ICMA Executive Director: Adverse Times Call for Courageous Leadership

Local government leaders are asking themselves "what can I do" in the face of hate-filled violence.

ARTICLE | Oct 30, 2018
By Ellen Foreman
image of candlelight vigil

Given the events of these past few days, I think all of us in leadership roles are asking ourselves, “What can I do? What words can I offer my staff and my community that might reassure them or allay the fear, sadness, and even anger that so many are feeling?”

It can seem futile to speak out against the hate-filled violence that left 11 Jewish members of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh dead; that led to the death of two senior African American citizens in a grocery store in Louisville, Kentucky; and more than a dozen political leaders and news outlets terrorized by pipe bombs.

None of us can promise that “it can’t happen here,” and as local government leaders, we are frustrated that we can’t pick out any one thing—gun laws, tighter controls on social media sites that pander to hate speech, stiffer punishments for acts of violence, or amped-up security—that would put an end these cowardly acts. After all, we’re the “get-it-done” leaders that our elected officials and residents have come to depend on. 

So, what can we do? This past year, I’ve traveled around the world talking with members, affiliates, and leaders of other local government-focused organizations, and inevitably the topic of courageous leadership comes up. Courageous leadership is what it will take for us to navigate during these adverse times. It’s focusing on the core values of our profession--building trust, engaging all members of our communities, and ensuring that our residents feel safe and that their point of view is invited, welcomed, and appreciated.

This is the time to make a space so that the voices dedicated to unity, tolerance, and our democratic ideals drown out those who spout hate, which is at the root of the violent acts this past week. We will continue to share leading practices in civility and civic engagement as well as those resources dedicated to keeping our residents safe. I encourage you to share your ideas with us as well. An ongoing exchange of ideas and programs that work will help answer the question, ‘What can I do?’


Marc A. Ott
Executive Director, ICMA

Additional Resources:

Restore Civility to Save America

From the National Civic League: All-America Conversations Toolkit

The Model Police Officer: Recruitment, Training, and Community Engagement

Local Leaders Guide to Community Engagement and Building the Public Trust

Managing Local Government is Tougher than Usual

How to Prepare and Recover from a Community Crisis



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