A Noble Profession … Especially Now

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By Keith Van Beek

Several years ago, at a family gathering, I was referred to as the “Black Sheep” of the family. While many of you are probably smiling thinking about the MANY legitimate reasons for me to earn that title, it was given by an uncle who didn’t understand our profession and equated me with being a politician. The irony that this same uncle was a used car salesman is not lost on me.  Thankfully, over time, my family came to better understand not only what I do, but also my brother-in-law, Jim Ritsema, city manager of Kalamazoo.  (Who of you knew we were related!?!)

I suspect most of us are watching as our political system continues to struggle, primarily at the federal level, but also increasingly at the state and sometimes local level. I find myself reflecting on MME and our individual roles in communities that comprise a larger nation that is increasingly rocked by division, hate, and mistrust. What is our professional answer and what is our personal role as “Leaders at the Core of Better Communities” (a former ICMA tagline)?

Jim Collins, author of many books including the Good to Great series, spoke at the 2012 ICMA Annual Conference in Phoenix. He suggested politics as being the anti-flywheel, where the chronic inconsistency of the political process keeps us from the compounding positive effects of a flywheel gaining momentum and building greatness (current political pun not intended). He also suggested that it is us, as municipal executives, who represent a consistency of effort and hope to build great, not just mediocre communities.

Our professional role is as important as ever—to help build communities characterized by engagement and trust in the municipality for which we work.  So keep up the work that you do, and know that we are in a noble profession filled with meaningful and important work!

Many things are happening on the MME front:

  • Many thanks to our Muskegon area managers and the Professional Development Committee for a tremendous Summer Workshop. See the article by Christian Wuerth reflecting on the event.
  • Thanks also to Oliver Turner and the Ethics Committee. They have been busy this year, and I will have some updates on a few issues that arose when the ethics review process is complete. The ethics panel at the Summer Workshop was appreciated, as is the review process of membership applications undertaken by this committee.
  • Those of you that are MML members, please attend the MML Convention, this year being held September 13-15 in Holland. On Sept. 13, MME will both host the annual colloquium presentation and award the Patriarche Award. Attend if you are able, and look for more information as we announce and appropriately honor one of our own.

Best, Keith

Keith Van Beek
President, Michigan Municipal Executives; Deputy County Administrator, Ottawa County

Keith Van Beek has been the Ottawa County deputy county administrator since 2009, and was previously deputy city administrator for the city of Kentwood. He also serves as an adjunct professor at Cornerstone University. You may reach him at 616-738-4642 or kvanbeek@miottawa.org.