A panel of officials with the Washington-based International City/County Management Association (ICMA) held a session at the association's 96th Annual Conference in San Jose, Calif., last week to discuss how local governments are dealing with the challenges of the current economic crisis. Topics of the discussion included how to sustain quality service with a smaller budget and how to engage the public with transparent, accountable practices.

Ron Carlee, ICMA's chief operating officer and former Arlington County, Va., county manager, started the "What's Next?: How local governments can thrive in uncertain times" discussion with a brief recap of the bleak news presented in the conference's opening presentation by Diane Swonk, senior managing director and chief economist for Mesirow Financial. "The reality is what we suspected, that nobody really knows what's going to go on. There is tremendous uncertainty in the financial world these days. But, what seems to be a consensus emerging is that a recovery is going to be slow and, perhaps, as long as a decade," Carlee says.

Swonk sees no change in unemployment over the next year, and retail sales that have been relatively robust will not be sustained, Carlee says. "From a professional manager's standpoint, what we're trying to do, as I have heard from managers consistently around the country, is take the long-term view," he says. "We've got to get beyond short-term fixes. Accounting tricks are of no significance right now. We really have to, to use a trite phrase, once again, reinvent government."

Other participants in the discussion included Livermore, Calif., City Manager Linda Barton; outgoing ICMA President and Saginaw, Mich., City Manager Darnell Earley; Littleton, Ore.-based Center for Priority Based Budgeting Senior Managers Chris Fabian and Jon Johnson; and Elizabeth Kellar, executive director of the Washington-based Center for State and Local Government Excellence and ICMA's deputy executive director.

Listen to the entire ICMA discussion.

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