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Kathie Grinzinger
Lead Executive Recruiter, Michigan Municipal League

Retired from Mt. Pleasant, Kathie Grinzinger has held almost every local government management post there is — including a year as MLGMA’s president. She now leads the Michigan Municipal League’s Executive Search Service. Kathie spoke with “The Manager” newsletter about her three decades of service and how it feels to be honored with MLGMA’s “2014 John M. Patriarche Distinguished Service Award.”

You spent three decades serving the same community, Mt. Pleasant. Why did you stick around?

I considered moving from Mt. Pleasant on a number of occasions. I was recruited and tested the waters in other communities throughout my career.  But, I was given such wonderful opportunities for growth and flexibility that there was always another expected challenge in Mt. Pleasant. I started as Public Information Director and Community Development Coordinator. I became the Human Resources and Labor Relations

Director. I absorbed emergency management and crisis communication. As Community Services Division Chief I got to work with the Departments of Parks, Recreation, Building, Zoning, Planning, and Economic Development. As Assistant City Manager I got to play in all those sandboxes. I often tell people I had the great, good fortune to hold nearly every job in local government except those that required driving a big yellow truck or carrying a weapon.

As City Manager of Mt. Pleasant I was able to make use of that history in a community I was personally dedicated to, with a group of people I had hired and came to hold in the greatest regard. Big achievements in government sometimes take years.

There are so many moving parts — funding restraints, changes in political direction, forging agreements among residents and partners — that we, as managers, don’t always get to see our toughest or loftiest ambitions become reality. Being in one community for an extended time gave me the uncommon chance to move ideas through every facet of implementation.

What was your proudest accomplishment as City Manager of Mt. Pleasant?

As a group we changed the nature of government work to a corporate culture of team-based process improvement; entrepreneurial creativity and stakeholder-driven decision-making. Implicit with that philosophy, we moved to goal-based budgeting with continuous progress measurement and reporting that, in the best of circumstances, keeps all employees, Council, and an informed citizenry on the same page going in the same future-based direction.

Every downtown or commercial district renovation, historic reuse project, land acquisition, creative infrastructure development, planning revolution, or voter achievement comes from the trust that develops when great employees do good work and truth is told. I continue to be very proud of the people I worked with and the work we did on behalf of our residents.

You are leading the League’s Executive Search Service now. Why is that work important?

Working with MML allows me to continue to have the smallest impact on the League’s greatest mission, building a better Michigan through the success of our communities. By working with elected officials and municipal organizations to find the best fit in executive managers, we can assist in putting together effective and successful leadership teams. This work allows me to continue to play a minor role in feeding my passion for community building.

What was your reaction when you found out you were an MLGMA “Patriarche Award” winner?

When Pete Auger called, I assumed he wanted to touch base about a city manager recruitment, because I work with the League’s Executive Search Services. Never did I guess I would, or could, be added to a list of truly remarkable representatives of our profession. I was shocked and, unusual for me, likely speechless. I can only hope after 30 years in the public forum I was able to maintain my composure and keep the hitch out of my voice.

I can think of no greater gift than to be recognized by a group of individuals I consider to be the ultimate example of professionalism, service, and dedication to a mission greater than ourselves; that of good governance and community building. I have looked at the list of past recipients of the “Patriarche Award” and am overwhelmed to be included in this company. I am very, very grateful.

This means so much to me. MLGMA has been a touchstone in my life for nearly three decades. I learned my most valuable professional lessons here. I collected advice, counsel, example, and opportunity from the association. Most importantly, its members were my most trusted friends throughout my career. I owe much more to my manager colleagues than can be repaid.

The Sunday before I was to receive this award, I lost my father. Looking back, now, it seems fitting that this occasion will be forever linked in my mind to the passing of the person who taught me the most about the requirement to serve and the responsibility and joy in volunteering.

What do you hope your legacy will be?

Several of my former student journalism and communication trainees are now writers and public relations professionals around the country. Some of my past interns and employees are public service executives in their own right. Many of the folks I was able to employ have moved up the ranks in our city or others and are doing creative work to empower public servants and grow great communities. I hope my legacy will be evidenced in the values and commitment to excellence of those I served and those I served with. I would be happy to be remembered as an innovative public employee who served with integrity and character while always heading toward tomorrow.

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