Photo of Marc Ott next to photo of students high-fiving

It might happen at an ICMA conference, at a state association meeting, or at a meeting within your own community. Someone you barely recognize walks up to you and says something along the lines of “that advice you gave me 10 years ago was so meaningful to me that it literally changed my life.” You may be trying like heck to remember the circumstance, but mostly you are grateful that something you said or did was of value in a young person’s professional journey.

When I connected with James Kean, a successful entrepreneur who got his start in local government, he told me about the impact that his mentor, Bob Turner, city manager of Boulder, Colorado, had on his life. He was able to apply the lessons he learned from Mr. Turner to his career, first in local government and then in the private sector, as well as his personal life. Like many of us, Bob Turner may not have even known the impact he had on Jim Kean, but that has become part of his legacy. It was simply in his moral code, his DNA, to nurture those who worked for his community, went to his alma mater, or entered the local government profession and crossed his path.

Randall Reid, ICMA’s southeastern regional director, tells an impressive story of when he “cold called” Bob Turner for advice as a brand-new city administrator. Mr. Turner not only shared his wisdom but spoke at a public meeting in the city, giving Randy a major reputational boost. As a bonus, he introduced Randy to the National Civic League and the importance of civic engagement, which has become a lifelong passion for Randy.

New Internships Created for High School Students

James Kean so valued his internship experience he asked if ICMA would help to create the circumstances that would allow others to benefit from the kind of opportunity he was given. His idea was essentially to match ICMA members, local government leaders, willing mentor students in high school, or those just beginning their college careers. With Mr. Kean’s $750,000 endowment, we hope to see hundreds of students become Bob Turner Scholars with the goal of introducing them to a values-based career in local government management. Like Mr. Kean, they may choose a different path, but they will take that journey having learned the phenomenal impact of local government.

We felt it was important to offer these opportunities to students with little to no awareness of how a city/county is run or the kind of impact they could have working directly for their community. So many of us learned about this profession at the graduate school level, in the military, or at a point well beyond high school. By that time, most young people are hardened into their career choices. Partnering with high schools brings the reality of local government into the classroom. The Bob Turner Scholars Program and ICMA mentors can share the real-world, real-life impact they have and how city and county managers and staff positively affect the lives of everyday people.

In understanding how local governments work, Bob Turner Scholars can support their communities in a variety of ways even if they don’t choose to go to work for their community. They may ultimately volunteer for an advisory board or commission or become good private or nonprofit sector partners with their local governments as Mr. Kean did as an entrepreneur.

Multi-generational Workforce Valuable in Addressing Complex Problems

The theme of this month’s PM is the local government workforce. How better to learn about Gen Z and its integration into our multi-generational workforce than by sponsoring a Bob Turner Scholar. It’s easy sometimes to underestimate the contributions teens can make, yet they see the challenges the community is facing through a different and equally valuable lens. As they transition from their educational studies into a career, imagine the significant public service role they might play informed by the guidance of an ICMA mentor.

Many of the challenges of the day seem insurmountable at times and I believe they would remain so without the benefit of a diverse, multi-generational workforce. Gen Z brings a perspective that’s willing to challenge the status quo, to question, to test, to suggest alternatives, and to connect things in ways that may seem unorthodox. This type of energy produces innovation. In a recent ICMA Coaching Webinar on the Generational Workforce, Risi Karim, assistant to the city administrator of Northfield, Minnesota, and a member of Gen Z, said it best, “Change does not occur until you push a little bit.”

That’s what great city, county, and town managers do and what makes me so proud of our membership. They are constantly looking for new ways to leave their community and residents better than when they came to them. And that core value extends to people as well.

Photo of Marc Ott


MARC OTT is CEO/Executive Director of ICMA, Washington, D.C.

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