Justin Hess

What inspired you to enter city management?

Growing up, I always had an interest in government and public service. I truly value the ability to have a positive impact on someone. This has driven me to stay in local government and pursue a career in City management because City management is all about making a positive difference in the community each and every day. People rarely realize how many different City services and programs occur on a daily basis. Doing my part to provide these services and work to build a better community makes coming to work each day a rewarding experience.

What was your path for becoming an Assistant City Manager?

I am your classic “rise through the ranks of an organization” Assistant City Manager. I started as an intern in the City of Burbank’s Planning Division while I was completing my undergraduate degree at UCLA. For the past 19 years, I have been fortunate to work in a variety of different positions, such as Financial Services Director, Management Services (Human Resources) Director, and Community Development Director. Partway through my career, I decided to earn my Master’s degree from USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy in order to expand some knowledge areas and prepare me for a desired transition into the City Manager’s Office. Serving in different departments has provided me with unique perspectives that have proven beneficial in executing the responsibilities of my current role. I am very grateful for those opportunities to take on a variety of leadership roles.

What does your typical day look like?

There is no such thing as a typical day! Each day brings its own unexpected challenges and opportunities. Not only is each day different, the issues can vary greatly. One of the most interesting aspects about my role with the City of Burbank is that it is a full-service city. So, one meeting can be about a development project, the next about a Police Department operational issue, followed by a meeting regarding the water and power budgets. I spend a lot of time with the City Manager and Department Executives figuring out issues and developing strategies. A lot of time is also spent preparing for Council Meeting agenda items and making sure Council Members are informed.

What city project are you most proud of during your time as an Assistant City Manager?

While there are a lot of projects that make me proud, there is a relatively small one that is a big deal to me. During my recent tenure in the City Manager’s office, I have been committed to providing internship opportunities for college students interested in public administration. Over the last several years, we have recruited interns to work in the City Manager’s office and expose them to the inner workings of city government. I like to call it the “All-Access Pass to city government,” as we attempt to show each intern as much about city operations as we can during their time with us.

Often times, classroom discussions about government revolve around the state and federal levels of government. I found that helping student interns discover all the different types of jobs and skill sets involved in local government is an eye-opener for each of them. It is important that smart and capable individuals enter local government; we can help achieve that by promoting this rewarding profession among today’s students.

What do you feel are the greatest challenges facing California’s City Managers and City staff?

The need to establish a greater level of public trust. In a post-Bell world, public trust in government continues to remain low, and this makes it challenging for cities to move forward with new ideas. Cities need to continue to be transparent and engage their citizens. The more we can build trust and respect, the easier it will be to carry out new ideas and deal with the challenges ahead of us. Building trust creates a more collaborative environment, which can result in a stronger community.

What is the role of a City Manager in upholding the public’s trust in local government?

The role of a City Manager in upholding public trust is critical and our profession has to hold itself to high ethical standards. As a longtime member of ICMA, I especially appreciate the Code of Ethics they developed for this profession. Taxpayers entrust City governments with millions of dollars every year. We must be open and transparent about how that money is spent, and we should also continually look for the most effective and efficient methods for using it.

How are cities shaping the future of California?

The direct connection between cities and their citizens plays an important role in shaping the future of this state. As cities explore innovative ways to solve problems and improve their communities, they remain on the forefront of issues the state wrestles with, such as traffic, affordable housing, and enhancing resident programs and services. Cities with successful initiatives can serve as models to other communities that may adopt similar strategies to positively influence the state’s future. Hopefully, there will be strong collaboration to foster a vibrant and high-quality way of life.