On the Public Record with Bob O’Neill, ICMA Executive Director

On the Public Record

Bob O’Neill, ICMA Executive Director

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About ICMA

Each time we turn on the tap in our kitchens, set the trash out for pickup the next day, or cruise through our neighborhoods on newly paved roads, we access our local governments. Providing essential community services that ensure the quality of our lives is what local government is all about.

Founded in 1914, ICMA, the International City/County Management Association, advances professional local government worldwide. Our mission and vision is to create excellence in local governance by developing and fostering professional management to build sustainable communities that improve people’s lives worldwide. ICMA provides member support; publications; data and information; peer and results-oriented assistance; and training and professional development to nearly 9,000 city, town, and county experts and other individuals and organizations throughout the world.  The management decisions made by ICMA’s members affect millions of individuals living in thousands of communities, from small villages and towns to large metropolitan areas.

Background Check

1379860759_208There are many reasons to interview Bob O’Neill, ICMA Executive Director but for ELGL we wanted to interview Bob to hear about his recent defense of city managers in the Washington Examiner. In a time where public employees need reassuring that they are doing the right thing and making a difference, Bob stepped to the forefront to defend local government and in particular city managers.

His letter to the Washington Examiner was a reminder to all of us that it is our job to promote the profession and defend it when needed. This doesn’t mean that the professional is guiltless. Bell, CA will not soon be forgotten and it shouldn’t be. We should use these situations in our daily work as motivation to provide the service to our citizens that we know that they need and desire. We all can be leaders in this effort through espousing honest, hard work as we prepare budgets, handle citizen complaints, communicate with the media and interact with community groups.

We hope the following interview will inspire you in your daily work while providing much needed insight to Bob’s iPod, favorite books and travel destinations. Our one complaint with Bob – he has not visited Portland recently, let’s correct this by bringing the 2021 ICMA Conference to Portland, Oregon.

You’ve done an incredible job in your career and especially in the last few months promoting local government and the city manager form of government. What prompted you to write and defend the profession? What kind of feedback have you received?

The letter I wrote (In defense of city managers) was a response to an OP-ED (Only politicians can save us now) in the Washington Examiner newspaper.  Many commentators mistakenly assume you can’t have strong political leadership within the council manager form of government. We always try and emphasize great communities have both strong political leadership and effective management.

Provide us three ways the Emerging Local Gov’t Leaders (ELGL) can promote local government and defend the profession from criticism that arises from situations such as Bell, CA and other cities facing bankruptcy.

All of us devoted to local government can make a huge difference through our work every day. Each day you build trust by effectively and efficiently carrying out your responsibilities.  A foundation of our profession is adherence to the Code of Ethics in support of good governance and that is essential to how residents view local government.

How is ICMA evolving to promote a profession that will attract a talented, young generation? Does ICMA rethink its approach to communicating by focusing on involving members in social networks and webinars?

To promote local government and the profession we need to use all media and all channels!

If we want our children to be future city managers, at what age, should we start reading them budget documents?

 We shouldn’t bore them until we have to!!

What are the three achievements you are most proud of from your tenure at ICMA?

There are many and we have had great Executive Boards and staff that have worked tirelessly on behalf of the profession.  Some things I think have been fun to work on have been:

Tell us what on your iPod’s “Recently Played” list.

    • Adele
    • OAR
    • Darius Rucker
    • Coldplay
    • Dave Matthews

Name three things you hope to accomplish in the next year.

  • Working on the 100th Anniversary plan, and
  • an interview with Jim Collins for the Leading Ideas Series.

Ever considered running for elected office? NEVER (Editors note: Should we take that as a maybe?)

Grade local government’s use of social media. B- work in progress

Give us your top three travel destinations. Have you visited Portland recently? If so, what were your impressions?

I have not been to Portland in several years and it is hard to pick favorites. But some that have been fun are:

  • Berlin
  • Queenstown, New Zealand
  • Vancouver and
  • Yountville, California

We’re always looking to expand our reading list – name three government related and three non-government books that we must read.

In what situation, should a city consider moving away from the council-manager form of government?

The answer would be never, but we all believe in democracy and the people have a right and obligation to choose the form that best fits their needs.

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