Jerry Giaimis was recently named ICMA Northeast regional director. He served as town administrator in several New Jersey municipalities, including Maplewood, Saddle River, Raritan, Scotch Plains, and Vernon Township. Jerry has volunteered for a number of ICMA committees and is a full corporate member of the New Jersey Municipal Management Association.
Why did you want to be an ICMA regional director?
After years as a practitioner, I wanted to enter the advocacy role, and there was no more appropriate organization than the one that helped mold my professional career and allowed me to grow personally and professionally. The professional development and lifelong learning aspect of my career was one of the parts I found to be most fulfilling. While I enjoyed my role in municipal management, I wanted my career to enter a space where I would still be involved in professional local government management but with an impact that stretched beyond one municipality's boundaries. Becoming a regional director allows me to continue that lifelong learning process by attending sessions across the country, learning from what others are doing, and helping others advance their career, all while advancing the cause of professional local government management.
What are the toughest challenges faced by city/county managers and their staff?
Working for a divided governing body presents a unique set of challenges, significantly when the majority faction changes from time to time because of elections. Our job as managers, in addition to running the day-to-day operations, is to implement the governing body's legislative policies to the extent they don’t impede our statutory authority. These policies can be unanimous or passed by a one-vote margin. The challenge in implementing the latter is doing so in a way that accomplishes the task at hand and with the same vigor we would if it were the result of a unanimous vote. This presents a challenge when it appears that we are seemingly championing the majority cause, sometimes to the chagrin of the legislative minority. When this occurs, you need to continue your communicative relationship with the legislative minority and remind them of your duty in a way that appreciates their disagreement, or when they become the majority, you could be facing issues related to your job.
Performing our duties through a nonpartisan lens and not getting too vested into a faction we may personally agree with helps in this regard. Sometimes, no matter what we do, our job is not safe. A great manager once said, “It’s not a matter of if you get fired someday; it’s a matter of when.” For many of us, this is the reality of the profession.
Beyond the big-picture challenges, what about the day-to-day difficulties?
Many of us come from a generalist background without expertise in any one specific area. When we become managers, we must oversee department heads and become familiar with their initiatives in areas where they are the experts. This makes the process of professional development and lifelong learning critically crucial to our success. We need to be running meetings or having one-on-one discussions where we can ask important questions that demonstrate our ability to engage the experts and offer new insights into internal operations or capital projects. ICMA helps in this regard by providing a plethora of learning opportunities in nearly all areas related to professional government. Taking part in our annual conference, Local Government Reimagined, and our newly launched Learning Lab will help in this regard. For more state-specific knowledge, it is essential to work closely with your ICMA affiliate state association to take advantage of what it offers.
Becoming highly knowledgeable in all areas is critical to your professional success.
What are you looking most forward to at the ICMA Annual Conference in Austin? Are there any specific initiatives, topics, or sessions you’ve marked?
I am making it a point to continue learning about emerging technologies that will make local government more efficient and responsive to citizens and attending any sessions related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. A session where these two issues collide is Evolving Hybrid Government: Driving Culture, Technology, and Equity.
Other than meeting you at state or regional-level events, what’s the best way for members to connect with you?
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