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Ask local government professionals why they chose the local government management profession and most will resoundingly reply that they wanted to see firsthand the results of their efforts. Frans Mencke, city manager, Hoorn, Netherlands agrees with his colleagues. After graduating from Groningen University in 1981, Frans spent three years in the legal department of the Netherlands Ministry of Health and Environment where he gained exposure to the legislative process but he became increasingly frustrated at the process’s snail’s pace and lack of true applicable results. In 1984, Frans followed the brightly bloomed tulips that illuminated his path towards local government service.

Frans began his local government journey by briefing the city of Hoogeveen for four years as its legal advisor and then spent the late 1980s and early 1990s as a department head for the city of Heerenveen. In 1993, like the acrobatic goal scored by his Dutch countryman Robin van Persie in the 2014 World Cup, Frans headed to the city manager position. Frans managed the cities of Heiloo and Heerhugowaard for seven and nine years respectively before dropping anchor in Hoorn in 2009.

History, Hoorn, and Holland

Hoorn exudes history with seafaring roots and more than 800 monumental buildings. Chartered in 1356, Hoorn lays claim to being one of the founding cities of the Dutch East India Company, the first ever multinational company and the first to issue stock. The 72,000 residents of Hoorn, located approximately 30 miles northeast of Amsterdam, have the unique ability to be from both Holland and The Netherlands (see geography lesson below). Residents, just like Frans and his wife Gerrie, can be seen pedaling their bikes around urban city and venturing into the rural area of Westfriesland just outside Hoorn proper. Hoorn-related ships casted wide nets as the discoverer of the tip of South America named the area Cape Horn in honor of his hometown and Henry Hudson sailed a waterway, which later beared his name, on a ship owned by the Dutch East India Company. Hoorn is currently trying to retain loan of a replica of Hudson’s ship the Half Moon.

(Geography lesson: Holland and The Netherlands are not interchangeable. The Netherlands – the country as a whole – consists of 12 provinces, including North and South Holland. If you swam in Hoorn or stood before a tribunal in The Hague, located in North Holland and South Holland respectively, you would have visited both Holland and The Netherlands. But please say that you vacationed in The Netherlands when returning from a trip to Zwolle, the capital of the Overijssel province.)

The city of Hoorn employs a staff of 600. Frans recognizes that his “staff is the main key factor to excellent services and effective council and city management.” He encourages his employees and instills in them the values of trust, pride, and pleasure of work. Hoorn annually enters a best workplaces competition going up against private companies, as well as other types of organizations. Out of 140 organizations, Hoorn has finished in the top 20 over the past three years. Frans hopes that his international colleagues have joined the competition. 

Frans and Hoorn’s strong administrative staff will have their work cut out for them as Dutch municipalities take over responsibilities from the national government for youth health care, employment assistance, and other tasks from the Social Support Act. The transfer in responsibilities also forces organizations specializing in these areas to reevaluate their ongoing role and position. Frans notes, “The changes in the social domain offer opportunities for establishing smarter ways of doing things. Sometimes, the link between transitions is essential in this respect, but it is not a conditio sine qua non. For some tasks, an implementation arrangement at local or district level is preferred, while regional collaboration is more suitable in other areas. The challenge for the coming year is to make fundamental choices. For municipalities, this means that they must apply a rational decision-making process as much as possible. ‘One family, one plan, one budget’ is an important principle of the new legislation. For providers, the main challenge is to seek dialogue with municipalities.”

There Is an I in the ICMA Team

Frans sees ICMA as the catalyst and driving force for opening up members to the great world out there, noting that “ICMA is a solid, very professional and stimulating partner.” He helped VGS – the Dutch city manager association or the “professional home base for almost all Dutch city managers” as Frans described it – initiate an affiliation with ICMA in 2004.  Frans recently completed his eight-year term as a VGS board member and vice president. With a membership of 410 managers, VGS celebrates its 93rd birthday this year. The affiliation between ICMA and VGS has allowed more than 150 Dutch city managers to attend the ICMA Annual Conference.

Frans continues to emphasize ICMA’s international work. As one of 17 ICMA members from The Netherlands, Frans currently serves as vice chair of the ICMA International Committee. He offered his bedankt (“thanks”) to ICMA saying, “ICMA has been to them [the Dutch conference attendees], as it has been to me, the international gateway to precious learning experiences and unique friendships that will be remembered life-long.” Bedankt to you Frans!