by Lynn Tipton, Executive Director
Last year, ICMA celebrated its 100th anniversary as an association. Over the past decade, there have been celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the council-manager form of government in Virginia, and North and South Carolina. This weekend, my family celebrated the Master’s in Public Administration earned by my niece, Michelle from Florida State University. What is it that we celebrate in local government?
This reminder became very clear to me last week as I traveled to a small town for their first charter review since the 1960s. No need to name the town; the example can be repeated across the state in small cities, towns and villages. I chose to read a segment of the introduction from the Model City Charter to the council, and as I read it, I remembered just what we celebrate when we look at cities and counties: we celebrate our choice to self-govern; our choice to separate from a spoils-based system to one that is merit-based. That we choose to give authority within a representative democracy to a body elected from among us to be our voice, to be our decision maker and to hold him/her accountable for his/her actions. We choose to state our beliefs in the charter along with a framework for a government, and have the words adopted by the voters, and to amend those beliefs and update them as time and the need for change dictates. We choose. Teddy Roosevelt and the reform-minded citizens of New York who worked with him to break apart the Tammany Hall political machine chose to take a bold stand. Their actions laid the groundwork for the universal acceptance of, and adoption of, the council-manager and commission-manager plan within cities, counties and other local governments; but it started with choice.
Of Florida’s 411 cities, towns and villages, over 270 are council-manager. Every municipal government formed in Florida since 1991 has chosen the council-manager form; each one had a choice as it worked on its incorporation. More than half of the counties are commission-manager in form; chosen by the county commission and in some cases affirmed by county charter through vote of the citizens.
When you explain to others what you do, and about your profession, are you celebrating? I know we all get tired, and beat down by the daily challenges. I want to encourage you today to celebrate the choices made by you, your predecessors and your respective citizenry. It isn’t something to take for granted, or to be taken lightly. And, when we talk about taking it lightly it also isn’t something that is carved in stone; all governments must adapt and change, or perish. So, as we get ready to gather for our annual conference it is a timely question: how are we doing with our choices? Have we adapted, and chosen to thrive and excel in this system? Or, is it time for a refresh so that we can thrive? Teddy Roosevelt knew he faced huge challenges in changing an entrenched political machine. I admire his courage and convictions, and hope we can all feel inspiration and support as we work within merit-based, democratic local governments, as we focus on excellence in public service.