Open House

Monday, December 3, at 5:30 p.m. the City is having an open house at City Hall to recognize the work of our many boards and commissions.  We are also hopeful that citizens will show up who may be interested in serving and want to learn more about how advisory boards work.  Events at City Hall do not happen without some great teamwork, and I would like to express my appreciation to the employees in all departments who have contributed to this one.  I would also like to invite all interested employees to attend the event.  The food is good and the company will be great.

I think one of the most satisfying things about being a city manager is the chance to associate with so many people who routinely contribute to making their community better.  Sitting through long meetings that sometimes include contentious discussions when the volunteer has already put in a full day of work at their regular job is a significant sacrifice.  Most of these citizens receive very little recognition for their contributions and even less in the way of tangible benefits.

Perhaps the most important of the contributions board members make is the message they deliver to the rest of the community.  It is easy to dismiss a newsletter or news release from City staff as just more fluff from City Hall.  It is much harder to ignore a neighbor or friend who has spent many hours learning about an important issue confronting the town. We currently have 91 term positions on our boards and commissions plus a number of volunteers who serve on ad hoc task forces.  These people have families, friends, and associates who will have the opportunity to hear about an issue from someone they trust.  Board members do not always share the same perspective, but they generally have access to accurate information.  I believe this process builds understanding and support for necessary services and projects.

My first association with a volunteer advisory board came when I was appointed to serve as a student advisor to the Bend Planning Commission in 1970.  I still have my letter of appointment and a vivid memory of an hour-long discussion on whether to allow a garage to encroach a few inches into an alley.  I have often observed since becoming a city manager that the noblest form of public service is being a member of a city planning commission.  Voting membership almost guarantees you will make someone mad; and even when you please people, you are unable to receive anything more than their thanks.

I hope people will take the time to participate in our annual open house and, more importantly, use the opportunity to thank the many volunteers who make real sacrifices without asking anything in return.

Happy Thanksgiving

My family started arriving for Thanksgiving last week, and we are all looking forward to a great celebration tomorrow.  We have many reasons to be thankful this year, but I will avoid my usual tendency to preach about counting our blessings.  I will, instead, offer a simple “thank you” to all the City employees, volunteers, and citizens who make Albany a good place to live.

I think most people in Albany understand that the quality of our community depends on a shared commitment to keeping it nice.  Business people, public employees, retirees, children, and any other category you can name do many more positive things every day than I can possibly list.  This morning I attended a board meeting of mostly volunteers dedicated to building the local economy.  Yesterday I went to my weekly Rotary Club meeting where plans are well underway to take 50 local children on a Christmas shopping trip.  I was also privileged to participate in the West Albany High School Band fundraiser at City Hall where more than $500 was raised to support the program.  I’m not sure everyone’s motives were entirely pure (the Duck vs. Beaver thing), but I do know this is a positive and creative way to raise money for a good cause.

I’m sure we can all think of negative things people are doing around the community every day as a contrast to all the positive efforts.  News outlets do a good job of reminding us of the many human failings, and I’m grateful that they do.  I am more grateful, however, to know of the daily acts of kindness, consideration, and goodness that make life bearable at worst and joyful at best.

The picture above includes most of my family, excepting two of my sons who were attending classes (one at the U of O, of course).  We are expecting about 26 people at our house for tomorrow’s feast, and chances are good that the children will outnumber the adults.  We have already had several gatherings over the past few days that can only be described as pandemonium.  I came from a rather quiet, small family, so it’s taken me awhile to fully appreciate the many benefits of surrounding yourself with a lot of people you love.

Please accept my best wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving, whether quiet or loud.  Naturally, our family will be investing some passion in the annual Civil War, although I am happy Oregon has two teams to be proud of this year.  The Beavers have a good coach who combines great competence with high integrity, and I think the same is true for Oregon.  So, Go Ducks and Beavers!

The City’s Bottom Line

Comparisons between government and business usually oversimplify a complex issue.  Government was never intended to operate like a business, and I don’t believe any for-profit enterprise would last very long if it had to follow the same rules as a unit of government.  Business success is measured by profits, sometimes referred to as “the bottom line”; and government has no obvious equivalent.  Business, however, frequently provides government with important management tools to help improve efficiency and effectiveness.

Financial statements, audits, cost accounting, personnel policy manuals, and collective bargaining are just a few of the many business practices used by government every day.  Strategic plans have also become a valuable resource for government as a way not only to communicate with citizens, but also as a means to establish a performance-based bottom line.

The City of Albany Strategic Plan is now more than ten years old; and although the vision, mission and values it expresses have not changed, many of the City’s goals and objectives have.  I believe the Council and City employees remain committed to providing quality services to help promote a high quality of life in a strong community, to paraphrase our mission and vision statements.  I have many stories to support how our values are routinely observed and a few that describe where we have fallen short.  This long-term commitment to common values and a willingness to critically evaluate our performance has, in my opinion, produced some remarkable results, including statewide and national recognition.

Albany was just named Oregon’s first Heritage All-Star Community as a tribute to many years of effort to preserve and enhance the town’s historic assets.  People around the state know Albany is a place that cares about its history, and the latest award is just one of many we have received for this work.  People may argue about whether historic preservation is a good thing or a bad thing; but Albany policy makers decided years ago to include it as a part of a strategic plan to improve the community, and that goal has produced desired results.  Similarly, while other cities in Oregon and across the nation struggle with lawsuits related to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Albany has been able to work with disabled residents to address problems without litigation.  I believe a part of our success is the result of a specific commitment in our Strategic Plan.

The City’s urban renewal district has attracted some controversy in the past year, but it has been an important part of the Strategic Plan for many years without receiving much attention.  Public safety issues, including traffic enforcement, safe drinking water, flood prevention, and blight removal have also been areas of emphasis.  There are differences in opinion over how much progress has been made, despite strong empirical evidence that most of the goals have either been accomplished or are being addressed.

I believe a strategic plan that is regularly reviewed and revised to reflect changing circumstances serves as a city’s bottom line by communicating to citizens (shareholders) what the organization is trying to achieve, how it proposes to do it, and what actually happens.  The City is not a business, but we do important things that make the community a good place to do business and to live.  Our Strategic Plan is a critical tool to help accomplish that goal.