Back to the Sep-Oct 2022 issue

Tom Grundhoefer’s Advice Guides League into Future

By David Unmacht

David Unmacht, Executive Director of the League of Minnesota Cities

I remember the scene like it was yesterday, though it was more than five years ago. Casually leaning on the frame of my office door, arms folded across his chest, peering out over the window vista of the Minnesota Capitol, long time (and the late) League General Counsel Tom Grundhoefer reflected from experience and wisdom, that the League’s highest priority must always be to remain relevant to our members. Offering me advice that will last a career, Tom said simply, “We work hard to build credibility that will last; our goal has to be remaining relevant at all times.” To this day, his sage advice is at the forefront of the work we do, from staff to Board of Directors.

How do we know if we are relevant? What do we need to do as a staff and board to ensure Tom’s advice is not forgotten? The answers are often simpler than they may appear. We do this in subtle and sometimes obvious ways: informal phone conversations with members and formal member surveys; numerous member visits; focused training and educational sessions; and identifying emerging member needs through participation in MemberLink conversations.

His advice to us remains a foundational pillar to this day: never rest on our laurels or take anything for granted; the future demands relevancy.League Board President and Bemidji City Council Member Ron Johnson is a strong advocate for collaboration and cooperation among municipal partners and associations. Our staff works closely and is continuously communicating with other city associations such as the Municipal Legislative Commission, Minnesota Association of Small Cities, the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, and Metro Cities, as well as association partners representing townships, counties, and school districts. Our close contact and connection with these partners ensure we are in touch with trends, issues, and ongoing priorities of our peers in local government.

In a more personal way, I have a method to check our relevancy on a national level through our work with the National League of Cities (NLC). Throughout my seven years as LMC executive director I have had the privilege of participating in many activities and important leadership roles, including serving as chair of the State League Steering Committee and Board of Directors Executive Committee. This work allows me to engage and connect with city officials from states throughout the country.

In August, NLC Deputy Director Luke Fischer and I attended a NLC conference with our national peers. This is an opportune time to check in with our colleagues on trends and the priorities of other state leagues. No one league is the same as another, yet overall, our issues are similar and we share common missions. Luke and I use these interactions as a gut check on relevancy. We pay close attention to the work other state leagues are doing on common issues and seek to discover if new issues are emerging.

A sample of the issues facing cities across the country and in Minnesota from our August meeting includes prioritizing mental health for city employees and among leaders of our state league workforce; civil communication in government; land use, housing policy, and other legislative challenges; working with elected officials in an era of increasing partisanship; cybersecurity; remote workforce trends; expanding partnerships in the other sectors; identifying the most effective way to conduct member engagement; public safety recruitment and retention; and the importance and value of working closely with and prioritizing small cities to address their unique needs.

Based on their size, scope, and membership, each state league is unique in their work and priorities. But what struck Luke and I was that every topic of the three-day conference has relevance to our members in Minnesota. This was reassuring and an important conclusion for us.

Tom Grundhoefer spent most of his career at the League, working with hundreds of city officials, staff, and board members over three decades. In a highly personal way, those that remember Tom work to support his legacy. Tom died unexpectedly in February 2017, and we honor his challenge every day. Tom would have been very proud of the work of the League over the past five years, especially throughout the pandemic. His advice to us remains a foundational pillar to this day: never rest on our laurels or take anything for granted; the future demands relevancy.

The results of our work are not always easily measurable. Yet we know through fulfilling our guiding mission, through feedback about our programs and services, and through our gut checks with Minnesota and national peers that the League of Minnesota Cities is committed to staying relevant and serving as a key cog in the wheel of Minnesota city government.

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