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Who's Your CEO - “Chief ENGAGEMENT Officer”?

By Bob Jean, Washington City/County Management Association Range Rider

Coming out of the “Great Recession” these past 4 years, what percentage of all money measures submitted to voters by local governments nationwide (cities, counties, schools, etc) do you think passed? 30%? 40%? More? Less? According to research by the International City County Management Association (ICMA), from 2010-2013 over 70% of local money referendums were approved by voters! And those initiated by direct community engagement passed by 90%!

What are you doing to actively engage your community... not just inform, not just involve, but ENGAGE?

Whether as mayor or manager, you are the CEO-Chief ENGAGEMENT Officer. When I first started in city management over 35 years ago, COMMUNITY INFORMATION was good enough: city newsletters, insert flyers in utility bills, and good local press relations. Next came COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT with comprehensive plans, community policing, parks and streets designs. Now that's not enough.

Today with over 500+ cable TV channels, Facebook, Twitter and the like, and local newspapers failing nationwide, the average citizen knows LESS NOT MORE about local community matters. Local government leaders must find new ways to actively reach out and ENGAGE THE COMMUNITY.

Using social media the recent “Ice Bucket” challenge took on a life of its own and vastly exceeded anything the ALS Society fundraisers had ever achieved in traditional ways: $20 million vs. $2 million!

The tragic events this summer in Ferguson, Missouri were made even worse by the lack of ongoing community involvement, let alone active engagement, and exacerbated by feelings of exclusion. In Ferguson only 12% of eligible voters voted in the last city elections, and ONLY 6% of the black voters! Ferguson cannot heal itself until it rebuilds trust and confidence, and a more representative city council and police department truly reflecting ALL the community, and POSITIVE COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT.


For good examples of social media usage look at the cities of Issaquah and Lakewood; for ideas on community information and involvement talk to Shoreline; San Juan County held a series of “Community Conversations” to reset their service levels and expectations; University Place has used “Roundtable Public Hearings.” Please feel free to contact me as an ICMA Senior Advisor ( for ideas on how you might be more effective in reaching out to and engaging your citizens, AND achieving increased voter support for your community decisions. Who's your CEO-Chief Engagement Officer?

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About Bob Jean

Bob Jean writes for MRSC as a guest author.

Bob Jean retired in 2010 after 15 years as the City Manager for University Place, Washington. He has over 35 years of city and county management experience. He is a past Board Member for AWC. He received the ICMA national Award for Staff Development and Training. He currently serves as an advisor to cities and counties as a Range Rider for WCMA.

The views expressed in guest author columns represent the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MRSC.