Reassuring, Worrisome and Hopeful
I recently had the opportunity to attend the 108th Annual Conference of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) in Columbus, Ohio. For the first time since before the onset of COVID, I was able to join thousands of City and Town Managers, County Administrators, Assistant and Deputy Managers and other senior local government leaders from across the nation and elsewhere in the world. As has been the case in the past, the opportunity was insightful and rewarding, offering many learning opportunities that I trust will continue to make me a better manager and benefit Roanoke and its residents.
This year perhaps more than any other year in the past, I found myself experiencing an interesting blend of reassurance along with apprehension. More often than I can ever recall, the conversations in the halls, exhibit area, educational sessions and events were closely aligned. Large, small, urban, rural, blue state or red state, U.S., Canada, New Zealand or Belgium – the concerns, challenges and opportunities were very similar – community by community.
It was reassuring to hear and take part in conversations and educational sessions where community leaders were grappling with many of the very same challenges as we are here in Roanoke. For the most part, I knew this prior to the conference but there is something reassuring about hearing directly from fellow administrators that we are all engaged in the same struggles. Homelessness, most especially those living out of doors, unsheltered is a challenge whether in communities in New York, Texas, Oregon or here in Virginia. Gun Violence is wreaking havoc in communities from Minnesota to Florida and from Arizona to Michigan and all parts in between. No community in attendance is able to attract and retain enough police officers, fire fighters, sanitation workers, engineers, accountants, landscapers and so on, to meet the service needs or expectations of their communities. While budgets currently remain healthy, all recognize they are temporarily propped up by plentiful federal aid and are quickly being eroded by inflationary pressures and worse still, is the looming specter of a likely recession, even as most communities have yet to fully recover from the last major recession and certainly not from the economic impacts of COVID.
The apprehensive or disconcerting part was that along with each of these conversations and inside the workshops or at the general sessions, all present are applying mostly the same tools and interventions. That is, we are all working diligently in much the same way to end homelessness, gun violence and address workforce issues in our community. We are all preparing our budgets in much the same manner, anticipating the looming shocks and revenue losses. While a bit reassuring that we are on the same path as most others, it is a bit worrisome that for most of these significant and critical issues, we as a society have yet to arrive at adequate solutions and interventions.
I am reassured by the fact that thousands of administrators, elected officials, researchers, police and fire chiefs, outreach workers, clerks, supervisors and many more are all working toward meaningful and sustainable solutions, sharing lessons learned and continuously innovating new and better ways of doing things. While quick and easy solutions may elude us at the moment, I am confident that real and lasting responses to each of the challenges are possible and assure you that I and each of the 1700+ employees of this organization will continue to identify, test, innovate, adapt and implement the best responses possible, in pursuit of the results we all seek.
- Bob Cowell