Management in Action: J.D. Gilbert, Ford County Administrator

J.D. Gilbert

 What does county management mean to you?

County Management means the world to me – county government is my identity. Originally, my career goal was to be an orthopedic surgeon and I interned at LSU Medical Center and Charity Hospital both in New Orleans, Louisiana. I also spent time as an intern at Salina Surgical Hospital in Salina, Kansas. For a number of years, I worked as an emergency department technician at Salina Regional Health Center in Salina, Kansas. I had some changes in my personal life and that provided the opportunity for me to look outside of what I was already doing. In addition, I worked for the federal government in New Orleans and a military base in San Antonio, so those experiences allowed me to have real-time exposure to government-in-action – I was hooked. These experiences lead me to positions in Saline County, Reno County and now Ford County. I am completely enamored by the work we do, the people we serve and the opportunities we have to implement creative solutions to complex community issues. I have a wide range of interests and enjoy learning about anything and everything, but I am not interested in being anything else. I am doing exactly what I want to do.

What does a successful improvement or project look like?

In general, I try to take a logical and measurable approach to process improvements and project management. Overall, my goal is to make it easy for the next leadership team to follow our thought processes and decision-making strategies In short, a successful improvement/project looks like something that will quite literally “make sense.” It is much easier to understand why things were done a certain way when the decision-making tree – even 30 years ago – is somehow present. I want the leadership team to be able to look back 30 years from now and understand how we got to our final product(s).

What is one improvement (operational, policy or physical) that you are proud of?

An easy example of an improvement that will make that list for us is our in-process HVAC upgrades to our Government Center, Courthouse, Jail and Road and Bridge Departments. We are constantly having issues with our HVAC systems because every time an improvement/repair has been made, we have chosen the cheapest path, which leads us to a more expensive future. This includes the original design and installation of our HVAC systems. Now, we are making sure all systems are designed properly, work together, easily accessible/monitored, warrantied and efficient. We are also making sure each component of every system is certified – so, if the system installed in Courtroom #1 is supposed to perform at a certain number of air exchanges per hour, the contractors will have to provide evidence that those per-hour-exchanges are occurring.

Another example of something I am proud of is how we handle building projects. We hire our own architect to monitor the on-going process and keep track of “working days” to make sure the contractors are staying on-schedule. We build-in a certain amount of “non-productive” days such as “weather delays.” This has really come in handy because that has held each contractor accountable and we have been able to save ourselves a lot of time and energy over the life of the project. We also have the same operation for road construction – we have our engineer on-site each day to monitor progress.

If you could share one piece of career-related wisdom with a colleague, what would it be?

Find an outlet. It is easy for all of us to get so deep into what we do that we sometimes forget that we have to take care of our families, our relationships and ourselves. I have to remind myself of this daily. I am in love with our profession, so I want to spend all of my time with it. I am super clingy when it comes to this job, so I have to really work at pulling myself away, enjoying my hobbies, taking care of my mom and just spending time being quiet and still.

Also, take your time in choosing your next position. Make sure you are really focusing on the community and culture as a whole, how you would fit, how effective you would be and whether or not the elected body fits your leadership and operational style. Our jobs are highly complex, stressful and unforgiving, so make sure you are literally in the right place.