The virtual 2021 MMA Annual Meeting & Trade Show was hosted on a highly interactive online platform called Chime.

The MMA’s 42nd Annual Meeting & Trade Show, held during a pandemic and social and political upheaval around the world, will go down in history as the largest virtual gathering of municipal officials in the state.

Instead of the usual gathering in Boston, more than 850 local leaders got together on Jan. 21 and 22 using an interactive platform called Chime.

This year’s theme, “Leading Through Challenge and Change,” aptly described the unprecedented year for cities and towns across the Commonwealth and the nation. Faced with an unrelenting pandemic and its economic fallout, a breaking point in the call for racial and social justice, and upheaval in Washington, D.C., municipal leaders and employees have had to pivot and innovate to meet the moment and the needs of their communities, while prioritizing safety and stability.

Trade Show attendees had the opportunity to interact directly with vendors, browse information about products and services, and watch short videos while making their way through a virtual exhibit hall.

The MMA’s first major online conference featured compelling speakers, timely workshops, networking opportunities, and a robust Trade Show featuring 80 exhibitors.

Thursday’s keynote speaker, Wes Moore, kicked things off by urging local leaders to look deeply at the inequities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and take the opportunity to prioritize helping those who need them most during the recovery and moving forward.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito gave a preview of the administration’s fiscal 2022 budget proposal, announced the new Community One Stop for Growth, and highlighted the valuable relationship between the state and cities and towns.

Also during the opening session, the MMA revisited its MassTown Careers multimedia campaign — launched last year but then paused due to the pandemic — to raise awareness about the appeal of municipal careers and to help cities and towns recruit a new generation of employees, with a renewed focus on recruiting for diversity and inclusion.

At the Women Elected Municipal Officials Leadership Symposium, Mayor Yvonne Spicer and the Rev. Liz Walker had a fireside chat about Spicer’s career and experiences as a woman of color, and the role women elected officials have to play in the fight for racial justice.

To start Day 2, motivational speaker and diversity consultant Risha Grant led a live interactive discussion on bias, helping attendees uncover their biases and providing tools for changing behaviors.

Gov. Charlie Baker joined the MMA Annual Business Meeting and announced that he would be filing a $200 million Chapter 90 bond bill. He also touched on his budget and spoke candidly about the stress of the pandemic on public officials and his methods for managing it.

MMA Legislative Analyst Ariela Lovett (top left) leads the discussion “Municipalities Lead the Way to Net Zero” with panelists (clockwise from top right) Rep. Carolyn Dykema; Ben Hellerstein of Environment Massachusetts; and Jillian Wilson-Martin, sustainability coordinator in Natick.

Fifteen workshops over the two days explored topics ranging from remote governance to public health, net zero emissions to cybersecurity and cultivating equity to economic recovery. All workshops were recorded and will be available to attendees on the Chime platform through Feb. 22. Workshop materials are also being added to the MMA website.

Exhibitors at the interactive Trade Show included a number of environmental consulting, financial, energy and technology firms.

Early on the first day of the conference, first-time attendees had an opportunity to hear from their counterparts during a Zoom networking session and get tips on how to make the most of the high-energy event.

This year’s Annual Meeting offered numerous opportunities for members to network online.

The virtual event was not able to include the typical breakfast meetings of the Massachusetts Mayors’ Association, Massachusetts Municipal Management Association, Massachusetts Select Board Association and Massachusetts Municipal Councillors’ Association, all of which held their annual business meetings, remotely, in the weeks before the MMA Annual Meeting. The member groups were, however, able to hold networking sessions during the MMA conference to discuss the events of the day and to connect and decompress.

In lieu of the usual Friday dinner remarks, the state’s constitutional officers — Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, Attorney General Maura Healey, State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg and State Auditor Suzanne Bump — recorded video messages for the Annual Meeting attendees. U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, frequent guests at the MMA Annual Business Meeting, also recorded remarks for the meeting.

“Just as our members have had to do time after time over this past extraordinarily challenging year, we at the MMA shifted gears to provide the best experience we could offer under current conditions, and we are very grateful that so many members showed their faith in us and joined us,” said MMA Executive Director Geoff Beckwith. “We are all truly Leading Through Challenge and Change, and we at the MMA draw inspiration from the incredible and historic work our members are doing in communities across the state every single day. This event really focused on what we can all learn from the past year, and how we can be best prepared for ‘the new normal’ that emerges.

“I want to thank our terrific staff for their hard work to build an entirely new Annual Meeting experience from the ground up, and I applaud our members for using this Annual Meeting to learn, network and continue their outstanding public service to the people of Massachusetts.”

Next year’s MMA Annual Meeting & Trade Show is scheduled for Jan. 21 and 22, 2022, back at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston.

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