One of the curious things about the campaign in Portsmouth in 2011 to change back to the manager-council form of government was the role played by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), which, though I did not know of its existence at the time, I now view as a somewhat stealthy and deceptive organization, a wolf in sheep's clothing, if not worse.
In the last one hundred years, 1915-2015, which coincides with the existence of the ICMA, the United States has been strongly influenced in its international relations by the doctrine of American exceptionalism, which is the quasi religious belief that America is unique in the history of the world, being the most favored nation of, if not of God, then at least of History. From the perspective of American exceptionalism, America is the home of true freedom and democracy, which gives it not only the right but the obligation to spread that precious birthright around the globe. America promotes its exceptionalist view of freedom and democracy internationally in any number of ways and places, including Afghanistan, and through any number of organizations, including most notably and controversially the CIA. Where does ICMA get the money to operate its domestic and international operations? Domestically it has conservative corporate sponsors, which could foot the bill. Where the ICMA gets the money to finance its international operations it doesn’t say, but who else could it be if it is not an agency of the U.S. government?
Portsmouth is one of the American cities to which the ICMA provided financial and logistical assistance to electorally replace the mayoral-council form of government. But was the election fair? In 2011, the ICMA helped city councilman Kevin W. Johnson and the Committee for Better Government get a charter amendment passed in the November election that returned Portsmouth to the manager-council form of government. The Portsmouth Daily Times reported that the "ICMA and the Ohio City/County Management Association assisted the council-manager advocacy group Committee for Better Government Management by providing educational materials and guidance on the development of the charter amendment text. ICMA also contributed financial support to [the] Committee from the Fund for Professional Management to aid the group in mailing 4,000 educational postcards." But not many people read that squib in the PDT or knew the ICMA existed let alone that it had been instrumental in Portsmouth’s return to the city manager form of government. The margin of victory in that election was very small—just sixty votes—or a little over one percent of the votes cast. I very much doubt the charter amendment would have passed if the ICMA had not interceded on the side of manager-council supporters.
I first learned of the ICMA and its intervention in the 2011 election only recently when I read the minutes of the 8 August 2011 meeting of the Portsmouth City Council, which you can read by clicking here. That meeting took place only three months before the November election, but at least several people at the council meeting were surprised to learn about the charter amendment and even more surprised to learn about the role of the ICMA. They learned of ICMA’s involvement because a member of that organization, who was the city manager of Loveland, Ohio, was at the August 2011 council meeting. He was present but he claimed he was present only in an educational capacity. This is what the ICMA consistently claims, that it is not taking sides in the manager-council versus the mayor-council form of government struggle, that it is just playing an impartial, educational role, but that is a canard. The ICMA does everything it can to spread the manager-council gospel and to disparage the mayor-council form of government, all the while claiming to be impartial. ICMA claims to have a strict code of ethics that all its members, including city managers, must follow. The ICMA may not have a dog in the fight, but it has a wolf, a wolf in sheep's clothing, and the wolf unethically carries on in its sheep's clothing not only before a city switches to a city manager but also afterwards, providing its allegedly non-partisan assistance in the city's search for a city manager. ICMA can be so brazenly hypocritical at times that a shark may be a more appropriate metaphor than a wolf in sheep's clothing. Derek Allen, who was chosen as city manager, was judged to have lied under oath as a public official and received a suspended jail sentence. Is he the ICMA's idea of a highly ethical city manager?