Why did you enter city management, how did you become a city manager, and what do you enjoy most?
I entered city management because of the unique challenges and opportunities the profession offers to leaders who want to work with citizens, elected officials and employees to make a difference in the communities they serve. It offered me the opportunity to interact on a daily basis with a broad spectrum of residents, businesses, non-profits, elected and appointed leaders to help shape the future of a community. No other profession offered those same challenges and opportunities on a daily basis.
My career started in the field of recreation and parks with a summer job while I was earning my undergraduate degree and continued as I completed my master’s degree in Sociology. I continued with full time positions in recreation and parks, working for the cities of Cypress, Westminster, Tustin, Newport Beach, Anaheim and in Santa Clarita, where I became their first Director of Parks and Recreation.
The day I started, along with about 30 other city staff, Santa Clarita was a newly incorporated city in Los Angeles County with a population of over 100,000 people. George Caravalho was the City Manager and Ken Pulskamp was the Assistant City Manager — two great leaders who became mentors to me. My initial focus with Santa Clarita was to develop a recreation and parks program and facilities that would be the pride of the community. It provided me with a great opportunity to reach out to the community and listen to what they wanted and where we could help by acquiring new land, building new facilities and planning new programs, events and services.
In those early years, it felt like time flew by even though we were working 10- and 12-hour days, six days a week. Today, I love going back to Santa Clarita and seeing the parks we planned and built, the recreation facilities we dreamed about, the trail system we mapped and the open space we envisioned — all in place to serve the community.
George and Ken began to broaden my areas of responsibility over the next five years to include public services, emergency preparedness, budget, development of oversight, lobbying and managing an opposition campaign to a large regional landfill proposed next to our community. They gave me great opportunities to be challenged, learn and grow — including our response to the Northridge earthquake, in which the two freeways serving our community collapsed and about a third of the community was without water for up to a week.
My move into city management started with a promotion to Deputy City Manager and the encouragement of George and Ken to consider the leadership opportunities available as a city manager. My first city management assignment was with the City of Pittsburg in Contra Costa County. Pittsburg was a community of about 57,000. A new majority had been elected to its City Council that was interested in rebuilding and restoring the community. It was a great opportunity to work closely with a City Council committed to change.
What I enjoy most about city management is the partnership between elected City Councils and the City Manager, and the fact that every day presents new opportunities and challenges to not only provide great service to community today, but to improve it for the future.
How does your role as a City Manager differ from that of a council member or mayor?
Council members and mayors are elected by the voters to serve as members of the local government governing body. They generally serve four-year terms and are responsible for establishing the laws and policies that guide the community. Most cities in the state are general law cities with a council-manager form of government, in which the elected members of the City Council hire a City Manager to serve as the administrative head of the city and carry out the implementation of their policies and laws, along with the daily operations.
The City Manager serves as the administrative head of the city, responsible for day-to-day operations, hiring of personnel, development and administration of fiscal plans and regulation of building and development activities in the City. We have a very close partnership with the City Council and serve as their key staff, developing staff reports, legislation and policies for their review and consideration along with recommendations for their consideration.
Many describe an elected official’s role as one that is carried out in the policy arena while a City Manager is focused on the implementation and administrative areas of city operations. In reality, we are a team that respects the primary roles and duties we each have and the contributions and value we bring to the City when we support each other with open, transparent, accurate and timely communications.
Tell us about a city project you were involved with that you are most proud of?
I have many projects that I am very proud of during my career as a City Manager, including:
- Santa Clarita – Northridge earthquake disaster response, regional trails system
- Pittsburg Energy Projects – Island Energy, Enron partnership, Delta Energy Center, Civic Center
- Santa Rosa – Downtown revitalization, Santa Rosa Creek restoration and Prince Memorial Greenway, the Geysers Geothermal Energy Project
- Beverly Hills – ICIS, Leadership Development Project, Taste of Beverly Hills
What are the greatest challenges facing City Managers in the state today?
City Managers and local governments are dealing with the rapidly changing expectations of the public. There is a much greater expectation by the public that government be open, available, responsive and transparent in its everyday operations. A portion of this directly relates to concerns about recent abuses with government pay and benefits in the City of Bell. But it is also related to the changes occurring in our society through the implementation and use of technology in our daily lives.
Many of our cities across the state are really struggling fiscally with the impacts of an extended recession while dealing with increasing commodity and pension costs. Managers must address all of these factors while continuing to do the best they can to meet the facility, service and programmatic needs of their communities. It is not an easy environment to work in!
When and how do you interact with the residents of your City?
I seek out every opportunity to interact with the members of our community. I hold a monthly meeting with the presidents of our homeowner organizations. I meet with key businesses in the City on a rotating basis during the year. I participate in a monthly Economic Development Committee luncheon, weekly Rotary meetings and a variety of non-profit and charitable events.
We also publish a quarterly newsletter that is mailed to every resident. We have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, an Emmy Award winning cable television studio and production service that produces a variety of civic content for the local peg channel.
I also make it a practice to meet with any member of the community who requests an appointment, wants to discuss a problem or wants me to come out and see a problem at their home or place of business. I try to put a face and a personal touch to being their City Manager and model the type of employee performance that is expected in our community.
What is the role of a City Manager in upholding the public’s trust in local government?
City Manager’s have a vital role in creating and modeling the standards of performance and ethical behavior at all levels of local government. We have led the way through the completion of a statewide survey of City Manager compensation and the creation of compensation guidelines for key positions in City government.
Many City Managers had posted their salary information and employment contracts on their agency websites for years before the Bell controversy erupted. Today, City Managers must look for ways to make information available to the public before they ask for it and anticipate the needs of our community members to be involved in their community’s local government.
Many City Managers are members of the International City County Managers Association (ICMA) and adhere to a strict code of professional conduct and ethics that are subject to review by peer committees and public sanctions by ICMA.
It is important for every City Manager to make sure that regular training on ethics issues is available to both elected officials and employees. City Managers need to respect the public’s right to information and their need to know both about the successes that are achieved in their community, as well as the mistakes that occur and the corrective actions that are taken.
How are cities shaping the future of California?
Cities are the closest units of government to our citizens; people rely on cities to deliver their water, maintain their streets, trim their trees and protect their open space and recreation areas. It is only when there are problems with systems like storm water drainage, sewers and reclaimed water or electric power that many residents even know who is responsible for providing and maintaining these essential building blocks of everyday life.
Cities are shaping the future of our state through:
- Economic development programs and projects that help create jobs and improve communities
- Innovative efforts to leverage technology and e-government solutions
- Efforts to build effective partnerships with the private and non-profit sectors to address the most difficult of societal problems including drug abuse, crime, and an overworked education system.
- The council-manager form of government, where elected and appointed leaders work together to shape the policies necessary for effective and efficient local government services and partner to ensure their effective implementation