2021 NFCM Seminar

NFCM participants at the seminar roundtable.

The annual CCMF New & Future City Managers Seminar (NFCM) is one of several ways that the California City Management Foundation supports the next generation of city managers. This multi-day workshop is an excellent opportunity for any new or aspiring city managers to receive hands-on mentoring from seasoned and retired city managers. Participants freely share their hopes, concerns and questions about all aspects of the city manager role and receive support as they start to navigate the challenging mix of fiscal management, politics, legal issues, and public relations that city managers face daily.

The 2021 NFCM Seminar took place in Pasadena from November 5-7, 2021. A cohort of 22 local government professionals attended the workshop.

  • Dominique Albrecht – Assistant City Manager, City of Coronado
  • Joanna Axelrod – Deputy City Manager/Communications Director, City of Escondido
  • Mike Behen– Deputy City Manager, City of Palmdale
  • Paolo Beltran – Deputy City Manager, City of Lakewood
  • Rebecca Bjork – Interim City Administrator, City of Santa Barbara
  • Leslie Caviglia – Assistant City Manager, City of Visalia
  • Charles Ching – Assistant City Manager, City of San Pablo
  • Jennifer Crawford – Assistant City Manager, City of Yucaipa
  • Jenele Davidson – Deputy City Manager, City of Victorville
  • Jacob Ellis – City Manager, City of Corona
  • Philippe Eskandar – Deputy City Manager, City of Westlake Village
  • Luis Estevez – Deputy City Administrator, City of Placentia
  • PJ Gagajena – Assistant City Manager, City of Moorpark
  • Elaine Jeng – City Manager, City of Rolling Hills
  • Ashwini Kantak – Assistant City Manager, City of Milpitas
  • Lisa Kim – Assistant City Manager/Community and Economic Development Director, City of Garden Grove
  • Nick Kimball – City Manager, City of San Fernando
  • Maggie Le – Deputy City Manager, City of Fountain Valley
  • Anthony Lopez – City Manager, City of Avenal
  • Whitney McDonald – City Manager, City of Arroyo Grande
  • Rachel Molina – Assistant City Manager, City of Hesperia
  • Trolis Niebla – Assistant City Manager, City of Lancaster

Four of the 2021 NFCM participants shared their takeaways with us below. If you are interested in participating in the 2022 New & Future City Managers Seminar, stay tuned to the NFCM Seminar webpage for more information.

How did you first hear about the New & Future City Managers (NFCM) Seminar?

  • Mike Behen – Deputy City Manager, City of Palmdale: JJ Murphy, Palmdale’s current city manager, attended NFCM a few years back.  He said the experience was positive on many levels and suggested that I apply.
  • Joanna Axelrod – Deputy City Manager/Communications Director, City of Escondido: My city manager encouraged me to apply.
  • PJ Gagajena – Assistant City Manager, City of Moorpark: I heard about NFCM during my first day on the job as assistant city manager in the City of Moorpark. City Manager Troy Brown recommended that I join CCMF and attend the NFCM Seminar as soon as possible.
  • Lisa Kim – Assistant City Manager/Community and Economic Development Director, City of Garden Grove: I was introduced to NFCM by Carol Jacobs, retired assistant city manager of Newport Beach and executive vice president of Management Partners. My research extended to conversations with City Manager Scott Stiles and my mentor, retired City Manager Bill Kelly. Everyone spoke highly of NFCM and encouraged me to apply.

Were there particular interactions you had with senior managers that were especially helpful?

  • Mike Behen: I was able to share some challenging issues privately with a few of the senior managers. They listened intently, which was so helpful and refreshing. Their wisdom and advice helped me prepare and navigate forward.
  • Joanna Axelrod: I’m grateful to the mentors for being so open about their personal experiences – especially around work/life balance and the impact this profession can have on your personal life. Their willingness to be vulnerable and share mistakes they’ve made will really help the rest of us do the same.
  • PJ Gagajena: The wisdom shared by accomplished and retired city managers was invaluable for any aspiring or new city manager. Understanding the true demands of the job and how that can affect you and your family was very helpful. I also appreciated the tips about how to work with city council members effectively.
  • Lisa Kim: All the senior managers were extremely generous with their time, talents and experiences. Their profound level of respect for one other and the city management profession was clearly evident. The breakout sessions were thought-provoking and provided for in-depth discussions on various topics, from communication style to relationship building to ethics.

What were some of the best pieces of advice or tips you’re bringing back to your city from NFCM?

  • Mike Behen: It’s okay to ask for help, and there is an entire network of city managers who are available to assist. Sharing information is very helpful. For example, I requested copies of a City Council Code of Conduct and a Staff Code of Conduct from a few of managers who were in attendance. Also, the City Council/City Manager 10 Commandments is a fantastic resource—I’ve already shared it with our management team. Lastly, I reaffirmed my belief that a city manager has the ability to positively impact a community on many levels. Healthy city council relationships, an awareness of the now combined with a clear vision for the future and positive interactions with staff and the community will help a city manager succeed, thrive and make a difference.
  • Joanna Axelrod: Hearing from the current and retired city managers about how to negotiate contracts and navigate the evaluation process was very practical and helpful. The discussion around Council/Manager relations and common mistakes made was also eye-opening.
  • PJ Gagajena: One of the best pieces of advice I will take back to my city leadership is that success is not about being perfect, but rather doing your best every day to help your employees and the community you serve.
  • Lisa Kim: Being informed about the ICMA Code of Ethics was very beneficial.

How has attending NFCM positively impacted your career?

  • Mike Behen: I felt like I was part of a family. I connected with several of the managers on many levels. Sharing stories, talking about work and home life and just being together was fantastic. When the event was over I felt re-charged and rejuvenated. I am eager to grow and learn more about the city manager career path! I have found my true passion.
  • Joanna Axelrod: Although I’ve been with my city for almost 15 years, I’ve only been in the city manager’s office for a year. The primary reason I wanted to attend this seminar was to build a network of colleagues in similar positions to be able to call on for advice, a shoulder to cry on or a solution that keeps me from having to reinvent the proverbial wheel. I’m so grateful to now have that network (including the mentors/facilitators), and I’m confident that they will play a huge role in my future success.
  • PJ Gagajena: Attending the NFCM Seminar made me think of the legacy I want to leave, not only with my employees and the community I serve but also with others who are advancing in the profession. It is important not only to find mentors and peers to support you but to also be a mentor and peer to support others.
  • Lisa Kim: Coming in to NFCM, I had many questions about the city manager profession. I appreciated the honesty with which all my questions were answered. Hearing about everyone’s personal journey in public service was quite illuminating, especially given their diversity of professional backgrounds. Many of the lessons I am taking away will be applicable every day.

Why would you recommend NFCM to other young city managers or assistant city managers?

  • Mike Behen: Knowing that you can reach out to your classmates, or any of the instructors, with any issue, is reassuring.  We are a band of city manager brothers and sisters!  The NFCM Seminar provides new and aspiring managers with a safe place to discuss sensitive issues, and connects them with a family of other city managers who are willing to listen and help.  The experience is priceless.
  • Joanna Axelrod: NFCM is a wonderful opportunity to connect with colleagues around the state, to share war stories with people who “get it” and to get practical advice.
  • PJ Gagajena: I would highly recommend the NFCM Seminar because you learn best practices from experienced city managers while building an incredible network of city management professionals you can rely on throughout your career.
  • Lisa Kim: NFCM delivers a real first-hand perspective of what to expect as a new city manager. The concentration of topics not only presented the opportunity to learn directly from senior managers, but also came with the added bonus of building a professional network of peers in city management. I am extremely thankful to be part of a community of like-minded individuals who are collectively taking steps to build their respective professional paths. The NFCM seminar is definitely a must for those seeking to grow into a city management career.