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Harvard University's Senior Executives in State and Local Government
John Kross, ICMA-CM, Town Manager, Queen Creek
I want to start by thanking ACMA, the many generous sponsors who, for over seventeen years, have found the value of the important work that Harvard University is doing in the Senior Executives program. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity and your ongoing commitment to public service.

There is a lot written about and referenced in the speeches from the late President John F. Kennedy, but there is an excerpt from his commencement speech at Yale in June 1962 that I found to be at the core of this intensive program. This specific speech is not part of the program, and, ironically enough, neither JFK nor his policies are actually a formal part of the program. The notable exception is Dan Fenn, former staff assistant to JFK, who teaches two outstanding classes/case studies and a lunchtime conversation on the Kennedy Administration. But this excerpt is a foundational theme that runs consistently through the three-week program:

"For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie-deliberate, contrived and dishonest-but the myth-persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clich├ęs of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." - President John F. Kennedy, June 11, 1962, an excerpt from Yale University Commencement Speech

Despite my long-standing and strong interest in the program about starting, including hearing the experiences of friends and colleagues who have gone through the program, I was not as mentally prepared for the journey as I should have been. But, what I found was that most of our 77 classmates were in that same place mentally. Feelings of apprehension quickly fade as the program immediately immerses you into a fairly rigorous exploration of yourself, the value of public service, the primacy of personal and professional relationships, and a the importance of our role in exercising leadership in our work place. As individuals and within our teams, we were pulled out of our place of comfort and effectively into areas that challenged us. In the public sector we work in a naturally risk-averse environment, but this program pushes you to explore and test those boundaries. The program introduces you to about fifteen of the leading professors and practitioners in our field; many, who have also taught world leaders and high level executives in government in both this country and worldwide. A wonderful and unexpected byproduct of the program, one that I will always cherish, is the friendships established with the other students. Learning from fellow appointed executives, elected officials with their diverse backgrounds, perspectives, challenges and successes, was arguably the most impactful part of the journey.

Robert Pickels, County Administrator, Yuma County
I have to admit that I was more than a little anxious about attending the Senior Executives in State and Local Government program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. From the time that ACMA President Kari Kent called to let me know that I had been selected, I thought a lot about what I hoped to gain from attending. Sure, there would be opportunities to meet amazing people (as I did with John Kross from Queen Creek) and the faculty would likely be a fountain of knowledge, which they were. But, I had the feeling that this might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn some things about myself that I wasn't as familiar with as I could be. That is exactly what happened during my three weeks in Cambridge.

In the introduction on the first day, the program was described by its director, David King, as "an ecosystem" wherein participants could "get out of their comfort zone" to explore issues and think in ways that we don't have the luxury of doing in our working environment. We were challenged to engage in dialogue on a variety of fascinating subject areas including performance measures, politics, governance and leadership. Listening to the viewpoints of so many diverse public managers and sharing my own thoughts with them was truly inspiring.

What I think came as the biggest surprise to me was the diversity in professional backgrounds of the participants. For some reason, I expected that the program would be filled with other city and county managers. What I found was quite the contrary. Only about ten percent of the seventy-five participants currently fell into that category. There were police and fire chiefs, several state and local elected and appointed officials and even a library director. What I came to appreciate by the end of the program was that this diversity was by design. In order to gain a more well-rounded perspective on the issues we discussed, it was important to have input from all of these different subject matter experts.

In the end, I felt as though I did discover a lot about where I belong and what we all can achieve in public service moving forward. I can't thank ACMA and the program sponsors enough for the opportunity. This is a truly worthwhile program and all who support it should be proud of what it accomplishes through the participants.
Arizona City/County Management Association
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