IaCMA Newsletter

Iowa City / County Management Association

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ICMA Coaching Program

The ICMA Coaching Program invites you and all of the members of your team to this free webinar:

Promoting Trust in a Divisive World

Thursday, October 10

2:00 – 3:30 p.m. ET    1:00pm – 2:30pm CT

Registration is FREE – Advance registration is required

Webinar Topics:

  • What are the keys to promoting trust in local government?
  • How have local governments built and rebuilt trust?
  • What are useful approaches and resources to support your efforts?

Frank Benest, ICMA Liaison for Next Generation Initiatives, former City Manager, Palo Alto, CA
Wanda Page, Deputy City Manager, Durham, NC
Scott Morelli, City Manager, South Portland, ME

This webinar meets Practice 1. Personal and Professional Integrity; 2. Community Engagement; 14. Communication and Information Sharing

Audience: All persons in or interested in local government careers
We’ll be using webinar tools (including real-time questions and live polling) to make this an excellent opportunity for audience interaction.

Can’t make it to the live webinar?
Register for the webinar and get an automatic email notice when the recording is available.

Watch All our Webinars On-Demand

Watch these Coaching webinars and learn about best practices, strategies, and tactics, as well as developing issues and trends in the field.


There is no charge to register, and all persons interested in local government are welcome. Each webinar requires its own registration. Click on a webinar below to register. We encourage you to register even if you are unable to attend the live session. You will receive an automatic notice when the digital recording is available.

Having Difficult Conversations In Your Organization and Beyond

Thursday, November 14

Questions or suggestions? Contact Scott Robinson, Senior Program Manager, ICMA Coaching Program or Rob Carty, Director, ICMA Career & Equity Advancement.

Additional Coaching Resources
The ICMA Coaching Program provides resources on best practices and career development to local government professionals worldwide. The program uses the knowledge and expertise of experienced managers and leaders to inspire, support, and guide emerging and mid-career professionals.

Career Compass

Monthly Advice Column
Career Compass No. 75 

Patience Is A leadership Virtue

One-to-one Coach Matching: Find a coach, or sign up to be a coach!
Webinar Archives

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Talent Development Resources

Start or Accelerate Your Coaching Journey
If you are not already subscribed to the ICMA Coaching Program email list, we encourage you to sign up for free (whether you are an ICMA member or not).

ICMA State Association Coaching Partners: Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
ICMA Outreach Partners: Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators, Engaging Local Government Leaders, International Network of Asian Public Administrators, International Public Management Association for Human Resources, League of Women in Government, Local Government Hispanic Network, Local Government Management Association of British Columbia, National Association of County Administrators, National Forum for Black Public Administrators, Women Leading Government

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IaCMA Newsletter Information October 2019

Jessica Kinser receives Rhonda Wood Smith Award

Marshalltown City Administrator Jessica Kinser was awarded the Rhonda Wood Smith award as aJessica Kinser 2n outstanding young city official from the Iowa League of Cities. Kinser was recognized for her achievements during the awards banquet at the Iowa League of Cities Annual Conference & Exhibit in Dubuque on September 26, 2019.

Jessica began work at the City of Clinton in October of 2011 when she was hired as Finance Director. She served in that position until June 2013. From January through June 2013, she also acted in the dual capacities of Interim City Administrator and Finance Director. Jessica was hired as the City Administrator in Clinton in June of 2013.

Kinser was brought in to Marshalltown in November 2016 because of her sophisticated understanding of municipal finance, her people skills, and her energy in community development. Recently, Jessica expertly navigated a large natural disaster when a pair of EF-3 tornadoes with wind speeds that reached 144 mph swept through Pella and Marshalltown.

Marshalltown suffered the most widespread damage. The tornado coursed through downtown, toppling part of the historic Marshall County Courthouse. Jessica proved her mettle in working with community organizations and FEMA in managing the reconstruction for the City.

The Rhonda Wood Smith Award was created to recognize exemplary work of young city officials and those new to city government. The criteria included innovation, bold leadership, commitment and sacrifice. The award was named for Rhonda Wood Smith, a single parent who served as mayor of Garner while working as a municipal consultant. She succumbed to cancer early in 1997 after establishing an outstanding reputation as a civic minded person committed to her community. The intent of the award is to encourage and affirm participation in local government by young people who may make greater sacrifice for public service due to significant career and family commitments.

Congratulations to Jessica Kinser for her work as Marshalltown’s City Administrator and for receiving the Rhonda Wood Smith Award as an outstanding young city official.

Past award recipients include:
1997       The Family of Rhonda Wood Smith
1998       Paul Smith, Mayor of Gilbert
1999       Dennis Woodruff, Mayor of Carlisle
2001       Ed Smith, Mayor of Carroll
2002       Hector Velez, City Council, Storm Lake
2003       Matt Brick, City Council, Windsor Heights
2004       Karen Forneris, City Council, Sioux City
2005       Charles “Chaz” Allen, Mayor of Newton
2006       Ryan Heiar, City Administrator, Eagle Grove
2008       Candi Schmieder, City Council, Marengo
2008       Jeff Beauregard, Mayor of Palo
2009       Ellen Habel, Assistant City Administrator, Coralville
2010       Clint Fichter, City Manager, Avoca
2012       Eric Bookmeyer, Mayor of Mason City
2013       Adam Schweers, Mayor of Carroll
2013       Corey Goodenow, City Manager, Chariton
2014       Laura Schaefer, City Clerk, Carroll
2015       Quentin Hart, City Council and Mayor Pro Tem of Waterloo
2016       Dawn Rohe, City Manager, Manning
2017       Brad Magg, City Council, Colfax
2019       Jessica Kinser, City Administrator, Marshalltown

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IaCMA Newsletter Information October 2019

Matt Mardesen receives IaCMA’s Manager of the Year Award

Nevada’s City Manager, Matt Mardesen, was awarded the Manager of the Year Award from the IowMardesen - 2019a City/County Management Association (IaCMA) during the Awards Banquet at the Iowa League of Cities Annual Conference & Exhibit in Dubuque on September 26, 2019.

IaCMA’s Annual Manager of the Year Award honors chief administrators whose accomplishments and superior work performance represent the best possible application of management principles and whose creative contributions to professional local government management increases public awareness of the value of professional management to the quality of life in our communities.

Mardesen has been actively engaged in Nevada since he accepted his position in 2017. Known for his professionalism, hard work and ability to come up with new and creative solutions, he was nominated separately by his mayor and two of his peer city managers.

Mayor Brett Barker stated in the nomination that, “I consider the time we have worked together to be a blessing to me and the community. During that time, he has enacted numerous policies and practices that have enhanced the efficiency and effectiveness of our municipality.”

Some of Mardesen’s accolades include working within his community to partner and collaborate with outside agencies to help promote and push forward their local community. Business expansion and working on local improvements have been a commitment under his tenure. Mardesen is heavily involved in both local and state organizations, helping their community and enhance their own professionalism.

Other city managers have noted Mardesen is well known and respected in the profession and is very active with state level activities.  He is also engaged in civic activity as a member of Rotary, Main Street Nevada, Economic Development Council, and a mentor in the local school district.

A fellow manager who nominated Mardesen for this award sums it up best, “Mardesen is a steward to his community and embodies the characteristics of a true leader.”

Congratulations to Matt Mardesen for his work as Nevada’s City Administrator and for receiving the Iowa City/County Management Association’s Manager of the Year Award.

The Iowa City/County Management Association was established in 1972 with the purpose of increasing the knowledge and abilities of local government managers and administrators, to promote the exchange of information between members and support the functions and aims of the International City/County Management Association. Additional information on the association can be found at http://www.iacma.net.

The Iowa City/County Management Association’s Annual Manager of the Year Award honors chief administrators whose accomplishments and superior work performance represent the best possible application of management principles and whose creative contributions to professional local government management increases public awareness of the value of professional management to the quality of life in our communities.
To be considered for the Manager of the Year Award, the chief administrator must be a full (voting) IaCMA member.  Candidates must be employed as the chief appointed administrative officer in a municipality.  Candidates must have overall management responsibility and be appointed or confirmed by the legislative body, the elected chief executive and/or the chief appointed administrative officer.

The Association’s past award recipients include:
2007       Mike Van Milligen- Dubuque
2008       Jim Prosser- Cedar Rapids
2009       Carol Ann Diekema- Monroe
2010       Jeff Mark- Altoona
2011       Bill Daily- Belle Plaine
2012       Tom Brownlow- Charles City
2013       Jim Ferneau- Burlington
2014       Elizabeth Hansen – Nevada
2015       Jessica Kinser – Clinton
2016       Jeff Pomeranz – Cedar Rapids
2017       Aaron Burnett – Keokuk
2018       Michael Schrock – Oskaloosa
2019       Matt Mardesen – Nevada

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Board of Regents approves new Masters program of University of Iowa

Chuck Connerly recently announced Iowa’s Board of Regents has approved creation of a Master of Public Affairs program at the University of Iowa.

Dean of the Graduate College John Keller said most of the courses offered in the interdisciplinary program will be conducted on campus, but some will be online.

“Expected enrollment in the program includes students returning to school from the workforce”, he said, “as well as from related undergraduate programs at the UI and other universities.”

“There is no accredited degree program available in this area in the state currently,” Keller said. “So state agencies, government officials, and city administrators and whatnot have to recruit individuals from other states to come and work in these areas.”

Connerly said he expects recruitment for the Fall 2020 inaugural class to begin very soon.

For more information, please check for updates with the University of Iowa’s Graduate Programs website. https://www.grad.uiowa.edu/programs


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IaCMA Newsletter – July 2019

City of Bondurant and City Administrator Marketa Oliver Recognized for
IaCMA’s Program of the Year Award.

Excerpted from award nomination

Bondurant Ultra High-Pressure Program

Marketa Oliver, City Administrator
Aaron Kreuder, Fire Chief

Problem Assessment:

Bondurant is the fastest growing city in Iowa and located in the greater Des Moines metropolitan area. The City is at a size where it is transitioning from a paid-per-call (PPC) fire department to a full-time fire department. It becomes more and more difficult to recruit paid-per-call fire fighters during the day. If an incident occurs during the day, response time is longer due to less availability of PPC fire fighters. In turn, longer response times leads to less impressive ISO ratings, which could have made Bondurant less attractive to a homebuyer. Additionally, because Bondurant is growing quickly, it has abundant infrastructure needs, yet a tax base that is slow to catch up with the needs.

In an effort to reduce response times, four members of Bondurant Emergency Services
attended a Summit in November 2017 (the first held in Iowa), to learn about ultra-high-pressure technology. Staff attended a four-hour classroom presentation on the science behind the technology and then live burn scenarios. Chief Aaron Harris of Middleton Wisconsin Fire Department and his crew lead the Summit and shared their experiences with UHP systems Middleton has in place.

Ultra-high pressure is defined by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) as pump pressures above 1100 psi. By flowing water at these pressures, 10 times the surface area is created by breaking down conventional water droplets into 64 smaller droplets, decreasing the amount of water used to approximately a fifth of what conventional firefighting would use. Greater surface area means more contact with the fire and more efficient heat absorption. When the water droplet absorbs heat, it converts to steam, displacing oxygen, removing heat from the superheated environment and extinguishing the fire. This technology was originally developed for NASA as a propulsion system that blasted spacecraft beyond the stratosphere and formulated propellants to fuel them. Throughout that process, the inventors developed an understanding of high-pressure fluid flows through nozzles dealing with extremely high temperatures and rapid cooling. At the technology developed further for the space industry, it became clear that it had applications for firefighting.

Program Implementation and Costs:

Bondurant Emergency Services leadership was so impressed by the performance of the systems that the City determined it would be beneficial to the department and was a good solution to reduce response times. The City developed plans to put two systems in place. Because the two systems would be retrofitted to current vehicles, the cost for both systems would be less than $55,000. By December 1st, the City Administrator developed funding methodologies to purchase the system and the UHP program was officially greenlit. Fire Department staff also solicited and secured a $15,000 grant from Prairie Meadows. The first unit was placed in service April 2018. The second unit took a little more time because it had to be custom made for the cold weather modifications. The second unit went in service September 2018.

Bondurant Emergency Services now has two similar, yet also different, systems in place. The City retro fitted the 2006 brush truck with a standard UHP system. It has 200 gallons of water and a UHP system. The system supplies 20 gallons a minute of water through a ¾” hydraulic steel braided hose that is much easier to control and manipulate compared to the traditional 1 ¾” hand line.  It is controlled through a combination nozzle that was specially designed for the system to deliver 1400 PSI at the nozzle. Bondurant also has a 100-gallon system that was designed for our command truck. It has a topper and heater for cold weather and is a take home vehicle, meaning it responds directly to the scene to allow for an initial transitional fire attack from the outside of the structure while the larger apparatus and second UHP system is responding from the station, thus cutting down the time to get water on the fire. This is the first cold-weather UHP system in the nation. This system operates the same way as the other system, but provides 1250 psi, in an effort to limit the water usage a little further to gain more attack time and compensate for the smaller water tank in a lighter duty vehicle. Both systems can be dialed back by simply turning a valve to 10 gallons a minute for water conservation on grass and field fires. Both systems also have foam capabilities. To date, both systems have been used on multiple fires successfully. City staff has been so impressed by the systems, they developed a training team that travels the state to demonstrate how Ultra High Pressure works and the benefits it has to the fire service. (They do not charge for the training and the training is not affiliated with any manufacturer.) Bondurant believes in the science and technology and feels a responsibility to educate others on the benefit.

Tangible results:

It should be noted that this technology is a great augmentation to current equipment. It has never been the intention nor were the City’s systems ever designed to replace pumpers or engines. These units are still very much a necessity, however since pumper/engines cost anywhere from $450,000.00 to $1.5 million dollars each, employing the UHP technology enables the City to extend the life of the costlier vehicles by utilizing smaller more efficient pickup trucks for the initial attack. This will result in less wear and tear on the larger units and reduce the need for them to respond emergent to most fires. The cost of a new pickup truck and UHP skid unit vary by manufacturer and design specification. That said, even a very well-equipped unit such as the City’s command truck would cost less than $175,000 new. Many departments already have a brush truck and/or a pickup, as was the case in Bondurant. The overall expense for Bondurant was significantly reduced by retro fitting vehicles the City already owned.  Bondurant spent less than $55,000 putting two units in service and added an additional 5 years on two of our frontline pumper tankers replacement cycle. Since the actual replacement schedule for most frontline engines and pumpers is 20 years and the cost of the truck is on average $550,000 (and rising each year), we are able to continually keep equipment longer and stretch out the replacement schedule.  City staff is currently evaluating the need to replace one of the current pumper tenders entirely by simply incorporating an additional UHP response unit into our fleet. This means not only saving money on the front end with less expensive vehicles but also with cost savings in the ability to remount the skid units in new chassis, it is potential to achieve a cost savings of over $400,000 within the next 15 years, after the expense of the additional truck and UHP system.  To clarify, UHP is not intended to eliminate the need for full size engines and pumpers, but it does have the capability to substantially reduce the number of full-size pumpers and engines needing replaced every 20 years.

Because of the efficient use of water, a UHP system is well-suited to fit on smaller, more agile vehicles, Bondurant is able to respond with a smaller crew, leading to quicker departure and response time. Instead of a fire fighter needing to respond to the station, wait for other staff to arrive to have the appropriate number to staff a pumper or rescue truck, then leave the station for the address where help is needed, with the UHP system, one person can respond to the scene, directly from home and start the attack on the fire. This saves valuable time. Additionally, once on scene, the UHP system has been tested and shown to be operational within 15 seconds of arriving. Studies have demonstrated that fire can double in size every 30-60 seconds.

The quicker attacking UHP system can prevent the spread of a fire and keep a single room fire from consuming an entire structure. Because the water is used more efficiently, the residual water left behind is minimal as compared to a low-pressure system, causing less water damage and helping the victims of the water to resume occupancy of the structure quicker. Vehicle fires are of concern to Bondurant, as the City is located off of two intersections of I-80. With the UHP system, vehicle fires can be put with just one-person.

Paying it forward:

City staff is currently involved in planning for an educational summit in Bondurant, scheduled for May 31st – June 2nd. Staff is working with our local school district to use the high school auditorium and classrooms for educational, keynote, and breakout sessions. The Fire Chief has lined up several vehicles and a house to burn to demonstrate not only the value of the UHP system, but also to offer training on it. This is shaping up to be a large summit, with 300 participants from around the country, focused on UHP technology, but also including other topics. The Fire Chief has secured approximately 20 vehicles and one house to burn, to show the abilities of the technology. There is the possibility of having a nationally recognized “legend” in the fire service to deliver the keynote presentation. Staff is also currently working through the appropriate channels to offer CEH’s for ongoing training. This is the largest UHP summit ever! Representatives from Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) will be involved as well. Finally, another goal of the summit is to involve key decision makers form the National Fire Protection Association to look at rule making for this technology, to make the technology more available and safer in its implementation.

This is all done in goal of advancing firefighting capabilities, reducing response times, and decreasing long- term fire operation costs, not only in our own community, but in our state and even nationally.

Following are pictures showing a single firefighter attacking a vehicle fire. The fire was under control within 30 seconds and fully extinguished in under one minute.

Congratulations City of Bondurant for an outstanding new program!

To be considered for the Program of the Year Award, the local government’s chief administrator must be a full (voting) IaCMA member.  Each program nomination must be independent and cannot be a component of another program.  Eligible programs must be:
    • Administered under the authority of one or more governmental entities, with only limited outside assistance from experts/consultants
    • Currently be in operation and have been fully implemented within the last 3 years.
    • Must demonstrate tangible results

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IaCMA Newsletter – July 2019

2019 Emerging Leader Award – Kyle Michel

excerpted from award nomination

The IaCMA’s Emerging Leader Award is presented to a local government and the chief adminKyle Michelistrator or assistant chief administrator in recognition of his/her innovate and successful programs.

Kyle entered the profession of municipal management in 2016 as a Management Intern for the City of Windsor Heights, Iowa (4,953). Employed in the City Administrator’s office, Kyle was exposed to a variety of projects that would provide developmental opportunities in local government budgeting, personnel policies and employee relations, and nuisance abatement and Code enforcement procedures. During his time with Windsor Heights, Kyle completed a budget analysis project that was crucial to the City’s budgeting procedures. This analysis served as a summary of the proposed budget for public review and dissemination.

From Windsor Heights, Kyle transition to the City of Van Meter, Iowa (1,131) where he again served as a Management Intern within the City Administrator’s office. While serving in this position, Kyle assisted with a slum and blight survey of the City. This survey enabled the City to amend its tax abatement program, thus increasing the average number of new residential construction permits per year from 8 to 25. This position also exposed Kyle to a higher level of responsibility, showing his ability to be flexible and take on challenging tasks with little direction or oversight. Throughout this internship, Kyle regularly staffed City Hall by himself and conducted the daily clerical responsibilities of the City. This experience would set Kyle apart from his peer group and pave the way to immediate success upon graduating with his Master of Public Administration and transitioning into his first full-time role within the profession.

After completing his Masters, Kyle began working for the City of Elkhart, Iowa (812) as the City Clerk and only full-time employee of the City. Kyle was offered this position as a recent graduate with the necessary skill set, experience, and education to help transition the City to a council-manager form of government. During his tenure he identified and addressed numerous projects for the betterment of the City of Elkhart, the region, and the profession as a whole.

Upon starting in Elkhart, Kyle immediately identified a need for more efficient and effective communication originating from City Hall. To address this problem, Kyle personally updated the City’s website to a more user-friendly site allowing him to better communicate with residents but also allows residents to have more immediate access to necessary information. Furthermore, Kyle improved upon communication between his office and his elected officials by transitioning to paperless packets. This allowed Kyle to get information in front of his elected officials sooner while also reducing paper waste and printing costs. These efficiency efforts resulted in a 66% reduction in printing costs over the first year of implementation and helped the City receive grant funding from the Metro Waste Authority to provide tablets to elected officials and staff.

Kyle also understands the importance of continued investment in further education as it relates to the profession. In 2017, Kyle secured scholarships and funding to attend IMMI, IMFOA Spring Conference, Iowa SMART Conference, IaCMA Summer Conference, Iowa League of   Cities Conference as well as the ICMA Annual Conference in San Antonio. Additionally, he has stressed the importance of education to his staff and elected officials, allowing for both to attend numerous trainings and conferences throughout 2017. He was also able to send two councilmembers to the Iowa Municipal Leadership Academy with one of those councilmembers being newly elected and determined to receive his certification. Kyle would continue his professional development in 2018 by being selected to speak on the topic of small-town budget constraints at the ICMA Annual Conference in Baltimore.

Kyle would continue to implement successful programs and procedures in Elkhart through a variety of utility projects.  With limited staff and contracted affidavit utility operators, Kyle wanted to ensure his water utility was operating in an efficient manner. As such, he created a monthly tracker that enabled him to monitor his water production data and compare it to his utility billing data. This allowed Kyle to identify instances of water loss within the utility system and kept the City accountable for system loss, enabling the reduction of average loss from over 20% to below 10%. He also facilitated the analysis of the City’s water sources by partnering with the Iowa Rural Water Association.  This analysis provided education to both elected officials, City staff, and residents and resulted in the creation of a Source Water Protection Plan.  As a result of this project, the City received the 2018 Program of the Year Award from the Iowa City and County Managers Association.

From Elkhart, Kyle transitioned back to Van Meter to take up the mantel of City Administrator in July 2018. This position would expose him to his first fiscal year audit. Through this process, Kyle addressed auditor comments from prior audits and created policies to ensure the segregation of fiscal duties within City Hall and other departments of the City. He also would address and oversee the implementation of Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards for the City, an audit comment that was present throughout multiple fiscal cycles.

Through the City’s economic development programs and efforts, Kyle developed a standard incentive package and community profile to include with the City’s first-in-State Certified Site marketing efforts. These efforts helped with conveying the City’s economic development goals and increased the average number of site visits per year. This collaborative approach to large development incentives helped bolster relationships between the City, the Van Meter school district, and Dallas County and helped to ensure that all impacted parties benefit from potential development projects within the City.

During his first budget cycle with the City of Van Meter, Kyle implemented professional development with his department heads by providing them with budget training and the necessary tools to analyze expenditures and plan their budgets. This would be the first time Van Meter department heads played an active role in reviewing past performances and accurately forecasting budget expenditures as a team. This professional development continued with the City’s Finance Committee and City Council by actively including elected officials in the planning and review process. Providing education increased the overall understanding of the budget process by the elected officials. This all-in approach to budgeting promoted teamwork and efficiency which ultimately resulted in a 2% reduction in budgeted expenditures as well as an overall levy rate reduction of $0.14.

In addition to the time Kyle dedicates to this profession, he still maintains an active role within    his community as a volunteer.  Kyle served as the Athletic Director for the Des Moines Chapter of Team Red, White and Blue from 2015 to 2018. Team RWB seeks to connect veterans to their communities through physical and social activity. In his role, Kyle coordinated athletic events all over the greater Des Moines metropolitan area. These events ranged anywhere from free to   attend workouts and volunteer support operations for large running events like the Des Moines Marathon to charity focused competitive events. Kyle still maintains an active role in the organization but has passed the leadership mantel on to allow other leaders to develop.

He currently helps to mentor the new Chapter Captain and Athletic Director as they seek to develop their own events and activities. Kyle also actively participates in the veteran’s nonprofit, Alpha Nerds Guild, an organization that helps connect veterans through video games. Their efforts help fight social stigmas by providing veterans with access to online gaming outlets where they can connect to other veterans while promoting healthy communication and camaraderie.

Kyle also continues to serve his community and nation as an officer in the Army Reserves.  He currently serves as a Medical Services Officer attached to the 103rd ESC out of Fort Des Moines, Iowa. He has served in the Army, Iowa Army National Guard, and Army Reserves through multiple periods of service starting in 2005.

Please join in recognizing our 2019 Emerging Leader Award winner, Kyle Michel.

Congratulations Kyle!


Emerging Leader past recipients
2010 Doug Boldt- Tipton
2011 Josh Heggen- Windsor Heights
2012 Larry Burks- Onawa
2013 Matt McQuillen- Clive
2014 Chelsea Huisman- Center Point
2015 Laura Graham- Des Moines
2016 Amanda Kaufman- Marion
2017 Angie Charipar- Cedar Rapids
2018 Nicholas MacGregor – Burlington
2019 Kyle Michel – Van Meter

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ICMA Coaching Program

ICMA’s coaching program is offering a free webinar series.

First in the series is “Ethics in Action – When it’s your duty to say “No”.

When do you need to say “no” and how do you do it effectively? Learn the most prevalent ethical
issues and how can you spot them. Hear ways to strengthen the ethical culture in your organization
and what roles can everyone play.
Wednesday, April 10
1:00 – 2:30pm cst


Other webinars in the series includes sessions on:

Retooling workplace culture to thrive in the 21st century
May 16

Encouraging inclusive communities
June 12

Grappling with gnarly issues (opioids, homelessness, etc): How local government can help
September 11

Promoting trust in a divisive world
October 10

Having difficult conversations in your organization and beyond
November 14

You may see more information about the series and register for free here.

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IMMI 2019 fast approaching

Registration is now open for the 2019 Iowa Municipal Management Institute (IMMI). IMMI is presented by the Iowa City/County Management Association with assistance from the Iowa League of Cities. The event will take place March 20-22, 2019, at the Graduate Iowa City Hotel (formerly the Sheraton). IMMI is a professional development program for Iowa’s city/county managers and administrators and other local government professionals. Conference registration is $350 ($100 less than last year thanks to our generous sponsors). A late fee of $50 will be added to registrations beginning March 6.

Conference Agenda
Online Registration (must have League website login)

Hotel Reservations
Graduate Iowa City Hotel (210 S Dubuque St, Iowa City, IA 52240)
Special rates have been negotiated for IMMI. Reservations can be made by going to the link here or by calling 319-337-4058 and referencing IMMI 2019. Room rates under the block are $95. Room block expires February 26, 2019.

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Career Compass No. 67: Effective Leaders Start with Compassion

by Dr. Frank Benest
November 16, 2018

Dear Frank,

I’m the supervising building inspector. I oversee three other inspectors in a densely populated, diverse, and poorer community of 50,000 residents. I report to the chief building official.

Here is the big problem: Our region is experiencing a housing crisis. A lot of working people can’t afford to rent an apartment for themselves or their families. Instead, they are renting out garages, sheds, and even tents from homeowners. Many of these structures don’t meet building code standards and are, in fact, unsafe to live in. Our inspectors have sometimes discovered 10-15 people living in a garage. We get complaints from neighbors or referrals from police and fire personnel who come across these illegal second units or structures.

Once we inspect these structures, our inspectors “red tag” them, giving the property owner 10 days (as required by code) to fix the code problems or requiring the renters to vacate. Some structures need minor improvements (bigger windows, stabilized water heater, door opening outward) and some need major improvements (a foundation or rebar, anchoring of structure, toilets, heating).

Property owners and tenants of these units have come out in large numbers to vehemently protest our inspections and corrective notices. Residents living in illegal structures don’t want to be thrown out into the streets and property owners say that they can’t afford to keep their properties without renting out auxiliary units.

The chief building official and I have testified at these raucous hearings that we can’t ignore structures that pose a health and safety hazard. The city council is under great political pressure. Many people have urged the council to declare an “amnesty” and basically waive (ignore) the code so they don’t go homeless. We inspectors, of course, see the need to uphold our legal and professional responsibilities to ensure public safety. However, we feel caught in the middle and quite perplexed by this challenge.

I want to act as a leader and help our organization and the community resolve this issue. Where do I begin? How do I respond with my team to this no-win dilemma?


You are caught in the middle. It’s a messy, uncertain, and politically charged situation with no right or wrong answers. I commend you for seeing the need and opportunity to step up as a leader and help address this community challenge. As a starting point, I suggest that you go beyond your narrow legal and professional duties and try to figure out a response by exhibiting compassion.

You need compassion for all parties:
• Renters
• Property owners
• Neighbors
• Elected officials
• Your staff
• Yourself

Compassion springs from our recognition that suffering is part of the human condition. We must recognize our common humanity if we are to act compassionately.

WHAT IS COMPASSIONATE LEADERSHIP? Compassion is seeking to understand what another person is experiencing, feeling for them in a genuine way, and taking action to help them be successful or alleviate their suffering. Compassionate leadership is intent upon seeking and contributing to the wellbeing of others. It is other-centered. Compassion is not about being a pushover or trying to please everyone. We do what is required of us as professionals, yet we seek ways to respond to the needs of others.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COMPASSION AND EMPATHY? People often confuse compassion with empathy. Empathy is feeling what others feel by putting yourself in their shoes. Empathy may immobilize you so there is no constructive action. Compassion requires that you respond through your action as a leader.

WHY COMPASSION? As a leader, you are often confronted with difficult, messy problems. To promote the wellbeing of others, compassion requires that you enter conversations with others, ask questions, listen intently, and then respond even if there is no ideal solution. Conversation creates connection. People won’t follow you without connection. (See Career Compass No. 61: Leadership is the Art of Conversation) By seeking a compassionate response, you show that you care. People will trust you and connect with you if you demonstrate that you care.

WHAT ARE THE FOUR ELEMENTS LEADERSHIP? According to Anna Kawar, cofounder of Leading Through Connection, compassionate leadership involves several elements.

Compassionate leaders do four things. As a compassionate leader, you must

1. Figure out your intention through self-reflection. Reflect about your values (see Career Compass No. 57: Leading by Living Our Values), acknowledge any assumptions or biases, and identify your responsibilities as a professional and a leader. To identify your intent, you must carve out time and create space for self-reflection and conversation with those close to you, such as a partner or coach or close colleague.

2. Explore options in an imperfect world through conversation. These conversations must involve all the affected stakeholders, including residents living in the illegal units, property owners, neighbors, your inspectors, and top management and elected officials.

For instance, you may conduct one-on-one conversations with inspectors and then, perhaps, several staff meeting discussions. Your inspectors are undoubtedly questioning their role and responsibilities and feeling uncertain, confused, and troubled. Therefore, you must create a safe environment to explore what they are experiencing and what ideas they may have in response to the dilemma.

To generate ideas, you might want to ask some catalytic questions, such as:

• What are we experiencing and feeling?
• What are the hopes, dreams, fears, and concerns of the various groups that we are serving?
• What is our big responsibility?
• What if we do nothing? What are the consequences of our current approach?
• What are some alternative ways or approaches for responding to our big obligations?
• What would be a stretch?
• What could we learn?
• What about. . .?
• What if. . .?
• What else?
• What are we missing?
• What can we do together?

These conversations with all the involved parties will yield some viable responses while demonstrating that you care. It is best if you let go of any agenda and allow opinions, feelings, and desires to emerge without rushing to find a solution. By giving space for possibility, you are able to discover more options and signal that you are not there to change minds but to listen. Of course, then you, the building official, the city manager, and ultimately, the council must decide to act.

3. Take constructive action after conducting authentic conversations. (See section below for some examples of constructive actions even though there are no perfect solutions.)

4. Assess the impact of your action. Debrief your actions with your team. What went well? What did not go so well? What did you all learn for future practice? There will, of course, be missteps, so you need to fix things up as you go along. As Dan Rockwell suggests, learn as you go, not before you go (“The Six Chapters of Every Leader’s Journey”, Leadership Freak blog, July 22, 2018).

By having conversations with all the parties, you might conclude that several compassionate responses could be pursued. For instance, you might with your team recommend some short- to medium-term actions by the city:

• Differentiate between non-health and safety infractions that are not life-threatening and those that, in fact, pose serious hazards.
• Work with top management and the council to allow 30 days (not just 10 days as stipulated in your current code) for property owners to make the improvements for those structures not posing grave health and safety concerns.
• Partner with the county and nonprofit agencies to relocate families who live in unsafe structures.
• Develop minimum standards for garage conversions and work with property owners to make the conversions safe.
• Prequalify a few contractors to help property owners make the improvements.
• Create an online resource center for displaced families and property owners who are trying to comply.

In respect to mid- to longer-term actions, you might recommend that the city;
• Create a loan or grant program to help property owners make do-able improvements.
• Put auxiliary units on the property tax assessment rolls with new property tax revenues going into the loan or grant fund to replenish the fund.

Of course, the long-term solution is working with public, nonprofit, and private partners to build more low-income housing in the community.

To the extent that these constructive actions help alleviate some suffering, they are compassionate responses. They also require smart risk-taking, such as engaging partners, calling your effort a pilot, tying your programmatic responses to the larger council agenda, using influentials (clergy?) as sponsors, and the like. (See Career Compass No. 18: Taking Smart Risks.)

As suggested by Roger Schwarz (“What Stops Leaders from Showing Compassion?”, Harvard Business Review, Aug 29, 2013), it is common for leaders to feel some trepidation about acting compassionately. As a leader, you may fear that:

• “If I’m compassionate, people will think I agree with them.”

You can show compassion even if you disagree with people’s ideas or cannot support what they want you to do.

• “I’ll be perceived as too nice or soft or pleasing.”

You can feel for people’s suffering yet still hold them accountable. For example, you must insist that the property owners make the required health and safety improvements, or they cannot rent out auxiliary units.

• “I will be left responsible for solving all the problems.”

You can be compassionate as a leader by listening to people, exploring options, and doing what is reasonable and do-able given your legal, professional, and even moral obligations. You are not accepting all the responsibility. Responsibility means the ability to respond. You are responding in the ways that you can.

Compassion requires pause and reflection. You must first get a handle on your own emotions and acknowledge your confusion, doubts, and frustrations. And then you must ask yourself, “What am I compelled to do given my compassion for others?”

Compassion also requires conversation, relationship, and connection. Compassion is other-centered and involves getting out of your own bubbles or spheres and exploring the realities of other parties. It’s not all about you and your responsibilities and needs. It’s also about what others need. You must put aside your ego and focus on the wellbeing of others, all in an environment where there are no perfect solutions.

Compassion usually involves some measure of courage.

You must let down your guard, try to make connection, and then take constructive action, even though there may be disagreement and conflict. Courage is when we fear failure, a lack of acceptance, push-back, or ridicule . . . yet we act anyway (see Career Compass No. 58: Overcoming Deep-Seated Fears).

Finally, compassion is about self-compassion. Compassion must encompass self-compassion. Thus, it is self-interested as well as other-interested. Even as we try to respond to the needs of others, we as leaders must reflect on what we are experiencing and feeling; what we need; what are our responsibilities to ourselves. For example, what must the Building Division simply not allow in terms of major health and safety hazards even in the face of political pressure for “amnesty”?

So, compassion requires time, patience, kindness, and strength.

As you attempt to exert leadership amid all this complexity, you must give yourself a break. As you and your team deal with the challenge of illegal accessory units, you will make mistakes and might even fail. If you are self-compassionate, you don’t need to berate ourselves or blame others (the two common reactions to mistakes).

According to Serena Chen (“Give Yourself a Break: The Power of Self-Compassion,” Harvard Business Review, Sept-Oct, 2018), people with self-compassion demonstrate three behaviors. First, they are kind rather than judgmental about their own mistakes; second, they acknowledge that setbacks are a shared human experience; and third, they are not overwhelmed by negative emotions whey they make a mistake. They feel bad but move forward. Those with self-compassion typically have a growth mindset. They don’t believe that their talents and skills are fixed. Rather, they see mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow.

Even though your constructive action is not everything any one group wants you to do, compassion demonstrates that you care about others and therefore engenders trust and builds followership and commitment. Furthermore, if you model compassion, it leads to compassion by others. You begin to build a more compassionate organizational culture which is open to diverse perspectives, different ways of doing things, and learning from mistakes and even failures. Thus, compassionate leadership generates more creative responses by local government.

Leadership is about doing. But it’s more than just doing.

Compassionate leadership requires that we
• Reflect upon the needs of all parties including ourselves.
• Engage others, ask questions, and listen.
• Acknowledge the hopes, dreams, interests, fears, and concerns of others.
• Encourage others to share ideas.
• Integrate the ideas of other stakeholders, including staff.
• Take action. • Invite action by others.
• Let others lead with you.
• Fix things up and learn as we go along.

Compassion requires humility. We need to ask for help and acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers. We need to show up to learn, not educate.

To paraphrase Frances Hesselbein, the former CEO of the Girls Scouts of the USA, leadership is about how to be, not just how to do.

Sponsored by the ICMA Coaching Program, Career Compass is a monthly column from ICMA focused on career issues for local government professional staff. Dr. Frank Benest is ICMA’s liaison for Next Generation Initiatives and resides in Palo Alto, California. If you have a career question you would like addressed in a future Career Compass, e-mail careers@icma.org or contact Frank directly at frank@frankbenest.com. Read past columns at icma.org/careercompass.

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ICMA – 2019 Nashville

Good afternoon IaCMA members,TTWNashville_FEATURED-800x440

I just wanted to take a minute to share the promo video for next year’s ICMA conference in Nashville October 20-23.  I am on the ICMA planning committee which met in Nashville a couple weeks ago and we’re putting together an awesome slate of sessions and speakers designed for cities of all sizes and the location speaks for itself.

Not that Nashville needs much promo, but this conference is going to be a really good one from all aspects: educational sessions, facilities, proximity of everything, nightlife, you name it.

So… as you begin crafting your budgets be sure to set some funds aside to attend next October.  Below is a promotional link to give you a taste of what you will experience.


Have a great day y’all!


Steven T. Diers, ICMA-CM
City Administrator
City of Charles City