Minnesota Cities Magazine
More from Nov-Dec 2016 issue

St. Paul to City Hall: ‘Aha’ Moments and Aspirations

UnmachtSPCHBy David Unmacht

I completed my first year with the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) in August. I have now experienced a full slate of LMC Regional Meetings, our Annual Conference, legislative policy committee meetings, the budget process, the fall Board retreat, and of course, my performance evaluation. There are too many highlights to mention, but certainly my visits to Mountain Iron, Battle Lake, Crookston, Becker, Montevideo, Springfield and Austin—all 2015 Regional Meeting sites—were great experiences. Connecting with members in their cities and communities is a high priority for the League. And I wrote this column while in Bemidji and Fergus Falls for our 2016 Regional Meetings.

Routinely during the past few months, colleagues and city officials have asked me if I had any “aha” or surprise moments in my first year. In fact, Mike Mornson, city manager of Hopkins and LMC Board member, and Heather Corcoran, of the LMC Intergovernmental Relations team, each recently asked me that question. My usual response has been, “Nothing obvious, but I do want to give it thoughtful consideration.” Well, I can’t ignore the questions forever; it’s time for my thoughtful answer.

Aha moments
Before my interview for this position, I studied hard andladders going up to clouds, illustrating meeting goals conducted extensive research on the organization. I also had previous firsthand experiences with the League. Those two things minimized surprises. Nonetheless, here are a few observations that fit the “aha” category:

  • Volume of questions and inquiries we receive. There is no way to fully understand the significance of the role we play with our cities until you see the number of questions we receive about the wide-ranging and diverse topics members deal with.
  • Member satisfaction surveys are historically very positive. Having spent one year with our team, I now understand why this is true—because the commitment to serving our cities is unwavering and unmistakable.
  • The National League of Cities (NLC) is a prominent partner with state municipal leagues. I was not aware of how intricately involved state leagues are with NLC.
  • The position I have has a tri-fold function. My position actually serves multiple organizational roles: (1) executive director; (2) voting member of the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust Board of Trustees; and (3) president of the League Building Company, an entity created when the League built its current building, which it owns along with most of the remaining land on its block. Each of these roles is distinct yet important to the overall function of the League.
  • We’re just like our members. Every member of our team is invested in providing direct service to our members. Like you, we are resourceful and assign internal talent to complete routine work and special projects.

Finally, the last aha moment I want to share is the experience of getting to know personally each of the League staff members. From a handful of brand new employees to Pete Tritz—a 41-year veteran of the League and Insurance Trust—the individuals serving you are excellent people with strong values and a positive work ethic. Quite simply, they are fun to be around.

Goals for my second year
My experiences over the past year clearly frame my goals for the second. With strong support from the Board and staff, my overall objective for 2017 and beyond is to provide strategic leadership to our highest priorities. Some of the work that is specific to our members includes:

  • Strengthening our annual conference and regional meetings. We always encourage any ideas you may have.
  • Conducting successful conferences in 2017 for new and experienced elected officials. The election is over, and we have great training opportunities ahead.
  • Creating forums for members to participate in conversations that will explore long-term solutions to present-day challenges.
  • Enhancing our strategic use of information technology (IT) and exploring ways to provide IT services to our members.

With the aha question behind me, history suggests there is a logical second question that is forthcoming. If it sounds familiar, it’s because all of us have heard it at one time or another: “What have you done for me lately?” I hope to always have a good answer for that question.

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

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