By Luke Fischer
When former League of Minnesota Cities Executive Director Dave Unmacht announced he’d be retiring, a search was conducted to recruit his replacement. I applied for the position and after being selected by the LMC Board, I began serving Minnesota cities as the League’s executive director on May 22.
As you might expect, I spent a lot of time preparing for the search that landed me in this new role. My wife, Rachael, also works outside the home and both she and I try to not let office-talk dominate the conversation at the family dinner table. It’s usually more fun to hear what our kids, Ellie (9 years old) and John (5 years old), are up to on any given day.
We thought we were doing a pretty good job focusing on our family, but the week of the final interview Ellie asked me why we were talking about work all the time. Rachael leaned into it and asked the kids what they think dad does at work every day. Let me tell you, if you’ve got young ones this can be an illuminating question.
Ellie, a third grader, kind of rolled her eyes and said, “That’s easy — dad helps people who work in cities.” My life’s work in just nine words.
John, the budding socialite, confidently announced, “No, dad goes to cities, talks to people, and takes pictures next to things.” Hilarious and accurate.
Through the executive director search process, I was often asked the “Why do you want this job?” question. My answer was consistent all the way through. I love the people that represent local government in our state and I want to do everything I can to help support them. I believe deep in my core that city officials can improve peoples’ lives through their service. That’s the Ellie answer to the question.
The follow-up question was always, “And how are you going to do that?” Though the specifics were tailored by audience, the root of my response was always to show up, listen, align, and help people feel good about their service. It’s motivating to me to see firsthand the new park that was built, visit a renovated public works facility, or check out a downtown improvement district. So much of city service is tangible — you can actually see the difference you’re making! That’s the John answer to the question.
As I settle into this new role, it’s important for you to know that I’ve got clarity around my “why” and the work that we have ahead of us as an organization. The League isn’t a building in St. Paul, this magazine, or the Handbook for Minnesota Cities. It starts with you — our members — and includes our staff, Board, and key partners. We’re a collection of people who care deeply about improving our own cities and communities across the state.
Through the relationships League staff have developed, we know you have a lot on your plate. And our resources need to be focused on the help we give so you can get what you need and get on with your day. You can already see strides that we’re making in more tailored resources in the Small City Center (lmc.org/smallcity), which breaks down common inquiries into an easy-to-understand question-and-answer format.
It’s also important for you to know how much I value the work you do and going to your city to see the things that make your community unique. Over the course of the past five years as the League’s deputy director, I’ve visited with city officials and heard what keeps you awake at night and what gives you hope for the future. Your stories and experiences reflect our shared values — that local government can make a positive impact for people, where you live matters, and the work of cities is a team sport.
Through conversations, city leaders have shared that they’re ready for a big project, but struggle to find the resources to make these important investments. To help address this concern, the League rolled out the Grant Navigator program, which makes up to $5,000 available to cities to offset the cost of hiring a grant writer for a city project.
Reflecting back on my kids’ assessment of what dad does every day, I’m proud that they can see the value and ethic behind my work. To me, this opportunity to serve as executive director is a vocational calling, an opportunity that aligns with the core of who I am. To see my kids recognize and describe that is a special thing.
So, tonight when you head home, ask your family why you’re a mayor or a council member or fire chief or city clerk. While the response might surprise you, I’ve got a feeling they see the “real” you and can tell you exactly what you already know.
Luke Fischer is executive director of the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: email@example.com or (651) 281-1279.