From the Beacon, January 2021

Thank goodness 2021 is finally here. So far, the best part of this year is that we can rip the 2020 calendar off the wall (which is easier than trying to delete it from a smartphone) and toss the pages in a recycling bin.

We don’t want to throw 2020 away completely, which is why a recycling bin is better than the trash can. There are plenty of good lessons we can learn from the past 10 months by studying what went well, what didn’t, what we want to keep going forward, and where we need to improve for the future. These insights can help us in our public and personal lives, as leaders and as practitioners.

To start this process of reflection, we look forward to seeing you at the MMA Annual Meeting & Trade Show later this month, on Jan. 21 and 22. This will be MMA’s 42nd annual conference, but it’s the first one that is all virtual – all of our members will be attending from their living rooms, kitchens, basements or municipal offices. If you haven’t registered yet, you can learn more and register at

Our theme is “Leading Through Challenge and Change,” which is an apt focus, due to the remarkable challenges and changes that you and your fellow municipal leaders are facing, during a time of worldwide pandemic, widespread economic downturn, heightened awareness of deep-seated social and racial justice issues, and major disruptions in the delivery of essential public services.

We hope to see you there. We’ll have fantastic keynote speakers, including Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, leadership expert Wes Moore, diversity and inclusion guru Risha Grant, and a fantastic WEMO session with the Rev. Liz Walker and Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer. On top of that, the MMA will be offering 15 timely and informative workshops on issues of critical importance to local government.

When you attend a workshop, or the keynote sessions with Wes Moore and Risha Grant, you’ll be able to ask questions of our presenters. And one of the extra benefits of this virtual annual meeting is that everything is being recorded, so eventually those of you who register for Annual Meeting will be able to view all the workshops on your own schedule, and get the best seat in the house!

We have built in plenty of time to do what many of you enjoy most: networking. You can join our Zoom networking sessions on each day of the conference. We’ll also have an awesome interactive Trade Show, with more than 70 vendors covering the full range of municipal products and services.

Even though it is impossible to be together at the Hynes Convention Center this year, you’ll still be able to get a great Annual Meeting experience. We won’t be face to face or shoulder to shoulder in person, but we will be chatting and texting and connecting.

For me, I think one of the most valuable aspects of the conference is that it will offer a chance for you to take a deep breath and focus on what the past year has meant for you and for local government in general.

With 2020 in the rearview mirror, it’s tempting to try to forget the unsettling, disruptive and disorienting events that cascaded onto Massachusetts and the nation since March. The stress on organizations and people has been immense, and the changes have been difficult to endure. Remote work, constant worry, sleep disruption, millions of questions, far fewer answers. What a year.

Through it all, my colleagues and I on the MMA staff have been greatly inspired by your resilience and leadership. Like a championship team protecting your communities from wave after wave of attacks, your pattern of leadership has been to bend, but not break, and move forward. Bend, not break, move forward, bend, not break, move forward. Again and again.

The ground you’ve covered is more than remarkable – it is amazing. You’ve stood up massive public health and safety programs and initiatives, you’ve protected and saved thousands of lives, prioritizing the most vulnerable among us. You’ve redesigned public services, streamlined your governance processes, informed and calmed the public – all while enduring the same stress in your personal lives.

During the conference, we will invite you to reflect on the leadership questions and lessons we can all take from the past year. What does resilient leadership look like to you? How can we be at our best while carrying this stress and high anxiety? How do we care for others and care for ourselves and our families? How can we grow as leaders? How can we remain optimistic when facing the daunting challenges of addressing racial equity, speeding an economic recovery, and putting an end to the pandemic? These are all big questions that we can lean into all throughout the year ahead.

Many years from now, I predict that much of local government will be transformed. How we meet, how we engage, how we collaborate, and how we communicate will have roots in this time of upheaval.

I also predict that, seeing how quickly local government has turned on a dime, and scaled up programs and services in unprecedented ways, our citizens’ expectations of local leaders will be higher than ever before. That’s a good thing – people expect the most out of those they respect and love. This is all your doing!

May 2021 be safe and bountiful for you and your family. See you at Annual Meeting!

Written by Geoff Beckwith, MMA Executive Director & CEO