Back to the Nov-Dec 2021 issue

Taking Time to Look Back and Look Ahead

By David Unmacht

David Unmacht

Included as an insert in this magazine is our 2020-2021 Annual Report. The League of Minnesota Cities Constitution requires the executive director to submit “an annual report of the League affairs, services, and finances, which shall be communicated to members.” There is no prescribed format or method, and this is the sixth year of presenting it as a magazine insert.

Because the League’s fiscal year begins Sept. 1, the Annual Report bridges calendar years. We do our best to capture the essence of 365 days of service in one document highlighting actions and activities noteworthy and informational.

This year’s report includes specifics on our transition to virtual learning and events during the pandemic, including the launch of our new online learning platform MemberLearn; our emphasis on public safety; our member support in the administration of federal grants from both the CARES Act of 2020 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021; and much more. I encourage you to take a moment to review the contents.

Future, past direction signsBoth the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 annual reports are shaped and influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet there is a clear distinction between the two: the former being early in the pandemic, the latter being in what we hope are the later stages.

It is not a stretch to predict that the 2021-2022 report will also contain information on the pandemic, hopefully reduced to an anecdote as opposed to a feature. Yet, what else might be included in the next report? The balance of this column is anticipatory and foresightful, based on what we know today.

Our mission. Each annual report includes facts, data, and information on our member services — the bedrock of our existence — and the 2021-2022 report will be no different. Our reach has expanded much deeper in recent months, with staff resources committed in areas such as diversity, equity, and inclusion; post-traumatic stress disorder; small cities support; finance and budgeting; and cybersecurity.

Our staff expertise is expanding as the needs and requests of our members change, and our work in these areas is anticipated to be a highlight. As we think about the future, we’re focused on where our members need support — and the best way to deliver needed services.

Transitional stage. By all indications, the year ahead will remain transitional. Not a period of rapid change, but a time of needed resettling and normalizing.

The League is experienced and confident in knowing what our members want; we are committed to listening to fully understand your preferences for how you want the information. We will be deliberate and intentional in gathering your input through informal feedback, surveys, one-on-one conversations, and a continuation of our statewide, small-format meetings. I’m proud of our reach in smaller, focused settings this past year (see the Annual Report for a map of our city visits last year).

Virtual gatherings are here to stay at some level, but what about our desire to meet in person? We hear mixed thoughts on this point: Some members can’t wait to meet in person, and some prefer the virtual experience. As we look to 2022, we hope to answer that question or, at a minimum, get a better sense of your needs.

Our annual conference is planned for Duluth in June of 2022, and I hope our 2021-2022 Annual Report includes photos, highlights, and positive news from a safe gathering of members for the first time in three years.

Self-reflection. I’ve written often on the importance of our individual and organizational well-being, and the year ahead will feature more emphasis and activities in this area. Self-reflection is a cornerstone of leadership — whether in city hall or at the League.

I’ve committed to the League Board that we will be reflective and self-examine how the League does its work — after all, we can’t be the same organization at the end of the pandemic as we were at the beginning. Our actions will be thoughtful and purposeful, with one goal in mind: maintaining our relevancy and value to our city officials. Our mindset will be one of anticipation, hope, and optimism.

A written report reflects what was; a prediction is an anticipation of what is to come. One documents and verifies a set of facts and knowns; the other is an opinion and observation of the future based on experience and knowledge. Reporting is easy; predicting is not. Read the League’s 2020-2021 Annual Report for a look back; and please join me in the days ahead to lay the foundation for the 2021-2022 report.

David Unmacht is executive director of the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1205.