Pragmatism and process can lead to innovation in local government if we know how to listen and engage to bring issues forward.
When I asked Ernie McNeely to interview with me, I told him I was curious about what is it like to manage a Township rich with history, academic institutions, and religious diversity. I was also curious about the fact that Lower Merion Township shares a border with Philadelphia and wondered what challenges and opportunities that might present.
Ernie does not disappoint. His responses reveal to me the importance of pragmatism and innovation in the role of municipal manager. He illustrates what it looks like to attend to process, listening and working systematically through the endless iteration of local government ideas and projects which at one point he describes as a bit of a merry-go-round.
We talk about the need to shine a light on this profession. Ernie exemplifies why this can sometimes be hard to do. His classic under-the-radar style, his quiet but focused demeanor, keeps the attention on others. For this reason, it is wonderful to peek behind the scenes at what it is like to serve in this role.
The show notes highlight some of the topics we cover and you can learn a little more about Ernie and Lower Merion Township through the links at the end.
So, let’s begin…
3:00 Lower Merion Township history
6:54 Historic religious communities; influence on local government practices and communication
11:29 Board of 14 Commissioners; active channels of communication and engagement
16:55 Role of Manager; moving issues through with process
21:46 Role of senior staff; various ways of communicating and interacting with
25:59 Innovation; health benefits structure; implementation of high deductible plan with HSA; unions
33:34 Sharing border with Philly; challenges and opportunities
36:56 What might help manager coming up in the profession?
Pitch new ideas; listen; learn to de-escalate; let your elected officials debate; work/life balance; participate in professional associations and forums.