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Acting Manager’s HandbookSeptember 2005

Acting Manager’s HandbookSeptember 2005

ICMA advances professional local government worldwide. Its mission is to create excellence in localgovernance by developing and advancing professional management of local government. ICMA, theInternational City/County Management Association, provides member support; publications, data, andinformation; peer and results-oriented assistance; and training and professional development to more than9,000 city, town, and county experts and other individuals and organizations throughout the world. Themanagement decisions made by ICMA’s members affect 185 million individuals living in thousands ofcommunities, from small villages and towns to large metropolitan areas.ICMA777 North Capitol Street, NESuite 500Washington, DC 20002-4201202-289-ICMA (4262)icma.orgCopyright 2012 by the International City/County Management Association. All rights reserved, includingrights of reproduction and use in any form or by any means, including the making of copies by anyphotographic process, or by any electrical or mechanical device, printed, written, or oral or recording forsound or visual reproduction, or for use in any knowledge or retrieval system or device, unless permissionin writing is obtained from the copyright proprietor.

Task Force on Serving as an Acting ManagerCatherine Tuck Parrish, Assistant City Manager, Rockville, MD, chairJane Bais DiSessa, City Manager, Berkley, MI, ICMA Board liaisonMatthew C. Allen, Assistant City Manager, Garden City, KSMax H. Baker, County Administrator, Los Alamos County, NMMartin P. Black, City Manager, Venice, FLLaura E. Blackmon, Deputy County Manager, Osceola County, FLPaul C. Boyer Jr., City Manager, Lake Worth, FLJacquelynne J. Corby, Principal, Cannon-Jones & Associates, Pasadena, CAJohn J. Coughlin, Englishtown, NJStephen L. Delaney, Town Administrator, Georgetown, MABrian Hamblin, Director of Corporate Services, Regina, Saskatchewan, CanadaJuliana Maller, Assistant City Manager, Park Ridge, ILDion O. Miller, City Administrator, Mineola, TXFlorentine Miller, Deputy Town Manager, Chapel Hill, NCV. Eugene Miller, Ormond Beach, FLLarry S. Mitchell, City Manager, Lawton, OKJoseph S. Portugal, City Manager, Jacksboro, TXMichael J. Senyko, City Manager, Fenton, MICharles B. Strome III, City Manager, New Rochelle, NYVolunteer ContributorsPatty Gentrup, City Administrator, Liberty, MOScott Sauer, County Manager, Sampson County, NCSusan Sherman, Assistant City Manager, Olathe, KSSeptember 2005ICMA Ac ti ng M a n a ge r ’ s H a n d b o o kiii

ContentsPrefaceviiCatherine Tuck ParrishThe Acting Manager Role and Your Career Path1Larry S. MitchellThe Previous Manager’s Departure, Brian Hamblin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2Making Contacts and Gathering Information, Juliana Maller and Joseph S. Portugal . . . . . . . . . 4Put It in Writing: Terms of Agreement for the Acting Manager5V. Eugene MillerModel Appointment Letter for an Acting Manager . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7Model for Negotiating Terms of Appointment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8Sample Council Agenda Communication . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9Sample Agreement with External Interim Manager . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10So Now You’re the Acting Manager11Paul C. Boyer Jr.The Acting Manager: The First Sixty Days13Dion O. Miller and Stephen L. DelaneyThe Acting Manager: Defining Your Role15John J. CoughlinHandling Important and Difficult Decisions, Charles B. Strome III . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17Help the Council Understand the Boundaries, V. Eugene Miller . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18The Acting Manager: Building Trust19Max H. BakerCommunication: Key to Building Trust, Martin P. Black . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22Peer and Staff Support for the Acting Manager23Florentine Miller and Michael J. SenykoSupport from Mentors, Matthew C. Allen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25Ethics and the Acting Manager26Laura E. Blackmon and Paul C. Boyer Jr.The Acting Manager and the Search Process28Catherine Tuck ParrishKey Questions about the Search Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30Survival Tips for the Acting Manager31Patty Gentrup and Susan ShermanOut of the Spotlight: Resuming Your Former Position34Catherine Tuck ParrishICMA Resources for the Acting ManagerICMA Ac ti ng M a n a ge r ’ s H a n d b o o k37v

PrefaceIn 2004, ICMA’s Executive Board created the Task Forceon Serving as an Acting Manager and charged it withtwo tasks: (1) collecting information and advice aboutwhat it’s like to serve as an acting manager/administrator in local government and (2) developing electronically available material to help members make the mostof a sometimes unexpected opportunity.The task force met in October 2004 during ICMA’sannual conference to discuss how to develop arelevant and useful resource for interim and actingmanagers. Prior to the meeting, task force membersgathered information and perspectives on the topicfrom colleagues across the country, and we hope thisoutreach will continue. Task force members (and others who made contributions) worked hard to compilethis collection of advice, lessons learned, and otherresources to assist acting managers.Serving as the acting manager may be the beston-the-job training you’ll ever get. It’s also challenging. To get the job done, you’ll need to redistributeduties by tapping resources throughout the organization. You’ll also need to lean heavily on your personalsupport network, as the number-one job can be lonelyand isolating. You’ll need to work diligently to maintain personal and professional balance so that youcan physically and mentally meet the challenge of thiscritical assignment.Serving as the acting manager is by far the bestexperience you can have to prepare for a manager position. Your experience will also give you an opportunityto be seen in the manager role by the elected body and,if they look favorably on your performance, to help youland the manager job. Even if you’re not successful inmoving into the permanent position, or if you decidenot to apply, this experience prepares you for a manager position if and when the time comes.As you access the resources compiled by the taskforce, you may be an emerging leader who is seekingto build a career that may eventually include serviceas an acting manager. Consider what skills you maylack, and seek ways to gain the experience you needto prepare yourself to serve. If you’re the assistantor a department head who is likely to be tappedICMA Ac ti ng M a n a ge r ’ s H a n d b o o kto serve if your manager leaves, take time now toconsult with the manager and discuss ways you cangain experience with the elected officials, leadership across departmental lines, and visibility in thecommunity to better prepare for your next positionof leadership. If you read this and have already beennamed acting manager, hold onto your seat: You arein for an exhilarating, difficult, and extremely fulfilling ride. Whether or not you apply for the permanent position, and whether or not you’re appointed,these resources are designed to help you along thatjourney.The members of the task force hope that ICMA’slibrary of resources for acting managers will continueto grow. You may have had experiences, listened toadvice, and/or identified materials that you foundhelpful during your stint as acting manager, and you’reencouraged to provide that information to ICMA so thatadditional resources can be added to ICMA’s website.Your suggestions may help fill a gap in the materialscompiled so far and provide valuable assistance to afuture acting manager. ICMA’s greatest resource is thecollective experience of members. Please submit yoursuggested additions electronically to Ann Mahoney atICMA (, I would like to thank every member of thetask force and the guest contributors who wrote andreviewed the articles in this document. Many otherICMA members provided suggestions to task forcemembers via e-mail, at state association meetings, orthrough personal contacts. We hope we have capturedmuch of that knowledge and advice. This entire project would have gone nowhere without the leadershipand guidance of ICMA staff member Ann Mahoney,who served as the excellent staff liaison to the taskforce and provided editorial guidance; staff memberBarbara Moore, who served as editor for the project;and executivea assistant Nedra James, who preparedthe document for the ICMA website.Catherine Tuck ParrishAssistant City Manager, Rockville, MarylandChairperson, ICMA Acting Manager Task Force, 2004–2005vi i

The Acting Manager Role and Your Career PathLarry S. MitchellThe question of whether to accept an assignmentas the acting manager immediately brings to mindmy favorite Far Side cartoon. The scene is one thatlocal government managers are all too familiar withbecause we live it nearly every day. A man is standing in front of two doors. The door on the left reads“Damned if you do,” and the door on the right reads“Damned if you don’t.” Directly behind this visiblyshaken man is the devil holding his pitchfork andsaying, “Hurry up and make a decision.”And so it goes! You’re suddenly placed in asituation that may or may not be to your liking. Inaddition, you’re faced with the task of knowing,in advance, what the appropriate course of actionshould be. Being rushed or pushed into the actingmanager role was almost certainly not part of yourdecision when you accepted the assistant’s job withthe city or county. Gary Larson, author of The FarSide, had it about right: when the manager positionbecomes vacant, it’s difficult to know which door tochoose. Nevertheless, you need to decide what to doand whether to view the vacancy as a career opportunity or simply as a training experience. It’s one thingto make such a career move in a favorable workingenvironment but quite another if the manager wasforced to resign or, worse yet, fired after a period ofdebate and acrimony.disadvantages of moving into the manager positionon an interim basis—that is, becoming the actingmanager—you can employ a decision tree as a meansof walking step-by-step through a logical progressionof questions that identify options and eventually helpyou arrive at the right answer for you.Does this move align with my career goals? Firstand foremost, you must have a clear picture of yourindividual career goals and consider whether thismove fits into your game plan. If you do not aspireto a manager position, accepting the acting managerposition may send the wrong signal to both the council and the staff. It’s also a good idea to assess yourlimitations/boundaries by measuring your tolerancefor risk against the present circumstances.How’s my timing? Public sector career moves havea lot in common with board games. Timing yourmoves can lead to success or failure depending oninternal or external environmental factors beyondyour control. For example, your community mayhave just received notice that its largest company willclose. Is this the time to place yourself in a positionwhere you will need to help the council and otherplayers deal with the implications of this closure?For this discussion, I’ll assume that the local politicalclimate is peaceful and harmonious, although that’snot always the case in the public sector. In addition,I won’t consider the formal provisions contained inthe jurisdiction’s charter or personnel code but willfocus instead on a process for individual decisionmaking. To determine the relative advantages andWhere do I stand among the pool of acting manager candidates? Just because you hold the title ofassistant manager does not automatically place youat the head of the line for an appointment as actingmanager. Other senior staff members may also beunder consideration—for example, the finance director, the public works director, the city attorney. Doyour homework through visual and verbal communication to gain perspective on where staff put theirsupport. (Staff competition could prove to be adverseand create internal management issues.)Larry S. Mitchell is city manager in Lawton, Oklahoma. Heserved as Lawton’s acting manager for nine months beforestarting as city manager. He also has four years’ experienceas an assistant city manager.Will my family understand the implications of mydecision? A career choice of this nature is one thatonly you and your family can make regardless of thesound advice offered by others. After all, your familywill be affected by the eventual outcome, good orbad, as much as you will. A major challenge of localQuestions to ask yourselfICMA Ac ti ng M a n a ge r ’ s H a n d b o o k1

government management is knowing how to balancethe professional demands placed on you with theneeds of your personal life.Making the decisionTo sum up, you need to consider how the prospectof serving as acting manager fits with your careergoals, whether this is the right time for such a move(in terms of both your career aspirations and yourwillingness to help address the challenges facing thecommunity), whether you have a realistic chanceof being appointed to the position, and how themove would affect your family. Then you can decidewhether to throw your hat in the ring.If you have long tenure in your position, thecouncil may recognize the value of tapping yourinstitutional knowledge in the absence of the departing manager, and a decision to “fill in” during themanagement search may be the right call even if youdon’t aspire to the manager position yourself. But ifyou decide to turn down the acting appointment, be2prepared to explain why you declined thisopportunity to move up.If you decide to take this giant leap of faith andaccept the acting manager appointment, you’ll wantto perform in a way that advances your career whileserving the best interests of the community. You’ll beoperating in a different environment in the acting position. For one thing, until the governing body makesthat final choice of a new manager, problems are yoursto solve. Almost inevitably, some of your former peerswere overlooked in the consideration of candidates forthe acting position, and your relations with them maybe strained. And finally, you may be asked to do twojobs over a period of a few months to more than a year.Once you’ve finished the decision tree exercise toyour own satisfaction, you must reconcile the advantages and disadvantages of each option to reach afinal conclusion. To assist you in this career-alteringdecision, you may want to ask yourself the followingtwo questions: Does the reward outweigh the risk? Can I live with the result or the potential failure?I C M A A ct ing M anag er’ s Handbook

More on the Subject . . .The Previous Manager’s DepartureYour decision whether to accept an acting manager position willdepend in part on the circumstances under which the previousmanager departed. Did the previous manager retire? Did he or sheresign voluntarily? Was he or she fired?Retirement. If the manager retired, there may already be agroomed successor, sometimes a well-known second in command.Often the council appoints an acting manager whom they considera top candidate for the position, but not always. Serving as actingmanager when another person is the “heir apparent” could alienateyou from your successor. On the other hand, it could give you a chanceto build relationships with the council and demonstrate your abilities.Voluntary resignation. A manager may resign voluntarily fornumerous reasons—other career opportunities, academic pursuits,illness, or family considerations. Or the manager simply may nothave enjoyed the position or felt capable of doing a good job. If theprevious manager was successful and well liked in the community,assuming the acting role can be a challenge because expectationsare often high. If you understand that up front, you can factor itinto your decision making and prepare accordingly.Involuntary termination. If the previous manager was terminatedor asked to resign, find out as much as you can about the termination by talking to council members, staff, or colleagues in neighboring communities. How did the council behave when terminating themanager? Do you want to serve as acting manager for a council thattreated someone that way? Has the manager’s termination resultedin hostile community and corporate climates? Do you want to manageICMA Ac ti ng M a n a ge r ’ s H a n d b o o kin that environment? Were you involved in any way in the manager’stermination? If so, you should probably not seek or accept an actingappointment, for reasons of appearance if nothing else.When a manager is terminated, the council may want to quellany controversy by immediately appointing an acting managerwith the intention of offering the permanent position. Under suchcircumstances, you could find yourself pressured to accept a position that you don’t want. Think twice before accepting the actingposition if you are content being the assistant manager. It is amajor responsibility, and you do not want to fail.In addition to acting quickly, the council may view the managervacancy as an opportunity for change. As you approach yourdecision, clarify with the council members how they view the roleof the acting manager. What are their goals, concerns, expectations, and timing? Are they looking for an acting manager to makechanges? If so, beware of a situation where the council expects youto make changes that are best made by the new manager.If your career plans include seeking a manager position, youmay decide to accept an acting position even under difficult circumstances. If you can separate yourself from any emotional fallout fromthe previous manager’s departure, and if you can work well with thecouncil, you may have a good opportunity to “show your stuff.”Contributed by Brian Hamblin, director of corporate services for thecity of Regina, Saskatchewan, and past president of the CanadianAssociation of Municipal Administrators (2004–2005). He served asacting city manager for several months in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan,and then as city manager there before being appointed to hiscurrent position.3

More on the Subject . . .Making Contacts and Gathering InformationAs you consider whether an acting manager position is the rightcareer move, you can tap a wide array of resources to gatherinformation and advice. These resources are useful not only forthe assistant manager or other in-house candidate for the actingposition but also for individuals from outside the jurisdiction whomight be considering an interim manager position.Mentors. Talk to someone whose opinion you value—for example,a veteran manager, a professor from graduate school, or a formerboss from another community.Area managers. Through the state association of managers, theinformal state network, or the state municipal league, speak withmanagers who are familiar with issues related to the community.Some of the best opinions are from those who serve in adjacentjurisdictions; they’ll be purposeful and direct, and they’re aware ofwhat it will take to be successful.Previous manager. It’s a good idea to visit with the formermanager for insight into major issues or concerns. Consulting theprevious manager can be enlightening and help you determineyour interest.Mayor and other elected officials. A discussion with the mayoror other council members can yield good information about thecommunity, any major issues, and the political climate. If yourquestions are appropriate and aboveboard, elected officials aregenerally happy to talk with someone who has an interest in thejob. It is to their advantage to have such conversations; they may4come away with new information that can help in their search forand appointment of a new manager.State municipal league. Some state municipal leagues assigna staff person as liaison to the local government managers in thestate, and that person can be a good source of information. Oftena league official will have been consulted by the mayor or councilabout how to retain a new manager, and he or she may haveinsight into the circumstances that led to the previous manager’sdeparture.Executive recruiters (“headhunters”). An executive recruiterwho is familiar with the community can often provide informationand a different perspective.ICMA. The International City/County Management Association (ICMA)offers a collection of resources for acting and interim managers.Other sources of information. Other sources of informationinclude the local chamber of commerce director or president,members of service organizations (e.g., Rotary), key business andcommunity leaders, consultants who have worked with the localgovernment, department heads and other staff, and colleagueswho have served in the capacity of acting manager.Contributed by Juliana Maller, assistant city manager, ParkRidge, Illinois, and Joseph S. Portugal, city manager, Jacksboro,Texas. Joe served as interim city manager in Webster, Texas, beforeassuming his first permanent city manager position in Kaufman,Texas, in 1997.I C M A A ct ing M anag er’ s H andbook

Put It in Writing: Terms of Agreement for theActing ManagerV. Eugene MillerGoverning bodies move much more quickly to appointan acting manager than they do to select and negotiate employment terms with a new manager. Thus,as a candidate for the acting manager appointment,you—and the governing body—should take specialcare to communicate about the terms of the actingappointment. Commonly, verbal commitments aremade before either party has a basic understanding ofthe essential protections they need to consider. Thiscan lead to legal challenges or, at a minimum, embarrassment at a time when media attention is high. As aprofessional, you must not be overeager to accept anacting manager position before establishing a mutual agreement about the terms of the appointmentand committing the agreement to writing. Acting tooquickly or casually and forgoing this crucial step couldbe damaging to your career.Both parties may believe that a short-term appointment does not require a great deal of detail, but it’scommon for governing bodies to be overly optimisticabout when a new manager will be on board, and theacting appointment may be for a longer time periodthan they anticipate. A written agreement, or at least aletter outlining your mutual expectations, can protect both parties from misunderstandings and hardfeelings.Terms of agreementThe suggestions that follow apply primarily to an acting manager who currently serves in the same jurisdiction; a manager from outside who is negotiating aninterim position may take a slightly different approach(see example contract with an external appointee).At a minimum, your agreement with the governingV. Eugene Miller, a Life Member of ICMA, retired afterserving for more than thirty-seven years as a city managerin seven positions in six states. He has served as acting citymanager in three Florida communities while they conductedrecruitments to fill the position.ICMA Ac ti ng M a n a ge r ’ s H a n d b o o kbody should address the following, regardless of theexpected term of the acting appointment:Compensation and benefits. Naturally, the agreement should establish the compensation and benefitsspecific to the appointment.Term of the acting appointment. The agreementshould establish a term for the acting appointment.It’s advisable to set a minimum time expectancy—say, three to six months—and follow with a mutuallyagreed-upon month-to-month extension provision.The agreement should lock in the salary and specialbenefits for that time period, regardless of whether apermanent manager is appointed before it ends. If youinclude this provision, both you and the council canavoid the sensitive matter of negotiating a severancewhen the new manager is appointed.Your employment status. The agreement shouldclarify your employment status: whether you loseyour merit status in the acting manager position andbecome an “at will” employee. Similarly, your agreement should provide that the acting manager is to beconsidered a “regular employee” entitled to holidaysand working conditions offered to other managerialemployees. For example, in one instance a governingbody member challenged holiday pay for an actingmanager because such a provision was not included intheir agreement.Special legal provisions. The agreement shouldaddress legal provisions unique to the chief administrator (e.g., bonding, indemnification, and legal representation). Ask the local government attorney whetheryou would automatically be bonded in the acting manager role and whether other legal protections wouldapply. If not, your written agreement should specifythat you will be protected.Legal authority. An essential clause in any agreement is reference to the legal basis and authorityvested in the manager position. This is commonlyfound in the local charter and ordinances and/or statestatutes. Any reservations expressed by governing5

body members about conveying this authority to youas acting manager should send a clear warning message to prospective candidates. The governing body’sexpectations about the authority of the acting managerand its views of the legal constraints on its own powers may be quite different from what the charter saysor what you expect as a professional. An understanding of what’s expected by the employer and by theemployee is critical to a successful relationship in anyemployment negotiation.A good interview session with the governing bodyshould help you understand its expectations aboutlegal authority and other aspects of the acting role anddetermine whether those expectations are compatiblewith your own. You need to understand the politicalclimate in order to decide what terms are appropriate for your agreement and what would unnecessarilyalienate the council. Commonly, the “psychological6contract” or “chemistry” between you and the electedofficials plays a determining role in the decisions ofboth parties.Reinstatement. Finally, if the acting managerposition is in the organization with which you’re nowemployed, you must spell out what happens whena permanent manager is appointed—regardless ofwhether you were a candidate for the position. Theagreement should provide for your reinstatement inyour previous position with no loss of tenure benefits.Additional resourceICMA has a Model Employment Agreement to helpmanagers negotiate the terms of their employment.Although it’s more comprehensive than the typicalacting manager agreement, you may find it of interest.I C M A A ct ing M anag er’ s Handbook

Model Appointment Letter for an Acting Manager[Date][Greeting]At your request and as authorized by the full City Council on [date], I am pleased to confirm in writing the terms of your “at will” appointment as Interim City Manager for [name of jurisdiction]. Effective date of the appointment is [date], and any pay owed to you will be made retroactive to that date.Your annual salary will be [dollar amount] with all applicable benefits you currently receive plus amonthly car allowance of [dollar amount]. When a new City Manager starts, the Council has agreedthat this new pay rate is to remain the same through [the end of the fiscal year, or another timeperiod], car allowance will discontinue, “at will” status will discontinue, and you will return to yourassignment as [current position].After the new Manager arrives you will be allowed paid leave of absence of [number] working daysto be scheduled with him/her and to be taken in increments of no more than [number] consecutivedays at a time. This leave is in addition to your normal annual leave accrual and may be carried overto a succeeding calendar year, but may not be paid out in cash. This leave must be taken no later than[date] or [number] months after the arrival of the new Manager, whichever is later.The Council also agrees that you may appoint an Acting Assistant City Manager from among theexisting senior City staff. You have the commitment of the full Council, and of the Councilors-elect,to support you and City staff during this transitional period. Negative criticisms of you or staff will beconducted with you, only in closed session to the extent possible.To indicate your acceptance of these terms, please execute as indicated below. This agreement willbecome part of your permanent personnel file.Sincerely,[Name]Council ChairAccepted:[Name]Acting Manager Appointeecc: Council Members & Councilors-electICMA Ac ti ng M a n a ge r ’ s H a n d b o o k7

Model for Negotiating Terms of Appointment(for Discussion in Closed Session with Council)1. Salary of [dollar amount] retroactive to [date], which is below midpoint for the grade of [dollaramount]. (No other change in current benefits including the previously authorized car allowance of[dollar amount] per month.) This is a [percentage] increase from current salary of [dollar amount]. Requires waiver of rules since this increase is greater than 5% allowed by the County’s personnel policies.With this increase I will forgo the normal salary increase due on [date].Salary to remain in effect after resuming [current position] and not revert to current levelRequires waiver of County’s personnel policies.2. A unanimous vote by Council of appointment during open meeting, and sustained supportduring the interim period. I believe it is important to show unanimity on this decision for thecommunity. If Council desires to appoint someone else as Interim Manager during the period,they will notify me as a body in closed session and I will gladly step down and support the newInterim as his/her Assistant.3. There will be no Council requests to dismiss

ICMA ACtIng MAnAger's HAndbook iii Task Force on Serving as an Acting Manager Catherine Tuck Parrish, Assistant City Manager, Rockville, MD, chair Jane Bais DiSessa, City Manager, Berkley, MI, ICMA Board liaison Matthew C. Allen, Assistant City Manager, Garden City, KS Max H. Baker, County Administrator, Los Alamos County, NM Martin P. Black, City Manager, Venice, FL

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