#ICMA16: “Goin’ to Kansas City, Kansas City Here I Come”

ELGL bestie Phil Smith-Hanes (Ellis County, KS Administrator) is back to share his updated advice on how to get the most out of an ICMA conference experience.

Have your own advice to share? Feel free to leave us a comment. And, learn more ICMA conference pro tips from all of the attendees of the ELGL/ICMA BBQ Mixer.

By Phil Smith-Hanes, Ellis County, Kansas Administrator

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Last year, I shared the accumulated wisdom of attending 13 ICMA conferences in this post. Now that most of you who are “goin’ to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come” have already registered for this year’s 102nd annual shindig, it’s time to map out a strategy for a great conference.

This year I actually got to serve on the conference planning committee (shout-out to David Ellis and Maria Hurtado). Still, I’m going to stick by most of my advice from the past, with some KC-appropriate updates.

First off, let’s talk a bit about KCMO. As if it’s not worthy of a visit solely by reason of winning the ELGL Trending Now! challenge (and being just up the road from runner-up Lenexa), it’s also the City of Fountains, home to the World Champion Royals (last year anyway, this year’s record leaves a little to be desired) and site of the world’s oldest suburban shopping mall.

For those of you arriving by air, Kansas City’s airport is quite unique. It was very convenient when designed (just before events made security screenings a necessity of modern air travel) and is one of those lessons in the unintended consequences of design around one particular set of parameters – a valuable first lesson from the conference.

Once you make it downtown, here’s the scoop:

Get there on Saturday (or even Friday). Last year I had a commitment on Saturday night that meant I couldn’t make it to Seattle until Sunday. But this year the hubby and I are giving up college football tickets (gasp!) so we can make it to the Saturday-night reception. It’s at 18th & Vine, home to the American Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Other events on Saturday include tours and ICMA University workshops, plus the can’t-miss event of the weekend: #13Percent to #GenderBalance. Taking care of registration on Saturday also means you’ll be prepared to…

Hit it hard Sunday morning. I see ICMA is offering daily yoga this year, as well as the 5K run. Yours truly will be participating in speed coaching. There are forums and idea exchanges, chances to meet your regional vice-presidents and luncheons, all leading up to the big official kick-off of the conference at 3 pm.

8e92978728208f2585d57a9ee37dba09Hit it equally hard Sunday evening. After the opening keynote, follow the crowd to the great big exhibit hall reception. Mingle with the vendors to see who has the best swag, then grab some nibbles and maybe a drink before you head to the real centerpiece of the evening: the ELGL/ICMA BBQ OMG. Although I have to miss it due to another commitment, the ELGL mixer surely has the best title of the entire conference: The Four Sauces of the Mixocalypse!

Monday is the assistants’ luncheon. Of course there’s a keynote, and breakout sessions, and tours and field demos and learning lounges and all the other stuff that makes a great conference. Even an inspirational breakfast. Sometimes it’s hard to choose. But even though it’s been six-plus years since I’ve been an assistant (and more than six months since I’ve even had an assistant), the session leader for this year’s assistants’ luncheon is the super-awesome Tony Winney of Vista, CA.

Monday afternoon brings special sessions. After lunch, there are more of the same types of offerings from the morning. There is also, however, a featured speaker, a basketball shoot-out, the assistants’ forum, “Executive Recruiters Tell All,” and the Presidents’ Colloquium led by the incomparable Pat Martel.

Sunday and Monday are the party nights.


Of course you’ll still be recovering from one ELGL mixer. But Monday evening it’ll be time to head to another: this time with CivicPRIDE. Then you can make your rounds of state receptions, affiliate organization mixers, alumni association parties and vendor-sponsored dinners.

Tuesday morning you have options other than the business meeting. Of course the organizational inner-workings of ICMA are important. And as someone who tries to get citizens excited about the inner workings of a local government, I really shouldn’t be bored to tears by this annual event. But this year, *someone* on the conference committee suggested that – just maybe – there should be other things available to participants during the block of time traditionally reserved exclusively for the business meeting.

Then it’s time to say good-bye. As I mentioned last year, Wednesday morning sessions tend to be a little sparsely attended (although they are always worthwhile). But Tuesday night you have one more chance for a blow-out: following a tribute to retiring Executive Director Bob O’Neill, the Host Committee has planned what sounds like a cool event (with Sheila E.!). Of course, many of us will head to “the K” instead to try and see if we can coax a victory out of the Royals.

So, there you go – your lucky seven (plus one) hot tips for an awesome ICMA. See you in Kansas City!