We’re now in week two of the Cookingham Connection. Today, we hear from Frank Robinson, Town Manager of Apple Valley, California. Frank is an International City/County Management Association (ICMA) Credentialed Manager with 28 years of experience in public administration. He is a transplant from the State of Texas where he was responsible for many economic development successes during his 14-year tenure as the president and township manager of The Woodlands Township, located 30 miles north of Houston, Texas.
Formal acts of the council become public policy, and you as city manager must always do your best to translate these policies into action. You should do this in a manner to best realize the intent of the council. In some cases, you may not agree with the policy, but it is your duty as city manager to carry out the policy to the best of your ability unless it is illegal or fraudulent.
If you want to make policy, run for office. If you want to be an effective city manager, influence policy by paving the way for good council decisions with a solid foundation of information.
Regardless of the outcome of last night’s council meeting, our duty as managers is to translate the majority will of the council into action. These leaders were elected to represent the citizens, and we are the conduit to fulfill that plan.
This is easiest when council’s vision aligns with ours. We “seasoned” managers bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to our position, and we often have great ideas for solving community issues. When our council is of the same mind, it’s like a managerial high-five! The next step is clear—we implement and bring council’s vision to life.
Sometimes, council steers in a direction different than one we may have chosen. We must remember during these times that council represents those who elected them. They believe they are acting in the best interest of the public, based on what they have heard from their constituents.
It doesn’t matter whether they agree with you or not. After all, councils don’t always agree with each other. However, putting a unanimous policy decision into action is the least complicated because everyone is rowing in the same direction as soon as you leave the dock.
When council is split, policy implementation can be trickier, but good council relations will insure that the whole team presents a unified front behind the majority decision, no matter which way they voted.
In every case—whether or not the council agrees with you or with each other—the manager’s role is full steam ahead. More importantly, it is full steam ahead with a cheerful heart. Once the course is set, a strong manager leads the way with a positive attitude, ready to implement the policy and defend the council’s decision without hesitation.
Harold S. Geneen, former CEO of ITT, explained it well when he said, “Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.”
However, before any policy decision is ever made, the successful manager knows how to lay the groundwork through information. As council considers an issue, our primary job is to provide the data they need to make an informed decision. Armed with reliable research, opinions, examples, comparisons and recommendations, the resulting policy is much more likely to be one that you can implement and defend.
The Cookingham Connection blog series is published in partnership with Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL). ELGL members are local government leaders with a passion for connecting, communicating, and educating.
I think I have gotten some of my greatest satisfaction by carrying out a council policy that I did not necessarily agree with at the outset. The best would be when I would hear a comment on the street that “this was the city manager’s idea.” That told me that I had carried our council’s policy so well that some people believed it was my very own idea.
That’s great to hear, Mark! It’s important to know how to still implement policy that you don’t agree with, as long as it’s not unethical.
Thanks for the comment!
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