Albany’s Future

Albany, by most measures of community health, is doing well.  More businesses and individuals are investing more money in new enterprises than at any time in the past five years, and nearly all the trends appear to be positive.  Some of the signs are easy to see, while others are more subtle.

New apartment complexes, new homes, and new subdivisions are all a part of Albany’s landscape; and it shouldn’t be surprising that new retail businesses are moving in to serve the new residents.  Less obvious are expansions by local industries, creating new family wage jobs that attract new families.  Albany is starting to experience some of the growing pains that affected the community in the earlier years of the past decade.

New investment and population growth is not always a cause of celebration, but it is a sign that Albany is an attractive and secure place for people to live and do business.  It’s not hard to understand why many people consider Albany a nice place to live.  Our community has a large inventory of comparatively affordable homes, educational opportunities, shopping, entertainment, jobs, and outdoor recreation and is centrally located to major transportation routes.  While Albany does not enjoy some of the amenities of a large urban area, it is comparatively free from the congestion and crime found in bigger places.

Albany has modern infrastructure that provides reliable water, wastewater treatment, transportation, and telecommunications services.  Businesses also enjoy the security of a development code and enforcement efforts that provide protection against incompatible uses.   Emergency services are well-established and have strong reputations for exceeding expectations to assist those in need.  Well-maintained parks, strong recreational programs, and excellent libraries provide additional reasons for people to choose Albany as their home.

Albany would not be Albany, however, without the dedication of countless volunteers who donate their time and money to sustain everything from summer concerts and libraries to homeless shelters and food pantries.  Museums, programs that support small businesses, Neighborhood Watch groups, Court Appointed Special Advocates, United Way, and Safe Haven Humane Society, to name a few, all testify to the importance of volunteers in making Albany a desirable place to be.

Albany’s future will continue to look good as long as people are willing to invest their time, talents, and money to make good things happen here.  It is easy to lose sight of all that is best in a place by focusing only on its problems.  Albany, like all communities, faces its share of challenges; but the town is fortunate to have many assets and resources that generally take the form of dedicated people committed to building a better future.

Looking to the Future

Recent articles, editorials, and blogs in the Albany Democrat-Herald have publicized complaints and problems at the City of Albany, with a particular focus on the Fire Department.  I want all city employees and Albany citizens to know there is a commitment from the City’s management team to take immediate action to help prevent similar situations in the future.

The first priority of the Albany Fire Department is to insure the best possible response to emergencies, and I do not believe there is much disagreement that AFD has an outstanding record of accomplishment in achieving its mission.  In a recent poll of Albany residents, the Fire Department was the highest rated city service as it has been in many previous surveys.  We all recognize that failing to resolve recent concerns could threaten the quality of our service and are, therefore, committed to doing better.  The challenge ahead is to insure that, in responding to concerns, we do not create an environment where people feel constantly threatened and fearful.  Appropriate discipline is an important part of deterring unacceptable behavior, but it is only one tool among many we rely on to help maintain a safe and productive workplace.  The great majority of people who work for the City are routinely professional and require few reminders about appropriate conduct; however, we have in the past and will in the future impose discipline when it is warranted.

Our next commitment is to actively seek opinions from people who work for the City and to provide some new alternatives for communicating concerns.  After talking with women leaders in the organization, we know that some employees may not feel comfortable talking to someone of a different gender or race about harassment or discrimination.  While we have had human resource specialists of both genders in our Human Resource Department for many years, we are told that some people are intimidated by the formal processes we use to investigate concerns.  We have recently made arrangements to bring in a longtime Albany resident and human resource specialist with the belief she can help us develop better ways to address that concern.  We will also conduct an anonymous survey of city employees to hear their ideas about how to improve.

Specific to the Fire Department, Chief Bradner has made contact with a problem-solving team composed of representatives of the International Association of Fire Chiefs that we have successfully used in the past to help the department resolve problems.  My understanding is that the team will include a fire chief who is a woman with great experience in addressing gender issues in the fire service.

My focus is on the future and making sure we continue to provide high quality service from all city departments.  Mistakes are an inevitable part of daily life, and we have a choice about whether we let them tear us down or help us build something better.  I believe most of us at the City are committed to learning from the past to make the future brighter.

Reaching Out

Several years before I became a city administrator, I read a book entitled Without Fear or Favor, written by a retired manager named Leroy Harlow.  Mr. Harlow retired from the profession after a relatively short city management career and became a university professor, where he apparently had time to write about his experiences in the field.  The book inspired me, despite the many examples it contained about the challenges of doing the job well.

Perhaps the greatest challenge city managers face is trying to accurately inform city employees and the public they serve about complex issues.  Most of us rely on newspapers, web pages, newsletters, public meetings, presentations to groups, and individual conversations to share what we know.  During my career, e-mail and other electronic communication have helped in some ways, but they have also created completely new problems.

When I started my career in an organization of 30 people and a town of 3,500, my job was easier because I knew everyone in our organization and many of the people in town.  We attended events together, coached each other’s children, met in the town’s only grocery store, and even ran into each other at swimming holes on the river.  If someone had a problem, they were quick to tell me, and I always tried to be quick to respond.  I have since moved on to larger communities, but I have never lost my belief that a city manager has an obligation to be personally responsive both to employees and the public.

No one screens my phone calls, I am generally available without an appointment, and I welcome suggestions about things we could do differently or better.  I have written many times that the part of this job I enjoy most is the opportunity to meet and work with so many outstanding people.  I have also learned that while e-mail is a great convenience, it is also the source of considerable miscommunication.  True understanding, in my opinion, requires the ability to interact face-to-face; and even phone calls or Skype conversations are a poor substitute for meeting with someone.

I appreciate the many employees who have taken the time to visit my office or catch me in the hall to talk about an idea or a concern.  I may not always be able to do what someone wants me to do, but I am always willing to listen and make a good faith effort to understand. 

I like to believe that I have always approached this job “without fear or favor,” and that will continue to be my approach in the future.  I welcome visits and look forward to the opportunity to share ideas and concerns with anyone interested in taking the time to do so.