Management in Action: Jonathan Mitchell, City Manager, City of Hoisington

Jonathan Mitchell

What does city/county management mean to you?

I think everyone approaches management in their own way.  Obviously, there are some essential functions and tasks that we all deal with but every manager approaches things a little differently.  My journey into local government was accidental.  I was involved with some grassroots fundraising and community-building efforts in my hometown when the city manager approached me about being an administrative intern.  At first, I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to work for the city.  Working for the government did not sound very interesting and I yearned to make a difference in my community.  I was confident that I was meant to work in the nonprofit world. However, after working with some talented local government professionals, I discovered the unique opportunities that cities and counties have to impact people’s lives.   As I have progressed in my career, I understand just how special this profession is.  As public managers, we have the opportunity to be involved in a lot of unique and demanding projects.  Our jobs are challenging and the work we get involved with is diverse.  We have the opportunity to be generalists but we also have the opportunity to shape the communities we serve.  While we all approach the profession a little differently, I believe we have the coolest job in the world.  We get to make a difference every day.

What does a successful improvement or project look like?

I am not sure there is an easy answer to this question.   Oftentimes, the success stories that I share with peers seem insignificant compared to the projects and initiatives taking place in other communities.  Over the years, I have learned that a project or improvement can be a success regardless of its magnitude.  If a group of people came together to address a need or desire and took steps to improve our community, we should celebrate it.  

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

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to be involved with a lot of really cool projects.  I have been involved with some exciting improvements and also been a part of some really innovative and exciting projects that turned into gut-wrenching failures.  Perhaps the one improvement that I’m most proud of involves the culture at the City of Hoisington.  During my tenure in Hoisington, our organization has had to make some difficult changes.   We have seen significant reductions in staffing, the termination of a union contract and some key retirements.   A lot of people would have jumped ship but the City’s staff has really stepped up and grown together.  In the past, our personnel worked in silos and there were not enough stories of departments working together to address the community’s needs.  Today, the City’s staff works very well together and they seem to understand that we are all playing for the same team.  It is fun to be a part of an organization where we are all working together and no one says “that’s not my job.”  I am proud to be a part of the changes taking place in our organization.  

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

Find a network.   Whether it is KACM, ICMA, a group of public officials in your region or a social network; it is important to find a safe place to share your concerns, gather ideas or exchange best practices.  There are times that our jobs can be stressful or lonely.  Having a professional network is critical to surviving the trials of public management.