2017 San Antonio Conference Draws Record Attendance

Nearly 4,000 attendees convened in the world's 2nd largest council-manager city to learn, share, network, and grow.

ARTICLE | Oct 28, 2017

ICMA's 103rd Annual Conference, held October 22-25, 2017, in San Antonio/Bexar County, Texas, attracted 2,819 members and 3,474 main attendees (not including partners or children), both new records! The total attendance of 3,984 (includes main registrants, partners, and children) ranked the San Antonio conference as the third largest in ICMA history.

ICMA thanks the 2017 Conference Host Committee (led by Co-chairs Edward Benavides, Tricentennial CEO, San Antonio; Maria Villagómez, assistant city manager, San Antonio; and Erik Walsh, deputy city manager, San Antonio); the 2017 Conference Planning Committee (led by chair Alison Zelms, deputy city manager, Mankato, Minnesota); San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley; and the many volunteers from San Antonio and surrounding communities.


Second Annual ICMA University Symposium on Women in the Profession
ICMA added sessions focused on women in local government to this year’s conference schedule. A special feature was the Saturday preconference symposium, “InclUSiveness….It starts with Us,” hosted in collaboration with the League of Women in Government and sponsored by ICMA Strategic Partner Siemens. Michael Kimmel, distinguished professor of sociology and gender studies, State University of New York at Stony Brook, was a featured speaker at the half-day symposium that drew more than 246 participants.

Saturday Reception: A Night at the Witte Museum
Supported by the 2017 Host Committee and AT&T, Saturday evening at the Witte Museum, “Where Nature, Science, and Culture Meet,” featured everything from gardens and interactive exhibits to a treehouse connected by elevated walkways and outdoor water exhibits. Participants roamed freely throughout the museum, named for San Antonio businessman Alfred W. Witte, and mingled with colleagues and friends.  

Sunday Opening General Session/Welcoming Reception
Following a day of ICMA University workshops, the 7th Annual ICMA Leadership Institute, special and regional meetings, tours, field demos, sporting events, and the annual Women’s Luncheon (featuring Smart Girls Cofounder and Executive Director Meredith Walker), the conference officially kicked off early Sunday afternoon with a program of entertainment and celebration presided by President Lee Feldman, city manager, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The Moipei Sisters welcomed attendees with an inspiring vocal performance, followed by the Presentation of Colors by the 4th Reconnaissance Battalion, 4th Marine Division; a rendition of the U.S. National Anthem by the San Antonio Police Blue Line Singers; an invocation by San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, Archbishop of San Antonio; and city welcomes from the Honorable Mayor Ron Nirenberg (via video) and San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley.

Feldman introduced Bob Schultze, president and CEO of ICMA-RC, the annual conference principal/opening session sponsor and an ICMA Strategic Partner. Schultze welcomed attendees and emphasized the ICMA-RC mission of building financial security for state and local government employees. Following Schultze’s remarks, Feldman presented a video featuring ICMA Executive Director Marc Ott, who walked attendees through a review of the organization’s FY17 accomplishments.

Feldman reflected on his 13 months as ICMA president and the three words on which he had focused during his installation remarks during the 2016 annual conference closing session: passion, challenge, and legacy. He observed that the passion within the profession still burns to meet the challenges that lie ahead for local governments and that members had stepped up to meet the need to create a professional legacy by supporting ICMA’s student chapters, Local Government Fellows Program, and task forces and committees. He discussed how many communities had persevered through unimaginable natural disasters and the turmoil that had “both united and divided our cities, counties, and nations.”

Citing the 2017 conference theme, “Building Bridges: Serving Our Whole Community,” Feldman said “That is what we do in local government—we build bridges, we build roads, we build community, we build things that unite our communities, not divide them. We are about inclusion, not exclusion. We are about prosperity, not adversity. We build these bridges, not with concrete or steel, but with a commodity stronger and more resistant than those—we build bridges with trust.” He challenged attendees to “take this passion and couple it with the imagination, ingenuity, discipline, and hard work that we are known for.”

Other Opening Session Highlights

  • Recognition of the outgoing members of the ICMA Executive Board, international guests from 34 countries, and conference first-timers.
  • Introduction of ICMA’s 2017 Excellence recipients.
  • Congratulations to the recipients of ICMA Service Awards, including Joseph D’Arco (50 years) and Michael Eastland (50 years), as well as the fellows, interns, and students who were new to the profession.
  • Recognition of those ICMA members and friends who had passed away since the 2016 Annual Conference.

The opening session program continued with the feature presentation, Courage Under Fire, by Rabia Saddique, whose story of courage, strength, resilience, and commitment to truth, justice, equality, and authentic leadership challenged attendees to become agents of change.

Following the Sunday plenary, attendees convened in the exhibit hall for the welcoming reception, sponsored by the 2017 Host Committee, ICMA Strategic Partner and Life, Well Run initiative supporter Republic Services, and the Texas City Management Association.

Other Keynote Plenary Sessions
On Monday, author and scholar Richard Florida urged attendees to reject “winner-take-all” urbanism and embrace a more productive strategy based on inclusivity rather than exclusivity. That strategy, expanded in his new book, The New Urban Crisis, integrates a new kind of urbanism that is more welcoming, affordable, and attractive for all types of residents and that shifts the narrative away from a solely economic focus to one that encourages neighborhood growth.

Tuesday keynote speaker Anna Maria Chávez, the first woman of color to lead the Girl Scouts of the USA (from 2011 to 2016), described how she is driven by “her desire to transform the world through servant leadership.” Chávez spoke on the topic through the lens of moral leadership, which she defined as the leadership required especially during challenging times, when people most look to you, as leaders, to model behaviors. To paraphrase Chávez, it’s the ethics and values of leaders that shine the brightest.

On Wednesday, during the Celebration of Service closing general session, Simon T. Bailey, former Disney Institute leader and founder of the Brilliance Institute, urged conference attendees to lead amidst uncertainty. Bailey claimed that “Brilliance is your insight, your potential, your genius, and brilliance is released in an environment where you are celebrated rather than tolerated.” He described how brilliant leaders should succeed despite internal politics and outdated organizational culture.

ICMA thanks Principal Sponsor ICMA-RC (Rabia Saddique and Simon T. Bailey); Diamond Sponsor Cigna (Richard Florida); and Platinum Sponsors AT&T (Sunday Welcoming Reception), Bexar County, BoardDocs (Monday evening concert), city of San Antonio, Republic Services (Sunday Welcoming Reception), SAP (Tuesday Evening Event), the Texas City Management Association (Sunday Welcoming Reception), and Visit San Antonio for their support of the San Antonio Conference keynote speakers and other major conference sessions and events.

Educational Program

Through dozens of educational sessions, featured speaker and Solution Track sessions, ICMA University workshops, small-group learning lounge and roundtable discussions, field demos, tours, and other learning opportunities, members and other public and private-sector experts shared their knowledge and interacted with conference attendees during the four-day event. Visit the annual conference Educational Session Overview page to view the extensive program and then download the session handouts.

Tuesday Evening Event: A Night in Old San Antonio

Conference attendees gathered at San Antonio’s La Villita (the plazas of the original, historic downtown village) for a NIOSITA, a miniature version of “A Night in Old San Antonio,” sponsored by the 2017 Conference Host Committee and SAP. Attendees enjoyed a traditional fiesta complete with indigenous food and drink, then danced the night away to the sounds of the Spazmatics.

Wednesday Closing Celebration of Service

The final plenary session, presided by President Lee Feldman, featured the induction of the incoming ICMA Executive Board, 2017 Celebration of Service, and a final keynote address.

Baltimore Host Committee Co-Chairs Barb Matthews and Daniel Mears aired a video promoting Baltimore, Maryland, as the site of the 2018 ICMA Annual Conference. The audience heard inspiring remarks from 50-Year-Service-Award recipients Joe D’Arco and Michael Eastland; Distinguished Service Award recipients Alexander Briseño, Rodney Gould, and David Mora; and Honorary Member Robert Bland. Other recipients of ICMA Service Awards were also recognized, as were the recipients of ICMA’s Annual Local Government Excellence Awards. Read about all of this year’s award recipients in the 2017 Annual Awards booklet.

Feldman then recognized ICMA’s Legacy Leaders and Candidates (102 to date), as well as the 2017 Conference Planning and Host Committee co-chairs. He presented the latter with plaques commemorating their hard work on the San Antonio conference.

Following an introduction by the Honorable Normand Dyotte, mayor of Candiac, Québec, Canada, David Johnstone was inducted as the 104th president of ICMA. Johnstone discussed how, more than 10 years ago, a group of ICMA members led by then-President Michael Willis identified sustainability as a priority, and how it is his hope that members would continue to honor this commitment.

The leadership challenge for local governments is before us, Johnstone said, and he hoped that he would someday be able to tell his grandson what his grandfather did to save the planet. He closed by inviting attendees to work with him to address this quality-of-life issue by taking concrete steps to extend life and build sustainable communities. Well-designed density, he said, makes residents healthier.

Speaker Simon T. Bailey offered a final keynote address.


ICMA partner WebsEdge Inc., again combined a San Antonio travelogue and “conference floor” interviews with conference keynote speakers, attendees, partners, and special guests with prerecorded segments highlighting the best of 11 communities to produce four days of ICMAtv programming. Visit the ICMAtv YouTube channel to view the San Antonio conference content.

2017 Virtual Conference
For the 10th year in a row, ICMA offered a virtual option to individuals who were unable to attend the conference onsite. More than 100 registrants took advantage of this year’s Virtual Conference, and live-streamed 16 annual conference sessions available on demand, including the opening general session and four keynotes

If you were unable to join us in San Antonio, you can still register for the 2017 ICMA Virtual Conference. Access to the virtual conference archives is included in the onsite conference registration fee, or, if you did not attend, view the Virtual Conference content, and then once registered, you’ll obtain on-demand access to 16 hours of professional development that you and your staff can experience for one year. Content includes the conference keynotes and select educational sessions. Keynotes expire in December, so register now! An email communication with login instructions will be distributed shortly.

Visit ICMA’s Facebook and Instagram pages to scroll through postings from the conference floor. And check out the action on Twitter with the hashtag #ICMA2017.

Members are encouraged to help improve this annual event by taking a few minutes to complete the conference survey. A link to the survey was emailed to member attendees on October 27.

Plan now to attend ICMA’s 104th Annual Conference in Baltimore, September 23-26, 2018. 


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