Finding the “Serenity to accept the things I cannot change”

March 26, 2020 – Mike McCann



This is for folks working in local government finance today, for those who care about their local governments and the people who work there, and for everyone whose quality of life, health and safety depends upon the continuing functioning of their local city county and school systems.

Are you a survivor of the Great Recession of 2007-2009? Do the last few weeks give you feelings of déjà vu, make your hair stand on end? Helping my community navigate the Great Recession was in ways the culmination of my career in government service. Over the last couple weeks those feelings of déjà vu have at times been almost overwhelming.

Today I still live in the same city I served in more than a decade ago. I still clearly remember the feeling in early 2007 when we started seeing the early indications of economic trouble. As a leader in our budget team preparing the budget for the upcoming fiscal year (July 2007-June 2008), the signals became more ominous by the day. Our working forecasts of slow steady revenue growth felt increasingly doubtful.

In a city with pricey residential real estate and significant tourism-related sales, we had strong tax bases, and we were accustomed to stable growing revenue forecasts. Watching early stories of mortgage industry troubles and tightening business liquidity, those economic bases started to look less robust that Spring.

Events rapidly proved that those concerns were well justified. The Silicon Valley business community’s conference culture drove much of our tourism, and those high-end excursions were among the first line items to feel the corporate axe. Everyone, at all levels, began to pause projects and make the individual spending cutbacks that so often culminate in a recession.

Fast forward from June 2007 looking recession in the eye, to March 2020. Here we are again, trying to make sense of a world-wide pandemic and the economic chaos it is causing. In local governments we have to think about how we are going to be able to operate at all, about the services our communities need now, and where the money to pay for it all is going to come from. Déjà vu all over again, indeed.

This time around, as a former city budget officer, I am watching from the outside, with empathy, concern and the desire to help. As some readers know, I have spent the last eight years working to build modern cloud-based software for local governments and designed specifically to help my former peers navigate the terrible local impacts of economic storms.

I have written and spoken on budgeting in uncertainty, developed white papers and models that OpenGov built into industry-leading budget variance, budget development and workforce planning solutions. Everything I have done has been driven by the searing memories of 2007-09, by the incredibly difficult decisions we had to make, and by the lasting damage those times caused to our governments, communities and friends.

We don’t yet know what is going to happen, what the shape of this calamity will be, what we will each be called upon to do. Please do know that I, and all my colleagues at OpenGov, are in your corner, are ready and able to help, and will be here for the long-term as we climb out of this thing together.

Be safe, be well, and do what you can. In the more elegant words of the Serenity Prayer “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

- Mike McCann

Check out the blog series, part two post, "Serenity and the Courage to Change".