What does city/county management mean to you?
In essence, I believe that working in City/County management provides me with the opportunity to help people on a grand scale. I get to help people by working to make my town better than it was when I arrived. I see this career field as one in which I can help people with an identified problem (such as a problem with their utility bill), but more importantly, I can also help to fix the issues before they become problems. I believe that a City/County manager is perfectly positioned to fix those future problems by taking an active role in community planning, team building, and project funding and execution.
After graduating from high school, I joined the United States Marine Corps. Since that time, I have been blessed to be able to continuously work in public service. Working in City management allows me to continue that public service in a way that can make my town a better place to live and work.
What does a successful improvement or project look like?
Well, I’m pretty sure that the correct answer is NOT that the project is complete… the punch list items have been checked off… and the thing still works! Those are all important items that add to a successful project, but I think there is much more to a truly successful project or improvement. I think that two elements are critical towards the overall success of a project or improvement; public input, and the method of finance. And, I believe these two elements are closely related.
In my community, we have major water, sewer, and gas line projects underway. And, unrelated to those projects, we just passed a special sales tax for roads and sidewalk improvements. Sometimes it feels like our staff spends a significant amount of time monitoring social media to see how we’re doing. With several projects ongoing, the need for educating the public has been extreme. Invariably, we still see comments like, “What are they spending money on now?” or “How come they never asked for my opinion?” What I really like seeing is a response to those posts from a citizen, explaining the What and Why of the project. That tells me our education piece is working.
The method of finance is also critical for a successful project. Am I effectively using USDA-RD or CDBG funding sources? Have I obtained as much grant funding as I can? What will this project do to the utility rates our customers must pay? I think about the finance constantly. I know that if the utility rates go up, some of our customers might struggle with their bill.
So, along with all the other attributes of a completed project, the successful project should have community engagement on what it is, why it is important, and how we will pay for the project.
What is one improvement (operational, policy or physical) that you are most proud of?
I am proud of many accomplishments I’ve been involved with during my career as a manager. I worked with Mr. Jay Newton to give my City a new pay plan and personnel policy manual. In the pay plan, we were able to make our City much more competitive towards recruitment, with significant pay raises for many of our staff. When I was in Greensburg, I was able to help with obtaining a grant-funded community swimming pool after closing the old WPA era swimming pool. Sometimes people will say, “wow, you were in Greensburg?” I have to tell them, Yes, but that wasn’t me… That was Steve Hewitt. Hat’s off to Steve for being able to manage the scope of multiple projects all at once! I have a small taste of that here, with 6 water and sewer projects, a gas line replacement project, conversion to automated metering, and everything else going on.
I am proud that I can stay on top of all that is going on in our community. One piece, however, will serve as a daily reminder of what our strong City team has accomplished; a new downtown water tower (under construction now). Our old tower is only 90-thousand gallons. The new tower is 200-thousand gallons. In 2016, we experienced the Airosol Company fire. In fighting that fire, we depleted our water resources which resulted in a community boil order. Having a larger downtown water tower is critical for our community health and safety, something for which we can all be proud.
If you could share one piece of career related wisdom to a colleague, what would it be?
Take care of your people. By that, I mean take care of your co-workers, your crew. If you take care of them, they’ll take care of you.
Years ago, I attended a class on “Positive Leadership.” Of course, the reverse of that is “Negative Leadership.” I am sure we have all seen the Gunny, the manager, or the boss who yells too much, who gets red-faced, and physically throws things during a counselling session. The positive leader must have the welfare of his people in mind. Their wellbeing comes before my own, and I want them to know that! I can still conduct performance evaluations, or even a negative counseling session, but the thought uppermost in my mind is, “How do I help this person be better?”
Last year, I conducted an all-hands training meeting during which I spoke about what loyalty means. For the basis of that meeting, I used the concept of what it means to “Ride for the Brand.” Red Steagall wrote a poem about this topic, and I wanted our crew to have that same loyalty; to me, to the City, and to the citizens. Each employee now has their own T-shirt stenciled with “Ride for the Brand.” And, of course, with our new City logo, I had a branding iron commissioned – to remind my team that we all Ride for the Brand. Of course, we did have some joking about who was to be branded first.
Take care of your people, and they’ll take care of you.