By: Elizabeth Kellar
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in local government and public policy?
After moving to California in 1974, I saw a newspaper advertisement for a community relations position in the City of Sunnyvale. My background in communications with a focus on political science caught the eye of the hiring team. Though I had taken many political science classes in graduate school, I had never imagined what it would be like to work for an innovative city government. It was amazing to work with a national leader like Sunnyvale City Manager John Dever and his highly talented team. Democracy at the community level is inspiring and stressful. It’s where you can see the impact of your work on people’s lives.
Who in your life has been an influential mentor or inspiration for you?
Having mentors like John Dever and Bill Hansell, both NAPA fellows, was a gift that kept on giving over my career. Watching them in action was like watching a Jedi master. Their styles were vastly different, but they excelled at strategy, engaging others around common goals, and supporting the next generation of public servants.
In my ten years leading the Center for State and Local Government Excellence, we focused on a mission to help local and state governments attract and retain the talent they need to provide essential services. As we baby boomers reach the twilight of our careers, it’s important for us to promote the value of a public service career and help support and prepare those who follow us.
What areas of public policy interest you the most and why?
Intergovernmental relationships and ethics are two of my top interests. During the pandemic, all levels of government had to work together to develop effective policies and secure the funding required to address the public health and economic crises. When problems emerged in the response and recovery efforts, it often was because leaders at different levels of government were giving conflicting messages.
Ethics, integrity, and transparency are the building blocks for government effectiveness and public leadership. Whether ICMA’s team was working with USAID to support professional management in emerging democracies or promoting an ethical culture in U.S. localities, the places that model ethical behavior and establish effective practices have been more successful in gaining the public’s trust. For example, some places in Latin America that had never held a town meeting on their municipal budget were pleasantly surprised that people who attended were appreciative to learn how community resources were being used.
Ms. Kellar is Senior Fellow with MissionSquare Research Institute, having served as President/CEO from its inception in 2006 through 2016. Currently she conducts research and writing for the Institute about the future state and local government workforce.
Ms. Kellar is a Fellow in the National Academy of Public Administration and has served as chair for NAPA’s Standing Panel on the Federal System. She also served on the American University School of Public Affairs Advisory Council from 2001-2014.
Ms. Kellar is Director of Public Policy for the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) where she also has served as Deputy Executive Director and Ethics Advisor. She led the expansion of ICMA’s funded programs to strengthen management in local governments throughout the world. She also launched a monthly ethics column, was editor of Ethical Insight, Ethical Action, and developed ethics training programs. She served two terms on the Montgomery County Maryland Ethics Commission and was chair of the commission for three years.
Prior to joining ICMA, Ms. Kellar was responsible for community relations for the city of Sunnyvale, California. She has a master’s degree in journalism and political science from The Ohio State University.