Recapping the 2017 annual conference.

Position:Conference news

The City of Denver, Colorado, is said to have 300 days of sunshine, but thousands of delegates arrived in the city for GFOAs 111th Annual Conference, May 21-24, 2017, amidst a mix of cold temperatures, snow, wind, rain, and (finally!) sunshine and warmth. Despite of the weather, GFOA delegates had no problem getting to the Colorado Convention Center from nearby hotels.

Many attendees enjoyed taking photos by the 40-foot tall Blue Bear sculpture that could be found peering into the Colorado Convention Center. The sculpture was designed by Lawrence Argent and is formally named "I see what you mean." It has become a Denver icon and a favorite among tourists and locals.

This year, GFOA's annual conference set record attendance with more than 4,500 delegates, including nearly 600 recipients of GFOA's first-time annual conference attendee scholarship--a record in itself. We want to thank the 855 delegates from the State of Colorado as well as the Local Conference Committee for welcoming GFOA attendees, guests, exhibitors, and sponsors to the "Mile High City." (Fun fact: By an amazing stroke of luck, the 13th step on the west side of the Colorado State Capitol Building is exactly 5,280 feet above sea level--one mile high--giving Denver its popular nickname.)


Albus Brooks, president of the Denver City Council, welcomed delegates and thanked them for their leadership. Community service and leadership have long been part of Brooks' identity; since being elected in 2011, he has worked toward creating the first affordable housing fund in Denver, which will generate more than $150 million in housing assistance over the next 10 years. Brooks is also continuing his work to provide more job opportunities for young people. He told the audience that "Innovative solutions need innovative finance staff."


Marc Gonzales, GFOA President and director of the Clackamas County, Oregon, Department of Finance, kept delegates motivated, urging them to "keep learning and keep leading." He offered encouragement, saying that "Working is a positive force in most people's lives, beyond the money they earn, especially if they are contributing to something beyond themselves. Our profession offers just that sort of compensation." Gonzales's general theme for the year of his presidency has been what makes a team productive; this is an important area because "none of us in our profession, or any profession, achieves success in isolation." Touching on the amount of changed experienced by the United States and the rest world over the past year, he suggested that "Our mission is in part to shape that change, so that our work becomes more directed and more productive." (The video of Gonzales's speech is available at


Jim Collins, renowned author (Good to Great, Good to Great and the Social Sector, Built to Last, How the Mighty Fall, and Great by Choice), speaker, and leadership expert, explained that "Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline." He encouraged delegates to strive for "Level 5" leadership, and explained that Level 5 leaders use a collaborative approach that helps make the people around them more effective. If you're interested in being a Level 5 leader, Collins suggested asking yourself these questions:

  1. Are you willing to strive for great leadership? A Level 5 leader has a clear grasp of their government and the environment that shapes it, and doesn't care who gets credit so long as things get done--among other qualities.

  2. Do you have the right people "on the bus," and are they in the "right seats?" The organization should be set up so leaders are asking not "what should we do" to solve a problem, but "who do we ask?"

  3. What are the "brutal facts" that must be confronted? To be sustainable, an organization must examine the most difficult issues and confront them head on.

  4. Have you found your "hedgehog"? Leaders need to display disciplined thought on an important area, as opposed to paying some attention to a number of things.

  5. What's your "20-Mile March?" Organizations that make it in times of turbulence self-impose a rigorous performance mark to hit with great consistency--like hiking across the United States by marching 20 miles a day, every...

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