There’s not much I can add to the many articulate voices that have already spoken out against the violence that took place in Charlottesville this past weekend. As local government managers and members of ICMA, we focus on building trust, on engaging all members of our communities, and on ensuring that our residents feel safe and that their point of view is invited, welcomed, and appreciated.
As the events in Charlottesville unfolded, it quickly became clear that those values were being subjugated by an anger and determination (some of which orginated outside of the city) that threatened to undermine the very community building efforts that we as local government leaders work so hard to foster.
As an African American, the situation in Charlottesville also felt very personal to me. I had hoped that my children—that all our children—would grow up in a world in which equity and inclusion rather than bigotry and separatism were the norm. Instead, the latter sentiments not only continue to flourish, but some would say, are being encouraged.
Yet it is during times of trial that we witness the true lessons of courageous leadership. I watched one such lesson unfold as Charlottesville’s leaders—including City Manager Maurice Jones—stepped forward to defend their city. Together the governor, the mayor, the city manager, the police chief and dozens of officers, and other staff members did what they felt was best to restore order and bring calm to the city. It takes courage to lead in the face of adversity.
These are the kinds of leadership lessons that can’t be learned from a book or webinar. They can only be learned through experience, that is, how we respond when the unthinkable happens. I believe this is the good that can come from these tragic events.
In the aftermath of the events in Charlottesville, I encourage each of us as city, town, and county managers to think about what it means to lead our communities courageously. During these challenging times, we must be prepared to step forward to ensure that the core beliefs and democratic ideals to which we have dedicated ourselves are not undermined by intolerance and narrow-mindedness.
Marc A. Ott
Executive Director, ICMA