Reflections on the 2017 ICMA Annual Conference

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Several MME members attended the recent 2017 ICMA Annual Conference in San Antonio, Texas and shared their thoughts on the experience.

Attending the ICMA Annual Conference means more than attending sessions and social events. For me, it is the connection and engagement with other professionals, seeing old friends, and meeting new ones.

That being said, there were several sessions that resonated with me. For instance, University of St. Andrews (United Kingdom) Professor Kevin Orr – who is a visiting scholar at the University of California-Berkeley – had a short (30 minute) session on research he has been doing about how storytelling can enhance a person’s effectiveness in leading. Stories can provide a powerful way to convey a premise, principle, or message. If you have stories to tell, he would be interested in hearing them, and can be reached at

The closing speaker, Simon Bailey, was energetic in his talk about leading in uncertainty. One of his many nuggets gets back to my point about the value of conference attendance. He stated that “average leaders communicate; excellent leaders connect.” Another suggestion was on the importance of listening; he emphasized that the words “listen” and “silent” have the same letters, just a different arrangement.

Daryl Delabbio, Retired, Former Kent County Administrator/Controller; 616-204-3000


Although I have a strong appreciation for the programming of the regular conference agenda, I found the additional sessions offered on Saturday rose the bar. The extra length and intensity of the 3-1/2 hour Master Class in Collaborative Leadership was worth the additional fee to attend. Members in the class were varied, from seasoned managers to some just beginning their careers. During the role playing, even the most seasoned were able to discuss “take aways” and how they would implement the strategies to strengthen their own teams and personal skill sets.

The networking opportunities can often be more relevant than some of the breakout sessions, and the San Antonio venue and agenda provided many. Thank you to the committee who put the conference agenda together…San Antonio and the Riverwalk area are a superb venue for a group our size. The location offered many options for meals, shopping, and entertainment all within a short distance from the conference center.

Bridgette M. Gransden, CPA, CGFM, Midland County Administrator/Controller


As in past years, the 103rd installment of the IMCA Annual Conference in San Antonio, Texas turned out to be an amazing professional development opportunity. Whether looking for inspiration, education, private service providers or camaraderie, the event did not disappoint.

I personally enjoyed the keynote speech by Richard Florida, noted urbanist and author of the seminal urban development book Rise of the Creative Class. He eloquently identified that the urban economic renaissance of the 21st century has only been that for a select, privileged  portion of the population. In his estimation, the revival has left nearly 2/3 of the population behind and led to the rise of populist political leaders such as Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and President Donald Trump. Given the dysfunction in the Federal and even State governments, Florida stresses that local governments are the best positioned to ensure that the economic resurgence of our cities benefit all, not just a privileged few.

Ben Swayze, Township Manager, Cascade Township; 616-949-1500


As a small town manager (Village of Sparta population – 4,337), I don’t get to attend ICMA conferences every year due to budget constraints. A scholarship from the MME Professional Development Committee is what made this trip a reality – and I am thankful I was able to attend. The conference this year was led by excellent speakers and sessions that provided information and practices that are scalable for my community. The highlight for me was hearing Richard Florida – someone whose books were required reading through my graduate program – talking about the “New Urban Crisis.”

Similar to my experience at MME conferences, some of the best learning comes outside of the sessions, during networking events and getting to know managers outside my Michigan network. If you haven’t attended an ICMA conference yet, or haven’t attended one in a few years, I would highly recommend that you go. You quickly realize how much bigger the management profession is when you are sitting in a room with 3,700 other municipal leaders at an ICMA conference – a truly great experience.

Julius Suchy, Village Manager, Sparta; 616-887-8251


As I reflect on the ICMA Conference in San Antonio, I am reminded how our profession can be so fulfilling. There is something energizing about being at a conference with 3,500 other city and county managers from across the globe and all of us trying to figure out how best to serve our communities. We are all different, but we are similar as well.

Relationships is the word that most resonated with me. The theme of the conference was building bridges, but no bridges can be built without relationships. Whether it is among staff, with neighbors, with contractors, with elected officials or neighboring jurisdictions, how we treat people matters. It is at the heart of all we do. The golden rule seems so simple yet so profound. Richard Florida said it best, “We all just want to be respected where we live.”

Rebecca Fleury, City Manager, Battle Creek; 269-966-3378


I had a great time in San Antonio.  The annual conference had numerous worthwhile sessions and many opportunities to visit with friends from around the country.  The keynote speakers were very inspirational as they spoke to us about diversity, leadership, ethics and the importance of connecting with everyone who works in our communities.  The get together Monday evening with fellow Michigan managers was especially fun at the Guadalajara Grill.  We were able to talk about some of the sessions that we attendees, what’s going on back home and how we might use some of what we learned at the conference to improve ourselves and our organization.

I really appreciate the awesome job that the ICMA staff does to make the entire event such an all-around excellent experience from the workshops to the meals to the quality of speakers.  I know that I particularly appreciated hearing our President, Marc Ott speak in what he referenced “a conversation “.  He gave both his personal position and our organization’s position on many cutting edge and key societal issues facing our futures.  It was a frank conversation about the real challenges that all of us are facing everyday.  It was refreshing to hear his humbleness and sincerity as he acknowledged how difficult it is to find an answer that fits all of our unique situations.

I’m already looking forward to Baltimore next year.  Make sure you mark your calendars now!

Russell Taylor, Township Manager, Thomas Township; 989-781-0150