Why did you enter city management, how did you become a city manager, and what do you enjoy the most?
I am a second-generation local government employee. My dad was a firefighter for 30 years. I grew up with very high value placed on serving the community in which you live. While in college I entered the public sector as a Planner with the West Covina Redevelopment Agency. I enjoyed the diversity of projects and interacting with various segments of the community. This has continued to be true for each of my assignments.
After college I followed a career path toward the position of Community Development Director. Within a few years I was able to serve as department head for several departments in the same city. This put me in a position of having worked with most of the city staff and a great number of stakeholders in the community. The combined experience gave me the tools to fill the Assistant City Manager role and eventually step into the City Manager position.
My first stint as City Manager was for a city of 35,000 which served as the County seat. This was a great opportunity to implement projects the community had long needed and wanted. I see myself and others in this profession as ‘community builders’.
How does your role as a city manager differ from that of a council member or mayor?
The City Manager role is comparable to that of a CEO in a business venture. The City Council and the Mayor are comparable to the Board of Directors. The City Manager overseas the day to day operation, manages the staff and implements the policy direction of the Council. In developing policy, the City Manager role is to provide options and analysis consistent with the resources and abilities of the organization. Once the City Council adopts the policy the City Manager steers resources to create the best possible outcome.
Tell us about a city project you were involved with that you are most proud of?
There are many things I’m proud of, and it’s tough to pick just one thing, so I’ll outline two of my favorites. First, is outlining a workable solution for the small town that was dealt a major blow with a federal court judgment equivalent to four times its annual general fund budget. Second, is resolving a decades-long flooding problem for a medium-size town, with the support of the major property owners.
Shortly after taking the City Manager position for a small beach community, it became clear that the current Council was not well informed about the risk facing the city regarding a major land use lawsuit. Outlining a plan to get them up to speed was the first order of business. We were able to bring in a team of consultants to meet with the developer that had filed the suit. In order to get them to take this approach seriously, we needed a higher level of consultant assistance than the city had previously used. Because of the nature of the suit, we had several consultants interested in taking on the issue. We quickly went through a series of interviews and selected a remarkable team of firms to put together a plan. Immediately, we began communicating with the residents.
With the team of experts, the city was able to approach the developer and work down the amount of the judgment. Eventually, they agreed to settle for less than ½ the judgment. Even at that, the city was changed forever. Now, years later, the city is progressing toward a sustainable future based on improved communication about decisions made in years prior.
Another project that gives me great pride is resolving a long-standing flooding problem in the downtown area of a medium size city. For decades the downtown flooded each winter. We were able to bring in a strong design team of landscape professionals and engineers to devise a solution. We worked with the property owners and the community to achieve support for the approach. We were then able to attract grant dollars based on a commitment from the property owners to match the funding. One of the major property owners was another governmental agency. They were happy to contribute once the downtown property owners had a solution and made a commitment. The plans included opening up the flood channel to multi-uses, such as recreation, education and retail. The end result, now a decade later, is a more financially sustainable downtown, with significantly less risk of flooding.
What are the greatest challenges facing city managers in California today?
Trust in government and pension reform, particularly Public Safety pension reform, are the greatest challenges facing City Managers in California today. The pension reform issue is tied to fiscal sustainability.
City revenue sources are extremely limited. The sources vary depending on the state of the general economy. Yet, the costs of providing basic services and funding retirement of past employees are fixed and steadily increasing. Either additional sources of revenue must be secured or costs must be reduced in order to ensure financial sustainability for cities.
When and how do you interact with the residents of your city?
In addition to council meetings, committee and commission meetings, and local groups meetings, I personally attend community events in the evenings and on weekends as often as my schedule will permit. As a City Manager, it’s very important to be a part of the community you manage. Attending meetings is one of many ways we strive to understand the needs of our communities.
In Millbrae we have regular community forums on key topics such as fire, water, street paving, etc. This outreach has been well received particularly as we move forward on changes such as implementing a fire suppression assessment, increasing hotel occupancy tax, combining departments with other agencies, etc. In addition, we regularly obtain input from all segments of the city executive team who are actively serving various segments of the community such as police, fire, public works, recreation, etc.
What is the role of a city manager in upholding the public’s trust in local government?
The City Manager’s role is to ensure transparency in the day-to-day operations of local government. We do this by providing information in timely manner, and in a format easily obtained and understood by the non-city hall portions of the community.
The City Manager plays the lead role in creating a service culture that demonstrates responsive, approachable management geared toward solving issues that arise in the community.
How are cities shaping the future of California?
Cities are shaping the future of California by providing a physical, financial, social and cultural framework for a sustainable future. In addition, City Managers are continuously exploring ways to reinvent traditional methods of service delivery.
Cities are the local face of government and it is important that they provide for the basic needs of their populations while promoting the economic, social and environmental sustainability of communities.