Saturday, December 31, 2011

Olathe, Kansas Management Internship

About the

Management Internship

The Internship The City of Olathe has a great opportunity for a committed, team oriented, and highly motivated MPA graduate (or student who has completed all MPA coursework) to join the City Manager’s Office as a Management Intern. The duties and responsibilities of the Management Intern are designed to further prepare the incumbent for a successful career in local government. This is a full-time paid position.

Position Summary. The selected candidate will perform a variety of entry level professional administrative work, research, and analysis in support of the City Manager’s Office. The work performed by the Management Intern will be highly visible and have a direct impact on the organization. Typical assignments/projects will involve public relations, civic education programs, internal/external committees, the operating and capital budget, legislative activities, and a good balance of administrative and operational responsibilities. The intern will gain exposure to innovative best practices in our award-winning organization, through your rotations in the City Manager’s Office and a department that provides a very well rounded experience.

Requirements Requires a Master of Public Administration (or student who has completed all MPA coursework) or equivalent degree by July 1 and at least 6 months of related work experience. Applicable Internships (paid or non-paid) will satisfy the experience requirement. The ideal candidate will have a general knowledge of municipal government operations and be proficient with Microsoft Word, Excel, Power Point and related applications.

PREAMBLE: By embracing these core values, employees of the City of Olathe are committed to serving the community with respect, accountability, initiative and integrity.

Customer Service: We value a friendly attitude that delivers timely, competent, and responsible service to all of our customers.

Teamwork: We value cooperation with others to achieve the best for our organization and community.

Learning: We value an innovative environment that challenges us to continuously seek ways to improve our organization and our community.

Communication: We value open discussion with others as the basis for decision-making and action.

Leadership through Service: We value an organization in which each of us is a leader focused on serving people through listening to, caring for, supporting, and developing others.

About the position of

Management Intern

Job Description Under the direction of the Assistant City Manager, performs entry level professional work for the City Manager’s Office. Participates in and/or leads a variety of projects contributing to the continued success of various organization-wide initiatives. Duties and responsibilities are designed to further prepare the incumbent for a successful career in local government.

Routine Job Duties/Responsibilities

· Perform entry level professional administrative work, research, and analysis in support of the City Manager’s office and the Mayor and Council as directed.

· Interact regularly with personnel from each department to ensure effective interdepartmental communication and maximize operational effectiveness.

· Responds to citizen inquiries/requests and resolves all issues within assigned scope of responsibility in a timely manner. Refers more complex issues to the Assistant City Manager for resolution.

· Assist with developing and implementing projects and/or programs impacting one or more City departments.

· Collect and organize data for the City-wide Balanced Scorecard.

· Facilitates program for Olathe District Schools third graders to learn about local government.

· Act as Staff Advisor to the Olathe Teen Council.

· Assist with Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) budgetary process by inputting data, performing appropriate analysis, and preparing necessary reports.

· Attend and participate in various organizational meetings and meetings of the City Council and Council sub-committees as directed.

· Perform other duties and responsibilities as assigned.

Periodic Job Duties/Responsibilities

· May facilitate employee committee or ad hoc groups.


· Masters in Public Administration or equivalent

· At least six months of related work experience, applicable internships (paid or non-paid) are acceptable for experience requirement.

About the position of

Management Intern


· Ability to organize, direct and coordinate projects and meetings

· Ability to handle confidential information in a sensitive manner

· Excellent oral and written communication skills

· Ability to handle multiple demands and competing priorities

· Ability to work independently after receiving initial guidance

· Basic mathematical skills

· Ability to meet and deal tactfully with the general public, elected officials, vendors, employees and citizens


· General knowledge of municipal governments, city regulations/codes and ordinances

· Proficiency with PCs and computer software and applications

· General knowledge of office equipment, including photo copier, telephone, facsimile, calculator, shredder, etc.


· Valid Kansas Driver’s License (within 30 days of


Working Conditions

· Long periods of computer and office work

· Intermittent periods of standing and walking

· Ability to lift, carry, push and pull up to 20 pounds

· Constant talking, hearing, concentration, judgment and writing ability

Note This job description should not be construed to imply that these requirements are the exclusive standards of the position. Interns will follow any other instructions, and perform any other related duties, as may be required. The employer has the right to revise this job description at any time. The job description is not to be construed as a contract for employment.

About the

Salary & Benefits

Salary: $34,500

Benefits: · Health, Dental, and Vision Insurance

· Life Insurance ($10,000 life/$10,000 accidental death and dismemberment policy)

· Deferred Compensation, with City match up to $30 per pay period

· KPERS (Kansas Public Employees’ Retirement System)

· 10.5 Paid Holidays per Year

· One Personal Day per Year

· Vacation: 2 weeks per Year

· A detailed description of benefits may be found on the City’s website

Thursday, December 8, 2011

City of Phoenix Management Internship

Phoenix has posted information regarding their Management Internship for 2012. Find more information on the employment page.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

City of Richmond Fellowship

The City of Richmond, VA, just opened a position of Management Fellow. The program rotates the fellow through 4-5 city departments during an 11 month fellowship. More info on the employment page.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Interview with Darin Atteberry and Josh Jones, City Manager and Management Assistant, Fort Collins, CO

by Andrew Nelson

Editor's note:

This interview is the second in a series of conversations I had with city managers at the annual ICMA conference in Milwaukee. I had the opportunity to meet with Darin Atteberry and Josh Jones from the city of Fort Collins. It was a great opportunity to meet both the manager and his management assistant.

City profile:

145,000 residents

26,000 CSU students

$103 million general fund budget

Total budget is $454 million

Full service city with an electric utility

Transit system as its own department

2,000 employees in spring and summer; 1,400-1,500 in winter

Describe your career path.


In 1989, I graduated from Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo in city and regional planning and then moved to Atlanta to go to Georgia Tech. I finished Georgia Tech in 1991 with a Master’s in City Planning and a Master’s in Civil Engineering. That’s my educational background. In terms of work experience, I did my first internship in Pismo Beach, California, and then Santa Rosa, California in the city planning department. While I was in Atlanta I was a graduate research assistant and then I also worked for MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority), the transit agency, and I also did my thesis for MARTA. From there I moved to Vancouver, Washington where I was a senior city planner for about five years and then I came to Fort Collins to be the assistant city manager. I’ve been in Fort Collins now for about fifteen years. I was the assistant city manager for the first eight years and then the city manager for the last seven and a half years.

Darin Atteberry, City Manager, Fort Collins, CO


I went to Weber State University and interned in South Ogden City with Scott Darrington. Then I went to KU and I interned with the League of Kansas Municipalities and then Douglas County, Kansas. And now, I’m here in Fort Collins.

How many times have you offered the management program in the past?


Probably two or three times. I think this year – the program that Josh is in – is much more deliberate. It was a line-item in our budget and in prior years we had an intern from Associated Students at Colorado State University. Really though, in the last decade it hasn’t been a formal management internship where we did a national search and said “Hey, students who are interested come apply…”

It’s a full-time, benefited, salaried position. Fort Collins has had a history of strong professional interns dating back to John Arnold’s day. John was a KU grad and we had a very structured program at that time. During Steve Burkett’s day it was kind of hit-or-miss. And then John Fishbach, who is also a KU grad, had a kind of a hit-or-miss program. Again, I think this is the first year where it’s been a specific budget request. It’s a very deliberate attempt on my part to invest in the future of people like Josh who are coming out of school, and public administration programs and also bring fresh, new thinking into our organization. As I like to say, we may be growing the next potential city manager in Fort Collins. It’s an investment in the profession, it’s an investment in younger professionals, and it’s potentially building a future relationship in Fort Collins.


I would comment, too, about the duration of the program. It’s interesting that one of the very first management assistants - assistant city manager Wendy Williams – started about 25 years ago. So from her to me, and everyone else in between, there’s a really nice legacy here in Fort Collins.

So you have a high rate of retention?


In fact, it’s interesting at these conferences, I was just at the center for performance measurement yesterday, and a gentleman came up to me and said, “Please say hi to Rita Harris (a current Fort Collins employee).” This fellow is the city manager of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, but before that he was an intern back under John Arnold. As another example, Julia Novak, who I saw last night, is a former intern in Fort Collins. She became a city manager and is now doing consulting work. It’s really exciting to see some of the history.

Given the tough budget situation many cities are in, was it a difficult sell to your council to create a new position?


Context is important. Since I became the city manager about seven years ago, we’ve been cutting, laying off, and tightening efficiencies, but we’ve done that in a very surgical way rather than using a hatchet. The good news is that last November the voters said yes to a ballot measure, “Keep Fort Collins Great,” that raised our sales tax by 0.85. This generates nearly $20 million new dollars per year. I originally had a proposed budget that assumed no increase, but then once the voters approved that increase, one of the strategies that I had recommended to the council was this internship program. If it weren’t for this increase – I would have still advocated for the program – but it had a much better chance of passing with the increase in the sales tax. Again, for me, I look at it as a long term investment.

One proposal on the ICMA task force for internship guidelines is using interns within a revenue-generating department. For example, one day a week the fellow would write parking tickets that would pay for their work. Do you have any feelings on that?

Josh: (laughs)


I would not do that. It’s innovative and it’s interesting, but for me, to use that specific example, parking fines are not used to generate revenue but to enforce adequate turnover in parking so that retailers have good street access. I don’t mean to sound elitist, but we just don’t look at it that way. I think there is value – I mean, wow, to go as an intern and write tickets for a day or a week would be an incredible experience, but as a revenue generation source that wouldn’t be a good fit for the city of Fort Collins. But it would be a good experience for the intern to go out and experience that. One of the things I try to do myself is organize ride-alongs for police, fire, or code enforcement. I’ve not done a walk-along with parking. People can be brutal to those guys, and I think that it would give me or an intern a great appreciation for what our coworkers do.


To that I would add that I think Darin did a good job before I even arrived of preparing the city for the internship program. He talked it up, and he talked me up, frankly, and I appreciate that. Since I arrived, everyone has been very respectful of me and my time. Darin and others have involved me in very high-level projects and I’ve never felt like I’m just getting coffee or doing grunt work. Every project I’ve ever done so far has been, in my opinion, a great use of my time. I think that’s a good thing for an internship program. Unfortunately, other internship programs can be more about getting the coffee. Parking enforcement for a day would be great though!


Yes, you’re done with your degree work, and now it is a professional experience. I really like what Josh said. Back to the question about parking revenue, I think it’s really good to experience that hands-on work. I try to do that now still, even after twenty years, but I don’t think it would be the highest or best use of Josh’s time to have him out doing parking enforcement on a regular basis.

Let’s speak more specifically about Fort Collins. What’s the biggest problem you are facing right now?


I really can’t limit it to just one. We do have some really big ones. We’ve got major capital projects, a new interstate highway interchange, a new museum, an expanded performing arts center, an $86 million bus rapid transit system, etc. It’s all really, really, exciting, but any one of those projects gone wrong could be a real bad thing. So, we have a very intense capital improvement time going on. Any city in America would like to have any one of these projects, let alone the five that we have. The intensity of capital projects is a wonderful opportunity and we’ve got to make sure we’re dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s.

Another thing is this continued improvement of the relationship between the council and the staff, making sure that it is rock solid, and that it’s progressive. We’re growing together, and we’re consistent with the board of directors’ level vision of being world-class. Obviously the movement of boomers leaving our work force makes succession planning a very big deal. And then, like I said, since we’ve been in a cut mode for the last seven years and really tightening, this “Keep Fort Collins Great” tax measure gives us $20 million new dollars per year. When you’ve been cutting for the last seven years, you’re not used to spending! I had our mayor pro-tem tell me the other day, “Darin, you need to loosen up a little bit here because they didn’t give us the money to hoard it and to save it. They gave us the money to spend it. We’re aware though of spending it very, very wisely, reporting it, making sure it’s just not a feeding frenzy and being very deliberate, very strategic, under the context of the Malcolm-Baldridge stuff [National Quality Award from the National Institute of Standards and Technology] … Most of that sounds like great problems to have (and they are), and so I kind of keep my head down at this conference because everyone else is laying people off or doing furloughs.

I’ll pull back the curtain a little bit too. As a longer-term manager – I’ve been in the city for fifteen years and the manager for seven and a half years – how you stay passionate and get goose bumps for the work you’re doing is very important. And I do have that, but I also recognize that for me, if I’m not innovating and I’m not helping facilitate transformational change, that’s a warning sign. I want to make sure we have that. The organization has really counted on me driving change, which is good and comes with responsibilities.

Largest employer is Colorado State University, and then the school district. Companies include Intel, Hewlett Packard, AMD, Avago, and other very well-known hi-tech firms.

Josh, how did you find this internship and why did you choose it?

A few months ago, I was committed to getting a management internship wherever it may be. I applied to places as far away as Lexington, Massachusetts to Eureka, California and everywhere in between. I ended up getting a few offers and to me, Fort Collins was the right fit. It’s like hiring the city manager or any other employee for that matter – it has to be the right fit. One of the other internships I looked at was the “coffee and grunt work” kind of deal and the other one was a very, very large organization – one of the top ten cities population-wise in the U.S. – and I felt like I might get lost in that organization and I didn’t know how that organization would truly utilize a $30,000 per year intern, whereas in Fort Collins I feel like I’m really being utilized every day. They value my presence and I’m getting a lot of work, being able to produce, make a difference for them, and contribute in a meaningful way. Last week we were in the office after council meeting at 2 A.M., and if I didn’t want to be here, and if I didn’t value the work and respect the work that I’m doing, then I certainly would not be there at 2 A.M. It’s a good fit, I’m having a great time, and it’s a dream job for me, so I’ll stay ‘til 2 A.M. because I feel that it’s worth my time.

Josh Jones, Management Assistant, City of Fort Collins


I think about Josh’s story and I think about what we’re doing at ICMA [best practices presentations], whether it’s budgeting or performance measurement, the way we do pay and benefits with performance-based pay, our economic development work with clusters and incubators, etc. My job is a real privilege. Admittedly, I think Fort Collins has been a place that’s known as an innovator, though not necessarily out in the extreme edge. I have a group of colleagues that met about five years ago who said that they were watching what some cities were doing regarding budgeting for outcomes. Fort Collins had adopted it and they said, “Oh, we had better pay attention to it.” What’s really interesting about Fort Collins is when I did my mid-year evaluation (twice a year I go in with the council during an executive session and do an evaluation) and in that evaluation I’ll get feedback about what I’m doing and what the city is doing. But they are also driving me to more and more innovation. “Why aren’t we innovating more, why aren’t we driving transformational change?” I leave my evaluation a little defensive. Are you kidding me? We’re driving change! But then, I go home and wake up the next day and think how great it is to be part of an organization, to be in a position where my board of directors is saying “We want innovation.” Because most of these managers probably don’t have a board saying that kind of stuff. [They say] “Keep the course, don’t change.” That’s not Fort Collins.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Long Beach Management Assistant Program

The Long Beach MA program - California's oldest city management fellowship - is now accepting applications. Find more information on the Employment page.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Interview with Allen Bogard, City Manager, Sugar Land Texas.

by Andrew Nelson

Editor’s note: This interview is the first in a series of conversations I had with managers at the ICMA Annual Conference in Milwaukee. Each of these managers represents a city or county that has offered or is currently offering Management Fellowships – one- to two-year postgraduate work and mentoring experiences that help new MPAs and MPPs get their feet wet in city management.


Every year, the Romney Institute of Public Management sends a large group of its local government students to the ICMA Annual Conference. This trip often serves as the first encounter many of the students have with professional managers, their staff, and private sector firms providing services to municipalities.

One of the activities that students from the Romney Institute (Brigham Young University) do every year is network directly with managers and professionals while on the exhibition hall floor. BYU rents a space for students to discuss careers in city management with other participants, network for internships or jobs, promote the institute’s student-led local government consulting group, and showcase the Romney Institute’s dynamic and practical-based program.

I was in Milwaukee for the conference with my fellow BYU MPAs, working the booth and trying to talk to as many managers as I possibly could. One thing I’ve noticed about city managers is their willingness to share their love for their careers. While working the booth, I saw a nametag – City Manager, Sugar Land, Texas. By itself, this city probably would have blended in with the thousands of other names I didn’t recognize. However, my best friend had served a Mormon mission to Sugar Land several years ago and loved the area. The name had stuck in my head. I made the connection and started a conversation with Sugar Land’s manager, Allen Bogard (see photo below).

After a short chat at our booth, I learned that Allen has hired management assistants in the past (also known as management fellows, management interns, analyst trainee, or “management analyst I” in other jurisdictions). During our chance meeting, we were able to discuss his successful career from changing tractor tires for the city of Dallas to becoming the manager of Sugar Land and how a new grad can break into the city management field with the help of a management fellowship.

How did you get started in city management?

Oh goodness. I wanted to be a lawyer and I was on my own through college and my grades weren’t good enough. I had a girlfriend who wanted to get married and I learned about a graduate program at the University of North Texas that taught people how to be city managers. That sounded like something that was very interesting to me.

It sounded like I could satisfy my desire to do public service and it was also a career that looked good to me so I went ahead and joined that program. That’s where I got my master’s degree. I got a bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas-Arlington in Political Science.

I got married and within three months of bumming cigarette money off of my new wife (who was a nurse) I decided I had to go get me a job. I went ahead and got a job with the city of Dallas changing tractor tires and doing just about anything else that I could. I worked through a number of different positions with Dallas and ended up being a budget analyst. Then I left to work for the city of Plano. That’s about when I finished up my master’s up in North Texas. I primarily worked in the Public Works area. I became a director reporting to the city manager. I was still pretty young at the time. I had already worked for Dallas for three years. I was with Plano for seven years during which time the city grew from 60,000 to 120,000 and in Public Works, that’s excellent experience.

A change in leadership – the city manager was retiring – was not in alignment with my successful continued growth. At that point I decided to take my first city manager’s job.

Where was that?

A little town in East Texas named Winnsboro. Only three or four thousand people. It was quite a change from the metropolis [of Plano and Dallas], but I loved it. In ’85, I was 31. In a small town, you do a little bit of everything. When small kids come into my office, often the first thing they notice is a picture of me riding an elephant in the circus. It’s illustrative of the number of roles you play in a small town. I personally think that is very satisfying. It’s very exciting because you never know what you’re going to be dealing with next.

It’s so interesting to hear how people arrived where they are. There really is no one “best” system to get into city management.

That’s right. I kind of did both [starting in a large city v. a small city]. That’s kind of a regular conversation with people in my organization. I always encourage them to keep an eye open outside. I have mixed emotions because I want to keep people for as long as I can. At the same time, I want them to be thinking about “When is the right time to make that move?” There is a good time and it’s not just when the opportunity opens up, but also the right mix of your family makeup. The longer you stay in a Plano or a Sugar Land, the higher your compensation becomes, the harder it becomes to make that transition…or if you’ve got kids or a wife, if she has a job. The more complications you have in your life the more difficult it becomes to make the transition. It’s an important issue.

So tell me a little more about Sugar Land.

Sugar Land is a town of about 85,000. It is demographically upper-end income housing. It is very rich in the sense that it has a very strong business base. We’ve been very successful in attracting a diversity of commercial development. We have about an equal amount of retail, office, and industrial space. It is largely oil-related as is Houston, but Minute Maid, for example, has its corporate headquarters there. There are several large engineering firms there. We probably have 40,000 plus jobs in the city. We are the retail marketplace for southwest side of Houston out into Fort Bend County, which is our county. As you continue to the southwest, there is not another retail marketplace until you get to Corpus Christi. Our mall and retail areas are very significant sources of revenue. We’re always making sure that we maintain that revenue stream. We have about 50% of our general fund through sales tax. Over the years our sales tax has allowed us to lower our property tax rate and we actually have the second lowest property tax rate in the state for cities over 50,000. That’s good in a way, but it also makes us more reliant on sales tax, which can be cyclical, and is something that we have to pay close attention to. So we do some things to manage our money so that’s not a problem.

We’re AAA bond rated. We had Fitch and this year we got Standard and Poor’s, so we’re real pleased about that. It’s something that takes a long time to accomplish.

Has there been a lot of job turnover in the city in Sugar Land?

We are finding ourselves to be a place where people come to steal my employees. That’s one of the things that happen when you’re successful. You can’t begrudge anybody. So we’ve had a lot of turnover specifically in the economic development area. Actually I think it’s going to end up working in our best interest. Not that the folks that were working in those areas weren’t doing a good job. We had a change in leadership in that department a few years ago. The new director wanted to have a staff with more economic development expertise and experience than [the previous director]. As the turnover occurred, we’ve been able to increase the stature and capacity of that department.

What’s the biggest concern facing the city of Sugar Land?

We are arriving at a point where continuing to afford to invest in capital improvements will require us to raise the tax rate. The city hasn’t had a tax rate increase – and in fact has basically reduced the tax rate every year for the last twenty years – because of the growth of sales tax receipts. The net effect of that is that we no longer have the financial capacity within the tax rate in a low growth economy to be able to continue to invest in new capital projects, not only because of the cost of the debt service, but more importantly the ability to maintain and operate whatever it is we want to build. I’ve had to refine my message, educate my elected officials and eventually the community on the idea that we need to seriously consider raising the tax rate. And politically that just hasn’t been feasible up to this point. We are beginning to talk about having a bond election and using that election process as the manner in which the elected officials can get permission from the public. If the voters don’t approve it…well, I have a $186 million budget this year. We have a declining debt service obligation, the way we have structured our debt conservatively in the past, which means that we have capacity opening up within the same debt service tax rate over the next five years that would allow us to invest in rehabilitation and more “needs” as I call them, about $60 million. So we can rehabilitate the streets, we can maintain everything that we have. We just can’t go out and build more parks.

And we have to stop landscaping everything… I mean, if you stand still too long you’re going to get flowers planted in your hair. (both laugh)

Parks are expensive to maintain. We’re going to have to go through the process of a bond election to allow the financing for the “wants.” I’ve basically split our five-year CIP into two parts this year. The part that we’re going to fund based upon the revenue stream that we had over the next five years. And the list of “wants,” the things that we want to do but do not currently have a funding source for with conservative economic projections. Of course, if the economy explodes and takes off, it’ll be a different picture. For now, that’s the biggest challenge that we’d face.

The other one is the award that we’re getting for our very diverse community. We are now 35% Asian. It is largely Chinese and Indian. We have a Hindu temple and a Muslim mosque. Those parts of our community are coming to Sugar Land because it has an excellent school system. It’s very stable for property values. It’s got a very good reputation as a good place to live, a safe place to live. Well maintained. It’s very orderly. For the Asian community, that’s right up their alley. Those parts of our community are growing. We have to teach a city organization that is primarily people that look like me to know enough about the Hindus and the Muslims and the Chinese to make sure we are providing services to them that meet their needs. That is an unusual characteristic that we have been working on and trying to respond to by reaching out to those communities and having them come in and teach us about not only their culture and where they come from but also the makeup of their community in Sugar Land. For example, we have learned about the concerns that Indian families have about losing their young people. In other words, these are first generation, they have their young people in the school system and they begin to gravitate away from the culture that the family would like them to follow. Things like that are important to know. We are making sure that we have parks department events that are inclusive of their cultures but also bring them into the Fourth of July and Cinco de Mayo and so forth. So that’s a set of different challenges that we are dealing with there. We think it’s a strength. They are excellent citizens. And they are very appreciative of their city government.

Let’s talk about your Management Assistant program. How many times have you offered the program?

We’ve had an internship program for years. As a matter of fact, my public works director came to the city as an intern ten to twelve years ago and worked his way up to director of Public Works. We have three generations of Management Assistants. The first one, one of the participants is my assistant to the city manager. I fondly refer to her as Bogard’s brain because she serves that role for me. A second generation intern just took a small town city manager’s position in Wisconsin. We’ve been organizing a two-year temporary position hopefully with a starting salary that can allow you to live - not well but live - and they work with the Assistant City Managers and myself. Jennifer May the assistant to [the city manager] helps to provide linkage and support. Most of them have gone on to find a position with the city of Sugar Land at the end of the two-year period, somewhere within the departments in a role that either evolves while they’re there or in some cases we’ve realized this is somebody that we want to keep and so we’ve made things happen we’ve hired them as budget analysts.

One thing we’ve been looking at doing right now is attempting to reorient that program to overlap with our budget analysts to where there would be a shared resource that would concentrate on one of my assistant city managers’ areas which are public safety, public services or finance administration and let the MAs be not only working on strategic projects but also supporting those departments from a budget perspective. So I’ve got budget analysts who want to get involved in strategic projects and supporting the departments and I personally believe that there’s nothing a City Manager needs to know more than finance—not because that was my background just because that’s how you control things. So we’re trying to mix that up to where our MAs are going to have a broader breadth of experience.

Is it a difficult sell to your council to fund those positions?

Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, I started out and just did it because it was the right thing to do. I funded it out of salary savings so I didn’t budget it. Over the years we have budgeted it, this last year we went through a scaling back of our finances to get us back into structural balance and we eliminated about eighteen positions so I don’t have any of the MA positions –well, I’ve got MAs but they’re MA IIs, they’re more full-time, permanent positions—I did not specifically fund the MA program as approved positions, but I’ve got the ability within the budget to create those positions with temporary savings because they’re temporary positions. The City Council has been tremendously supportive of the program once I was ready to roll it out… they recognize the value of young people coming into the organization—they see people leaving, they want to see good young people coming in—and that’s one of the things that they look to me to do is to be aggressive in bringing those people into our organization and they have seen a tremendous amount of success, so it’s well received.

Have you noticed any trends, positive or negative, coming from the recent MPA grads from around the country?

I had someone mention one the other day that I really hadn’t thought about but I’ll steal theirs, and that was the social skills that the MPA students are coming out with nowadays. It appears to me that the schools are doing a better job than when I went, helping MPA students learn the importance of networking, interacting with the professional groups, like what you’re doing now, and that certainly wasn’t a part of the program that I graduated out of and as a matter of fact I could have benefited tremendously if I could have been in those types of environments. I think it made it harder for me to be successful because I didn’t have that kind of a background that made it easy for me to talk to people that I didn’t know and so forth. People joke now because all I ever do is talk but I remember talking to people on the phone and just you know having terrible anxiety… anyway, those social skills I think are extremely valuable.

Other than that, we’ve been attracting some really top-notch young people to our organization and they’re very hungry and you have to feed them. That’s something that does take some effort on the organization’s part to make sure that you are feeding that passion that they have. If you don’t then it’s not going to be the best situation, you need to reward that passion and help them find challenges and get involved in things.

What do you think about changing the stigma of internships towards a more “apprenticeship” notion?

I like that. I understand what you’re saying relative to the connotation of the term “intern,” but we use it much more broadly than just for MPA types, we have interns that come in for the parks department, interns that come in to the engineering department, so it’s much broader than just in the city manager’s office… what we’ve done in the past is primarily try to tie an intern or management assistant to one of the Assistant City Managers and that has worked pretty well I think to keep them engaged in things.

Although I am interested in continuing to do the internship program I really believe that the MA program for us is something that is more significant both for the organization that gets something out of the investment and for the student to be able to have that first opportunity at a job, a real live paying job with benefits, and really be given the opportunity to be able to earn your way into a more permanent situation. In our case our community is very well respected in the region and the state of Texas, and I think the young people that come there have a benefit that will accrue with them in the future for having been associated with our city—I don’t mean that to sound egotistical or anything but it was the exact same thing for me working for the city of Plano back in the day. Plano was kind of the epitome of city management and whenever I could put that down on my resume it made a whole lot of difference.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

China begins pilot program to issue local bonds

I saw this article the other day in the NY Times. In short, China has selected four subnational governments to begin issuing bonds in order to raise revenue. In the past, local governments have resorted to land swaps and land auctions to finance projects. The four governments include:
  • Shanghai (city)
  • Shenzhen (city)
  • Shenzhen (province)
  • Guangdong (province)
To read the complete article, click here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Public Service wage penalty

I've always known that government workers face trade offs when comparing their compensation to similar positions in the private sector. My friend and I joke that he, as an undergraduate business major, will graduate and make at least $10,000 more on his starting job than I will in my first job after receiving a master's degree.

Recently, the Center for State and Local Government Excellence published an article that clearly distinguishes what those trade offs are. Their basic findings are:

  • State and local workers have a wage penalty of 9.5 percent.
  • Pension contributions and retiree health insurance help close the gap.
  • Total compensation for public sector workers is about 4 percent less than that in the private sector.

To read the complete report, click here.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Encouraging news for local government

When considering the turmoil many other governments find themselves in, I find comfort in my choice of serving at the local level.

Monday, September 19, 2011

ICMA Annual Conference

I'm in Milwaukee for the annual International City/County Management Association conference. For those not familiar with the conference, there are three different components to a typical day. First, there are keynote speakers and conference workshops throughout the day to help train, motivate, and educate the managers and professionals who run your local city. Second, there is a large exhibition hall where many private companies promote innovative technologies or services at individual booths. You can meet a lot of different individuals wandering through those halls from varied backgrounds throughout city management and from all over the world. I've seen people from Canada, Australia, Denmark and Russia in just one day. Finally, there are impromptu networking opportunities around conference events, including meals, recreational activities (Wisconsin State Cheese Factory/Museum and Harley Davidson Museum, to name two) and organized meet and greets.

As a member of the ICMA task force on internship guidelines, I'm interviewing managers from across the country about their internship and fellowship programs. This task force will be changing the internship guidebook and promoting new materials and techniques so that professionals, universities, and students can all make the most of their internship experiences. I'll be posting the interviews over the next several weeks on the Interview page of Local Government Today. These experienced managers and deputy managers bring a wealth of expertise and insight to making the most of your career - starting now. Look for interviews from managers from the following cities or counties:
Humboldt County, California
  • Centerville, Utah
  • Humboldt County, California
  • Lexington, Massachusetts
  • Sedgwick County, Kansas
  • Sugar Land, Texas
  • Andover, Massachusetts
  • Fort Collins, Colorado

If you have a comment, idea, or concern about your past internship experiences, feel free to leave me a note to this message so I can pass them along to the internship task force.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tacoma - ICMA Local Government Management Fellowship

I received the following message from Gabriel Engeland at the City of Tacoma a few days ago.

"I am pleased to announce that the City of Tacoma will soon be accepting applications for the Management Fellowship position located in the City Manager’s Office. The Management Fellowship at the City of Tacoma is a two year position designed to assist recent graduates in developing the skills necessary to become effective local government managers.

"More detailed information, including application information, is available on our website

"The City of Tacoma will be accepting completed employment application forms from qualified candidates from Thursday, September 8, 2011 to Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 5:00 p.m."

The Management Fellow position will start around the beginning of November, so you need to have completed your MPA before then in order to be eligible. For more information about the ICMA Local Government Management Fellowship program, click here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rainy days, hurricanes, and reserve funds

by Andrew Nelson

Here's a question I've been asking myself recently: how much money should be in a "rainy day" (or reserve fund) for a city? In addition to pension reform, pay cuts, hiring freezes, tax hikes, and program cuts, cities have also thinned out their reserve funds in recent years. Then the East Coast gets an earthquake (albeit minor) and a hurricane within a week of one another. How will they pay for repairs?

I've heard some individuals argue that having large rainy day funds is an act of government tyranny - surplus funds should be refunded to citizens. I generally agree. However, I think that cities could benefit from having strong reserve funds which are perhaps larger than one would normally accept. For example, a reserve fund could be legally set at annual growth plus one percent and eliminating the reserve fund's growth during hard economic times. I find it unfortunate that cities have already faced three years of cuts and then get barraged by unconnected acts of God and realize they have no more money.

In years of plenty, what is wrong with having a structural surplus of reserve funds? Do you think it is acceptable for local governments to maintain a large, yet reasonable, rainy day fund, or should the money be refunded to residents?

For more information on how Hurricane Irene has affected local governments, read this story in the New York Times.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Interview with Scott Darrington, CAO, Pleasant Grove, Utah

City Profile:
Pleasant Grove, Utah
Population: 33,000
City workforce: Approximately 100 FTEs (25 police, 15 fire)
Largest sales tax revenue: Macey’s grocery store
Previous CAO positions: Afton, Wyoming and South Ogden, Utah

Ask Pleasant Grove City Administrator Scott Darrington how he got started in city management and he’ll give you a short chuckle, a slight rise in his shoulders, and a grin. “Now there's a story,” he says after a moment.

Darrington graduated in 1997 from the Institute of Public Management at Brigham Young University (now named after three term Michigan Governor George W. Romney). The first few years after graduation were tough on Darrington.

“I think we had a 57 percent placement rate the year I graduated. I wish I had kept all the rejection letters that I got during that time,” he recalled. Darrington applied to many jobs around the country. Three times he was a finalist for three different positions in the city of Sandy, Utah. After long periods of no success, he used his own personal network and nearly moved to Kansas but decided against it. He also turned down a position in the city of Fresno, California.

“In some ways, I couldn’t just go wherever I wanted,” he said. “I knew that if I moved out to the middle of nowhere Kansas that I would have never met my wife. There are other things you have to take into account. Timing is a big deal. You also need to have a geographical preference.”

After three years of searching, Darrington obtained a position as the Administrative Assistant to the Mayor of Afton, Wyoming. “They were looking for the Mayor’s assistant. But above all, they were looking for someone to run their recreation programs. It just so happened that I had gotten my undergraduate degree in Recreation.”

The job was actually more involved than just running the recreation program. Darrington said he basically ran the entire town – budgeting, planning, recreation, and administration, among others – and supervised the other twelve city employees. After the city voted in a new mayor, Darrington asked if his title could be changed to Town Administrator.

“You’ve got to be willing to find the right title,” Darrington advises, “It also helps to have a direct link to the city council. That way, when you’re at your next job interview, you can say ‘I’ve interacted with the city council.’ That goes a long way for advancement.”

Darrington explained that the title depends on where you want to be with your career. Many people don’t want to be the city manager and are happy staying in senior management as a department director or as an assistant city manager. In his case, Darrington admits “Sometimes I wish I were the assistant.”

Looking back on his career thus far, he says, “It’s what I love. It’s what I like to do. And I think that’s how most [city] managers feel.”

Interview techniques and career advice

What are the top three skills you look for when hiring a new employee?

Darrington: First, I’d say I look for the right fit and the right attitude. I look for someone who can get along well with others in the organization. I can teach them how to write a budget or complete an analysis, but I can’t teach them to smile.

Second, I’d look for experience or capability to be taught or trained. No offense, but most recent graduates are inexperienced. But that doesn’t matter so much if someone is teachable.

I’d say third is I’m looking for someone who has a clear career path or career goal. I look for someone who is ambitious and passionate about local government. Personally, I prefer someone who will use this job to move upward, not someone who is looking for a decent salary and benefits. Some managers may disagree with me. I know Sandy [Utah] had hired several of my classmates. In a city the size of Sandy there were opportunities for upward mobility. In other words, these guys started as analysts and could move their way up. But after three or five years they got the itch to become [city] managers and they left. Some cities might feel they had lost an investment of time and talent. But I look for people who are interested in cultivating upward development.

What is the most awkward question you have asked or been asked during a job interview?

Darrington: I hate the “What’s your biggest weakness?” question. I just hate it. I’m prepared to answer that question, but personally I’ve given up asking it. You never get a real answer. Eighty percent of people who answer that question say they are perfectionists. The rest say “I work too hard” or “I care too much.” You’re not going to find someone who says, “Actually, sometimes I can be a little lazy” or “Sometimes I get distracted.” So I just don’t ask it anymore. I tend to stick to basic questions that can tell me if someone is going to fit in here.

As far as those crazy think-on-your-feet questions, I’ve never had any myself, but I know some people ask them. “Please describe yourself three different ways with one word each. You have ten seconds. Go,” for example. Those questions don’t really help me find the right person though, so I just stick to basic questions.

What trends, positive or negative, have you observed about recent MPA grads?

Darrington: For positive, I’d say they are smart. They pick things up quickly. I also get the feeling that they are looking for more than just a job. They are looking for a profession.

On the negative side, well, they are young and inexperienced. That’s not a true negative though. I wonder, though, how they are prepared to take over from the experienced baby boomer managers. We’ve all been talking about it for years now, but it hasn’t happened yet. With the recession, a lot of the managers who, in 2005 or 2006, had said, “I’m going to retire at 60” are waiting until they turn maybe 65. It will be interesting to see how this generation steps up.

If your goal is to become a city manager, how can you avoid getting pegged as a specialist in one department? For example, how do you avoid becoming “the Economic Development guru”?

Darrington: [Chuckles] I don’t have an easy answer for that one. I can understand that being an honest concern for your generation. There are fewer jobs out there right now that can help you gain general knowledge. But the short answer is every city is going to need something different. You have to learn to wear different hats. Try to get the generalist jobs – management analyst, assistant city manager, assistant to the city manager – as much as you can. But if you’re a management analyst, try to get different projects in different departments. Let the management know your career plans and ask them if there is anything else you can do that will help you meet those goals. As long as you get your work done, in my opinion, it shouldn’t matter.

That being said, economic development is great. If you’ve got experience and can show success in that field, you’ll always have a job. The same thing with finance. When I was in Afton, I was the finance director, but I honestly didn’t know all the ins and outs of everything. Here in Pleasant Grove I have a great finance director and we can at least speak the same language to one another. Experience in planning used to be the “in” field. But now it has kind of taken a back seat to the others. If you can’t get anything else, I’d take a job there, but the other two would be better.

Other thoughts

“You can’t get upset about time or money spent on policies that the council voted against. It’s sometimes a paradox. We, the administrative professionals, spend hours and hours of work putting together policies that the city council directs us to do. Then five residents come in to the council chambers and get upset about it and the council votes against it. If you get upset about that – if you get emotionally tied to your work, then you may be in the wrong profession. We can question them [the city council] all day long but it doesn’t change anything. You have to remember that as a city manager, you really don’t have the final say. The council was elected to make those decisions. Your job is to inform them the best that you can.”