Behind the Awards: A Tale of Two Local Gov Innovators

Who were these local government leaders in innovation?

BLOG POST | Mar 15, 2018

As we near the Transforming Local Government Conference 2018 in Tacoma, WA, the Alliance gets the opportunity to highlight the amazing and important work of our members with two annual awards: J. Robert Havlick Award for Innovation in Local Government and Thomas H. Muehlenbeck Award for Excellence in Local Government. We cannot wait to share the winners, though we must admit, the competition was quite strong!

But why do these awards carry any weight? Who were these local government leaders in innovation? And, what exactly, is in those names? Those are the questions we are briefly exploring in this week’s blog post. 

*Warning: For those new to our membership, just know that Innovation Groups (IG) is the precursor to the Alliance for Innovation today. 

Let’s first look at the J. Robert Havlick Award for Innovation in Local Government. The award was “conceptualized by The Innovation Groups’ (now the Alliance for Innovation) Board of Directors to honor Bob Havlick, founder of IG who retired in 2003.”[1]  Since the very beginning of IG, Bob Havlick dreamed of forming a "hands-on" organization that would work closely with local governments to stimulate innovation. While other innovation groups existed at the time, Havlick's vision was for one that did not depend on federal funds to survive and could successfully interact with the private sector in research and development of emerging technologies and practices.

Mr. Havlick was instrumental in saving early IG members millions of dollars.  For example, In He led the group as they hired a company to “design an energy system that heated tap water via existing air conditioning units during the early 1980’s. The system developed was installed in firehouses across the state of Florida. Havlick also “introduced to Florida governments a sprinkler system that automatically shuts off when the soil contains a predetermined amount of moisture and a chemical that retards the growth of plants, saving thousands of dollars in gardening expenses,” as noted in the Washington Post circa 1983.[2]

Mr. Havlick was a connector of people and brought new perspectives to local government.

As Peter Block noted in his acknowledgements in his book Community: The Structure of Belonging: Easy Read Comfort Edition, “[Bob] … got me involved in communities. He kept inviting me to their annual conference, and my contact with these public servants shifted the direction of my work.”[3] 

Our other top award, the Thomas H. Muehlenbeck Award for Excellence in Local Government, “was created as a tribute to Tom Muehlenbeck, as a means to honor excellence in innovation.”[4] Mr. Muehlenbeck served as the City Manager of Plano, TX from 1987 to 2011 and was The Innovation Groups (now the Alliance for Innovation) Board of Directors’ Chair for 10 years.[5]

In reflection, “Mr. Muehlenbeck’s career spans more than 45 years of distinguished public service to city management, “[beginning] as an assistant city manager for the City of Parsons, Kansas.”[6]  ELGL accurately dubbed Tom, “The Dean of Texas City Managers.” Now, that’s one cool moniker.

Besides an extensive and robust career in local government, Mr. Muehlenbeck pushed to better public service at every chance. Our friend Jim Svara, visiting professor at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government and former faculty member at Arizona State University, even noted his efforts in the book The Facilitative Leader in City Hall: Reexamining the Scope and Contributions. During his tenure as City Manager of the City of Plano, Texas, “Plano had one of the nation’s few triple A bond ratings, Class 1 fire departments, an All-America City Award, and several accredited city departments, [Tom] also further developed one of the country’s best trained municipal workforces.”[7]

These two local government innovators, Bob Havlick and Tom Muehlenbeck, weren’t just critical figures in the founding of the Alliance for Innovation, but pushed local government to achieve better outcomes. We couldn’t be more excited to continue their tradition through these awards.

Stay tuned for future announcements of award winners on Thursday, April 5!  And, of course, we plan to feature these programs in upcoming learning sessions.  If you have any questions about the session or the Alliance learning programs, reach out to me at



You may also be interested in