Session Shopping for the ICMA Conference

By: Kent Wyatt, ELGL Co-Founder, LinkedIn and Twitter

LP Cookingham. Kansas City Street Car. The Nation’s 2nd Best BBQ (Can’t top NC BBQ). The Royals. Rick Usher.

I love the “Paris of the Plains”. I want you to share my love of Kansas City which you’ll do by maximizing the time that you spend exploring the city. I am here to serve as your time management consultant for the conference. I went session shopping to identify the top offering at the ICMA Conference. Outside of the top offerings and the ELGL events, you have my permission to use your time as you see fit.

An important note for football fans. The Kansas City Chiefs play the NY Jets on Sunday. You can attend the game and get back for this splendid event…

ICMA/ELGL Networking Event – 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM 

downloadThe Four Sauces of the Mixocalypse! Back again by popular demand, our ICMA/ELGL mixer is back again, this time with four times the flavor! That’s right…while we’re getting to know each other, sample and debate which BBQ sauce you prefer. We’ll have four BBQ styles to sample and will crowd source your preferences. Debate your favorite flavor(s) with colleagues from across the spectrum of the profession. RSVP here.

A few notes about my selections for top conference sessions:

  • I eliminated sessions mentioning “millennials” or “next generation”. The topics have been covered ad nauseam. Millennials are people too, in fact, they are not much different than any other generation. I cannot sit through another session full of broad generalizations and stereotypes. Conference sessions focusing on millennials are click bait. Don’t fall for it.
  • I avoided sessions on coaching. I believe in mentoring that develops naturally and where both sides are empowered to share professional advice. I believe that I can learn as much from a 25-year old with limited local government experience as much as they can learn from me.
  • Even though the sessions are quite possibly the best of the conference offerings, I am not including the sessions involving myself or my wife.
  • I believe that the worst sessions are the ones with the best written description. I will attempt to scientifically prove my hypothesis in Kansas City.
  • I avoid diversity and inclusion sessions where both the minority and majority groups are not represented on the panel.

The Very Best Conference Sessions

Monday, September 26


09:45 AM – 10:15 AM: Your Chart’s Suck!

Local government staff spend an incredible number of hours compiling numbers and statistics, writing reports, and speaking to the public. However, where almost every government seems to be failing is data visualization. In this engaging talk attendees will hear from Kansas City’s Chief Data Officer on why their charts suck and how to fix them.

Speaker: Eric Roche, City of Kansas City, MO

Handout: Your Charts Suck

My Take: The session name is enough for me. Short and to the point. Local government charts do suck and are stuck in the 90’s. Kansas City is the perfect city to highlight the possibilities when you loosen your grasp and love of pie charts created by our friend the Microsoft Excel Chart Wizard.

10:30 AM – 11:00 AM: The How’s and Why’s of Police-Community Relations and Diversity

In the wake of the current national dialogue about law enforcement, this session will introduce the Stockton Model and evaluate what worked and what didn’t as Stockton implemented a comprehensive strategy to reduce violent crime and increase public trust. The speakers will discuss regional, state, and federal partnerships, officer tools and training, and even the Listening Tour created by the police chief and city manager to engage residents in their own living rooms.

Speaker: Eric Jones, City of Stockton, CA and Kurt Wilson, City of Stockton, CA

Handout: The Hows and Whys of Police Community Relations

My Take: Charlotte, Tulsa, Baton Rogue, Ferguson, Baltimore….just a few reasons why this session should be a top priority for you. Local government is a reactive profession and that works some of the time. It does not work with community relations. A number of cities have avoided the spotlight by spending valuable resources to develop police and community relations.

12:45 PM – 2:00 PM: Promoting Civic Trust by Addressing Misinformation and Disinformation

This session will show managers several approaches to correcting and overcoming misinformation or disinformation.

Speakers: Thomas Carroll, Village of Silverton, Paula Hopkins, Strategic Government Resources, William Keegan, Town of Foxborough, MA, Sheila Shockey, Shockey Consulting Services

Handout: Promoting Civic Trust Hertwig HopkinsPromoting Civic Trust KeeganPromoting Civic Trust PPT

My Take: I love this topic. For years, local government failed in proactively communicating messages. We are starting to close the gap by creating more communication positions, hiring talent from the print and television media, and embracing social media.

04:00 PM – 05:00 PM: Creating a Town and Gown Culture of Mutual Benefit

johnsonoopThis session will be a case study of the relationship between the University of Kansas and its host community, the city of Lawrence. The university and the city have many joint initiatives on such common town-gown topics as economic development, land-use at the edge of campus, coordinated public transit services, and city support of large athletic events and celebrations, such as KU’s Final Four basketball appearances.

Panelist: Mike Amyx, Mayor, City of Lawrence, Elizabeth Bagwell, International Town & Gown Association, Tim Caboni, University of Kansas, Diane Stoddard, City of Lawrence, KS

My Take: Town-Gown relations can be a disaster. We hear a lot about those disasters, but we hear little of the successes. On a personal level, I would love to live and work in a college town. Plenty of cultures, sports, and energy. (Note: I am compelled to dress head to toe in UNC basketball gear for this session.)

4:00 PM – 5:15 PM: Executive Recruiters Tell All

No secret goes untold during this special session in which executive recruiters will share their experiences and provide insights into the job-search process.

Panelists: James Mercer, The Mercer Group, S. Renée Narloch, S. Renee Narloch & Associates, Catherine Tuck-Parrish, Novak Consulting Group, Heidi Voorhees, GovHRUSA, Dan Weinheimer, County of Routt, CO

My Take: One of life’s great mysteries is the invisible wall that we build between local government professionals and executive search firms. Both sides are to blame. We should take the initiative to reach out and introduce ourselves to recruiters. Recruiters should take the initiative to step out from behind the vendor table and expand their network to include less seasoned professionals.

4:00 PM – 5:00 PM: The Business Case for Creating a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace with Intentionality
As local governments strive to address changing demographics in their communities and a shifting multi-generational workforce, insuring that diversity and inclusion is a priority in adapting workplace practices is an essential goal for successful organizations. This session will examine the business case for enhancing all types of organizational diversity and creating a more inclusive workplace that fosters better decision making, innovation and creativity, while optimizing efficiency.

Panelists: Pamela Antil, City of Santa Barbara, CA, Rochelle Small-Toney, City of Fayetteville, NC, Patricia Martel, City of Daly City, CA, Phillip Smith-Hanes, County of Ellis, KS, Theodore Staton, City of Upper Arlington, OH

Handout: President Colloquium Small Toney

My Take: Hail to the Chief! ICMA President Pat Martel is part of this session along with an incredibly talented cast of characters. Pregame for the session by reading Pat, Phil, and Pam’s take on diversity.

Tuesday, September 27



11:45 AM – 12:15 PM: Creative Resident Engagement: This Ain’t No Town Hall Meeting

Many people think the town hall meeting is dead. People are too busy, don’t care, can’t be bothered. So how do you gather than input without having a town hall meeting? Learn how Kansas City has commissioned art exhibits using city data, tweet-alongs during budget hearings, and interactive web forums to find new ways to creatively engage citizens.

Speaker: Chris Hernandez, City Communications Director, Kansas City, MO

Handout: Creative Resident Engagement

My Take: Spoiler Alert! Chris led an ELGL webinar on a similar topic, but just like Bruce Springsteen, Chris is even better live. Learn the strategies that led Kansas City to winning the Trending Now! Award. I guarantee you that Chris will be a finalist for the best dressed presenter at the conference.

12:30 PM – 1:45 PM: Big Data and Local Government: What Is a Data Scientist and Do We Need One?

As Big Data becomes big business it also is getting big in government. Learn what you need not only to do but to avoid doing to make the most of this new opportunity.

Panelists: Jane Brautigam, City of Boulder, CO, Seth Etter, The OpenGov Foundation, Sarah Hazel, City of Charlotte, NC, Michelle Kobayashi, National Research Center, Robert Layton, City of Wichita, KS

My Take: “Data” is one of the trendiest terms in local government. Local government collects tons of data but that is where it stops for most cities. Attend this session to learn how you can avoid dust bunnies gathering on your data by using data as a management and communication tool.

2:00 PM – 3:10 PM: Actionable Data, Actual Results 

Anyone can measure, but few can target that measurement effectively enough to drive real change. Kansas City, Missouri, has implemented a range of initiatives that facilitate data-driven decisions and public engagement. From KCStat to Bloomberg What Works Cities to reimagined citizen surveys and even arts-based data outreach, city staff will discuss how using data has achieved results. Lending an international perspective, the session will also include discussion of the “Know Your Municipality” comparative data program among cities in Denmark.

Panelist: Kate Bender, City of Kansas City, MO, Eric Roche, City of Kansas City, MO, Per Roener, Chief Executive, Municipality of Stevns, DENMARK

Handout: Actionable Data – KC and Actionable DataRoener

My Take: If you are begging for more data talk, this is the session for you. Kansas City meets Denmark as panelists highlight how they have used data to drive change. (In case you are wondering, I don’t have a mancrush on Eric, he just happens to be involved in two of the best sessions. I am sucker for data, what can I say.)

2:00 PM – 3:10 PM: Leadership in Times of Crisis: President Truman and Dropping the A-Bomb113

Using a historical event as the basis for conversations on what went right, what went wrong, and why, this session will engage attendees in a discussion of the events and decisions that led to the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, particularly Truman’s role as decision maker. In so doing, it will help them examine their own approaches and effectiveness should they be confronted with a “step-up moment.”

Speaker: Mark Adams, Harry S. Truman Library and Museum and Felicia Logan, ICMA, Richmond, VA

My Take: Not your typical conference session, but one of the more interesting that you’ll find. History teaches us about the future so I’ll be front row to learn about President Truman. However, I will walk out if any re-enactors show up.

3:30 PM – 4:40 PM: Can’t Buy My Love

What are people looking for in a public sector career now that stability, pension, benefits, and pay aren’t the same motivators that they used to be? Brand your organization to attract the talent you need. Learn a new pitch, and sell your organization to top candidates without using money.

Session Leader: Brett Channing, City of El Cajon, CA, Ron Holifield, CEO, Keller, TX, Bert Lumbreras, City of Austin, TX, Karen Thomas, New Zealand Society of Local Government Managers

My Take: Will Ron Holifield don the red suspenders? That’s reason one for attending the session. Also, I am a believer that one of local government’s biggest challenges is competing against each other for top talent. The branding of an organization will be a key factor in determining which organizations succeed.

3:30 PM – 4:40 PM: Success and Failure in Implementing Strategic Plans

A research-meets-practice panel, speakers in this session will introduce a scholarly overview of what works (and what doesn’t) in the implementation of strategic plans. Two practitioners then share their experiences with implementation, discussing successful practices as well as past missteps and the lessons learned.

Panelists: Scott Huizenga, City of Kansas City, MO, David Mitchell, Professor, University of Central Florida, Julia Novak, The Novak Consulting Group

Handout: Success and Failure in Strategic Plans

My Take: I work for the City of Tigard, OR and our strategic plan is to become the most walkable city in the Northwest. We are in the early stages of implementing the 20-year plan. I am prepared to pepper the panelists with hypothetical questions that really focus on Tigard’s implementation process. Example: Could you talk about how a mid-sized city in Washington County, OR in year three of implementing a strategic plan can demonstrate early successes to both internal and external audiences.

Supplemental Reading


  • Eli Ritchie

    Great stuff!