Coming Full Circle

By Linda Harris
City of Decatur, GA

In September 1995 I attended my first 3CMA conference. It was held in Denver and immediately preceded the ICMA conference that year.

I knew nothing about the organization. In early 1995 the city manager handed me a brochure describing the SAVVY awards and their categories. We had what I considered an innovative newsletter. Started in 1990 we had three collaborative partners and ad revenue to offset the cost but had recently "upgraded" it to include one color on the front and back pages. So I entered.

It was my first SAVVY, and I treasure that win because it validated not only the publication but also the contribution of communications within city government. The entire conference was held in one room and each one of the 25-30 attendees stood up to introduce themselves, give their title and describe their role within the organization. What struck me then, and still holds true today, is that while we all had different titles we were all doing basically the same work. I realized I found my tribe.

This year as I come up on my 24th and last 3CMA conference, ironically also held in Denver, I paused to reflect on why I keep coming back year after year. And I want to share my top five takeaways with you:

  • You have to love an organization that started in a bar on a cocktail napkin.
  • One preconference presentation gave me confidence, as well as tips, on how to start a city website which I introduced as a "pilot" during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games held in Atlanta. I did this even though I am not now and never will be a "techie." And at the time there were only a handful of cities had taken the website plunge.
  • There is always at least one person who gives you the perfect idea to steal – and that is expected in this tribe.
  • I am grateful for those who share the stories and lessons learned after facing unexpected emergencies and tragedies. You offer invaluable information that I use when refining our emergency communications plan.
  • As a communications professional working in local government, I always felt like an odd square peg trying to fit in the round hole of local government. At 3CMA I feel like I am surrounded by other square pegs who are talking, laughing and committed to learning how to be better communicators. I come home energized.

Names and faces have changed over these past 24 years; new faces become familiar and familiar faces move on. But I know that there will always be an underlying tie that binds us in our emphasis on the power of communication and our roles in making local government transparent, accessible and committed to engaging the entire community.

See you in Denver!

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