Deferred Compensation

I came across a Facebook post recently that asked what two words of advice would you give to your younger self if you had the chance.  Some of the responses I saw were things like, “Dream Big,” or “School, School,” but my choice would be “Deferred Compensation.”  I don’t necessarily mean putting more money into a formal deferred compensation program at a young age, although that would be very good advice.  I was thinking more broadly about the concept of doing things today with your future self in mind.

Investing in others is usually a form of deferred compensation because you may wait a long time to be repaid in kind by the person you served, but you will almost certainly receive future benefits.  I recently visited an aging aunt and uncle in Ohio who loved children but were never able to have any of their own.  They showed great love to all their nieces and nephews, while very nearly adopting two who lived nearby.  Now that my aunt and uncle are in an assisted living facility, it is the niece they lavished with love who looks after their interests and visits them regularly.  Those of us who live farther away visit when we can and try in small ways to return the love we received throughout our lives.

When I consider what brings me the greatest satisfaction in life today, I always come back to family, friends, and the independence I have to enjoy them.  I have written many times about our holiday celebrations, the grandchildren’s plays or sports events, and the many chances I’ve had to travel with my wife.  Last week, we joined all my children and their spouses plus my wife’s parents in attending an event my oldest son organized in Salem.  This week, we will travel to Portland to have dinner with good friends.  These opportunities are, for me, the compensation for a lifetime of investing in relationships.

Lately I have fallen short of my running goals, and I haven’t been getting as much exercise as I need.  Fortunately, my long-term investment in fitness paid off when I had the chance to take extended hikes through historic sites in Jordan in August.  A good friend of mine inspired me to start running about 20 years ago as a means to stay in shape for mountain climbing.  I’m not sure I imagined then what all those miles might allow me to do as an older person.

All of this advice really boils down to a few simple concepts related to deferred compensation.  I have been lucky (so far) that most of my investments have shown a good return, but I could have done better if I had more actively heeded the following advice when I was younger:  1)  Invest in someone other than yourself whenever you get the chance; 2)  Exercise regularly and eat healthy food; and 3)  Put as much money as you can as early as you can into some form of savings that appreciates over time.  I often fail to live up to my own advice, and I know each of us has our own ideas about what is most important in life.  My suggestions to my younger self represent the ideas I should have given more respect if I had known then what I know now.

The Strange World of City Managers

I received a plaque last week from the International City-County Management Association honoring my 25 years of service to local government and was only a little surprised that it followed a plaque I received in 2011 honoring 30 years of service. Neither plaque is really accurate because, by my calculation, I hit 30 years this year. A few months ago, I was given the option of forgoing a plaque and donating its value to the Association. I chose that option and, of course, received the plaque several months later. Apparently, keeping track of 9,000 public-sector managers is not an easy job.

Complaints are a routine part of my job, but I find it strange how they seem to come and go. This week, I’ve probably heard from at least ten people about problems ranging from bedbugs to development requirements. I think I get many of these calls because there are so many options for people that it’s difficult to decide which one might actually work. I’m not sure there’s much I can do about bedbugs, although we do have a provision in our Municipal Code that allows us to deal with public nuisances. Surprisingly, bedbugs are not considered a threat to public health because they apparently do not spread disease.

Over the past week or so, I’ve been dealing with multimillion dollar development projects, health insurance proposals, election laws, an IRS audit, a workforce training proposal, property sales and purchases, transient lodging tax distribution, the Santiam-Albany Canal, police and fire station issues, a couple of lawsuits, reimbursement for a water line break, a proposal to tax marijuana sales, and concerns about outreach to minority communities, to name a few. Fortunately, we have many qualified employees who do most of the work on these issues, so my role often only involves brief discussions or a review of documents. The most demanding part of the work is the frequent need to make quick decisions, often without having all the information I would like. Advice and counsel from colleagues has saved me from myself on many occasions.

I also think it’s important to stay abreast of what is happening in the world of city management by meeting the annual 40-hour continuing education requirement to maintain my status as an ICMA credentialed manager. I recently attended training sessions at both the ICMA and League of Oregon Cities annual conferences that were thought-provoking and informative. Training may be even more necessary as my experience in the profession increases because it is very easy to become complacent about things you have been doing for many years.

City management is a great career for people who are not too concerned about security and value a great deal of ambiguity in their lives. The work is unpredictable, sometimes frustrating, and often rewarding. Anyone interested in learning more is welcome to drop by my office, where we can share thoughts on bedbugs and other issues of local concern.