By Carl Swenson, City Manager, Peoria
The Dallas Morning News in August ran an interesting article on the announced retirement of
longtime Plano City Manager Tom Muehlenbeck. The writer pointed out that several other
Dallas-area municipalities are led by managers approaching retirement age, and expressed
concern that looming turnover at the top could undermine the stability of these cities during
a period of great fiscal stress.
Of course, those of us who are in the profession, including the managers of the cities in the
aforementioned article, have been aware of this problem for some time. Succession planning
is a top priority for ICMA, ACMA, and organizations like them all around the country. But these
organizations cannot succeed unless we as individuals take this responsibility upon ourselves.
The question each of us might well ask ourselves is, "What am I doing to develop future
leaders in my organization and to encourage others to enter the profession?" Hopefully we
are all doing something-however small or insignificant it may seem.
In Peoria, we have done some simple things to help and encourage those in our organization
who have expressed an interest in becoming city managers or assistant city managers. I
share a few of these not to hold ourselves up as a model, but rather in the spirit of idea sharing.
A dozen of these employees formed a "Peoria cohort" of ICMA's Emerging Leaders Development
Program. Participants in this two-year program engage in monthly teleseminars facilitated by
credentialed managers to strengthen their knowledge of key competency areas. Each participant
is given a credentialed manager to serve as a career coach throughout the program. Working
with this coach, emerging leaders complete a management application project that demonstrates
what they have learned and the benefits to their organization. Several of our employees have
now completed this program.
One of Peoria's deputy city managers is very good at informing our emerging leaders about
learning opportunities such as the articles and webinars offered by the Cal-ICMA Coaching
Program. We have also encouraged several of these employees to apply for the ACMA/ICMA
scholarship to attend the ICMA annual conference. Two have been able to attend their first
conference through this program.
We are also trying to do our part to attract young professionals to the field by hosting interns
and giving them real opportunities to experience the satisfaction of a career in local government.
We are now hosting our second Marvin Andrews Fellow; the first is working full time in our
Planning Department. We plan to continue to host Marvin Andrews Fellows in the future.
These are not earth-shattering initiatives, but the feedback I have received from those
who have participated suggests that they have benefited from these experiences and that
they appreciate the investment we have made in their growth and development.
Finding the time and money to develop people is not easy, especially in today's environment.
However, my experience has been that seemingly small efforts can pay big dividends. For me,
supporting young professionals in their career goals is one of the most rewarding aspects of
being a city manager. It can also be one of the most important legacies we leave our
organizations and the profession of city/county management.