ICMA Institute’s Enduring Focus on Equity

For the past three years, the International City and County Management Association (ICMA), along with partners — the Kettering Foundation and the National Civic League— has sponsored a convening of managers from cities and counties that have a desire to further their work in addressing equity issues in their respective organizations and communities.

These managers have gathered monthly to hear from a speaker on topics related to equity and to explore issues impacting their workplace or community. Witnessing the exchange is encouraging and heartwarming; the content is engaging, and it’s a comfortable setting for learning and sharing perspectives.

When this program was first envisioned, many public conversations focused on issues of equity and social justice. Is this still the case today? What has changed? As the Leadership Institute on Race, Equity, and Inclusion Fellows class of 2023-2024 has just convened, the League reached out to one of the key ICMA leaders of this effort, Lynne Scott, Managing Director of Brand Management, Marketing, and Outreach, in her role as Director of Equity and Social Justice. We sought to capture her views and observations of the program she has been so directly involved in shaping over the past three years.

Ms. Scott describes the advent of the project:

“ICMA has been doing this work since 1938, when merit-based hiring was added to the Code of Ethics. Following the murder of George Floyd, at the direction of the ICMA Executive Board, guided by its statement on systemic racism, ICMA made an even more focused commitment to race, equity, and social justice in all forms, as a means to achieve thriving communities. Part of this commitment included the creation of resources and tools to support local government professionals on their journey to improve the quality of life for individuals and their communities. It was decided that a new race, equity, and social justice team would be created and responsible for the development of these resources and tools. But along the way, it became clear that we also needed to provide education and a safe space for conversations about race, equity, and inclusion – from this was born the Leadership Institute, with the goal of creating cohorts of local government executives who would participate in an ongoing conversation, sharing challenges and successes in embedding equitable practices in local government and addressing racial issues.”

An Enduring Commitment

It can’t be overstated; equity and social justice have always mattered to ICMA. This commitment is perhaps best summed up by the Executive Board’s statement regarding systemic racism, “The local government management profession and ICMA were founded on a Code of Ethics and a Declaration of Ideals, which demand that we serve the best interests of all, achieve equity and social justice, and act with integrity so that we may earn the trust of all those we serve. Addressing systemic racism is our ethical obligation.” The ICMA Executive Board’s Action Steps that guide the organization’s mission state: “Engage our members and partners in a process of listening, with the purpose of understanding what our profession needs in order to deliver on the work of our mission and vision through the lens of equity and inclusion.”

In the first three years of the program, the Institute has included a full spectrum of participants. In the first year, primarily city managers and assistant managers participated, while in the second year, more department heads from finance, transportation, infrastructure, and university staff joined. In this third year, the Institute welcomed a more diverse mix from all levels of local government, including a fire chief. Ms. Scott acknowledged that each class brings new energy and attention to various issues. The program offers a platform for exploring and building an understanding of different organizational structures and their related dynamics.

Capstone Projects Contribute to Building Awareness and Change

Individual participants are asked to complete a capstone project and attend the annual ICMA conference to share their work. Capstone topics have included titles such as:

  • Reimagining our History of Race, Equity and Municipal Debt Management
  • Creating a Culture of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in my City
  • A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, Putting a DEI Lens on Municipal Recreation Program Advertising
  • My Top Ten Lessons for White Local Government Leaders on their DEI Journey

Throughout the program, participants collaborate in teams to develop a project or conduct an analysis of a community issue. This culminates with a session at the ICMA conference where participants share their findings through a project summary.

The League’s Focus
The National Civic League is involved in supporting and engaging with communities on issues of equity. We strive to track and monitor the challenges that are faced in communities, large and small. For more information, please visit our website and/or contact Benita Duran, Senior Director of Equity and Civic Engagement at the Center for Democracy Innovations at the National Civic League.

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