1976

The year Jim Delapoer began working for the City of Albany, Gerald Ford was President of the United States; the average life expectancy of an American was 72.9 years; there was a little more than 218 million people in the U.S.; unemployment was measured at 7.7 percent; the homicide rate was about 9 per one hundred thousand; the annual inflation rate was 5.8 percent; interest rates averaged about 6.5 percent; and the federal debt was $629 billion. Today, the national debt is over $19.5 trillion; Americans live to be, on average, 78.8 years old; the U.S. population rounds up to 325 million; the homicide rate is about 4.5 per one hundred thousand; unemployment stands at 5 percent; last year’s inflation rate was 0.1 percent; interest rates are at about 3 percent and the President is Barack Obama.

We can conclude from these statistics that Jim has cut the national homicide rate in half; lowered unemployment by more than 2.5 percent; added nearly 6 years to our life expectancy; elected the nation’s first African-American President; increased the U.S. population by about one-third; wiped out inflation; reduced interest rates by 50 percent; and all at a cost of a little less than $19 trillion in additional debt. While Jim is a humble guy and would only claim credit for a few of these accomplishments, there is no doubt that our world has changed since 1976.

If you wonder why our culture is what it is today, consider that the top-ten-rated television shows in 1976 included Charlie’s Angels, The Six Million Dollar Man, Happy Days (top-rated show), and Laverne and Shirley (#2). Silly Love Songs by Wings was, unimaginably, the most popular song that year, while Disco Lady and Play that Funky Music also found their way into the top five. Some interesting movies came out in 1976, and the most popular was Taxi Driver, followed by Rocky, Carrie, and Logan’s Run. I was surprised to see that the fifth most popular movie of 1976 was The Message, starring Anthony Quinn, which told the story of the prophet Mohammed. The Academy Award winner for best picture was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

The Oldsmobile Cutlass was the bestselling car in 1976, and the average gas price that year was 65¢ per gallon. Apple Computer was born on April Fools’ Day, and shortly thereafter, Jim graduated from the University of Oregon Law School. Jim’s true achievements as Albany’s City Attorney are too numerous to list here, except to say that he has been an extraordinary resource for city councils and staff members throughout his tenure. Jim’s advice has saved the City countless dollars and helped us recover millions when contracts have been breached. Most importantly to me, Jim is a consistent advocate for doing the right thing to serve the community while being considerate of individual interests.

I doubt that Jim ever owned an Oldsmobile Cutlass because he’s something of a car snob, but I would bet he watched an episode or two of Charlie’s Angels to acquaint himself with the technical aspects of private investigation. Age changes us, and I know he’s looking forward to hunting trips and more time with family in retirement. Whatever he decides to do, he’s earned my gratitude and best wishes for the future.

Stuff Happening

I have started a morning inspection routine where I drive around and look at various construction projects in the community. This morning, I drove by the new police station site on Pacific, the WinCo project by I-5, and Fire Station 11. Yesterday, I checked out the new houses being built in Edgewater Village on Water Avenue and the carousel building. New construction is a positive sign for a city manager because it means people believe enough in the community to invest in its future.

Albany will almost certainly continue to grow in the near future, but I think we are fortunate that our growth rate is not explosive. Some communities have seen so much growth so quickly that they are unable to manage its effects. Traffic jams, higher crime, and inadequate infrastructure can be some of the problems with rapid population increases unaccompanied by the resources necessary to keep the city a nice place to live. Generally, we have avoided most of these problems.

The projects I have been looking at over the past few weeks are, with one exception, replacing buildings that already existed. The new police station is being built on what has been a vacant lot located between office buildings and a commercial business. All the others are either replacing outdated facilities or being built on old industrial sites. Taking advantage of existing infrastructure by reusing existing lots is a good strategy for strengthening the town. Albany has been promoting this concept for years by encouraging development in places like the downtown area where infrastructure exists to accommodate it. We have also provided incentives to manufacturing businesses to help create and retain jobs.

The notion of using public resources to help private businesses has sometimes bothered me over the course of my career. If the so-called free market is really so effective, then why should government need to be involved in making it work? The answer that best satisfies my concerns is that we sometimes need to use our collective resources to solve business problems just as we do with social, military, and other challenges. The National Energy Technology Laboratory at the intersection of Queen Avenue and Liberty Street is a good example of a 60±year-old local initiative coupled with federal government investment to create national, state, and community benefits.

Albany has its share of opportunities and challenges ahead. The projects I visited today are the result of difficult decisions and investments that were made despite significant opposition. Future improvements will be no different, and I’m confident that people here care enough about the community to keep making it better over time.

The Content of Our Character

Following a brief introduction into the structure of U.S. local government, the first lesson I taught students at the China University of Political Science and Law this summer was based on the International City-County Management Association (ICMA) Code of Ethics. I believe no government can be successful for long without the trust of its citizens, and that trust is not possible without consistent ethical conduct by government officials. The Code provides a time-tested standard for appointed managers and is a good starting point for a discussion of ethics and character.

Anyone interested in looking at the ICMA Code can find it at www.icma.org, or you can drop by my office and look at my copy. Most of the provisions of the Code are straightforward and easy to follow. I can’t recall many times in my career when I’ve had reason to question the Code’s provisions or whether my own conduct conformed to its requirements. Most of us know enough to be honest and fair if we expect to be treated similarly. I also know that I would never have been able to enjoy much of a career as a city manager if I had a reputation for dishonesty.

Recently, I have struggled with a tenet of the ICMA Code that I have strongly endorsed and supported throughout my career. Tenet 7 of the Code requires managers to: “Refrain from all political activities which undermine public confidence in professional administrators.” This provision has been interpreted by my profession to mean that managers cannot endorse candidates for any elective office, including the U.S. presidency. The thinking behind this tenet is sound because a manager’s advocacy for a particular candidate is likely to alienate supporters of the candidate’s opponent. Additionally, I believe managers should avoid affiliation with a party or label (conservative/liberal), except when participation in primary elections requires a party affiliation to have a meaningful vote. Despite my concerns about the upcoming November election and my impending retirement, I will continue to honor the ICMA Code in recognition of its importance beyond the consequences of any one election.

Good character demands a belief in values that are more important than self-interest. My selfish desire to participate more openly in the political process this year might be personally satisfying, but I believe it would undermine what I have tried to stand for as a city manager throughout my career. I know my influence is limited, and most people won’t care about whether I support a candidate or choose to openly participate in an election. My decision may only be relevant to me and my belief that a minimum standard for my conduct is the need to abide by the lessons I teach.