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August 2012 · Volume 94 · Number 7


On Point

How do you bridge the gap between yourself and an elected official with a different vision than yours?

Opal Mauldin-Robertson

City Manager

Lancaster, Texas


Elected officials set policy and develop a vision statement for the community with input from residents and staff. I view my role as manager as implementing and administering the programs and services necessary to achieve the vision.

When an elected official has a different vision for how implementation and administration should occur, I use my city’s strategic plan, charter, and council policies, along with communication, to bridge the gap.

I believe communicating early and often keeps elected officials feeling connected and a part of the process.

Alexa Barton

City Manager

Grain Valley, Missouri


For me, bridging the gap between an elected official and myself consists of fact finding, citizen consensus, common ground, and collaboration. Typically when I have a different vision from an elected official, which may be caused by a variety of reasons, I’ve found that “drawing a picture”—based upon available information and fact-finding research—is very helpful.

After all, it’s difficult to argue the facts and truth. From there, if our vision is still different, an alternative analysis is helpful, that is, considering varying outcomes to differing scenarios.

Sometimes it is difficult to foresee what may be around the corner. However, if there are available “what-if” scenarios, we may not agree but will both come to the understanding that while we may have a gap in vision, our goal is the same—trying to reach a consensus on what is best for our city.

Sean Quinn

City Manager

Fairfield, California


As city manager, I have at times a different vision than city councilmembers. I take time to listen, understand their vision, and ask questions to find commonality. My role is not to impose my vision on them but to facilitate dialogue, bring forward recommendations, and implement a shared vision.

I must understand each councilmember’s perspective before I offer alternatives or recommendations. It is then important to try and build a shared vision. Remember that vetting your different visions may lead to a better outcome than either alternative.

Regardless, it is important for councilmembers to have ownership in the outcome, so everyone can feel they had a part in the final decision. Your job then is to implement the collective vision.

Simon Farbrother, ICMA-CM

City Manager

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada


As the governors, city council sets the vision for the city. They determine the community’s strategic goals and aspirations. Our job as administrators is to bring that vision to life.

While there shouldn’t be a difference in vision between city council and a city manager, there may be occasions when our values and ethics differ from elected officials. While we want to hold on to our personal conviction, my advice is to try to bridge the gap by identifying the issue. Listen to understand the facts and separate them from emotion.

If you cannot make a connection, perhaps because of a personality conflict, ask others--administrators, other councilmembers, or community influencers--to work through the issue on your behalf. You will need to commit to live with the result.

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