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One of the things I admire most about ICMA is our commitment to evolving as an organization while simultaneously equipping local government professionals with the tools they need to run communities. We do this with a shared intent to provide services and opportunities for all to succeed and to make the world a better place for people no matter where they live. A cornerstone principle of ICMA is to engage its members and then move forward in a way that reflects a balanced approach, especially when it comes to tackling issues that may be considered divisive.

In many ways, it mirrors our work as city, county, and town managers as we do our best to engage residents in upfront discussions, as well as in crafting solutions. Since the 1960s, ICMA has been producing content on the topics of racial and gender equity, social unrest, and the changing urban landscape and the implications of these issues for the role of local government leader. Professional development and resources on diversity and equity have been available from ICMA for more than six decades.

Strengthening Membership Diversity

The association has long looked at ways its members and the profession could become more diverse and inclusive. In 1974, for example, the first Task Force on Women in the Profession was created, and in 1989, a Task Force on Workplace Diversity was formed. As a result of these and subsequent member-driven initiatives (for example, a 2013 Task Force on Women in the Profession), the membership-approved ICMA Strategic Plans in 2008 and 2017 that codified our commitment to equity and inclusion into the organization’s operations.

In our most recent past, the ICMA Executive Board turned its focus to the board itself. In 2014, the Executive Board formed the Task Force on Strengthening Inclusiveness in the Profession, kicking off its work at the 2014 ICMA Annual Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. Further, a board subcommittee on diversity was established in 2018, and after an intensive period of member engagement, recommended several changes aimed at expanding eligibility for voting and for board service. These included extending voting eligibility and board service to affiliate members and expanding participation in regional nominating committees. Preceded by an expansive outreach effort among the membership that included input, data gathering, and more importantly, listening, a substantial majority of ICMA members voted yes on all of these amendments in 2020.

The board took up the issue of diversity and inclusion again in 2021, in response to feedback from some members. The purpose was to examine whether ICMA was placing too much emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in producing and delivering content to members. I shared the results of the listening tour and focus groups on this topic in a PM magazine article in December 2022. As I noted then, the qualitative comments we received provided a good sense of direction for the organization. They helped to form the basis of a survey that was sent to members in February 2023.

Key Survey Takeaways

Nearly 1,000 members responded to the survey, with 80 percent of those respondents being full and affiliate members in service. We learned that 70 percent of respondents believe that ICMA should be the go-to resource for members and their communities on DEI issues affecting local government. Fewer than 20 percent of members felt that this work was out of step with ICMA’s mission and Code of Ethics. Members are, however, divided on whether ICMA is “too focused” on DEI. So, while content on this topic is important, our members indicate DEI is clearly not the most important topic and ICMA must continue to offer a breadth of resources to address the many challenges local governments confront every day.

Moving Forward

I can say with confidence that there is no chance that ICMA will ever lose its way from the core mission of helping local government professionals identify and adopt leading practices to improve the lives of residents. The most popular topics according to member data continue to be leadership, ethics, finance and budgeting, emergency management, and public safety. DEI represents a central part of managing public services and distributing them in a fair way across our communities. It will continue to be a slice of what ICMA offers, but will not be dominant. For example, the topic of DEI represented less than 15% of the content at the most recent ICMA Annual Conference. Like many other topics, DEI issues may not be as pervasive in some communities as they are in others, but we want members to be confident that they can find useful and relevant DEI information through ICMA.

As we continue this journey, we remain extremely grateful to all of you who took the time to share your thoughts, whether in person, via email, or through the survey. This won’t be the last time we come up against difficult conversations. Our profession is changing and community dynamics are changing. Like many hard conversations, this process presented an amazing opportunity to learn from each other as members felt able to express their feelings in a safe space. It demonstrated to me once again that even though we don’t always agree, our members are willing to come together and shape a path forward even on the most sensitive of topics. That’s what makes a great local government leader, and that kind of visionary leadership is what we want for our organization.

I really want to thank you all for this journey. I was admittedly struck by the response and engagement we’ve had over the past three years. While these are difficult conversations to have, I was impressed by your passion and civility in this process. Fortunately for us, we all have something very important in common, which we can lean on in times of need—that is each other and our love for ICMA.


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TROY BROWN, ICMA-CM, is city manager of Moorpark, California, and past president of ICMA (2021–2022).

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