League of California Cities City Managers' Department President's Report March 2013

March 25, 2013
March 20 marked the date of the Vernal Equinox, or the first day of spring. As I look out my office window and see the trees and flowers beginning to bloom I take time to contemplate the important things in life such as family, friends, good health and how in the heck am I going to balance next year’s budget. 
If you are like me it has become hard to remember the time when our biggest worry was how to allocate the anticipated increase in revenues logically and equitably among all the competing interests and needs of our community. Today we are faced with trying to scrape every nook and cranny for extra dollars, endlessly reorganizing our departments to achieve cost efficiencies, and conducting labor negotiations with our employees on practically an annual basis. For those of us who have been through recessions before (this is my fourth) we would be clearly on the upside by now. But this is an extremely unpredictable economy we find ourselves in. It reminds me of Rod Serling’s famous quote:

“You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into… the Twilight Zone.”

It seems as if we are in an economic twilight zone. A never ending fiscal nightmare that is controlled by events way beyond our reach. There is no silver bullet or one thing that will fix the current situation. In California, that has usually been the resurgence of the housing market. That is not happening this time (and many will say that is a good thing). Our economy has truly become global, as we have seen the affect the volatility and turmoil in the European and Asian markets have had on our own national, state and local economies. The endless budget fights in Washington and the tendency of our own state in the past to kick the budget can down the road have made it very difficult to predict where we will be in one year, let alone five.

Yes some days it can feel overwhelming. But of course we solider on and tackle each challenge we face.  As Gunnery Sgt. Tom 'Gunny' Highway (Clint Eastwood) said in the movie Heartbreak Ridge; “We're Marines, sir. We're paid to adapt, to improvise”

I promise that was my last quote, but you can see the parallel. These times call for being flexible and creative and above all adaptable. Of course this only applies to me, but old dogs need to learn new tricks. This is why it is so valuable to discuss and share information and ideas with other city managers at our annual department meeting and during other opportunities. Nine times out of ten someone in some city has dealt with the issue you currently are struggling with. So I highly recommend you stay active in League events, your Regional Division activities and your Area Manager Group meetings. I look at the League’s City Managers Department, and our partners such as CCMF and Cal-ICMA, as a giant archive of information, and its members, including the retirees, as one big support group, so don’t hesitate to use them.

Given the current environment we must function in, it made me appreciate even more the time I was able to spend with my colleagues at the City Managers’ meeting in San Francisco. The conversation was lively, the sessions informative and in general it seemed everyone enjoyed the event and felt their time was well spent. As much as it was both informative and therapeutic to discuss current issues with fellow city managers, I also enjoyed the opportunity to speak with the assistants who attended the meeting, as well as, our scholarship winners. There is a very bright and capable group of individuals waiting in the wings to step in and take over when we all move aside. It bodes well for our communities and our profession.

I want to thank our President-elect Tony Dahlerbruch and his committee members for doing a superb job of planning a fantastic conference. Of course it could not have been accomplished without the assistance of League staff. I particularly want to thank Lorraine Okabe and Meghan McKelvey; their talents, dedication and attention to every detail made the event the huge success it was.

During the conference, two of the Departments’ 2013 work plan projects, the Strategic Initiatives and Strong Cities Strong State, were a central focus.

The League rolled out the 2013 Strategic Enhancements to Strong Cities | Strong State, also known as Strong Cities | Strong State 2.0. Under this initiative, the Strong Cities | Strong State program will become integral in implementing the League’s legislative agenda.

The League will be using success stories from the website to provide sustained coverage of community and economic development successes in key legislative districts. The articles will be distributed in the League’s newsletter, CA Cities Advocate on a weekly basis and promoted through the League’s Twitter feed, Facebook page and the Strong Cities | Strong State Facebook page. League staff has recently identified success stories for this coverage and begun the process of shaping the articles.

The League will also be using these articles and additional success stories for a broad branding of successful state-local partnerships for a stronger golden state. Multiple success stories will be packaged together for targeted distribution to the Governor, Legislature, Capitol Press Corps and League Partners.

Work has continued on the League’s Strategic Initiatives. You will recall requests were sent to all Area Manager Groups to solicit input from its members on the Initiatives proposals. I want to thank those Area Manager Groups who took the time to place this issue on their agendas and send their comments to League staff.  In addition to the Area Manager Group meetings a special session on this topic was held at the Department’s annual meeting.  Chaired by the League’s Executive Director Chris McKenzie the session provided an opportunity for city managers from all parts of the state to discuss, ask questions and provide input on the measures outlined in the document.  The session was very well attended. Comments obtained from this and many other meetings and conversations with elected officials and city managers have been collated and will be presented to the League’s Strategic Initiatives Task Force in April. The final recommendations of the Task Force will then be sent to the League Board for their consideration.

As I have previously mentioned the focus of the CM Department 2013 work plan is on adjusting to the significant changes we have experienced over the past five years by increasing communication and the exchange of information within our Area Manager Groups and between the Area Manager Groups and the League’s Regional Public Affairs Managers. The League cannot successful represent and protect the interests of cities unless the city managers are fully engaged in these efforts. Therefore it is important that the presidents or chairs of each Area Manager Group work cooperatively with their Regional Public Affairs Managers to ensure their city managers are well informed of League activities and actively participating in implementation of the League’s initiatives within each of their communities.

Thank you for all the great work you do.

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