers with choices. Entrepreneurial budgeting gained traction as managers experimented with a host of innovations for the delivery of public services. So what role should we

expect of residents in the coming decades, and what are the ramifications for local budget processes? The emerging era will see residents transitioning to subscribers of public services. The confluence of data collection technology and the spread of quasi-market processes will enable local governments to customize services to neighborhoods and even individual household demands. Contracting out will proliferate on the demand side of the production curve as local governments become adept at providing public services on demand or on a subscription basis with premium options for those willing to pay for them.

A Century of Budget Innovations

Reexamining the evolution of budget innovations through these three lenses—allocative efficiency (ends), productive efficiency (means), and the progression of roles for resident engagement—provides a better understanding of why budget innovations emerged when they did, how they contributed to legitimizing the role of government in society, and the innovations that we can anticipate going forward. We use these three lenses to group the progression of budget innovations over the past century into four eras: 1. Administrative engagement era (1900–1949).

2. Legislative engagement era (1950–1978). 3. Leadership accountability era (1979–2000). 4. Public market era (2001–present). We conjecture a forthcoming fifth era—a private government era—emanating from the emerging role of residents as subscribers to public services. Administrative engagement era (focus on means; residents as clients). Building

on the momentum from the Good Government Movement, reformers set about in the early twentieth century to formalize how budgets were prepared and implemented, focusing

their efforts on bringing greater accountability to administrative processes. Central to the plethora of innovations was the introduction of an executive budget. As executive budgeting gained acceptance, the need for generalist professionals emerged with knowledge of public policy and administration to staff newly organized budget offices. The administrative engagement era was bounded at the outset by Woodrow Wilson’s 1887 call for a politically neutral administrative branch outside the political arena. This period was dominated by initiatives designed to strengthen productive efficiency through


spending controls and enhanced administrative capacity of the executive branch. Legitimacy was achieved by building the administrative capacity of the executive branch and, in particular, its control over the budget—line-item classification of spending (New York City Bureau of Municipal Research, 1917); a capital budget separate from the operating budget (1930s); and the promulgation of the first accounting guidelines (National Committee on Municipal Accounting, 1936). Legislative engagement era (focus on ends; residents as constituents). This era

emerged as budget innovations shifted to providing information that would better legitimize the allocative choices made by legislators in their budget deliberations. The era began in the 1950s with local, then state, governments experimenting with planning, programming, and budgeting systems (PPBS) and culminated with Congress reasserting its power over the federal budget with passage of the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act in 1974.

The era was shaped by the belief that politics and administration were inseparable and that economic growth could be achieved through strategic allocative choices. This era was also characterized by budget choices driven by bold goals— placing a man on the moon in that decade, a decent and affordable home for every American family, a war on poverty, and a war to stop the spread of communism. Budget innovations turned to preparing analyses of the costs and benefits of options for meeting a goal, and then using those analyses to identify the policy option that maximized social benefits. It was an era where budget innovations sought to maximize allocative efficiency as the basis for legitimizing policy choices. The quest for allocative efficiency spilled into the community of public administration scholars. In 1968, these scholars called for


a “new public administration” in which administrators took a more proactive role in shaping policy choices. That call fit well as residents transitioned into constituents—a recognition that in a democracy residents are at the top of the organizational chart and are the ultimate source of authority for government action. Residents were now constituents—legitimate stakeholders in the choices of the services that they would receive and pay for. Public hearings became a nearly universal step in budget adoption. Resident surveys grew in popularity as legislators wanted to know the spending preferences of their constituents. State legislatures adopted open meeting and open records laws compelling local governments to conduct more of the public’s business in view of that public. By the late 1970s, the legislative engagement era was fading into a new era brought on by a grass-roots tax revolt that began in California

and quickly spread across the nation. Leadership accountability era (focus on means; residents as consumers).

The leadership accountability era began in 1979 following ratification of Proposition 13 by California voters. It was an era where productive efficiency once again took center stage as governments were forced by the tax limitation movement to work smarter. Consumerism had spread to the public arena. Public goods had now become consumables. Using tax limitations, consumers had found a powerful tool to hold both executive and legislative leaders accountable by restricting the resources available for spending. It was an era where budget reform meant reinventing government (Osborne and Gaebler, 1992). Consumers aimed to redefine efficiency by forcing local and state governments to work smarter. That meant

improving the productive efficiency of government by constraining the options of its leaders and holding them more accountable for the cost of producing those services. California, Missouri, Massachusetts, and Colorado, among others, took a topdown approach to holding leaders accountable, mostly by imposing limits on the property tax. Other states took a more indirect approach, at least initially, by relying on a well-informed electorate to limit government spending such as through truthin-taxation. Some states experimented with limiting government discretion through dedicated taxes, capping increases in the growth of appraised values, and capping tax liability. Performance budgeting provided the intellectual foundation for a number of innovations that gained popularity in this era. Cost accounting was used in a few cities, such as Sunnyvale, California, to build budgets. Total quality management had been used in the private sector for several decades but in the 1980s captured the attention of some city and county executives. Benchmarking of public services was another innovation that captured the attention of public managers who hoped that it could provide an effective tool for demonstrating their government’s success at containing costs and achieving a competitive advantage in the quest for business investment. Outsourcing of the provision of public services gained increased popularity. Some governments even took the rare step of privatizing previously

publicly provided services including state-owned liquor stores, toll roads, prisons, and public assistance programs. Some local governments considered selling to private investors their basic utility services such as water and electric power services. Managed competition offered a variation of this quest for productive efficiency. Initially introduced into the public sector by the city of Phoenix, Indianapolis used it effectively in the 1990s

to the underperformer? Would such a rationale hold for police or fire services? A library? Code enforcement? By the end of the twentieth century with the shift rightward in the American politic, allocative efficiency had yet again moved to the forefront as the focus of budget reforms. Public market era (focus on ends; residents as customers). The current era,

the public market era, emerged

designed to contain the benefits of public services to those within its borders. Allocative decisions for public services have increasingly shifted from legislatures to customers who reveal their choices using vouchers, tiered levels of service, and institutional arrangements offering bounded benefits (Bland and Overton, 2016). Homeowners associations (HOAs) provide their customers with bounded benefits. The additional charges or fees incurred by property

Consumers aimed to redefine efficiency by forcing local and state governments to work smarter. to demonstrate the merits of empowering public employees to participate in the development of a bid for vehicle maintenance services. The zenith of the leadership accountability era came in 1993 with the launching of the National Performance Review (NPR) by President Clinton. The NPR staff issued a series of reports, subtitled, “Creating a Government that Works Better and Costs Less,” a phrase that captured the underlying values of the era. While performance-based innovations may contain the costs of production, they proved less effective in providing the information that could guide policymakers in making value-laden allocation decisions. How should above- or below-average benchmark performance be treated? What inherently justifies giving a successful agency even more money and reducing funding

at the outset of the twentyfirst century as residents’ expectations migrated from that of consumers to customers. Budget processes used competition to reveal customers’ preferences, and public managers added “entrepreneurial” to their job descriptions. In the public market era, customers of public services expect choices. Entrepreneurial budgeting broadly describes a variety of innovations designed to introduce quasi-market mechanisms into the discourse on spending priorities (Cothran, 1993). Budgeting for outcomes (BFO), also called prioritybased budgeting, embraces entrepreneurial solutions to make budget allocation decisions. Mechanisms that have gained popularity in this era include public-private partnerships (PPPs) and special districts

owners provide premium subscription services available exclusively to those willing to pay for them. And the benefits of those services are captured in higher property values. Other institutional forms that provide premium or tiered services with bounded benefits include crime control districts, public improvement districts, tax increment financing districts, charter schools, municipal utility districts, and managed toll lanes. The emerging economy is one where public service delivery is more segmented geographically and socioeconomically. Residents, individually or in clusters, can opt to contract for the quantity of services needed and at the time they are needed. The Coming Era: Residents as Subscribers

The combination of advances in technology applications and new institutional


arrangements portend a new era of resident-government relations where residents are not only customers of public services but subscribers who can customize packages of services. Public service provision will increasingly look like that of the private sector with allocation choices made directly by customers and less by legislative bodies—a private government era. First, the public sector offers a tantalizing arena for the application of information and communication technology (ICT). The internet-of-things has the potential to remotely but accurately measure the consumption of public goods. Combined with predictive machine-learning algorithms, ICT has the potential for improving both allocative and productive efficiency. Second, institutionally, governments will expand their creative use of publicprivate-nonprofit partnerships (PPNP). Not all partnerships and collaborative ventures are successful, but those that are can take advantage of each partner’s strengths to better address complex policy issues (Weber and Khademian, 2008). Third, local managers will operate in an increasingly blurred world as entrepreneurs who must balance the needs of subscribers with those of the community. The increased “customerization” of American democracy will foster the expansion of quasi-markets into new service areas, facilitating both allocative efficiency, as residents-customers choose from various levels and quality of services available, and productive efficiency, as they choose among competing service providers. Fourth, technology and new institutional arrangements will allow disaggregation of public services into more discrete 18 | PUBLIC MANAGEMENT | FEBRUARY 2020

packages that residents can choose to purchase as needed. Public services, especially premiumlevel services, will increasingly be provided only on demand and in preferred quantities. Public transit, education, health care, recreation, utilities, and public safety hold the potential for bundling services into basic and premium options. The emergence of the smart city initiative, or what we prefer to call the Technology Enhanced Community, makes possible the provision of more public services on demand. And offering premium subscriptions for additional fees opens a new world for public administrators. Smart cities rely on big datasets to develop models capable of tracking demand and adapting public services to strategically target their resources. Budget analysts will be the point of reference in using these data to usher in a greater acceptance of measuring the impact of funding changes on programmatic outcomes. Local Managers as Custodians of Democracy

Greater dependence on technology and greater service customization have their pitfalls. First, the use of these tools requires limited resident input to achieve increased levels of improved service provision. Residents become passive consumers—revealing their preferences for public services through quasi-market venues without participating in the democratic process. If residents’ needs for public goods can be monitored from afar through censors and analyzed through predictive algorithms, why vote or engage in any deliberative process? Their needs are being met without any direct participation. Second, both the passive consumer and resident-subscriber

accessible to all. Through strategic use of technology and proactive administration, the emerging budget processes can significantly elevate the public sector’s responsiveness, accountability, transparency, and meaningful engagement with all residents. Portions of this article have been adapted from A Budgeting Guide for Local Government, 4th edition (2019). Washington, DC: International City/County Management Association. REFERENCES

Bland, Robert L. and Michael R. Overton. 2019. A Budgeting Guide for Local Government, 4th edition. Washington, DC: International City/ County Management Association. Bland, Robert and Michael Overton. 2016. Assessing the Contributions of Collaborators in Public-Private Partnerships: Evidence from Tax Increment Financing. American Review of Public Administration 46(4): 418-435. Cothran, Dan A. 1993. Entrepreneurial Budgeting: An Emerging Reform? Public Administration Review 53(5): 445-454. Key, V. O. 1940. The Lack of a Budgetary Theory. The American Political Science Review 34(6): 1137-1144.

Budget season is upon us! Budgeting is one of the most important responsibilities that local government managers undertake every year. The new book, A Budgeting Guide for Local Government, Fourth Edition, provides new tools and methodologies to produce effective budgets that yield the desired results. Learn more at budgetingguide.

assume that technology and data analytics enable local governments to have an unprecedented level of access to the preferences of individual residents. While this increases productive efficiency, it has the potential of shifting the focus away from community needs and toward individual preferences. Residents preoccupied with customization are less concerned with their community’s welfare. Third, the issue of equity and fairness across neighborhoods, regions, and economic enclaves will become even more contentious. What constitutes a fair distribution of funding for public services? Should those neighborhoods that can afford premium services be given

those services? How much redistribution of wealth should occur on the expenditure side of the local budget? Despite these concerns, actions can be taken now to preserve and enhance an actively engaged and community-based budget process. While technology may foster passive participants, it can also enable easier and more frequent communication as social media has demonstrated. Using purposeful engagement techniques can help improve both active participation by residents and community sentiments. The entrepreneurial manager must ensure the institutions of local democracy remain vibrant and easily

Osborne, David and Ted Gaebler. 1992. Reinventing Government, How the Entrepreneurial Spirit is Transforming the Public Sector. Reading, MA: AddisonWesley Publishing Co. Weber, Edward P. and Anne M. Khademian. 2008. Wicked Problems, Knowledge Challenges, and Collaborative Capacity Builders in Network Settings. Public Administration Review 68(2): 334-349.

ROBERT (BOB) BLAND is the endowed professor of local government in the Department of Public Administration, University of North Texas ( MICHAEL R. OVERTON is assistant professor of political science and public administration in the Department of Politics and Philosophy, University of Idaho (overtonmichael7@



Where ART Meets


DRIVING RESPONSIVE CHANGE IN YOUR COMMUNITY What does the future hold? It depends on where you stand and the information you have at hand. Even if we’re not certain about what will happen, we can anticipate with confidence any issues and conditions that may arise and plan for them. This is one of the most important skills that you, as a manager, can develop in your organization. In this article, we present how this approach, proactive planning, can help communities deal with issues over time. Recently, we have noticed the trend of developing resilience plans (see Table 1). A resilience plan allows a community to build “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.”1 While each plan is unique with different objectives, they all share similar steps in development—steps that take into account local context and external trends and factors, and are excellent examples of proactive planning. BY KEL WANG AND MICHAEL SAMBIR









The capacity of cities to survive, adapt, and thrive in the face of the chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.

The ability of the individuals, institutions, businesses, and systems within the community to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what chronic stress or acute shock it experiences.

The ability to survive, adapt, and thrive regardless of what shocks or stresses come our way.

The future of Calgary’s economy.

Build a connected and prepared community.

Inclusive futures.

Accelerate access to reliable and clean energy.

Remaining rooted: ensuring an affordable future for our island.

The future of Calgary’s natural infrastructure. Future-ready infrastructure.

Adapt to the changing climate. Advance racial equity. Excel at working together within city government to better serve the community. Build regional resilience.

Bouncing forward: fostering resilience in the face of natural disasters. Climate security: tackling climate change by reducing emissions and adapting to impacts. Community cohesion: leveraging the strength and leadership of local communities.




Using this approach is where art meets science. Proactive planning has a scientific basis because of its research component that relies on a rigorous and data-driven method to gain an indepth understanding of issues and come up with solutions. It also demonstrates the art of planning because the solution to local issues lies at the sweet spot between community expectations, buy-in, and readiness. To help undertake this type of planning approach, we have come up with a simple formula (Figure 1). Now, let’s lift the hood and look at the engine of what can drive responsive change in your community.

CATALYST Local + External → Solution •

Local: The local context, which will be unique for each community.

External: A process to look at emerging trends and factors happening outside the local community.

Catalyst: The role of a manager to build organizational competency in delivering the work.

Solution: A plan that meets community needs.

First Element: Local

The first element in the formula is local, meaning the context of the issue you are experiencing. It includes community expectations, buy-in, and readiness so it is community-specific. One of the best ways to collect this information is to host conversations directly in the community with residents and key stakeholders. This can be done through various methods such as public engagement sessions, focus groups/workshops, interviews, and surveys. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. Public engagement sessions allow for broad participation while focus



groups, workshops, and interviews tend to be topicor theme-specific. Telephone or online surveys allow for broad participation. They can be topic-focused, but the overall participation rate is usually lower than the other methods, so the information may not fully represent the community’s views. In the three plans identified in this article, a combination of methods were used. Depending on your budget and needs, a combination of these will help you collect the insight and perceptions that are critical for understanding the issues within your community.


Second Element: External

While you are gaining an understanding of the local impact of an issue, it is equally important to be mindful of the best practices and emerging trends and factors in the field. That is why the second element—external—matters. This will require a systematic process to conduct research and scan outside the local community. A common analysis technique is PESTEL: political, economic, social, technological, environmental, and legal trends and factors. It is a framework to identify opportunities and challenges in these specific domains and understand implications related to the local issue. In Calgary’s plan, for example, the team had a look at issues (or stresses and shocks, to use the language of resilience) in PESTEL areas and identified economic uncertainty as the number-one stress. Local feedback paired with research information and statistics allowed the project team to identify the strategic objective: the future of Calgary’s economy. The

PESTEL approach used in various communities will yield various results. The Role of Catalyst

As a manager, your role is to be the catalyst for building your organization’s proactive planning competency to support this type of work. To ensure that your city or county is prepared to deal with these sorts of issues, we advocate using the proactive planning formula to articulate expectations, delegate ownership of the work, and provide resources. The greatest challenge in delivering the plan is preserving the knowledge and skills that are developed as you respond to these arising situations. The three plans we highlight are projects with a start and an end date. When the work was done, the project closed and staff likely moved on to a different challenge. This is great! Community expectations were met and the issue was addressed. However, without a strong commitment from leaders, the knowledge gained may be difficult to retain and apply

again in the future. Yet this type of work never seems to go away. We know community needs and expectations are constantly shifting and evolving and the proactive planning approach offers a flexible and timely response to these types of issues. And this is why it is necessary for the manager to function as a catalyst, ensuring this competency is developed and retained. Addressing Ongoing Change

Proactive planning can help you address any pressing issue your community currently faces. But it requires all three elements of the formula— local, external, and catalyst— to arrive at a solution. The formula won’t work if any elements are missing. In your role as the catalyst, you won’t contribute directly to the work, yet you will build the competency that will activate the solution. If you only see the issue by itself, inevitably, it becomes a project of the month, the quarter, or the year: work that happens at a point in time, for a limited time.

Change is constant and we believe the need to address change in communities is ongoing. That is why it is necessary, as we illustrate in Figure 1, to have the competency available in your organization (catalyst) to support this type of work through engaging the community to understand the issue (local) and conducting research (external) for best practices and emerging trends and factors. ENDNOTES AND REFERENCES

Source: Google Dictionary. Calgary-Resilience.aspx 3 Resilience/ 4 resilience-strategy 1 2

KEL WANG is the corporate performance lead, city of Edmonton, Canada ( MICHAEL SAMBIR is strategic coordinator, city of Edmonton, Canada (michael.sambir@


Putting the “Collective� in

Collective Bargaining Sometimes seen as an adversarial and tense process, collective bargaining takes on a different light in Colerain Township.


I’m not sure if there is a process that managers loathe more than collective bargaining. The fear of mediation, arbitration, fact-finding, or strikes looms like a dark cloud over the process. The decisions made in collective bargaining will have budgetary and managerial impacts for three years. A wrongly sized wage increase could jeopardize the city’s financial health or prevent the purchase of needed equipment. It’s so important that we get this right that oftentimes we spend a tremendous amount of time strategizing what we are willing to “give” for a management right or wage level that we desire.


Historically speaking, Colerain Township, Ohio, approached union negotiations in the following manner: • We internally developed a list of changes that we wanted in the contract. • We internally decided how much we were willing to approve as a wage increase. • We did a lot of research into comparable community wage increases and benefit levels.

• We armed ourselves with an attorney. • We met with the union, passed wage proposals back and forth, and set up a running list of give-and-take items. • Union and management would then take countless “recesses” from the process to internally discuss items, only to still disagree on the bottom line. • Eventually an agreement


would be reached that left everyone feeling like they lost during the process. Does this sound familiar? Does your organization’s approach to collective bargaining often result in bad outcomes, mistrust, and an unhappy union and elected board? When did we all forget that it is called collective bargaining? Knowing that there must be a better way, Colerain Township decided to try something new.

In 2019, two of the township’s four union contracts were set to expire. Internally, we decided that we would immerse ourselves in a completely new process that focused on putting the collective back in collective bargaining, completely disrupting the old approach. Union Composition

Given that we were in the process of negotiating two separate agreements, we

decided to take two slightly different approaches to accommodate each union’s situation. Union 1: This union consists of approximately 80 employees. Different managerial ranks exist in this bargaining unit. Management and the union have a relatively positive history, as only one grievance has been filed in the past decade. Of the 80 employees, approximately half were hired after 2014

and are on a different wage scale than the other half of the employees. Union 2: This bargaining unit is much smaller and consists of 13 employees. While there are different job titles and roles for members of this union, with certain employees having expanded responsibilities, there are no managerial ranks within the union structure. Management has not had an overly positive relationship with this union, as there have been several grievances filed over the past few years (with the most recent one filed one month before the start of negotiations). Over the past decade, this union has had several department directors, which has resulted in constantly changing management styles and philosophies. For perspective, this union has a nearly 50/50 split of employees hired prior to 2014 and hired after 2014. The pay structure and amounts for these two groups varies greatly, as do the long-term wage goals of each division. Charting a New Course

Prior to starting the negotiation process, township administration members met with elected officials to gain an understanding of their goals for the process and to outline, in generic terms, the new approach that we were considering. Administration offered to include the elected officials in any step or stage of the process and to allow them to have a seat at the negotiating table, if desired. As the process progressed, we provided regular status updates to the elected body, in an attempt to identify any potential specific issues that were of policy importance to

our elected body. For two of our three elected board members, this was their first collective bargaining process. Understanding the several differences that existed between the two unions, we decided to implement a different process for each union while also making sure that each process included two commonalities: full transparency and a focus on building a collective proposal. Union 1 process. At our first collective bargaining meeting, we outlined the new approach to the union leadership. We asked for any thoughts and

contract. These edits included typos, removing genderspecific language, changing “shall” to “will,” and other small-ticket items. In the meantime, we also had some brief but blunt introductory conversations on various sections of the agreement that might require a closer look. We purposely avoided any negotiations on these topics in this meeting, as we did not want to sour the process and threaten any of our early wins. For our third meeting, we ripped off the Band-Aid and delved directly into the difficult

OUR NEW COLLECTIVE APPROACH WILL HOPEFULLY SET THE STAGE FOR A LONG-TERM, POSITIVE RELATIONSHIP WITH BOTH UNIONS. concerns with the approach and made modifications as necessary. Once we had the buy-in, we scheduled three, two-hour long meetings. Under the new approach, we decided it might make more sense to simply work through the document point by point and have a conversation about what works and doesn’t work from each of our perspectives. Our hope was that common sense would prevail on all of the nonmonetary issues for both members of the union and for management. Under this approach, there were no hidden debates, just a discussion of the merits of each proposal. We decided to start the process with some easy wins. So for our second meeting, we scrubbed the document as a group looking for text edits that would have no impact on the specific language of the

non-wage conversations. The blunt conversations from our previous meeting gave us a general idea of where we would need to spend a lot of time. A decent amount of time was spent discussing variances between our contract and other local jurisdictions; however, we quickly focused our efforts not on what others have, but what makes sense for our jurisdiction. After fully working through all the nonmonetary aspects of the document, we then transitioned to wages. Understanding that this would be the crux of the agreement, we decided to be fully transparent and to develop a worksheet that tied together: • Each individual union member’s anticipated wages. • The budget (including line-item details). • The multiyear fund balance.


All of the above items were interrelated. If we wanted to model a five percent wage increase, all of the other items automatically updated. If we built out an alternate step schedule, then that would also show the direct bottom-line impact for the organization. From discussions with union leadership after the collective bargaining sessions, this was the first time that members had been afforded an opportunity to see “behind the looking glass.� Throughout this process, we all worked together at the same table to develop a joint wage proposal. We did not come in with our own proposals first and then try to find a middle ground. In my mind, we deconstructed our process

The collective bargaining process does not have to be adversarial and the tone that is set early on in the process can have a tremendous impact.

so that we all developed our first proposals together. As we entered various increase levels, we saw the final impact on our budget and, more importantly, each individual. Throughout this process, we even opened up other funds and discussed their ability and capacity to absorb costs in the long run. Union 2 process. Similar to the other union process, we began this collective bargaining session with a meeting solely designed to outline expectations for how we all envisioned the process to go and to build consensus on a timeline. Between the first and second meeting, we had an internal discussion on the direction of this bargaining agreement. The history of mistrust and ineffective management led us to believe that an approach that focused on the details of the contract would likely lead to more disagreements and a greater sense of distrust. So we decided to fully pivot these negotiations to focus solely on the primary issue, wages. The second meeting for this union was essentially meeting four for Union 1. We worked through a wage proposal and focused on how we could develop a wage-and-step model that would benefit everyone. After discussion, all members felt like they had something they could take back to their union for an initial consensus.


For our third meeting, we sat down to make some minor revisions to the wage proposal based on feedback that union leadership had received. We focused on keeping the bottom line the same and made adjustments to the various steps. This was a relatively short process, which provided us with time to discuss two other big-picture issues and to make some minor text edits. End Result

Would you believe me if I told you that half of Union 1 agreed to a 1.5 percent increase for three years and half of Union 2 agreed to a 2.5 percent increase for three years? Both of these groups realized that a large gap existed between the newer members and the longer tenured members. This decision on the part of the union and management represented a focus on closing the gap between the two groups that had naturally formed in each union. In addition, these two proposals were adopted with a 93 percent and 77 percent approval rate, respectively. Our elected board also adopted both agreements with a 3-0 vote. Conclusion

Will this approach always work? Probably not. However, in our circumstance, we were able to take two vastly different unions and use a similar approach that focused on respect,

transparency, and working together to find a common solution. The collective bargaining process does not have to be adversarial and the tone that is set early on in the process can have a tremendous impact. Being truly transparent and opening up all of the financials for the organization can be uncomfortable, but it goes a long way to building trust and showing that you are not hiding something. I cannot ignore the fact that this process required some real leadership from all members of both of our unions. At times, it was clear that things were a little uncomfortable for all parties. It is not always easy to work through issues together, but that is exactly what we were able to accomplish. Our new collective approach will hopefully set the stage for a long-term, positive relationship with both unions. We learned a lot through this experience, and most importantly, we learned that collective bargaining doesn’t have to be confrontational. It can even be harmonious. I am excited to see if this process will be as successful next year as it was this year.

JEFF WECKBACH is assistant administrator, Colerain Township, Ohio (

• • • •



he refrain sounds so familiar: “We are going to try another budget approach to get better results.” With each new approach, there are the expectations that we can finally take the great leap into finding our budgeting nirvana. The enthusiasm builds as priority-based budgeting, zero-based budgeting, or some other textbook approach is rolled out through your organization. In the end, what really changed? Like in Greek mythology, the “Sisyphus Effect” of budget incrementalism and the core service priorities of public safety usually win. No matter our enthusiasm, effort, and hard work, the “Sisyphus Effect“ keeps us from rolling that rock to the top of the hill, resulting in impactful changes to the budget.


Let me clarify: I have no issues using new and innovative budget approaches. My issue relates to the results or the real outcomes we achieve from using new methods to crunch numbers or establish our budget priorities. What if the budget could be more than simply balancing the bottom line every year? What if the budget could serve as a platform for continuously improving the organization and making it more effective in using its financial and human resources? In many organizations the budget process consumes a considerable amount of staff time. A significant opportunity is often

overlooked—the chance to refocus a portion of the time in developing the annual budget to improve the operational effectiveness of your organization. Working with master’s of public administration students in my class on local government at the University of Arizona, I have introduced a method of approaching the budget that is a paradigm shift in the way budgets are currently prepared in most organizations. The Budget Operational System

Involving customer service, innovation, and employee engagement in the process


Strategies (BOSS) is built on the premise of management guru Charles Deming’s approach to continuous improvement. With BOSS, the budget process provides a great opportunity to focus on not only balancing the numbers, but also checking the pulse of your organization’s operational health. The great news with BOSS is that it can work with any budget system. Current budgeting systems do not promote continuous improvement within an organization. They provide a short-term fix or approach, but lack the reach to drill down. BOSS focuses on customer service, innovation, and employee engagement, which are often overlooked in the budget formulation and review process. As part of every annual budget process, you would check the pulse of your organization in these three critical areas. At this point you may be asking, How is BOSS so different from other budgeting approaches? You may use a great budgeting system that gives you a balanced budget, but key processes and systems within your organization may have been overlooked and may be impacting your most important asset—your

employees. BOSS focuses on a series of questions used to collect information for improvements in customer service, innovation, and employee engagement. Customer Service

• What processes in your department have been improved and what are the results? • What customer service improvement initiatives have been implemented or researched and what are the results? • Are you benchmarking any aspects of your organization with other organizations that are recognized as best practices to improve operational performance, and if so, what are your results? • Do you use customer focus groups and what results have you achieved through their suggestions? • What have you done in the past year to align your department to the needs of external and/or internal customers? • What are your customer surveys indicating about your department and what changes have you made based on the surveys? • Do you allow front line employees that service the customer to


BOSS helps us shape a path for our organization to continuously improve in areas that are essential for truly creating a high-performance operation.

make critical decisions without the need for supervisory intervention? Provide details. • What have you done to make your services more user-friendly and what are the results? Innovation

• What is not getting done that could improve operations? • What can we stop doing? • What ideas were generated from dialogue or surveying employees about improving management and supervision in your

• •

department, and what are the results? What policies, procedures or rules have you eliminated this year and what are the results? What measures have you taken to eliminate centralized decision-making and move decisions to the front-line employees? How much time do you set aside each week for key employees to work on innovative ventures and what are the results? What has your department learned from attending conferences, training, reading professional journals or books, etc., this year and what have you implemented to improve your operations? What new skills have employees acquired in the last year and what are the results?

Prepare Budget

Continuous Improvement

Engaging Employees

• What is your employee development plan for the next year? • How did you recognize the efforts of your employees during the past year? • How many employee engagement meetings are held in your department? • What form of communication do you use to keep employees informed on operational issues in the department and city-


Department Budget & BOSS

wide? How often does this communication occur? What have you done in the past year to address any of the basic equipment, software, or other needs of your employees to accomplish their work? Did all of your employees receive a performance review last year, and if not, why? What measures have you taken to encourage teamwork with your employees and what are the results? How many employee suggestions on improving your operations have you received and what are the results? How does your department

Set Priorities & $$$

Prepare BOSS

leadership show you care for employees and their welfare? Provide recent examples. • How do you use the organizational mission and values to help guide your decision-making and engagement with employees in your department? Provide recent examples.

employees, but very little effort is put into our budget process to encourage our organizations to continuously focus some of their efforts in these critical areas. BOSS helps us shape a path for our organization to continuously improve in areas that are essential for truly creating a high-performance operation.

The questions represent a starting point for the BOSS. The questions for your organization can be more tailored to your particular needs and circumstances. The key is to recognize that we spend a lot of time talking about customer service, innovation, and engaging

Copyright © bridgegroupllc, 2020.

MIKE LETCHER, ICMA-CM, MPA, is an ICMA senior advisor and senior vice president, The Mercer Group, Inc., , Tucson, Arizona (


Colleyville, Texas, has a simple budgeting strategy: Begin each year with the effective tax rate (the tax rate that brings in the same amount of property tax revenue excluding new growth) and justify anything requiring new property tax revenue. This is exactly what we did for fiscal year 2020, and for the second consecutive year, adopted the effective tax rate.


ne could describe the traditional city government approach as keeping the property tax rate the same from one year to the next, claiming success because the tax rate was not increased. But in an environment where property values are substantially increasing year-over-year (as they are in northern Texas), the no-tax-rate-increase misnomer increases property taxes and the burden for residents can quickly become overwhelming. Under this scenario, a large windfall is created and the city then finds a way to spend the additional funds (albeit on programs and services to better the community), rather than starting at zero and determining which priorities, if any, require additional money. In Colleyville’s case, keeping the tax rate the same would have meant an additional $600,000 for fiscal year 2020. Had the city taken the full increase allowed by state law, residents would have owed an additional $2 million over the last two fiscal years. Justifying Priorities

Colleyville’s model is different than the traditional approach. We seek to offset increasing property values by decreasing the tax rate and only generating new property tax revenue if it can be justified by meeting a city council, thus community, priority. Not only did we adopt the effective tax rate, the city council approved a budget that:



ZERO How Colleyville, Texas, Achieves Success with the Effective Tax Rate


• Is balanced (and provides for a projected $400,000 surplus). • Expands public safety services (new police sergeant, three new firefighters, reclassification of three firefighters to field supervising officers, increase in fire operations overtime to match previous years’ actuals). • Provides conservative and realistic revenue estimates (we didn’t overinflate sales tax to make up for “loss” in property tax revenue). • Invests in infrastructure ($1.5 million general fund transfer for capital projects). • Furthers community beautification (landscaping projects, rights-of-way tree program). • Retains a fund balance well over financial policy requirements (150 days, policy is 90). • Provides ongoing commitment and support of city employees (absorbs health insurance premium increase, funds 3.5 percent merit pool, expands deductible reimbursement program). Since we have implemented this strategy, we have received calls from communities both large and small asking the same question: How do you do it?

The answer is as simple as the strategy: Start early and ensure the city council and staff share the commitment to making it happen. I do not recommend attempting the effective tax rate as a result of the first budget public hearing with no prior thought or effort in doing so. Too often, such efforts force last-minute cuts that could affect service delivery, or, on the other side of the equation, could cause adjustments to other revenues to make up for the decrease in property tax that are not realistic or properly analyzed. Discovering Efficiencies

As stated above, our efforts begin each budget cycle with the effective tax rate. In reality, this means that we operate on a continual basis of discovering efficiencies to help us achieve our goal. One recent example comes to mind. Last spring, the city’s fleet services manager announced his intention to retire in the summer. We had expected this was coming soon as we frequently analyze our workforce, including years of service, time with the city, and so forth to forecast potential retirements and thus substantial payouts. The easy path would have been for

the public works director to submit a form requesting to fill the vacancy, city manager signs it, position is posted and filled, and everyone goes on as they were. Instead, the city manager’s office and public works identified a potential opportunity to not fill the position, reassign (and compensate) some of the duties to another employee, and hire an outside firm to manage some of the fleet services responsibilities. Doing so saved this city money from the retiree’s salary and benefits as well as cost savings from outsourcing some duties. Another example focuses on the ability to consolidate positions within and across departments. Many individuals in our organization hold multiple titles. The additional responsibility is seen as an opportunity for professional growth rather than an effort to cut costs. On a regular basis, positions are added or restored when workload need necessitates. We don’t seek efficiency because we need to, instead we do it to improve. This distinction means we have the flexibility to expand or contract to meet the city’s needs, not a bottom line.

Taking Pride in Our Culture

A shared commitment to making it happen starts at the top and permeates throughout the organization. It is our culture. We take pride in being able to achieve the effective tax rate. We celebrate the achievement—at city council meetings and staff meetings. When we do hire, we look for those who fit this culture and who are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and join us in this work. To use an analogy from my favorite sport, the vote to approve the effective tax rate is the final pitch of the last at-bat to clinch the World Series title. Like a Major League Baseball team that makes it to that point, we had to endure a long 162-game season, with many ups and downs. We had to put the right players in the right positions and provide encouragement and rewards along the journey. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s challenging, sometimes it’s stressful. But when you get to celebrate in the locker room with your teammates, those that you’ve been to battle with, it’s something special … it’s family.

MARK WOOD, ICMA-CM, is assistant city manager, Colleyville, Texas (




Advancing equity and increasing community engagement through participatory budgeting Participation in local government processes and decision-making within the city of Durham, North Carolina (population: 275,000)—like many other municipalities— has traditionally been from a small group of residents that are already engaged with the city, and are typically white and older than the average resident. With the goal of diversifying the coalition of those engaged in local government decision-making, Durham decided to implement participatory budgeting (PB), a democratic process in which community members decide how to spend part of a public budget.1 For Durham, that meant allowing residents and students over the age of 13 to decide how to spend $2.4 million of the city budget.

Councilmember Alston and residents on Voting Day.

A volunteer assisting a resident with PB voting at a senior living center in Durham. FEBRUARY 2020 | PUBLIC MANAGEMENT | 37

Though PB began in Brazil in 1989, and is now used in over 3,000 cities around the world, there are still only a handful of municipalities in the United States that have adopted the initiative.2 Durham was the second city in the Southeastern United States to implement PB and allocated the largest percentage of their public budget of any city in the United States. The Participatory Budgeting Blueprint

The PB blueprint includes the following steps: 1. Idea Collection. Residents submit ideas on how funds can be best used at assemblies or in the community.

adopted by the Durham city council, its origins in Durham were led by PB advocate and grassroots organizer Mayor Pro Tempore Jillian Johnson. In 2016, city staff was tasked with researching PB in the United States and conducting a comparative analysis to benchmark Durham’s resident engagement during the budget cycle compared to other municipalities that have adopted PB. A couple years and an election later in 2018, the Durham city council allocated $2.4 million, appointed 15 residents to a Participatory Budgeting Steering Committee, and approved two full-time

2. Proposal Development.

Community members work with agencies to turn ideas into full budget proposals. 3. Voting. Residents vote on which proposals should receive funding.

Idea Collection. Our

4. Building the Community.

The projects that get the most votes are funded. PB Durham—the official name of the initiative—launched on November 1, 2018, with its first-ever idea collection period. While PB was only recently

employees to administer the citywide initiative. An additional employee from another city department, with half her time allocated to the PB program, focused on outreach and engagement with the Hispanic community. The steering committee created the following goals for the PB process: • Implement projects that serve the most marginalized communities. • Build greater equity by allocating resources in ways that correct past harm. • Engage more diverse populations in making decisions about how resources are used. • Increase overall engagement in decision-making in the city of Durham.

Spreading the word about PB Durham at Parkwood Winterfest.


public involvement strategy focused on engaging Durham residents who have been historically marginalized and underrepresented in local government decisionmaking. The outreach and communication plan for PB Durham was drafted using a racial equity lens and a three-pronged approach to engaging specific populations in Durham. Targeted outreach

efforts included tabling and canvassing, social media campaigns, and formalizing community partnerships with faith-based organizations, nonprofits, and grassroots community groups that advocate for populations such as low-income, justiceinvolved, youth, and Hispanic populations. In addition, the city’s public affairs office played a critical role in assisting PB staff with messaging to residents and key stakeholders. Through our outreach and communication efforts, residents had the opportunity to brainstorm and submit project ideas to improve their neighborhoods. During the idea collection phase, residents submitted over 500 project ideas. Proposal Development.

Over 100 Durham residents served as budget delegates during the proposal development phase, reviewing the idea submissions and developing them into project proposals over a 12-week period. Budget delegates used community research and indicators, as well as an evaluative rubric to assess the impact and equity of the proposals. Residents received training from our data partner, Dataworks, and our technology solutions department on how to use data for storytelling, and how to conduct community research through focus groups and individual interviews. City staff served as technical experts, evaluating the feasibility of projects and assisting with project proposal development through face-to-face meetings with delegates. Over 10 internal departments—such as transportation, public works, and neighborhood

improvement services— collaborated with PB Durham during its first cycle, serving as the first example of a collaborative and continuous feedback model for equitable community engagement in Durham. Another unique component of the proposal development phase was the disbursement of need-based stipends for approximately 25 percent of budget delegates. Stipends were used toward transportation, food, and other expenses with the intention of alleviating traditional barriers for participation in local government decisionmaking by traditionally underrepresented groups.

North Carolina Central University MPA students played a major role in serving as budget delegates, responsible for project proposals and turning proposals into feasible projects.

Mayor Steve Schewel (right) and budget engagement manager Andrew Holland (left) pictured during PB voting at the Durham Farmers Market.

Voting. Through three months

of vetting and scoring projects, approximately 40 projects were placed on the ballot for voting. Strong community engagement strategies throughout the process led Durham residents to participate in voting at twice the national average. PB Durham conducted over 500 hours of community outreach, from staffing voting sites to co-hosting pop-up voting sites in residents’ homes. Target audiences for the PB Durham program include, but are not limited to, people of color, undocumented persons, justiceinvolved residents, youth (over the age of 13), and homeless persons. PB Durham received over 10,000 votes from Durham residents and students over 13. Building the Community.

Approximately 20 projects were selected by voters, including projects such as park amenities, bus shelters with reclaimed art, and STEM programming. The city is in the process of implementing at least 50

percent of the winning projects by the end of fiscal year (FY) 2020 and the remaining projects by the end of FY 2021. PB staff continues to work with the internal departments to strategize project implementation through monthly meetings. Evaluation and Reflection

Although we still plan to complete a formal third-party independent evaluation by the North Carolina Central University public administration program, preliminary analytics indicate a high level of engagement from target audiences. Based upon 4,768 survey responses from more than 10,000 participants, approximately 54 percent of our voters were under 40 years of age. A total of 7.8 percent of survey respondents identified as Hispanic/Latinx. Thirty percent of voters reported earning less than $35,000 annual household income. Fifty percent of respondents

have lived in Durham for at least six years. We believe our success in designing a PB process to meet the needs of Durham was due to our extensive research; learning from earlier versions of participatory budgeting implemented across the country; collaborative efforts by city departments, community stakeholders, and residents; and our commitment to redesigning and reworking our implementation strategy upon receiving feedback from program stakeholders. And to help ensure long-term success, it’s critical that we receive buy-in and support from the city council, the city

manager’s office, and the budget and management services department—and that’s definitely the case for the city of Durham. ENDNOTES AND RESOURCES what-is-pb/. 2 Ibid. 1

ANDREW HOLLAND is budget engagement manager, and ROBIN BAKER is the budget engagement coordinator, budget and management services department, Durham, North Carolina (andrew. (


It’s the start of a new decade. New problems to tackle and community issues to manage, and there’s no better place to find a support system for your toughest challenges than at the 2020 ICMA Regional Conferences. Join us at our annual gathering of local government leaders in one of our five, U.S.-based regional locations. It’s your greatest opportunity to share your gridlocks and success stories, equip yourself with new ideas, and refuel for the road ahead.

2020 ICMA Regional Conference Dates and Locations




March 4–6 Durham, North Carolina




March 18–20 Vancouver, Washington

March 25–27 Irving, Texas



April 1–3 Cambridge, Massachusetts










April 22–24 Grand Rapids, Michigan

Learn more and register at #DriveBetterCommunities

LOCAL GOVERNMENT REVIEW Putting Research Into Practice


Effective Charter Review Commissions: Challenges and Solutions for Success


Near the Top: Understanding Gender Imbalance in Local Government Management




Challenges and Solutions for Success


n a classic episode of the TV show, The Simpsons, “Lisa’s Rival,” Homer and Bart discover an overturned sugar truck on the side of the road. Homer starts shoveling sugar into his car: Bart: Dad, is this not stealing? Homer: Read your town charter, boy! It says in writing: “If any foodstuffs should touch the ground, said foodstuffs shall become property of the village idiot.” Since I don’t see him around, start shoveling! While most citizens are not as familiar with the details and nuances of their municipal charters as Homer Simpson, municipal charters are the foundation of local government in the 43 states that have some version of home rule. In home-rule states, municipal charters determine what governance looks like in the community: how are decisions made, what are the rules for participation and elections, and how are citizens represented? 2


Reflecting the unique character of each community, charters are typically written and revised by an independent group of citizens who are either appointed or elected to serve on a time-limited charter commission. The process to amend a charter is outlined in either the respective state constitution or in the charter itself. While some states allow council to propose charter amendments, charter amendments are usually initiated by citizen groups through referendums; or most often through a charter commission, which then forwards proposals to council to be placed on an election ballot. Charters are typically reviewed every 10 years, although there are many cases where communities have not updated their charters in decades. Serving on a charter commission is a great honor and a great responsibility, yet for many citizens who participate, it may be the first time they have even read their own charter, let alone been challenged to think critically about governance issues.

This article examines the most common challenges facing charter review commissions, and proposes solutions for communities who may be going through the process.

Charter Review Commission Challenges 1. Lack of Experience with Governance Issues. While charters form the foundation of governance in homerule states, few citizens are familiar with the documents or have contemplated issues such as civil service exams, appointments to city office, or how administrative departments should be structured. As well, legal issues abound in charter review commissions; for instance, whether particular amendments would be better served as municipal ordinances, if amendments contradict each other, and if there are conflicts with state law. A charter review by Newburyport, Massachusetts, revealed 19 instances of conflicts with Massachusetts state law that had to be reconciled through the charter commission amendment process. Solution: The National Civic League has two documents (Guide for Charter Commissions and Model City Charter) that are rich in detail on commissions and charters, including sample language for common charter sections. These could be mailed to all members in advance of the first meeting of the commission, along with a copy of the charter. In addition, city council and municipal employees should make themselves available for presentations and consultations with commission members as needed. Some communities, such as Fall River, Massachusetts, have hired an independent charter consultant to support the citizen commission. Charter review commissions should also have access to a lawyer or legal services with expertise in municipal law, and be encouraged to consult with them on a regular basis. This ensures that the committee stays focused on the task at hand and does not waste their time debating ideas that are outside of their mandate or legally infeasible. 2. Navigating Public Controversy. Charter commissions are frequently subjected to public controversy, and many have been closely reported on by the local media. Charter amendments proposed by special interest groups—such as outlawing fracking, protecting the rights of nature, and banning single-use plastics—have sparked vigorous debates in communities across the country. In some cases, these issues have escalated and become highly contentious, dividing commissions and bringing people who may be unused to political conflict into the fray. Solution: While commissions should not be subjected

Serving on a charter commission is a great honor and a great responsibility, yet for many citizens who participate, it may be the first time they have even read their own charter, let alone been challenged to think critically about governance issues.

to interference by publicly elected officials, commissions may need some help navigating the experience if amendments become controversial. Special interests can be vital for bringing attention to important issues; however, well-funded and well-organized special interest groups may end up with disproportionate influence over politically inexperienced citizen commissions. The chair and the commission should develop a very clear process for public input that combines transparency with decision-making rules. The first meeting of the commission should include an overview of how decisions will be made. For instance, one model is for the committee to divide into subcommittees with each subcommittee tasked with reviewing specific sections of the charter. Those subcommittees develop proposals, and also consider any public input on those topics. A proposal must have the support of a majority of the subcommittee in order to move forward to the full committee for discussion. A model such as this ensures that only proposals that have been vetted move forward to debate; protecting the group from special interest influence that does not have commission support. Media training may also be necessary, especially in cases where commission members may be misspeaking during interviews. 3. Lack of Leadership. For many charter commission members, this may be the first time they have served on a committee of this magnitude that is tasked with making significant decisions. Leadership is important to ensure that the commission as a whole is able to effectively make decisions, meet deadlines, and resolve conflict.



Solution: Whether elected or appointed, the chair(s) of the committee should be selected because of their proven leadership skills. The chair(s) should be people who have a proven ability to listen, deal with conflict, encourage participation among commission members, and to represent the charter to the general public. It is also helpful if the chair is able to reach out to department heads and other municipal officials as necessary for support and guidance if they run into challenges. 4. Diversity and Representation. One of the challenges for charter commissions is to recruit and engage committee members who represent a diversity of views, opinions, and perspectives. Ideally a charter committee should be representative of the municipality, which may include gender, race, ethnicity, income, age, political party, work status, and more. Charters are reviewed and amended so infrequently that it’s important for a commission to be comprised of a forward-thinking, diverse group of members who can create a charter that will be meaningful for years to come, even as communities change and evolve. Solution: Administrators must be proactive in ensuring that diversity is represented on the committee. In cases where committee members are elected, administrators should seek out and encourage people to run for the position, and actively promote the opportunity and make it clear what is involved and why charters matter. In municipalities where committee members are appointed, preliminary lists of proposed members should be reviewed specifically for diversity and inclusion purposes. For instance, college towns should engage students, rural communities should include farmers, and municipalities with a high population of refugees should ensure there is representation from those communities. 4


5. Engaging the General Public. Charter commissions require public engagement in two ways—recruiting citizens to serve on the commission and providing public input during the process. Despite the occasional mention in The Simpsons, charters have not exactly captured the public’s interest or imagination. But communities still need public input into their governance. Solution: Charter review committees should be encouraged to engage with the public. Possible options include public forums (ideally held at different times of day in accessible locations and with free childcare provided); online submission of comments (e.g., via email or an online form); presentations at local service organizations; and postings on social media soliciting comments. City administrators can provide support by booking facilities, sending out press releases, and promoting opportunities for public participation in city publications, such as utility bills, reports, and newsletters. Inviting the media to cover meetings may also help to engage the public in the issues. 6. Appreciation. Charter commissions are tasked with a big responsibility, but most of the work that they do is behind the scenes. Keeping members engaged and feeling like their contributions are important will help the commission to stay on track and complete their work in a timely fashion. Solution: There are lots of tactics that a community can use to help recognize the work of citizen charter commissions, such as: • A press release announcing the work of the commission, • A personal letter of invitation from the mayor or city council,

Charter commissions bring citizen perspectives to the work of municipal governance. • A thank-you note after the service has been completed, • Recognition at a city council meeting, • Invitation to a “watch party” to see the results of their amendments on election night, or • Emphasizing the importance of the work each member is doing. 7. Keeping Charter Commission Members Engaged. Those most likely to serve on a charter commission are also those who are most likely to be very busy. It’s frustrating to begin work on the charter only to see members stop showing up midway through because of a lack of commitment or other responsibilities. The work may end up disproportionately falling onto a few people, defeating the purpose of a diverse and representative commission. Solution: It’s important to make sure that all members understand the importance of the work that they are doing. When members are being recruited, the responsibilities of the service should be made clear, as well as the time commitment and anticipated meeting time. Meetings should start and end on time out of respect for people’s schedules. It is also good practice to ask members if there any accommodations they need to facilitate their participation, such as providing handouts in advance or in alternative formats for those with disabilities, childcare during meetings, or carpooling.

Conclusion Municipal charters have a second cameo in an episode of The Simpsons about the new monorail in Springfield (“Marge vs. the Monorail”). Chief Wiggum argues with Mayor Quimby, “Hey, according to the charter, as chief constable, I’m supposed to get a pig every month.” Charter commissions bring citizen perspectives to the work of municipal governance. They serve a vital role in helping communities embrace their unique identities and represent the ideas and perspectives of more than just public officials. Charter commissions need support and guidance in order to do their work effectively—especially if it involves amendments about foodstuffs and monthly pig payments. SHANNON K. ORR, PHD, is a professor of political science, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio (


LOCAL GOVERNMENT REVIEW Putting Research Into Practice

Managing Editor Cory Fleming

In the tradition of The Municipal Year Book, LGR: Local Government Review—a special section of Public Management (PM)—presents key research findings and expert insights about local government issues and trends. LGR is published as new research findings and analyses become available. ICMA’s intent is to contribute to the profession’s collective understanding of practices, policies, and trends that have a significant impact on local governments, now and with an eye toward the future. LGR: Local Government Review is offered to ICMA members as a benefit of membership. Non-ICMA members can purchase e-copies of this special section from ICMA’s online bookstore for $8.95 as of November 27, 2017. Visit and enter "Local Government Review" in the search field. For information about advertising in this special section, contact Tilman Gerald, The Townsend Group, Inc. Phone: 202-367-2497. E-mail: Copyright ©2020 International City/County Management Association



RESEARCH TEAM AND RESEARCH ADVISORY BOARD Research Team Leisha DeHart-Davis, Professor, University of North CarolinaChapel Hill Deneen Hatmaker, Associate Professor, University of Connecticut Kimberly Nelson, Professor, University of North CarolinaChapel Hill Sanjay Pandey, Professor, George Washington University Sheela Pandey, Assistant Professor, Penn State University-Harrisburg Amy Smith, Associate Professor, University of Massachusetts-Boston Ashley Kazouh, MPA, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Sammy Bauer, MPA, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Shengli (Salina) Chu, Doctoral Student, University of Massachusetts-Boston



Research Advisory Board Angel Wright-Lanier, Assistant City Manager, City of Fayetteville, North Carolina Ashley Jacobs, County Administrator, Beaufort County, South Carolina Bonnie Svrcek, Manager, City of Lynchburg, Virginia Kendra Stewart, Professor, College of Charleston Kristen Wyatt, Executive Director, ELGL Pamela Antil, Chief Administrative Officer, League of Women in Government; Assistant Administrator, City of Santa Barbara, California Renee Paschal, Former Manager, Chatham County, North Carolina

Women have both the ability to influence and to be really successful with organizations of the future. Because organizations of the future are going to be fluid, they’re going to be person-driven. They’re going to be flexibility-driven and community-centered. All of which tend to be women’s strengths. —White Female City Manager

This report is risky work. People may want to hear and not hear what the final conclusions are. Now you guys judge for yourself if we’re at the right place or at the right time given contemporary society. If not, then what are we going to do about it? But somebody needs to point it out. Somebody needs to say hey, here we are in the year 2018. —Male Assistant City Manager of Color



Introduction In 1908, with the advent of the local government management profession, there were no female managers. Today, women run some of the largest cities and counties in the United States. Despite these apparent gains, women occupy a mere 17 percent of the top management positions in local governments, a number that has only slightly increased since the 1980s.1 The percentages for women of color are even smaller: 1.39 percent estimated by the 2012 ICMA State of the Profession Survey. These proportions raise the question of why there are so few women—both white women and women of color—serving as local government managers when they constitute half of the population. This report seeks to shed light on this question by discussing the results of qualitative research into the career experiences of women, as well as men of color, serving as local government managers and assistant managers. The research involved conducting 37 interviews—36 from the United States and one from Canada. The research team interviewed 30 women and seven men of color, both in-person and over the phone. Forty-six percent of the sample represented people of color. The inclusion of men in the sample was to generate representative views on racial dynamics in local government management.2 The report begins with historical background on awareness of gender issues in local government management. The second section delves into the patterns of interview results, in which participating managers talk about the rewards of local government management; attributes of desirable local government management jobs; and the gender and racial dynamics that accompany those jobs. The final section of the report discusses the implications of these patterns of results on the local government management profession.

Gender Awareness in Local Government Management Awareness of gender imbalance in local government dates back to the 1970s, in the midst of the second wave of the feminist movement that saw increased political activism for women’s rights around education, family, sexuality, and work.3 During this time period, a 1973 edition of the Public Management Magazine was devoted to the status of women in municipal government. This special issue called attention to the fact that women comprised only one percent of ICMA membership, and raised some of the same questions

being asked today: Why aren’t there more women in local government management? Why aren’t female graduates of MPA programs gravitating toward careers in local government? One article in this edition4 found that, of the 2,534 professionally run municipalities, only 15 were managed by women. (Counties were not analyzed.) None of the municipalities with female managers had populations above 13,000; more than 50 percent of female-led municipalities had populations under 2,000. On a similar scale, there were 24 elected women mayors in the United States at that time. Subsequent research sought to understand the effect of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act (EEO) on diversity in state and local government employment. In 1976, political scientist Lee Sigelman used survey data from the U.S. Civil Service Commission (1970–1972) to determine how well women were represented in the state and local government workforce and what factors might be related to the attractiveness of the public sector.5 He found that, while women were well represented in the public-sector workforce in every state, they held a disproportionate percentage of lower-level posts. Sigelman later teamed up with fellow political scientist Joseph Cayer on a follow-up article on EEO’s impact on the presence of women in state and local government.6 Using newer data, the researchers found that women and minorities made gains as a percentage of the overall state and local government workforce between 1973 and 1975. The percentage of women working in state and local government increased from 34 percent in 1973 to 38 percent in 1975. Despite these gains, women continued to lag behind men in salaries and were woefully underrepresented in management-level positions. In 1987, another political scientist, James Slack, investigated how EEO and affirmative action had affected attitudes of city managers toward the recruitment of women.7 The number of female city managers had increased from 15 in 1972 to over 100 in 1986, but women were still vastly underrepresented. Slack surveyed a sample of city managers and found that they were supportive of affirmative action in theory but less so in practice, such as specifically recruiting a gender-diverse candidate pool. Managers who were younger and had more progressive ideological perspectives were more likely to support implementation of affirmative action. Twenty-one years after Congress passed the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, Mary Guy wrote an article, “Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Backward,” which chronicled the efforts of women to integrate into the profession of



public management.8 Guy argued that the strengths women bring to the workplace are too valuable to ignore or allow to go to waste, but that government administration continues to be dominated by males in leadership positions. Her analysis of gender and public sector workforce patterns finds that the advancement of women shows spurts of progress followed by “periods of redefinition.”9 She concluded that women still faced barriers, including the limited availability of female mentors, sex role stereotypes, and structural barriers. Fulfilling Guy’s prediction from 25 years ago, the field of local government management shows little change nationally in the percentage of chief administrative officer positions held by women since 1980. The latest data from ICMA on the gender of member chief administrative officers (CAO) have shown a modest increase in the percentage of women. At the time of publication (January 2020), 677 CAO members were female and 2,956 were male. The percentage of female CAOs now sits at 18.3 percent, up from 15.6 percent in 2017.10

Table 1 highlights some of the notable milestones over the last four decades in support of underrepresented populations in the field of local government management and leadership.

Interview Results Given the slow growth of diversity in city and county managers, it is worth examining how women and people of color view their status as part of the profession. To begin answering that question, the research team interviewed 37 local government managers and assistant managers to detect patterns and shared experiences for women and people of color. To get at this information, the interview questions focused on the career paths of participating managers; the rewards of local government management; attributes of desirable local government management jobs; and the gender and racial dynamics that accompany those jobs.

Table 1: Major Milestones for Women and People of Color in Local Government Management



Equal Employment and Opportunity Act passed.


ICMA dedicates issue of Public Management to status of women in municipal government; reports that only 15 out of 2,500+ professionally managed municipalities are managed by women.


Share of women working in state and local government increases to 38 percent, up four percentage points in two years.


ICMA Task Force on Women in the Profession releases a report after two years of study. At this time, women make up one percent of ICMA member CAOs. The task force report identifies pre- and postentry barriers faced by women in local government management.


Sylvester Murray becomes first African American president of ICMA; National Forum for Black Public Administrators founded.


Series of studies analyzing effects of EEO on women in the profession. Women gain more representation, but still tend to occupy lower positions. A sample of managers report more support for affirmative action in theory than in practice.


“Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Backward”; a study finds women are making spurts of advancement in the profession followed by “periods of redefinition.”


Peggy Merriss elected first female president of ICMA.


International Hispanic Network (now Local Government Hispanic Network) formally launches as independent nonprofit.


Women Leading Government founded.


Engaging Local Government Leaders founded.


Appointment of 75 women and men to the ICMA Task Force on Women in the Profession.


ICMA Task Force on Women in the Profession issues second report, acknowledging lower pre-entry social barriers but persistent examples of gender bias in senior-level recruitment and promotion.


League of Women in Government founded.


This section discusses the results of interviews with managers and assistant managers, focusing on the patterns of comments made in those interviews.11 A pattern emerges when multiple comments point to the same theme. The number of comments making up a theme vary widely, anywhere from five to 30. Given that this is qualitative research, the frequency of comments matter far less than the ideas and issues raised. The report is divided into sections by interview topic. The Rewards of Local Government Management chronicles the intrinsic rewards of serving cities and counties, which could attract more women and people of color into the local government management profession. To Pursue (or Not Pursue) the Job dives into the factors that influence the decision to apply or not apply for a local government management position. Cornerstones of Career Advancement discusses key influences on respondents’ career paths: mobility, mentors, and sponsors and networks. Gender and Racial Dynamics in Local Government Management delves into patterns of experiences based on being a woman, a person of color, or both in local government. Moving Forward discusses the implications of the research and next steps for moving forward.

The Rewards of Local Government Management Every profession seeks to provide meaning and fulfillment in order to attract the best and the brightest. Fortunately, local government management is an intrinsically rewarding profession, a feeling confirmed by this study’s interview participants. They frequently used words like passion, a calling, and joy to describe their work. For many interview participants, service to community surfaced as a strong motivation for working in local government management. To illustrate, the words serve, service, serving or served showed up in 32 of the 37 interviews. As one city administrator explained, “I have the ability to go home every night feeling like the work I did that day is going to make life better for the people who live in my community.” Making a difference in individual lives also surfaced as a strong reward for local government managers. It was not uncommon for managers to give specific examples of residents whom they helped in their jobs. One city manager provides the perfect example: “It could be as simple as sending snow plows to an elderly person who’s trying to get out of their driveway for a doctor’s appointment.” Another city manager spoke of having the opportunity to interact directly with citizens: “For me, it’s rewarding to have that “one-on-one” conversation with residents of the community.” The immediacy of local government work—being able to quickly see the fruits of one’s labor—is yet another reward of local government work. One manager suggested that one of his “favorite things has always been watching the purchase of a new police vehicle and seeing it deployed on the street. Or seeing a trench being dug and a pipe being laid and know-

ing that the next day water is going through it.” The tangible nature of basic local government service delivery is an oftencited source of pride for local government managers. The professional rewards of community service suggest that cities and counties have enormous potential to attract a new generation of managers. This may be particularly true for women and people of color, who tend to have higher public service motivation12 and be drawn in greater proportions to public and nonprofit organizations.13

CAREER PATH CHARACTERISTICS Local government management career paths are characterized by several features: professional training and credentials, social and human capital, and an orientation toward public service. Using data collected from resumes from a subset of interview participants, we see that the majority of local government managers hold professional graduate degrees in public administration (72 percent with an MPA). In addition, 63 percent also completed additional professional training (i.e., typically graduate-level courses, as well as training programs run by universities and professional associations). Examples of these programs include the Public Executive Leadership Academy, Senior Executive Leadership Institute, Leadership ICMA, Mid-Career Manager’s Institute, public procurement certification, and others. This data also suggests that movement between different types of positions and different local governments is typical for those who reach top management positions in their career. In other words, gaining both human capital (experience and training)14 and social capital (connections and relationships)15 are key to developing careers in local government. In our data, participants held an average of seven different types of positions in local government and worked in four to five different local governments. Prior to serving as the chief appointed official or assistant level roles, study participants worked in budgeting and finance, community and economic development, water and sewer, public works, and other traditional local government service departments or agencies. Only eight participants were promoted to their management position from within their organization. It is also clear that those who attain management positions in local government are oriented toward public service. In our data, participants spent significant time in their careers in public service positions (average 25 years, with a minimum of 15 years).



Table 2: Career Path Characteristics of Interview Participants*

# of Managers

% of Total

Have MPA



Have graduate degree



Have additional professional trainings



Promoted from within



# of Managers




Years in current position





Years in organization before promotion from within





Number of different positions held





Number of local government employers





Years in workforce





Years in public service positions





*Summary statistics presented here are based on data collected from resumes provided by 27 interview participants. Not all resumes included all data items.

To Pursue (or Not Pursue) the Job One anecdotal explanation for gender and racial imbalance in local government management is that a disproportionate number of women and people of color do not pursue local government management positions. If this explanation is valid, it is critically important to identify the factors that encourage or discourage women or people of color from joining the talent pool. Some career path factors raised in the interviews transcend gender and race, including political stability, where there is low board turnover and relative harmony among elected officials, and financial stability, in which local government budgets are well-managed and fiscally sound. We set aside these considerations to focus instead on two factors with particular relevance for women: diversity and inclusion of the local government and work-life balance.

Diversity and Inclusion of the Local Government Signs of diversity and inclusion—in both the community and local government organizations—emerged as factors that influenced some women and men of color in deciding to apply for management jobs. Interview participants identified three characteristics of local governments that provided clues as to how inclusive a job environment would be: the diversity of the community, the diversity of both organizational and elected leadership, and the inclusive (or exclusive) behavior of the council or commission. 10


For some managers of color, communities with little diversity were a nonstarter. One deputy city manager illustrates this perspective: “If there’s 3 percent African American, I’m not going there.” For this manager, the risk of being socially isolated based on race was not one that she was willing to take for herself or her family. Another factor considered by some interview participants was the diversity of both elected and appointed leaders. One deputy county administrator explains that she looks for local governments “where there have been women in leadership positions so that I know there’s a path that’s already been cut.” This city’s commitment to gender balance in leadership conveyed its commitment to both a diverse and inclusive work environment. The extent to which a governing body acts in an inclusive manner signals the prospective experiences of women and people of color in a local government. One town administrator recounted being interviewed “in a basement somewhere,” where everyone around the table were men. “I felt like, they’re going to dominate me or try to be more difficult. And I just didn’t think it was going to work with that particular governing body.” This observation points to the role of subtle cues—whether in body language, location, or group composition—in forging perceptions of perceived inclusion of a local government setting. Collectively, these sentiments suggest that local governments will be more likely to both attract and retain top talent when they can demonstrate a gender- and racially mixed

leadership, actively seek diversity in leadership positions, and have councils that pay attention to the subtle cues they send.

Work/Life Balance For female managers in particular, work/life balance emerged as a significant factor that guided professional pursuits. (None of the men interviewed brought up work/life balance as a job factor, although one had delayed pursuing a job outside his community until his son was out of high school; another mentioned that his wife had been “a single mom” for a brief stint in the early stages of his career). One female city manager summarized just how consuming the work can be: Today, I’m exhausted. I’m in the thick of my life and nothing seems more appealing than just being able to wake up in the morning, drink my coffee, and have nothing to do. I laugh because a retirement representative came and did some counseling with us. And he looked at my husband and said, ‘Just get used to the fact that city managers never retire. She’ll be working until the day she dies.’ Compounding the intensity of the local government management workload is the fact that women tend to have greater caregiving responsibilities. One manager noted that the evening responsibilities make it hard for a woman with children and caregiving needs. “Evening meetings . . . community engagement . . .that’s fine and good, but when you’re a mom with a kid at home doing homework, it can be tough.” The demands of local government management can also influence career choices, as one manager explained: “I did make hard decisions because I did turn down jobs that, if I had been married, if there were a spouse to help, if I hadn’t had a child, I probably would have taken, but being mom was my number—one responsibility.” This last quote brings in sharp contrast two worldviews. One worldview echoed by some women in top management positions is that work and family can indeed be balanced in local government management and aspiring women management candidates just need to push ahead on both fronts. The other worldview makes the claim that aspiring women management candidates should not be put in the position where they have to choose between family and career progression. Some key factors enable managers who are women to juggle their job responsibilities and caregiving. Technology has made it easier for many professionals in different fields to “work” outside of office settings, local government management included. As one manager noted: “I log in pretty much every night from home . . . I’m working the same amount of hours but…I don’t have to be sitting in my office.” While the benefits of technology for work/life balance have been debated,16 in these cases, technology has allowed man-

agers with caregiving responsibilities, both male and female alike, to juggle family and career. Another factor in work/life balance is finding a local government with the right work environment, one that offers flexibility and support for working families. One city manager credited her former manager who, when she was an assistant manager, “helped me be a mom and an employee at the same time.” Even early career flexibility and support can make a huge difference, noted one female city manager: I had a supervisor at the time, whether he did it intentionally or not, [who] allowed me to have freedom and flexibility in the career, so there wasn’t necessarily a project that he was not willing to allow me to work on. He also allowed me to have flexibility with my home life, so I never felt like that I was being neglectful of things at home that I was not able to, that was going to prohibit me from pursuing things at work. So, I never really felt like I had to choose. I felt like I could have a decent amount of balance with both. Many issues of work/life balance disproportionately affect women and, as such, are crucial to address for a profession seeking to diversify its leadership ranks. Research suggests that women and men benefit equally from work-life balance, as do the organizations for which they work, and that policies enabling telecommuting and flex time can be instrumental in enabling work/life balance.17

Cornerstones of Career Advancement: Mobility, Mentors, and Networks Participating managers also noted a number of factors that shaped their career paths. Geographic mobility, mentors and sponsors, and their professional networks were important factors in shaping their career trajectories. For the managers we spoke with, geographic mobility was necessary to reach management positions, mentors and sponsors were key in attaining positions as well as professional development, and the networks developed over time both sustained and advanced careers.

Mobility Geographic mobility is a key consideration that shapes the career paths of local government managers. As one deputy county manager explained, “If you want to be a manager, you must be willing to relocate geographically.” In addition to being open to frequent moves, there are also research studies that provide statistical evidence that job turnover in the city management profession is common.18 This turnover can provide opportunities for younger women and people of color if they are willing to relocate. As one female city manager pointed out, “You might want to, as a young profes-



sional, have some thoughts about [whether] you are willing to move to a small community and work in small communities, because that’s one way to move up.” If relocating is a key characteristic of career paths in local government management, family support for relocation is a necessary condition. One female city manager considers her marriage a partnership: “My husband and I have been married for 33 years and he’s been a partner. He has been willing to move when I’ve gotten opportunities, so we’ve moved all over the place….He has had some professional sacrifices that he’s had to make to allow me to grow my career.” However, for dual-career families especially, the likelihood of relocation could be a deterrent for those considering a career in local government management, particularly when there is inadequate employment potential for the working spouse.19 Geographic mobility in local government management careers is typical and even necessary according to our participants. Many communities require government staff to reside in the communities in which they are employed. However, there seems to be a trend at the state level to ban this practice. Wisconsin, Michigan, Washington (in statutory cities only), and Ohio have outlawed local government residency requirements. If mobility is typical for local government management careers, this suggests that those unwilling or unable to move will be less likely to seek and attain management positions. This may be limiting the potential candidates for some open positions given that managers with school-age children or spouses who are employed outside the home may have difficulty relocating.

Mentors Most participants had several key individuals who provided mentorship throughout their careers. These relationships provided advice, tacit information about how local government works, connections to get a foot in the door, and advocacy. Interview respondents viewed mentoring as an essential aspect to career development, along with training and experience. Most participants did not focus on one mentor, but rather a collection of mentors, and even articulated the ways in which different mentors served different purposes—in other words, a relationship “constellation.”20 As one male assistant town manager put it: Mentorship relationships are important…I have a collection of people from graduate professors to my former boss to colleagues, …former classmates, everyone can show up in a mentor category if they have something…that adds value for me, and hopefully I can add value for them and it’s a mutual relationship. Interview participants spoke highly of their mentors. They named them by name and spoke about the place their paths first crossed and specifically what the mentoring relationship offered. However, some women in our sample also 12


noted, with disappointment, that most or all of their mentors have been men. Generally, one explanation for the persistent lack of demographic diversity in leadership positions is that when there are few women in leadership positions, women cannot access the social networks necessary for advancement.21 Additionally, when there are few, if any, examples of what it looks like to be a woman in a management position, other women have a hard time picturing themselves in such positions—a local government manager is not necessarily a “possible self.”22 The inability for women and people of color to find mentors in their profession who look like them may be one reason so many have a constellation of mentors. The interview respondents indicated that they look to their churches, other professional contacts, and former professors to provide that perspective. For some in our sample, mentorship is also provided by people outside of their professional networks—in particular, family members can serve as mentors. One of our participants describes how her mother was a model for what it meant to be a working professional and how both working outside the home and parenting can make a person “complete.” Mentors take a chance on you. They act as sponsors, which can lead to opportunities, and let you try on different identities as you develop your own professional identity.23 In particular, participants indicated that mentors led by example and pushed them out of their comfort zone. Throughout the U.S. labor market, there is evidence that men are promoted at higher rates than women.24 There are alternative explanations for this outcome, and one explanation is that men are more likely to have mentors that “sponsor” them, advocating for their advancement. By contrast, women receive traditional mentoring – in the form of professional guidance and advice—but not as much active advocacy on their behalf by the mentor.25 Another important aspect of mentoring is the legacy it provides for future generations of local government managers. Interview participants noted that those who have been mentored pay it forward. In this way, mentoring can generate self-reinforcing systems that continue to grow. In addition, mentoring may also be a way for women and minorities to navigate gender and racial biases within their organizations, incidents of sexual harassment, or other situations that are unique to a female or minority group member.

Networks For almost all of our participants, the connections they have with other professionals made a difference in their career trajectory. Compared to many other professions, the field of city/county management is fairly small.26 Networks develop largely through career paths, where mobility is key to advancement. As one participant noted, it was his connection to a prior supervisor that landed him a new position. In fact, his connection to his former manager was so meaningful,

that his new county did not even check his other references. For many participants, a primary place to develop a network was professional conferences. As the participants noted, conference attendance was crucial because connections can provide access to jobs. In fact, conference content may be less important than the opportunity to network. As one manager described, conferences can even provide a network of peers who will look out for you, particularly if you are in search of a new position. Attending conferences is also a way to intersect personal and professional identities. Highlighting the National Forum for Black Public Administrators (NFBPA) conference, a city manager was able to “see” what it means to be an African American working in local government. She observed, “That was the first time that I saw myself in the field of local government management, to find myself as a grad student at a conference surrounded by black men and women that were doing amazing things as local government professionals… and for the first time I saw myself in the field.” In a given community, there may be few, if any, women or minorities in the top management positions. These conferences give participants the opportunity to engage with others in similar roles. Other participants noted the increased diversity in professional associations like the International City/County Management Association (ICMA). Sylvester Murray, former manager of Cincinnati, became the first African American president of ICMA in 1983. Peggy Merris served as ICMA’s first female president with her election in 2002. Since that time four additional women have been elected to this same position. In 2017, Marc Ott was appointed as ICMA’s executive director, the first African-American in the association’s history. Diversity in ICMA leadership matters to some female managers and managers of color: it makes them feel included, supported, and hopeful for the future. Mobility, mentors, and networks are cornerstones of local government management advancement. Participants universally praised the value of mentors and networks in the development of career paths in local government. Establishing a collection of mentoring relationships, maintaining past career connections, and generating new connections at conferences are all important for gaining access to local government management positions. Yet the ability to move to a different city or state was also seen as instrumental for career progression.

Gender and race affect every area of life, but particularly workplace experiences. their gender or race had not affected their local government management experiences,28 gender and race permeate the experience of being a local government manager for the remaining participants. As one female city manager of color explained, “Implicit and explicit bias are real, and they play into our daily interactions. So, whether I’m in a rural area or a large urban city, those things are still very apparent.” At the extreme end of the spectrum, there are tales of blatant sexism that managers experienced early in their careers: posters of naked women plastered on the walls of a fire department; being asked by a senior manager about the status of her virginity; a budget director who announced that women were not good at math and who made comments about menstrual cycles; being denied assistant positions because “people weren’t ready for a female in that role.” The recent experiences relayed by managers fall in between “no sexism” vs. “blatant sexism” narratives. This is not to say that the gendered experiences of management professionals are insignificant or that managers felt that their gender or race had held them back; they did not.29 Rather, the patterns of comments indicate a profession still struggling in some places with recognizing women and people of color as legitimately holding positions of authority.

Gender and Racial Dynamics in Local Government Management Gender and race affect every area of life, but particularly workplace experiences. The race and gender of public servants affect pay, rates of workplace harassment, and standards of leadership behavior that disfavor women and people of color.27 Local government management is no exception to these trends. While a handful of interview participants felt that UNDERSTANDING GENDER IMBALANCE IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT MANAGEMENT


The Only One in the Room Being a woman, person of color, or both in local government means sometimes being “the only one” in the room. Recognizing that her “only” status might create tough challenges, a town manager of color worried about her choice of a local government management career, saying “You’re in this job. I don’t hear anybody doing what you’re trying to do. You’re very much in this white man’s world. Are you going to be okay?” Some interview participants found that being “the only” made integrating with local management groups challenging. Being the only female or person of color in the room triggers a distinct set of social dynamics, including a heightened visibility that creates performance pressures. Harvard Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter refers to these phenomena as “tokenism, experienced by people who are socially or culturally different from the norm.”30 One female city manager of color referred to being under “a different kind of microscope” than the typical white male manager. Another female city manager elaborates: When I walk into the room…I’m the youngest, I’m usually the only woman, or definitely the only black woman, and so these things influence people’s initial assessment of my ability or my competency, what I’m bringing to the table. So I am engaged in relationship building because that’s one of the best ways to conquer some of those issues. Because we all have implicit and explicit bias. The heightened visibility for women and people of color in local government management creates pressure to demonstrate competency. One city manager of color explained that she sometimes felt compelled to prove, not only that she was competent, but that she was exceptional at her work. “Any work or project that I worked on I double-checked, I triplechecked . . . I knew that at any given point and any given time, more than likely, I would be compared to a white male counterpart.” This manager’s strategy—to be more prepared and to work harder in order to compare favorably—is a common one for women in male-dominated professions.31

Stereotypes Managers also spoke about the effects of gender roles and stereotypes on their professional experiences. Gender role theory holds that society expects women to be caring, compassionate, and nurturing and men to be assertive, commanding, and in control.32 As portrayed by interview participants, when women and people of color show up in authoritative local government management roles, it can trigger confusion, surprise, and even pushback. It was not unusual to hear from women or men of color that they had been mistaken for subordinates or service professionals at some point in their careers. To illustrate from 14


our interviews, a contractor asked a female manager to make copies for her; a female deputy county manager of color sent to review the budget with a civil grand jury was asked, upon arriving at the meeting, whether she was there to take notes; a male financial officer (now manager) attending a black-tie fundraiser was mistaken for a waiter. Once the status of a female manager or manager of color is discovered, surprise is a common outcome. One deputy county manager describes a job application process in which, “I did this interview and I walked in and they were like, ‘Well who are you?’. . . But in the end, I got the opportunity.” As a female deputy county manager of color explained, “the level of professionalism, the level of skill, the level of ability that I bring to every situation, I think it surprises people.” Gender roles factor into the professional experiences of women in local government management. In a blatant form of gender discrimination, there was the council member who disqualified an assistant manager for an open manager position “because she’s a mom with kids.” Another manager recounted her experience: As much as people say they don’t discriminate against women, sadly there is discrimination out there. At one point, I interviewed for a community when I was pregnant and had a male elected official ask me, ‘How are you going to balance this new child with the responsibilities of this community?’ And I thought to myself, ‘Are you going to ask a new father that question?’ In line with gender roles, some female managers experienced “think manager-think male” bias, which associates men with leadership traits. One female city manager of color explained what this looks like: Other times they don’t believe you are the city manager. I’ve been through disaster recovery issues, where my assistant city manager is a white male, about 6’3”, and all the outside authorities would go to him thinking he was the city manager, and he would point to me. . . people don’t always identify you as being the person in charge or being the leader in the room. When a female manager replaces a male manager, the biases that favor men as leaders create challenges that have to be overcome. A white female manager provided a different example. Her tenure followed a white male manager who developed what became a familiar style of leadership. She noted, “My first year here people would say (I’m) just not the leader he was. Even though people didn’t intend it, I think that was latent sexism. Like there is an accepted way of doing things and it’s the way the white guy did them.”

Social Exclusion In the 2014 ICMA Task Force on Women in the Profession, 31 percent of female managers surveyed reported being excluded from important networking opportunities based on gender. As our female interview participants in particular point out, social exclusion can be broader than just networking. It can involve not being invited to social events, ignored in conversations, and excluded in the language used in professional settings. Some managers talked about being left out of critical networking opportunities over the course of their careers, such as outings with commissioners that included other male senior organizational leaders but excluded them. For example, a white female city manager was first promoted from assistant manager after her white male predecessor departed, and subsequently noticed that invitations from the local university stopped coming: All of a sudden the chancellor was inviting my planning director and my development director to dinner parties or Christmas parties. So, I had to tell a high-ranking female I knew at the university, ‘Look, it’s not that I’m dying to go to these things. But, from a protocol standpoint…my staff shouldn’t get invited to things at the president’s house that I don’t get invited to. That female managers and managers of color sometimes feel excluded in local government settings is consistent with social science research showing that professional social networks tend to be harder to access for women and people of color and thus limiting in terms of career opportunities.33 Events and invitations are not the only methods of exclusion: the language used in informal settings can also create a sense of social isolation, particularly for women attending meetings where most participants are men. A female deputy county manager described being in monthly manager meetings: “It’s like being in a locker room, but I try really hard not to let them see that some of the conversation I find insulting.” In another example of recognizing only men, a female town administrator told the story of being “…at a meeting where I convened a bunch of men to talk about a big problem we’re having related to the organization and running waste water. I got up and the other senior man got up and said, ‘Thank you, gentlemen.’” Research on gender-exclusive language indicates that it is ostracizing for women. In one experiment, research subjects who were exposed to gender-exclusive language in a job interview were less likely to want the job.34 For the local government management profession, gender-exclusive language is yet another discouraging cue that women do not fit the mold of the traditional local government manager.

Racial Dynamics While gender was the primary focus of this research, race served as a layer of experience for some local government managers. This should be no surprise given that racial dynamics in the United States serve as a backdrop for the experiences of people of color. One need look no further than public opinion polls, which show a divide in how people of color in the United States perceive racism compared with their white counterparts.35 Managers of color reported the following situations: • Blatant racial commentaries in online news items featuring them. • Witnessing racial (and sometimes racist) dynamics on elected boards. • During a visit to another community to apply for a management job, turning in a wallet to police in a white neighborhood, only to be asked by an officer how much money he had taken out of the wallet. • A manager of color who answered the phone, provided his Latino name, and was told by the caller that he wants someone who speaks English. • A community partner asked a manager if he ever considered changing his non-American name. • A manager being shown a picture of all white men in his office and being told, “These were the good old days.”



These experiences were not everyday occurrences for these managers. Nonetheless, they represent the “death by a thousand cuts” of racialized experiences— whether subtle or blatant—that convey an “other” status to those who don’t fit the mold of the white male manager. A handful of managers did not see their gender or race affecting their experiences. The remaining managers did experience racial or gender bias (or both). Some participating managers talked about being the only women or people of color in the room and the group dynamics it created. Other managers experienced being mistaken for subordinates or service professionals; women in particular had been asked to undertake subservient tasks—making coffee or taking notes—even as managers. Racial dynamics also surfaced, as some managers experienced subtle and blatant signals calling attention to their “not white” status. While interview participants acknowledged a profession changing for the better, some experienced racial and gender biases that portray a profession in the earlier stages of becoming more diverse and inclusive.

Moving Forward The perspectives shared in this report suggest that local government management is still in the process of integrating women and people of color into its leadership ranks. This is problematic because it suggests that the local government management profession is drawing from a talent pool that is artificially narrow, due to a possible combination of women and people of color (1) not applying for these positions; (2) applying but not being chosen; or (3) leaving the local government management profession. Yet the local government management profession is poised to become more inclusive. The work of local government is engaging and meaningful, which promises to attract a broader talent pool interested in serving communities in high-impact ways. Local government organizations and associations can play a critical role in addressing gender and racial dynamics in local government management by, 16


ADVICE FROM THE FIELD FOR EARLY CAREER PROFESSIONALS The professionals interviewed as part of this study have much advice to provide women and people of color entering the profession or who are still early in their careers. Build Relationships. The most common advice across interviews is to build relationships. Some managers emphasized the importance of being involved in professional organizations as one form of relationship building, which can expose you to job opportunities and also help you build a reputation outside your organization. But internal networks are important as well, particularly as they relate to understanding how resources are allocated and how to navigate organizational processes. Build relationships both internally and externally as a career advancement strategy. Focus on the Mission. It is no secret that local government management is a tough occupation. Managers are fired at the drop of a hat, critiqued by the media, and bashed by citizens, all challenges that are magnified for women and people of color. Interview participants had some advice for dealing with these challenges. The first is to develop a thick skin, which will enable you to bounce back from professional challenges. Managers commonly described translating challenging circumstances into personal challenges. Focusing on the mission is another piece of advice, which allows you to make challenges less about you and more about public service. Be selective. Managers advise early career professionals to pick their community carefully, seeking out jurisdictions that align with their political and social values. One assistant county manager who was considering a position, visited the community with a friend, incognito, to get a sense of the community. Another deputy county manager suggested doing homework on organizational fit as well: “You really need to research an organization and find out if it shares your values. If you are progressive, you believe in social media, you believe in civic engagement, and you believe in strategic planning, then you need to find an organization that does those things. Otherwise, you’re just going to be frustrated. You’re going to be angry. You’re not going to be happy there.” Join. Organizations like those referenced in this report have important roles to play in addressing gender and racial dynamics in local government management. From professional development offerings to conference sessions to commissioned research, diversity and inclusion is and should remain a key thread of activity for professional associations. National organizations supporting women and people of color in local government include: • ICMA, • League of Women in Government, • Engaging Local Government Leaders, • National Forum for Black Public Administrators, and • International Hispanic Network/Local Government Hispanic Network.

for example, offering diversity-related topics for plenary panels and keynote speakers at conferences with local government (not only in panels with those who are already aware of diversity and inclusion issues in local government. Particularly given the patterns reported in the previous section, Racial Dynamics in Local Government, these sessions would be an opportunity to begin the conversation around race in local government. There is also a need for quantitative research to test the prevalence of the patterns revealed by this qualitative study, whether sponsored by local government associations or organizations. The patterns of comments that surfaced from these 37 interviews are valid for identifying potential trends around diversity and inclusion, but not enough to generalize to the local government profession as a whole. In-depth quantitative data collection and analysis are needed to test the prevalence of the issues identified in this report. Along the lines of information needs, the local government profession needs demographic data collection on its members, including gender, race and ethnicity, but also other dimensions of diversity such as veteran’s status, family status, sexuality, disability, and so forth. Currently, Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL) is performing this function through its Diversity Dashboard, but with limited resources; local government associations and organizations could collaborate to play a major role in supporting this effort. These efforts could include periodic diversity and inclusion climate surveys among local government managers across the U.S., to understand how gender and racial experiences are changing (or not) over time. To mitigate social exclusion in networking events, state associations should consider expanding social events beyond the golf course, where business takes place among mostly white men. Groups including the League of Women in Government, the National Forum for Black Public Administrators, ELGL and others could assist in this endeavor. These groups were cited by research participants as giving women and people a place to see themselves as local government managers. With regards to work/life balance, local government organizations and associations can start a national conversation, not only for women, but also for men in the profession. These conversations should transcend work/ life balance to question the structure and pace of local government work itself. Yale Professor Ellen Kossek’s research on work/life balance, particularly her co-authored book, The CEO of Me, would be one such resource. All of the research participants in this report named chief administrative officers (CAOs, primarily white men) who had “tapped them on the shoulder”, identified their talent, and encouraged them to enter local government careers. Along these lines, CAOs can play a transformative role in diversifying local government management. First

and foremost, by being aware of the gender and racial dynamics uncovered in this report, CAOs can be poised to respond when they see these dynamics play out. When there are only a handful of women or men of color in the room, CAOs can be aware of the social isolation that can accompany being “the only.” CAOs can be aware of the language used in meetings to ensure that it includes rather than excludes all parties present. Whether at a conference or in meetings, sitting CAOs can intentionally include women and people of color in side conversations. Moving forward also requires local communities and local government organizations to recognize the work that is necessary to make management positions attractive to women and men of color. When local communities and elected and appointed leaders promote diversity and inclusion, it sends an important signal to management candidates. Along these lines, talented managers look for civility in the council chamber, as well as organizational and community diversity. These traits will alter the quality of the talent attracted to management positions. At a broader level, the local government profession offers rewarding high-impact work that can attract women and people of color, who tend to gravitate towards nonprofit



careers.36 This aspect of local government management can be more strongly marketed towards prospective local government professionals early in their careers. Finally, some of the steps identified here are similar to the recommendations made by the 2014 ICMA Task Force on Women in the Profession, including demographic data collection, high-profile diversity speakers, and continued partnership with state associations and affinity groups. Local government associations, organizations, and affinity groups should jointly monitor the extent to which task force recommendations are being achieved as a means of maintaining momentum on these critical issues. It will take a sustained, concerted effort by ICMA, local governments, elected officials and organizations like the League of Women in Government to increase the numbers of women and people of color in local government management positions. But such an effort promises to energize the local government profession with diverse perspectives, a more representative bureaucracy, and a profession that will more adeptly tackle the challenges of an increasingly diverse and complex society.

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS For Local Government Organizations and Associations: • Feature diversity-related topics for plenary panels and keynote speakers. • Expand demographic data collected on members. • Survey members about the dynamics identified in this report to quantify these trends. • Offer a wide range of social events that extend beyond the golf course. • Start a national conversation on work/-life balance for both women and men in local government management. • Educate elected officials on how to make management positions attractive to women and people of color.

Endnotes And Resources 1

International City/County Management Association, Final Report on the Status of Women in the Profession (Washington, D.C.: International City/ County Management Association, 2014).

We suspected, based on prior research experiences, that without gender as the focal point, men of color would focus more on the racial dimensions of local government management. More detailed information on research design can be found in the Appendices.


Steven M. Buechler, Women’s Movements in the United States: Woman Suffrage, Equal Rights, and Beyond (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1990).


Claire Rubin, “Where Are the Women in Management?” Public Management (1973): 8-9


Lee Sigelman, “The Curious Case of Women in State and Local Government,” Social Science Quarterly 56, no. 4 (March 1976): 591-604.


Cayer, N. and Siegelman, L.,“Minorities and Women in State and Local Government: 1973-1975,” Public Administration Review, 40 (September/October 1980): 443-450.


James D. Slack, “Affirmative Action and City Managers: Attitudes toward Recruitment of Women,” Public Administration Review 47, no. 2 (March-April 1987): 199-206.


For Local Government Managers: • Be mindful and make your staff aware of the gender and racial dynamics uncovered in this report. • Use inclusive language in meetings. • Ensure that women and people of color are included in your networking events.



Mary E. Guy, “Three Steps Forward, Two Step Backward: The Status of Women’s Integration into Public Management,” Public Administration Review 53, no. 4 (July-August 1993): 285-292.


Ibid., 287.


2020 ICMA membership statistics.


A note on the language of the report: We refer to interview participants as managers or assistant managers, whether their title is administrator or manager, or whether they manage villages, counties, cities, or townships. This shorthand allows us to be concise in the text and also to protect the identities of interview participants.


Leonard Bright, “Does Public Service Motivation Really Make a Difference on the Job Satisfaction and Turnover Intentions of Public Employees?” The American Review of Public Administration 38 no. 2 (2008): 149-166; Leisha DeHart‐Davis, Justin Marlowe, and Sanjay K. Pandey, “Gender Dimensions of Public Service Motivation,” Public Administration Review 66, no. 6 (2006): 873-887.




According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 17,000 local government CEOs in 2017, similar to that of for-profit corporations ( Licensed attorneys in the United States number more than 1 million (American Bar Association) as do licensed physicians. Leisha DeHart-Davis, Deneen M. Hatmaker, Zacharay W. Oberfield, and Amy E. Smith, “Public Sector Diversity Research: Taking Stock” in Handbook of American Public Administration, ed. Edmund C. Stazyk and H. George Frederickson (Cheltenham, U.K.: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited, 2018). To illustrate, one city manager felt that his experiences has been based not on his race but on his ascent to management at a young age. Another city manager suspected that her lack of gendered experiences was due to having a prior female manager who “paved the way” for her. A third manager had only one negative experience she attributed to sexism, explaining that, “I’ve really had very few experiences that I felt in any way were a challenge or held me back in any respect.” A county manager illustrates one such comment: “I haven’t really run up against any of the stereotypes and discrimination that a lot of women do, or maybe, I just don’t take it as discrimination. You know, I look at it as I’ve got a job to do whether I’m female or whether I’m male, and I just do my job.”


Philip H. Mirvis and Edward J. Hackett, “Work and Work Force Characteristics in the Nonprofit Sector,” Monthly Labor Review 106, no. 4 (1983): 3-12.


Becker, G. S. (1993). Human Capital. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Brass, D. J. (1995). A social network perspective on human resources management. In G. R. Ferris (Ed.), Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management (pp. 39-79). Greenwich, CT: JAI.


E. Jeffrey Hill, Brent C. Miller, Sara P. Weiner, and Joe Colihan, “Influences of the Virtual Office on Aspects of Work and Work/Life Balance,” Personnel Psychology 51, no. 3 (September 1998): 667–83.


Mary K. Feeney and Justin M. Stritch, “Family-Friendly Policies, Gender, and Work-Life Balance in the Public Sector,” Review of Public Personnel Administration September 2017, https://doi. org/10.1177/0734371X17733789



This finding diverges slightly from the 2014 ICMA Task Force Report on the State of Women in the Profession, which found that 14 percent of respondents to a question about barriers to career advancement cited discrimination as the biggest obstacle (p. 28).


See David N. Ammons and Matthew J. Bosse, “Tenure of City Managers: Examining the Dual Meaning of ‛Average Turnover,’” State and Local Government Review 37, no. 1 (2005): 61-71; Barbara C.McCabe, Richard D. Feiock, James C. Clingermayer, and Christopher Stream, “Turnover among City Managers: The Role of Political and Economic Change,” Public Administration Review 68, no. 2 (February 2008): 380-386; Tari Renner and Victor S. DeSantis, “City Manager Turnover: The Impact of Formal Authority and Electoral Change,” State and Local Government Review 26, no. 2 (Spring 1994): 104-111.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, “Some Effects of Proportions on Group Life: Skewed Sex Ratios and Responses to Token Women,” American Journal of Sociology 82, no. 5 (March 1977): 965–90, https://doi. org/10.1086/226425.


Christine M. Reed and B. J. Reed, “The Impact of Dual-Career Marriage on Occupational Mobility in the Local Government Management Profession,” The American Review of Public Administration 23, no. 2 (June 1993): 141-154.


Kathy E. Kram, Mentoring at Work: Developmental Relationships in Organizational Life (Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1985).


Miller McPherson, Lynn Smith-Lovin, and James M. Cook, “Birds of a Feather: Homophily in Social Networks,” Annual Review of Sociology 27 (August 2011): 415-444.


Hazel Rose Markus and Paula Nurius, “Possible Selves,” American Psychologist 41, no. 9 (September 1986): 954-969.


Deneen M. Hatmaker, “Engineering Identity: Gender and Professional Identity Negotiation among Women Engineers,” Gender, Work and Organization 20, no. 4 (July 2013): 382–396.


Alice H. Eagly and Wendy Wood, “Social Role Theory: A Biosocial Analysis of Sex Differences and Similarities,” in Handbook of Theories of Social Psychology (Los Angeles, Calif: SAGE Publishing, 2011), 458-476.


Herminia Ibarra, “Race, Opportunity, and Diversity of Social Circles in Managerial Networks,” Academy of Management Journal 38, no. 3 (June 1995): 673-703; David Collinson and Jeff Hearn, eds., Men as Managers, Managers as Men: Critical Perspectives on Men, Masculinities and Managements (Los Angeles, Calif.: Sage Publishing, 1996); Kanter, “Some Effects of Proportions on Group Life”; Gail M. McGuire,” Gender, Race, and the Shadow Structure: A Study of Informal Networks and Inequality in a Work Organization,” Gender & Society 16, no. 3 (2002): 303-322, 03003; Gwendolyn M. Combs, “The Duality of Race and Gender for Managerial African American Women: Implications of Informal Social Networks on Career Advancement,” Human Resource Development Review 2, no. 4 (2003): 385-405.


Herminia Ibarra, “Provisional Selves: Experimenting with Image and Identity in Professional Adaptation,” Administrative Science Quarterly 44, no. 4 (December 1999): 764-791.


Deborah A. Cobb-Clark, “Getting Ahead: The Determinants of and Payoffs to Internal Promotion for Young U.S. Men and Women,” in Worker Wellbeing in a Changing Labor Market (Research in Labor Economic, Vol. 20), ed. Solomon Polachek (Bingley, U.K.: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2001), 339-372.


Herminia Ibarra, Nancy M. Carter, and Christine Silva, “Why Men Still Get More Promotions than Women,” Harvard Business Review, September 2010, 80-85.





Jane G. Stout and Nilanjana Dasgupta, “When He Doesn’t Mean You: Gender-Exclusive Language as Ostracism,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 37, no. 6 (2011): 757–69, https://doi. org/10.1177/0146167211406434. Pew Research Center, “On Views of Race and Inequality, Blacks and Whites Are Worlds Apart,” June 27, 2016, http://www. Mirvis, Philip H., and Edward J. Hackett. “Work and work force characteristics in the nonprofit sector.” Monthly Labor Review 106, no. 4 (1983): 3-12.



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