Code of Conduct

Most of us probably don’t need a formal code to tell us what is or is not correct behavior in the workplace, just as most city managers probably don’t need a code of ethics to prescribe ethical behavior.  I remember, however, being impressed by the ICMA Code of Ethics when I was a young city manager and recognizing how valuable it could be to me as I started my career.  The ICMA code has been around since the 1920s; and, while it has been revised on occasion, it is not substantially different today than it was 80-plus years ago.

I am hopeful that a new City of Albany Code of Conduct developed by employees from every city department will be as useful to us as the ICMA code has been to me over the past 30 years.  In reviewing the City’s new, draft code, it seems like a straightforward guide to appropriate behavior at work.  I am sure the great majority of employees are already observing the proposed policy, but we have had incidents in the past that might have been prevented by the very clear expectations expressed in the new code.

I am particularly grateful to the employees who took the time to work together to develop the code.  Jenn Williams, Rick Barnett, Jason Katzenstein, Danette DeSaulnier, Stephanie Warren, Staci Belcastro, Ashley Tucker, LaRee Dominguez, David Goeke, Hillary Kosmicki, Mary Dibble, and Kate Porsche took time from their regular duties to develop the policy.  Department directors and supervisors will be presenting the code to their work groups, and anyone with concerns or suggestions for improvements is welcome to discuss them with supervisors and/or submit them to the Human Resources Department.

The formal purpose of the policy as developed by the Committee is:

To maintain a working environment where all individuals are treated with respect and dignity, and are free of discrimination and harassment.

Workplace harassment manifests itself in two primary ways:

  1. Violations of state and federal law (reference City of Albany Workplace Discriminatory Harassment Policy); and
  2. Behavior that may not violate law, but which violates this City policy because the behavior is not conducive to creating a work environment where all employees are treated with respect and dignity, which is addressed in this policy.

Respect is a word I believe we all understand and should be able to practice in our work relationships.  Offensive humor, language, and gestures – usually at the expense of others – may have seemed acceptable when the older workers among us started our careers, but it is not acceptable now.  Hazing new employees is another example of failing to practice respect.  I rarely hear reports about these kinds of behaviors, and I don’t believe they are a common problem at the City.  The standard, however, is not rarely; it’s never.  I believe the Code of Conduct will help us achieve this standard, and I appreciate the efforts of everyone who practices respect and consideration every day.

Car Seats Revisited

Last year, I wrote a column about my frustration with installing child car seats and how this seemingly simple task requires more knowledge and energy than this grandfather possesses.  I still struggle with car seats when I’m looking after my grandchildren; but thanks to one of our employees, I have a much better attitude about using them.

Lindsey Austin in our engineering division talked to me after reading my column last April and pointed out how important properly installed car seats are to child safety.  More importantly, Lindsey took action and has volunteered her time to help coordinate installation clinics at fire stations in addition to writing a successful grant application for $4,000 to assist local efforts.  Work like Lindsey’s reminds me of the many volunteer hours city employees contribute to the community, and it inspires me to keep a positive attitude when negative stuff crosses my desk.

I am also happy to report that the car seat purchased for my youngest grandchild (Isaac –age 8 months) is much easier to install than its predecessors.  Clever engineers have come up with a push-button system that did away with frustrating clips.  I am now able to install this seat without requiring a nap later in the day.  I should add that even when my attitude was at its worst, I would never drive anywhere with my grandchildren without a secure child safety seat.  We used them with our own children long before they became a legal requirement.

Not long ago, I came across a Facebook posting asking people of my age to “like” a blog (http://www.baywideweb.com/content/HOW-DID-WE-SURVIVE-CHILDHOOD.htm) about how people of my generation had survived without things like child car seats, child-resistant lids on medicines, bike helmets, and other safety precautions.  While it’s true that most of us did survive those years, it’s equally true that many more of us would have lived to adulthood if these safety features had been available to parents.  I feel confident about making that claim thanks to some data from the Centers for Disease Control that show how the number of deaths from accidents has declined over the past 100 years.  I pointed out in a column last May that 50,000 more people would die every year if the death rate from accidents had not been reduced from 1971 to its present day level.

I am most grateful for the good work that goes on every day, here and elsewhere, to make the world a safer place for children.  I think that work is its own reward, but I also believe it’s important to recognize the efforts of people like Lindsey who are quietly doing so much to be of service.

Success and Failure

Sometimes success in one area can produce failure in another.  I was reminded of this fact over the weekend while reading a commentary that included a list of the cities with the most affordable housing prices in the U.S.  The top city on that list (the most successful at having affordable housing) was Dayton, Ohio, a place I have visited many times over the course of my life.

I know with complete certainty that there is an abundant supply of affordable housing in Dayton because I have seen whole neighborhoods that are essentially vacant as recently as a few months ago.  Another city in the Top Ten of the list is Detroit, Michigan, where the City is actually tearing down houses because no one is interested in owning them.  The solution to creating affordable housing seems to be to make a community so unappealing that few people want to live or own property there.

Truly successful cities are, not surprisingly, more expensive than places with crumbling infrastructure, high crime rates, poor economies, or environmental degradation.  San Francisco, Boston, San Diego, and New York, for example, are communities where people want to live and are both willing and able to pay the higher price associated with a successful city.

The commentary I was reading made the valid point that while affordable housing might be one measure of success, it will not compensate for overall failure to make a city an attractive place to be.  Quality is rarely achieved without sufficient investment of critical resources, such as time, talent, and money.  Distressed cities can certainly use their affordability as part of a strategy to improve; but without a corresponding commitment to the services, amenities, and environment people expect in a healthy community, positive results are unlikely.

Albany’s Strategic Plan lists four themes that we believe are essential to making our town a good place to live:  1) A Safe Community; 2) Great Neighborhoods; 3) A Healthy Economy; and 4) Effective Government.  All of these themes are related to one another, and all depend on continuing investment.  Housing prices, new construction, and population growth are evidence that the Plan is working.  Housing may not be as affordable here as it is in less attractive communities, but Albany’s housing options remain reasonably good with the continuing construction of new single-family homes, apartment buildings, and senior living facilities.

I believe Albany is an ongoing success story over its 150-year history as an incorporated city.  There have been times when the town lost population, such as during the Great Depression and the deep recession of the early 1980s; but the long-term trend has been steady growth that has produced a small city that remains an attractive place to live.

Government is Bad?

People who delude themselves that the private sector or the public sector is inherently better than its counterpart are, in my opinion, guilty of a destructive prejudice that gets in the way of good outcomes.  A recent editorial in the Democrat-Herald is a case in point.  The editorialist opined that a response to a Linn County Request for Proposals to promote the county Expo Center “…did not exactly result in a bumper crop of potential candidates:  Just three applicants responded and two of them are, by and large, governmental entities….  In fact, one of the applicants (the City of Albany’s Parks and Recreation Department) is a branch of government.”  The author never explains why a government entity might be a poor choice or why a private company might be better.  The Albany Parks & Recreation Department is an award-winning organization that has successfully promoted events and managed facilities for decades.  The implication that they are unworthy of consideration to take on promotion of the Expo Center is not supported by fact or good judgment.

By my reckoning, my full-time work life is now about 42 years old.  I spent ten years working in private sector jobs; and the remainder of my career has been in the public sector, including four years in the U.S. Navy.  The highest compensation I have ever received came from a private sector employer, but I turned down an offer to return to that employer shortly after I accepted my current job in Albany.  The thought never occurred to me that a private employer was really any different from working for a city.  My decision was based on a number of factors, the most important of which was my unwillingness to be separated from my family.

During the course of the past 42 years, I have worked for private companies that I believed provided excellent service while treating employees reasonably well.  I have also worked for at least three private organizations that I thought were terrible on one count or the other.  My experience in the public sector has been mostly positive, although I have certainly seen my share of poor performing public employers.

I think I have worked and lived long enough to conclude with some justification that public or private employers are neither inherently good nor inherently bad.  The quality of a given organization, public or private, depends on a range of factors that have little to do with whether there is a profit motive or not.  Well-qualified, highly motivated, and competent employees are found in both sectors.  When I was in the Navy, my first supervisor observed that 10 percent of those in any organization were responsible for 90 percent of the problems.  My experience supports this view, regardless of whether the organization is public or private.

I am not aware of any authoritative studies that provide convincing evidence public is superior to private or vice versa.  Usually, the two sectors do different things, but the common denominator is that organizations should be judged on their record, not on the basis of blind prejudice that ignores the best interests of the community.

Appreciating Value

Thursday, January 1, marked the beginning of 2015, and I like to use the beginning of the New Year as a time to take stock of what matters to my family and me.  Over the past decade, I have tried to focus on value rather than cost.  My recent bout with kidney stones is a good example of the concept.

The hospital and doctors will receive a large sum of money from our insurance company and a relatively smaller amount from my pocket for the treatment I received over a two-week period.  The value I received from that care; however, is essentially priceless to me because without it my life was miserable.  When you are in constant, intense pain, the value of simply not being in pain is really high.

My current good health and freedom from pain allow me to enjoy all the other things in life that are important to me.

I feel the same away about living in a safe community.  Life is difficult when you know there is a real chance someone will try to kill you every day.  We all face this risk to some extent, but thankfully it is a very low risk in a place like Albany.  The value I receive from professional law enforcement and the judicial system that supports it is consequently very high.  Safety, of course, depends on much more than good policing; and I am grateful for all the people and institutions that make our town much safer than most places around the world.

Education is certainly an important piece of this picture.  All of us receive immense value from our investment in an educated society, whether it’s in the form of the doctors who provide our health care, the researchers who develop life-saving medicines or technology, or the people who provide daily services to make our lives better.  We tend to focus on the failures rather than successes of our education system, and I think that undermines how critical a continuing investment in education is to our well-being.  Personally, access to books and information is also essential to my mental health; so I find extraordinary value in the library, newspapers, and on-line resources.

Safe drinking water, decent food, and comfortable shelter are probably high on everyone’s list of things we value; and I am no exception.  I am most grateful that throughout my life, even during times when I worked at very low paying jobs, I have never really been without these essentials.

Focusing on the basic necessities that deliver the most value to our lives should illustrate an obvious point.  We need each other.  In addition to the value we receive from the many people we rely on every day to meet basic needs, perhaps the greatest value we receive from others is the love and respect that allows us to maintain a healthy perspective on life.  My hope for the New Year is that we will all enjoy a year of sufficient peace and prosperity to sustain our appreciation for the value we receive from others every day.

End of the Year

Rather than write about what might be happening in the year ahead, I thought it might be appropriate to review the year that’s closing.  Who would have thought we would see gasoline selling at less than $2.50 per gallon or record job creation in Oregon in 2014?  The Dow Jones Industrial Index just hit 18,000, and building permits in Albany are approaching levels we saw before the Great Recession.  Crime levels continue to decline locally and nationally as do traffic fatalities.

I have spent a few days in the hospital over the past couple of weeks having some kidney stones removed, a procedure that is almost guaranteed to darken one’s view of the world.  I am glad to report that I received great care throughout the ordeal, and I was really impressed with the customer service at Albany General Hospital.  I think the greatest gift I receive this year will be a pain-free holiday season.

2014 provided me with some reminders that productive life does not end at 60.  One of my closest friends completed and published five or six novels this year after a hiatus of about 30 years.  He published three novels in the 80’s and then took over a bookstore which demanded most of his attention.  The bookstore remains open; but now my friend has time to write, and he’s doing it with a vengeance.  If you are looking for a unique gift, purchase Led to the Slaughter: The Donner Party Werewolves or Dead Men Spend No Gold by Duncan McGeary.  I am just finishing a local treasure entitled The Gem of the Willamette Valley, which is a history of Albany written by Edward Loy.  This book provides a great picture of how Albany has grown from its beginnings to the present day and does so in a well-written and interesting way.

Albany celebrated 150 years as an incorporated city in 2014, and I think it’s safe to say that the community and country are in far better shape today than they were in 1864.  The violence and horror of the Civil War is long past; and, although race relations remain divisive, much progress has been made since the days of slavery.  Vast improvements in education, health care, transportation, working conditions, life expectancy, infant mortality, and every other indicator of quality of life are now taken for granted.

As 2014 closes, I can think of many more reasons to feel good about the year than I can to feel badly about it.  My family, like Albany, has had its share of losses; but it has mostly been a good year with many reasons to celebrate.  I hope the same is true for all those who find the time to read this column and will remain so in 2015.

Merry Christmas

Today, an unnamed city employee stopped by my office and pointed to some pictures of my wife while asking the question, how did someone as pretty as my wife end up with someone like me?  It’s nice to be held in such high esteem by my colleagues at City Hall.  I responded to the question by noting that I haven’t always looked like a 62-year-old city manager and my wife likes my personality.  Considering that we are about to celebrate our 43rd Christmas together, we obviously found something attractive in each other.

Our first Christmas we set a limit of three dollars on gifts for each other, which my wife completely disregarded by buying me a nice sweater.  I, of course, honored the bargain by purchasing a candle in the shape of a turtle.  It sounds pathetic even now, but I learned an important lesson from the experience.  Never attempt to be frugal when buying gifts for your wife.  I have also learned that I usually forget the gifts I receive from year to year, while never forgetting the person who was kind enough to remember me.

Evelyn and I have celebrated the holidays in many different places with many people over the years.  We have lost people we loved while gaining many new ones as our family and circle of friends have grown.  I received an early Christmas present this week when I arrived home from work to find three of my grandchildren running down the hall to give me a hug while shouting, “Papa.”  It’s been a long time since my children would give me a similar greeting, and I had almost forgotten how good it feels.

Experiences, it seems, are really the best gifts and what we both anticipate and remember most.  Right now, I’m looking forward to traveling to Gateway for Christmas and spending some time with my wife’s parents.  The Gateway Valley is a beautiful place and has been a family gathering spot throughout our marriage.  We hope to have a few grandchildren join us during the course of our stay.  I’m sure I will remember this experience far longer than anything else I might receive.

I hope everyone who takes a moment to read this column has a memorable, peaceful Christmas.  I am most grateful for the blessing of my wife and family, and I’ve even learned to appreciate the occasional barbs from friends at City Hall.

Albany Five Years from Now

I was recently asked to speak at a local service club about what Albany will be like in five years, and I opened the talk by admitting that I don’t really know.  I’m Albany’s city manager, and my focus is on trying to efficiently and effectively deliver the services our city council has determined are necessary to the health of the community.  Part of that job is trying to anticipate future conditions, so I made the following points about where I see the community going between now and 2020:

  1. Albany has grown steadily over the past 30+ years, and there is good evidence it will continue to do so over the next five years.  If the past is a reliable guide, we can expect to add people equal to the current combined populations of Tangent and Millersburg during the next five years.  Our population is likely to be more diverse and probably a little older.  Currently, Albany’s average age of residents is slightly lower than the state’s as a whole; but we are adding a substantial number of residential units for seniors and that could (not necessarily will) change the mix.
  2. We will continue to see closure of some retail stores, just as we will see many new openings.  The retail market nationally is volatile, and shopping habits are changing.  I believe we may see more locally owned specialty shops and perhaps less national chain stores.
  3. Crime will continue to decline in Albany.  We have seen some significant reductions in crime in the recent past, and I think that trend is likely to continue if we maintain our Strategic Plan commitment to keeping Albany safe.
  4. Albany’s economy will continue to improve with more, better paying jobs.  Local industries are currently expanding, and the presence of both LBCC and Oregon State put Albany in a good position to take advantage of this trend.  Obviously, what happens nationally will affect Albany for good or ill.
  5. Albany will become more a center for health care as new facilities are built and new professionals move here because of them.  Our position on Interstate 5 makes Albany a good choice for new investment, not only in health care, but in other service areas as well.
  6. Affordability and income disparity will become even bigger challenges as those with desirable skills and education will command bigger salaries while those who do not keep pace will see fewer opportunities for income growth.  Albany is making a unique effort to educate local students and residents for available work opportunities, but success is not guaranteed.

None of my observations are particularly daring.  Most are based on what has happened here over the past few decades.  I see Albany as a better place to live than it was in the past, and I hope future generations will see the same outcome.  Health care, education, amenities such as restaurants and shopping opportunities, crime rates, and, yes, even the smell have improved in recent times.  These trends will continue, however, only if we make the difficult, self-sacrificing decisions to invest in Albany that those who preceded us had the willingness to do.

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Our house will soon be engulfed in chaos as about 30 people we love arrive to celebrate Thanksgiving.  My wife selected this holiday years ago as the one where we would try to gather the entire family to express appreciation for one another, count our blessings, and, of course, watch football.  Truthfully, I think my sons much prefer the annual Turkey Bowl where we play football to intermittently watching it on television.

Evelyn patiently endures the football in exchange for exercises or games that require everyone to participate.  We have explored family history, watched old home movies, and engaged in a number of contests that include nice prizes.  This year, each person was asked to write a letter that included such thoughts as the five most influential people in our lives, our seven defining moments, and the most interesting things we have ever done.  Even the youngest children are involved, although those that can’t read or write required parental assistance.  Knowing my wife, we will listen to all 30 essays before we can even turn on the TV.

I thought I was being very cooperative by sitting down a week or so ago and writing my letter until Evelyn informed me it wasn’t good enough.  She said it was a nice letter, but it didn’t answer all her questions.  The penalty for not doing it right is that I will not receive a prize for being one of the first to respond.

Following the essay readings, the feast, and the football, the crowd slowly disperses; some go to in-laws while others go home to recover.  Our house stays full until Sunday, and I just learned that my Saturday will be spent in Sweet Home watching two of my grandsons wrestle.  I remember with some affection my youngest son’s last wrestling match and the happy realization that I would not have to travel to distant gyms in icy weather to sit on hard bleachers and watch kids try to humiliate and/or harm my kid.  Now I get to enjoy this experience with my grandsons.  I’m excited.

I will arrive home in time to watch the annual Civil War, although there is usually nothing civil about it.  I do not believe we have any adult Beaver haters in the family, but we are all confirmed Ducks.  Roland, my 12-year-old grandson, has matured from the days when he would write “Go Ducks” on all his school papers and get into occasional fights with Beaver classmates.  He has grown into a really considerate young man who excels in schoolwork and sports.  I am particularly thankful that our partisanship did not scar him for life.

My seven-year-old grandson, Owen, may not be so lucky.  My daughter, Owen’s mother, could not find her cell phone last Monday and began calling the number in an effort to locate it.  Eventually the principal’s office at his school answered and informed my daughter that Owen had brought her cell phone to school.  She went to retrieve the phone; and when she asked Owen why he had taken it, he responded that she threatened to call Grandpa (me) and tell him not to take Owen to last Saturday’s Duck game if his behavior didn’t improve; so he did the only thing he could do.

I wish all who read this column a happy Thanksgiving!  Owen and I had a great time at the Duck game, and I hope we enjoy the Civil War just as much.

Owen 2

Owen sans cell phone at Autzen Stadium – Go Ducks!

Owen