Jim and I have known each other for decades. We are the same age, entered the profession at the same time, work in similar communities, and share many of the same interests. With so many of our colleagues retiring, we seem to rely on each other even more than in previous years. I couldn’t be prouder of Jim’s accomplishment in becoming the President-Elect of ICMA – an organization dedicated to local government leadership.
Kate: How did you get involved in local government leadership?
Jim: As an undergrad, my college advisor was working hard to steer me away from law school and suggested that I investigate city management as a career. He extolled the virtues of the profession and arranged a meeting with the Dean of the Graduate School of Public Affairs at CU and it worked!
Did you have someone you consider to be a mentor – specifically with respect to becoming a local government manager? What did you learn from that person?
The County Manager I worked for as an assistant. I am trying to think back that far… but the most important thing I learned from him is that while it’s good to recognize individual performance, it’s important to note that one individual does not succeed without the support and efforts of the entire organization.
What are the top three reasons you stay working in local government?
Continuing to make improvements that matter, my staff, and that I believe that in our profession we have the opportunity to positively affect the lives of our residents and others on a daily basis.
What tips do you have working for a board (council) that someone entering the profession may not have done before?
Keep them all informed, don’t favor any one member, and work with them to set aside time to discuss strategic planning to help them develop a vision of where they want the community to be 5-10 years out. Otherwise the time flies and nothing changes.
What are the three areas of local government that you believe will be the most impacted by the pace of technological change?
Communications (social media), public works (smart technologies) and libraries (remaining relevant).
What has been the most challenging aspect of managing in your career?
Working with elected officials and maintaining clear lines of authority between the elected board and the Town Manager. Even with a strong charter, this can change based on the specific elected officials at the time, and can take patience and education.
What would you tell your early-career self?
Don’t ever miss your kid’s events, they are way more important.
How do you set career goals to keep learning and growing when you are already the leader of the organization?
I think the ICMA Credential Program actually helps because it makes you stop once a year, review your strengths and areas that could use improvement, and consider what professional development you’ve undertaken the previous year and what you should plan on for the upcoming year.
What steps, if any, have you taken to maintain any amount of life satisfaction not tied to work?
Stay physically active and travel.
What is one thing about your professional career that most people don’t know?
That I’m both introverted and a little insecure and that has made it difficult at times for me when I’m presenting in front of large audiences, such as Town Meetings and other meetings, where there can be over 1,000 people attending or at smaller gatherings.
I’ve asked many managers these questions and their answers share common themes. No one wishes that he or she had worked more hours or skipped a third grader’s concert. Take a look at your calendar for the last few weeks of summer (at least here in the northeast) and see if you can squeeze in one more day off! If you have a suggestion for this periodic “interview blog” leave a comment. In the meantime, let’s practice – earbuds in, on the trail.