By Jim Miller
I have thought a lot about what I want to say in this, my last, column. It has been especially difficult because there are so many possibilities.
Certainly I would be remiss, though, if I didn’t start by recognizing the truly exceptional League staff. It’s easy to take competence for granted—less-than-stellar performance is often more readily apparent. But, you should know that your League is recognized as one of the premier state municipal associations in the country, largely due to the contributions of so many dedicated staff throughout the years. Even more affirming, League members consistently express how much they value their partnership with the League. I want to thank the League staff so much for the opportunity to be part of this great team that provides such outstanding value for its members.
I also want to express my deep appreciation for the quality of services and leadership in our cities, something that often is not recognized or is taken for granted. Through my position with the League, I have become quite familiar with the state of local government throughout this country, and I know Minnesota local governments are often looked to as innovative leaders, and with good reason.
I have also thought a lot about the hundreds of Minnesota local government officials, both elected and appointed, I have had the pleasure to know and work with for 35 years. “Local government” is an impersonal term, but we all know that it is the people who lead and work for local governments that give them life and make the substantive difference in the quality and responsiveness of the services cities provide. Minnesotans have indeed been fortunate through the years to have had so many ethical, dedicated public servants serve their communities with such distinction.
And when I think about those public officials who seem to have made the greatest positive difference in their communities, I believe they usually have shared the same attributes: integrity, courage, flexibility, and compassion. These people have learned that making a difference depends as much on how you do your job as what your job entails.
While these qualities are all important, it has been their consistent and visible personal integrity that has stood out to me. These public servants realized that personal agendas are not allowed, and they accepted the most important and difficult obligation for all public officials: balancing the public’s interest with that of individuals (sometimes their own). In short, they recognized their position is not a license, but a responsibility to serve the public.
They have also demonstrated courage, which is sometimes a prerequisite for acting with integrity. When necessary, for example, they have stood up to the opinions of the “shadow city council” that meets every morning at the coffee shop and knows for certain that building a new community center will ruin the community. Or, they have been willing to express their best professional judgment about a proposed street widening project, even when they know they may be personally attacked for conveying that information or recommendation.
These public servants also have been secure enough with themselves to know that flexibility in deciding or implementing decisions is necessary; they are willing to compromise. They have recognized there is often no absolute “right” answer, only degrees of rightness in the complex decisions public officials make and execute. Perhaps it should not be surprising that those city governments displaying the worst examples of incivility are also the ones where almost every council decision is framed by who wins and who loses.
Yet another distinguishing characteristic of these memorable public servants is their compassion. They realized that government, perhaps more than any other institution, affects people’s lives and that this means government must be willing to break with precedent when common sense and fairness dictate.
There is so much more I would like to share, but let me end by simply saying I have been truly privileged to serve as the executive director of the League of Minnesota Cities; it’s an outstanding organization and it’s been a great ride. Thanks to all of you for your confidence in me and the League these past 22 years. I know the League’s best years are yet to come. MC
Jim Miller has been the executive director of the League of Minnesota Cities since 1993. He is retiring on July 31.
* By posting you are agreeing to the LMC Comment Policy.