Happy Thanksgiving

The West Albany High School Band must think City Hall is filled with crazy people, given that we raise over a thousand dollars a year to listen to ear-splitting renditions of the University of Oregon and Oregon State University fight songs just before the annual Civil War game. I know some of us are missing a few dots on the dice, but I would add that if we are crazy, we’re crazy good.

I am most thankful for all the people who work for the City who do their jobs well every day and search for ways to be helpful and kind. I see it when we raise money for good causes, help out with a blood drive, donate sick leave, organize events, and otherwise find ways to make our community and workplace better. I routinely hear stories about City employees going out of their way to help others, and it reinforces my belief not only in those employees, but in all people.

The easy part of our jobs is the opportunity to help people and earn their gratitude when we do. I am equally thankful for those who enforce laws, rules, and standards that may generate some controversy, but ultimately make Albany a safer and better community. Few people thank our police officers when they receive a ticket, and I field my share of complaints about enforcing things like Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards in parking lots and other locations. I would be more concerned if I didn’t hear periodic complaints about City employees doing their jobs. It’s reassuring that most of the negative things I hear are about the rule itself rather than the person enforcing it.

We are often required to do difficult things, whether it’s enforcing an unpopular rule or carrying out a physically demanding task. Many of our colleagues assume a fair amount of risk just by showing up for work every day. I like to believe we fairly compensate employees, but I’m still grateful for all the people who do work I probably couldn’t handle.

My personal goal for this Thanksgiving, aside from eating myself into a stupor, is to use the day as a reminder to be more positive and thankful for the amazing opportunities I have been given and that are still available to me to experience the best in life. I am looking forward to a retirement where I can find ways to be of service and partially repay the debt I owe to the many people who have helped me throughout my life. This is my last Thanksgiving with the City of Albany and I am particularly grateful this year to all my fellow employees, including the Beaver fans, who make it a great place to work. Thank you and Go Ducks!

Getting Involved

Every year, City Council members, Directors, and I sign holiday cards that are sent to members of our many advisory boards and commissions. The practice goes back a long way, and I think it’s a nice, small way to show our appreciation for the countless hours volunteers give to the City of Albany. The exercise also reminds me how easy it is to be involved in local government.

We are currently advertising for volunteers to seek appointment to committees that cover subjects ranging from the airport to parks & recreation. Most of the committees meet once a month with some occasional holidays during months when many people are on vacation. The appointment process is simple and really only requires filling out an application. We do have popular committees where many people apply for few vacancies, but there are almost always opportunities on other boards for anyone motivated to get involved.

Serving on a board or commission is a great way to learn more about local government while also contributing unique skills, experience, or just good sense. Many of our volunteers have been involved for a number of years and served on different boards. The City Council makes the final decision on appointments, and they are always looking for qualified applicants. Most current Councilors started their involvement with the City by serving on an advisory commission.

I can personally testify that serving on a board can also be good training for a career. My service in local government began as a planning commission member in Bend and includes four years as an elected school board member in Eugene. The lessons I learned from those experiences have helped me throughout my career as a city manager. Perhaps the most important thing I learned is the importance of respecting different views if anything of consequence is going to be accomplished. My work as a volunteer also taught me to appreciate the many hours board members sacrifice on behalf of their communities. Even when I may have a completely different point of view from a fellow committee member, I can respect that their commitment to what they believe is equivalent to my own.

I received an email from a resident a few days ago expressing interest in getting more involved in local government in the wake of the recent election. I can’t think of a more positive response to an election, regardless of how you may feel about the outcome, than to get out and work to make things better. I hope Albany’s long tradition of community involvement remains strong and that more people will take the time to exercise their rights and fulfill their responsibilities as citizens.

Beating Bad News

Tuesday was not a good day for me. I was driving our Southeast Asian visitors to Portland when my vehicle’s transmission went out while stuck in a traffic jam south of Woodburn. I had planned to take our guests to Mount Hood and Multnomah Falls, but that plan had to be scrapped in favor of just getting folks to their hotel.

We spent some quality time at a car dealership service center that I was just able to reach with the remains of the car’s transmission. I found out yesterday that replacing the broken part would cost about $5,000, or an amount that exceeds what I paid for the car six months ago. I called a local repair shop to see if I was getting a reasonable estimate and was told they would probably charge more if they were willing to do the job at all.

The good news in the midst of the bad was that my son rode to our rescue and delivered us to the hotel on a beautiful, sunny day. We had a nice lunch in Portland and a good conversation about city management stuff on the way home. We also agreed that the Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative (YSEALI) is a great way for young professionals to get to know one another and gain an understanding that we generally have much more in common with people in distant places than we realize.

Today, I’m waiting for a call from another son who thinks he can get the car fixed for much less money than I would be charged at a conventional repair shop. He is a resourceful guy who everyone in our family relies on when something is broken. James even coordinated a family effort to replace the roof on my cousin’s house a few years ago. He’s fighting a battle against cancer right now but still manages to frequently be of help.

Bad news, challenges, frustrations, and ill fortune are an inescapable part of life. I have seen so many circumstances so much worse than my own that I often feel guilty about my tendency to complain when things don’t go my way. I am most grateful for the choice I have to look for the positive and good rather than to dwell on the unavoidable bad. Keeping a healthy perspective on life does not mean ignoring reality or surrendering to fate. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with my broken car, but I am sure I’m not going to let it keep me from finding ways to enjoy the many good things going on in my life.

My wife and I will be celebrating our 44th wedding anniversary next week, and I think that news trumps a broken transmission. We may spend a little less than we planned on the short, celebratory vacation, but I won’t let that get in the way of our annual reminder of the good decision I made nearly a half century ago.