Daryl Delabbio has served the citizens of Michigan in a variety of capacities for almost four decades. Starting with positions in small cities, he has worked his way up to the top job in one of the state’s largest counties. Daryl spoke with “The Manager” newsletter about his municipal career as well as his new role as regional vice president of the International City/County Management Association.
You’ve been in local government for 37 years. What drew you to that profession?
My Dad wanted me to be a lawyer, so I majored in political science in college. But in my junior year, I took a class from a lawyer that was just too dry and decided I wouldn’t like being a lawyer. My friend’s father was a township clerk, so I decided to try an internship with the Plainfield Township clerk. That really piqued my interest. Plus, my parents had always instilled in me the desire to serve. Ironically, during my internship the Plainfield Township clerk took me to the quaint city of Rockford in 1974. It was such a nice community that I decided I wanted to be the city manager there someday, and 10 years later that became a reality. That internship changed my direction and set me on a career in local government.
You’ve been County Administrator/Controller in Kent County since 1998. What have been your biggest accomplishments?
I started with Kent County as assistant manager for 3 years before becoming county administrator. Rockford was city manager heaven, and Kent County has been county manager heaven.
The thing I’m most proud of is our initiatives in diversity. In 1978, we developed a purposeful, strategic plan regarding a more inclusive, diverse organization with a workforce that’s representative of our community. The Cultural Insight Council is a totally staff-driven work group that is designed to help us understand and appreciate how to be an inclusive organization in all areas – race, age, sexual orientation, religion, etc. We’ve increased diversity by 50 percent in that time at all levels of the organization. And the community knows that we have better outreach and screening because they see me and my staff out in the community.
Another thing I’m proud of is our in-house training program. From a rudimentary beginning, we’ve established a robust program on a variety of topics, such as conflict management, labor relations, and communication. Supervisors and directors get six weeks focused on leadership training twice a year (4 hours/day), and we have an annual leadership summit. This year, we brought in Clinton Longenecker, co-author of “Getting Results,” the book we use in leadership training. Clint had them all eating out of his hand.
You’ve held a variety of positions with ICMA since 2001. In July, you were elected as ICMA’s Midwest Regional Vice President. How do you hope to contribute to the organization in this role?
It’s allowing me to serve my professional organization at a more advanced level. The Board sets the direction for the organization and provides the voice of members to staff. There are some critical decisions that have to be made, such as finding a business model that is financially sustainable. As part of that, I want to see leaps and bounds in membership services in a sustainable way. I also want to continue building on the tradition of ethics and leadership training and making sure members are being served the way they want to be served. We’ll be going through the strategic planning process for the next few years that will set the direction for the next 10 years.
It’s really an honor and a privilege to represent the Midwest, and to be selected by your peers. I never lose sight of that.