City managers and administrators from many cities and counties across Kansas gathered this week in Garden City for the Kansas Association of City/County Managers annual conference.
KACM conferences are held in a different location each year and focus on education, discussion and networking.
“It’s a great way to network with peers and see what other communities are doing,” said Ethan Reimer, city administrator for Halstead.
Along with networking and introducing new city managers to Kansas, issues addressed at the conference were whether to hire a retail consultant, employer-based health clinics, community day care and the effects of legalized marijuana on a community.
Keynote speaker Manuel Pastor gave a presentation called “Looking Forward: Equity, Growth and Community in a Changing (& Divided) America.” He shared how Oklahoma City has changed quality of life in the city through downtown and educational revitalization.
Pastor is a professor of sociology and American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California. He currently directs the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at USC and holds a doctorate in economics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Pastor said the demography of the U.S. is changing, but not necessarily through immigration. While the birth rate for the white and black demographic groups are lowering, those for Hispanic and Native American groups are increasing, changing the average age for each demographic.
“The U.S. is shifting to becoming a major minority country,” Pastor said. “Immigration into the country has actually slowed down or stabilized in the last couple of years. The share of foreign born has been on the decline for the last three years.”
According to Pastor, there are more individuals immigrating to the U.S. from Asia than Mexico. He did not mention the rest of Central America. He said, however, the crisis on the southern border of the U.S. is real.
“People are trying to come in,” he said. But he also added, “Nearly two-thirds of undocumented immigrants have lived here for more than a decade, which is why there’s so much fear of deportation.”
Because Kansas’ job growth is below the national average, Pastor said, youths are leaving. His message was that in order for cities to keep their youths in Kansas, and for them to grow and thrive, they must learn to rally toward racial equality.
“The higher the level of inequality, the lower the level of increasing (economic) growth,” he said.
Pastor told the city and county managers in order to fix the issue of low growth and inequality, they need community conversation with all stakeholders. Everyone needs to be at the table.
“These are turbulent times,” he said. “You are leaders. Part of your role as managers is helping your community prepare for the future. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Pastor’s presentation began conversations among the attendees. Many participants, such as Austin St. John, city manager of Marysville, have come to the meetings for years. Along with hearing from noted speakers, he gets to learn from other managers.
“We get to learn about other people’s struggles, problems and efforts and go back to our communities and work on some of our own issues,” he said.
The group also makes a point of welcoming new managers. Jennifer McCausland, recently became city administrator of Andover.
“I really value the network of KACM a great deal,” McCausland said. “It’s important for city managers and leaders to come together and learn best practices.”
The conference tried to target cities of all sizes and demographics through its panel discussions and speakers. Mike Conduff, who was a city manager in four university communities, spoke on how to have a difficult conversation. The host city, along with the extra work of arranging the meeting, gets to help decide the agenda.
“It’s awesome to have it right here and be able to facilitate,” said Jennifer Cunningham, assistant city manager for Garden City. “We get to help influence the topics.”