While completing his MPA at the University of Alabama, Kevin L. Helms began his local government career as an intern for the city of Mountain Brook, Alabama. He went on to serve the great state of Tennessee as city manager of Clifton and then as city administrator of Fayetteville. Helms currently honors the profession as city manager of Oak Hill and is still proud to call Tennessee home.
He has been very active in the Tennessee City Management Association (TNCMA) as a past board member and president, and has supported ICMA committees as a volunteer for several years. Helms currently serves as chair of the ICMA Awards Evaluation Panel.
“It has been my honor to serve on the ICMA Awards Panel for the last three years,” says Helms. “Each year when the nominations are received, the amount of work seems daunting. However, it is rejuvenating to read of the many great programs that are being implemented by our membership across the globe. The general membership catches a glimpse of this when the award winners are announced, but that is only a small fraction of the impressive work being done. My attention is naturally drawn to the sustainability award category and the partnership award category, as I believe programs such as these will provide the long term answers to the challenges that are forth-coming.”
Reflecting upon the value that ICMA has brought to his career, Kevin commented that he “first became a member of ICMA as a student while working on my MPA. Less than a year after graduation, I accepted my first position in local government as the city manager of a small city. I cannot imagine having succeeded in that position without the peer contacts I developed through ICMA and the professional development that the association offered to me. As the online capabilities of the association have grown, so has its value to me.”
He adds that “Last year I had the privilege of hosting an intern in my office for the first time. It reminded me of the internship that I served many years ago under the direction of ICMA President Sam Gaston. When I learned that I would be hosting an intern, the first thing I did was call Sam to ask how I could make the most of the experience for my student. What I didn’t realize until it was over was how much the internship would provide to my organization. A good intern can provide you with the analysis of an outside consultant for a fraction of the cost. The benefits of developing the next generation of local government leaders are not reserved for the future, but instead, begin now.”
When asked about his view on the most pressing issues facing local government management professionals today, Helms said that “There has been a great deal of emphasis placed upon “right-sizing” government at the state and local level during the recent recession. The most publicized actions involve reducing the number of government employees, eliminating or reducing services, and restructuring employee benefits. My concern is that we, as local governments, have not yet felt the full impact of the “right-sizing” of our respective state governments.”
“Many of the decisions made to reduce or eliminate services at the state level simply placed downward pressure on local governments through unfunded mandates. Unfortunately, this has created a new way of conducting business at the state level. There is no doubt that even local governments who were fortunate enough to avoid their state directly withholding revenue have at least felt the impact of these unfunded mandates.”
“The problem most probably will get worse when the federal government reaches the point where it can no longer continue to put off addressing its own budget deficit. The solution is likely to include discontinued services and unfunded mandates for state and local governments. These unfunded mandates will swallow much, if not all, of the growth in local revenue that some are predicting from an economic recovery.”
How do we solve the problem? Helms advises that “Our response to this situation should already be underway. It is imperative that we work diligently to educate elected officials at all levels of government as to the consequences that their decisions have on local governments. We must foster a cooperative environment among all elected and appointed government officials at every level, and develop solutions for the problems we all face, rather than looking to solve only the problems of a single agency.”
“As local government leaders, we will play a large role in this task. Every situation will need to be analyzed in the context of these external stakeholders. It will also fall to us to educate the local citizenry as to the reality of this situation. They must learn to understand the full impact that the decisions of elected officials at all levels has on their own community.”
“It is also imperative that we continue to find ways in which our cities and counties can work together to overcome the challenges that we face. We must understand that we can develop regional solutions by partnering with one another, while still maintaining the unique characteristics that cause citizens to choose a community as their home.”