Patricia (Pat) E. Martel, ICMA-CM, is the city manager of Daly City, California, and the 2015-16 president of ICMA.
What attracted you to local government?
My dad was my role model in public service because he was an educator his entire life – and he wanted nothing more than for my sister and me to become teachers. And I wanted nothing more than to not be a teacher. But he was always a great role model in terms of wanting to make a difference in the community.
My family came from Mexico; my dad and my mom are both first-generation Americans. And my dad was the first and only one of his generation – in either my mom or dad’s family – to go to college. He made a point of ensuring that my sister and I followed in those footsteps. He also instilled in us that we had an opportunity that others didn’t, so we had to give back.
I originally wanted to be a journalist, to give voice to those who didn’t have a voice. I believed at a young age that government wasn’t really as equitable as it should be in the way that it treated people. I wanted to make a difference in writing about that and helping to create solutions that would change our society and make a difference in improving people’s lives.
After I graduated, I went to Washington, D.C., where I worked on the House Rules Committee as a staffer. Through this work, I had an opportunity to be exposed to the Capitol Hill Press Corps, and I intended to use that as my entrée into the field of journalism. An interesting transformation occurred, however. I realized that journalists were not as noble as I thought they were, which was crushing at that young age. It made me think about my purpose in life. I really wanted to make a difference and change the way that government serves people and improves society. I decided to work from the inside, trying to solve problems and create a better world; rather than on the outside, writing about what was wrong, without providing good solutions. It was a fabulous experience being young and out of college, being in Washington, and working on Capitol Hill, but after a few years, I went back to California.
In California, I went to graduate school and got my MPA. That was 35 years ago. And I’ve worked in local government ever since. I’ve worked in five different cities in southern and northern California. It’s been a wonderful journey, providing an opportunity to do exactly what I wanted to do: To make a difference. I’m not solely responsible for the things that my city does, but I play a role in helping to develop policies that will make a difference, and to serve people in a very equitable way. And that’s made all the difference for me in my career.
I think the thing that I value the most is the ethical foundation that defines our profession. The values of this organization and what it conveys – both to our members and to the people that we serve – that we are honorable people, that we live by a Code of Ethics, and that it represents what I think is right and best about government. And I’m very proud of that.
What are your priorities as president of ICMA?
Strategic Plan Update: Change is inevitable. As members of ICMA and as leaders in local government management, we have the opportunity and responsibility to help shape change in our profession, in our communities, and in our society. Over the next few years, our membership association, our profession, our organizations, and our communities will undergo substantial changes impacted by shifting demographics, public trust, and a greater need for social equity.
To help us stay prepared, we are updating ICMA’s strategic plan. At the ICMA Annual Conference this past September, we solicited member input. ICMA’s Strategic Planning Task Force met jointly with the executive board in December to gain consensus on the major forces impacting local governments, the profession, and ICMA. The task force is now conducting a gap analysis and developing proposed strategies for the association. Members will have opportunities to offer feedback on the proposed strategies in the coming months.
Next Executive Director: With Executive Director Bob O'Neill departing at the end of 2016, the executive board has embarked upon a recruitment process to find the next executive director.
We’re seeking someone who is a thought leader, who can take the profession to the next level. We're looking for diversity and for someone who embodies the best of this profession. Member input in this process is important: feedback was solicited at the Seattle conference and members were surveyed in the fall on the qualities they think the next executive director should possess.
Diversity & Inclusiveness: We have a tremendous opportunity this year to move forward on significant issues that the ICMA board has examined over the past few years. Member volunteers serving on the Task Force on Women in the Profession and the Task Force on Inclusiveness have generated recommendations that I believe will drive much of what will happen in our strategic planning process.
Advancing diversity and inclusiveness in our association, in our profession, in our organizations, and in our communities is the most important work that we can do in building community. We have to be the leaders in those efforts to help advance women and increase the diversity and inclusiveness of our profession. For those who are coming up in our profession, if they can't see those who they would like to be, they will never consider this profession one that will embrace them. They are the future. They will make the difference in our communities.
ICMA Task Force on Leadership: Building great leaders is what ICMA is all about, so we've begun the process of expanding the role of leadership as a core value of our organization and mission. We will continue to talk about leadership in all of its various elements and how it is evolving today to deal with the rapidly changing world that we face in each of our communities here and around the world. Leadership requires more than skills. It requires vision, an ability to communicate effectively, an ability to lead in a different way, and to help others to lead through the ability to influence others.
ICMA Membership: There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “To prosper for a year, grow wheat. To prosper for 10 years, grow trees. To prosper for 100 years, grow people.” Let’s grow the next generation, who will take over for us in the future.
Think about those in your organizations who are the future of our profession, the future of our association. Invite them to do what one great city manager did for me. My very first city manager encouraged me to be a member of ICMA. He paid for me to be an Affiliate member and took me to my first ICMA conference because he believed it was important for me to be exposed to the profession.
I encourage you to invite those in your organizations who are emerging leaders, mid-career professionals, and others to be a part of this great association. We've made it really easy because we have an Affiliate membership rate that every local government can afford.
Our association is a great association. We've endured more than 100 years, but there is so much more that we can accomplish. When we commit to building our next generation of leaders, we’re doing the most important thing that we can do.