Twenty-two county leaders and two state association executive directors came to New York City last week from as nearby as Salem, N.J. and as far away as Merced, CA, to complete the 5th Annual County Leadership Institute (CLI). This rigorous four-day program - developed by New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service in partnership with the National Association of Counties (NACo) - focused on how elected county officials could exercise leadership to address the complex challenges facing counties.

“At the very heart of the Wagner School’s approach to public service education is a commitment to learning from both theory and practice,” said Ellen Schall, dean of NYU Wagner. “The County Leadership Institute embodied this approach. These county leaders not only discussed the core principles of public service leadership with prominent experts, they also collaborated intensively with each other to develop new ways to attack real-life issues of importance to the citizens of their counties.”

CLI participants heard a number of unique perspectives on how they might exercise creative leadership on difficult challenges. NYU Wagner Adjunct Professor Allen Zerkin discussed how to build and sustain collaborations. In addition, Steve Swendiman of NACo’s Financial Services Center facilitated a roundtable conversation - involving executives from ESRI, NACo’s Financial Services Corporation, Zions Bank, and Nationwide Retirement Solutions - about how to address “Leadership and Sustainability.”

Marty Linsky, adjunct lecturer in public policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, co-author (with Ronald Heifetz) of Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading, and faculty director for the Institute, led participants throughout the week in discussions examining the difficulties elected officials face when they attempt to move public discourse toward new and unexplored approaches. “Leadership that surfaces conflict, challenges long-held beliefs and demands new ways of doing things inevitably creates disturbances,” said Linsky. “This Institute was designed to help county leaders understand and reduce the risks of these disturbances.”

“We’re very happy that our partnership with NYU has been so successful,” said Larry Naake, executive director of NACo. “The county officials who participate in the institute get information, ideas, and perspectives they can’t get anywhere else.”

The participants in this year’s County Leadership Institute were:

  • Christine Alwood, Commissioner, Isabella County, Mount Pleasant, MI
  • Michael Anaya, Commissioner, District 3, Stanley, NM
  • Louenda Downs, Commissioner, Davis County Courthouse, Formington, UT
  • Jone Evert, Commissioner, Clay County, Moorhead, MN
  • Lanny Fite, County Judge, Saline County Benton, AR
  • Sam Fulton, Police Juror, Vernon parish, Leesville, LA
  • Paul Gutierrez, Executive Director, New Mexico Association of Counties, Sante Fe, NM
  • Brenda Holt, Commissioner, District 4, Gadsden County, Quincy, FL
  • Andy Hunthausen, Commissioner, Lewis and Clark County, Helena, MT
  • Jody Jenkins, Judge Executive, Union County, KY
  • Doug Johnson, Commissioner, Douglas County, Minden, NV
  • Judy Lyttle, Supervisor, Surry County, Surry VA
  • Joanne Mahoney, Onondaga County Executive, Syracuse, NY
  • Lee May, Commissioner, DeKalb County, Decatur, GA
  • Russell McCloud, Supervisor, Yuma County, Yuma, AZ
  • Linda Modrell, Commissioner, Bentony County, Corvallis, OR
  • Michael Nelson, Supervisor, District 3, Merced County, Merced, CA
  • Mark O’Connell, Executive Director, Wisconsin Association of Counties, Madison, WI
  • Paul Pearce, Commissioner, Skamania County, Stevenson, WA
  • Richard Pollitt, Jr., County Executive, Wicomico County, Salisbury, MD
  • Kimberly Skillman-Robrahn, Commissioner, Coffey County, Burlington, KS
  • Pam Snyder, Commissioner, Greene County, Waynesburg, PA.
  • Todd Stroger, Commissioner/President, Cook County, Chicago, IL
  • Beth Timberman, Freeholder, Salem County, Salem NJ

Established in 1938, the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service offers advanced programs leading to the professional degrees of Master of Public Administration, Master of Urban Planning, Master of Science in Management, and Doctor of Philosophy. Through these rigorous programs, NYU Wagner educates the future leaders of public, nonprofit, and health institutions as well as private organizations serving the public sector.

The National Association of Counties (NACo) is a full-service organization that provides legislative, research, technical and public affairs assistance to county governments. Created in 1935, NACo continues to ensure that the nation’s 3,066 counties are heard and understood in the White House and Congress.

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