Four particular challenges of city and town management receive attention in this issue of The Municipal: handling disasters, managing citizen reports, effective succession planning and fostering leadership among key civic organizations. A fifth local government management issue caught my eye recently as well, though.
It was a want ad of sorts: an eloquently-worded call for professionals, especially young professionals, to pursue careers in town, city or county administration.
The article, posted by International City/County Management Association at icma.org/en/Page/100092, indicates that it’s time to sound the alarm for people willing and qualified to sit in the big office at city hall.
“The 78-million-strong baby boom generation, which helped grow the local government management profession in the expanding U.S. suburbs during the 1960s and 1970s, will be retiring at an alarming rate, and not a lot of people are queued up to fill the void. Future generations of prospective managers are much smaller in number, and for many people under age 30, ‘public service’ means working for a nonprofit or the state or federal government and not for the cities, towns and counties where they live.”
Also according to the ICMA, in 1971, 71 percent of professional city, town and county managers were age 40 or younger; 26 percent were under age 30. In 2006, only about 13 percent of local government chief administrative officers were under age 40, and only 1 percent were age 30 or younger.
Lobbying is another distraction for young adults that Robin Cooper, chief member services officer with the Kentucky League of Cities, faces. Cooper regularly speaks with MPA students who think the best path to making a particular change in their communities is that of a professional lobbyist. He disagrees.
“Really, anytime you have an issue that is very heartfelt, you’re too personally invested to be a good lobbyist. You have to be able to remove yourself from it a bit to be effective.”
Cooper said that even in a state with a mere 19 municipalities under city manager form of government, there are ample opportunities to lead. Kentucky’s many smaller cities hire administrators, or in some cases, clerks who do part-time administrative duties. Management experience, particularly business management, is a fitting internship for municipal leadership, he added. An MPA isn’t necessary, although “it does show their focus and sort of gauges their dedication to the career path.”
Nearly 85 percent of U.S. cities with populations greater than 2,500 employ a professional manager or administrator responsible for overseeing the day-today operations of the community, including: making sure utilities, sanitation and road maintenance are provided efficiently to citizens in their community and working with a range of individuals involved in public safety, public works, economic development and dozens of other service areas. If the idea appeals to you, visit icma.org/careers and explore additional resources, discussion groups and job opportunities.