The Final Four

I won’t have many more opportunities to write about the Ducks before I leave in June. Our next city manager, assuming the Council hires one of the two finalists, will be either a Beaver fan or something else. Either way, there won’t be a Duck city manager around for the first time in nearly 30 years to celebrate Oregon’s next appearance in the Final Four or their 2018 track and field championship.

Naturally, I’m hoping the Duck basketball team will go on to win the NCAA championship this year. I believe they have a good chance; and since my prediction last May that the Chicago Cubs would win the 2016 World Series was completely accurate, I predict the Ducks will win their 33rd NCAA championship next week. I was a little surprised that the Ducks rank 12th in the nation in the total number of NCAA championships among colleges across the U.S. They will move very close to the top ten after they win both the men’s basketball and women’s track titles this year.

Oregon may take a few years to catch UCLA, Stanford, and USC, each of which have won more than 100 championships over the years; but we are already well ahead of most other Pac-12 schools. I would never pick on the Beavers, for example, but they have won a total of three NCAA championships (two baseball and one cross-country). I am pulling for them to win their fourth this year in baseball unless the Ducks prove to be better.

I noticed that the announcement inviting employees to my small retirement celebration in June used a University of Oregon theme, and that seems entirely appropriate. In truth, however, I’m not really a huge sports fan anymore. I don’t think I’ve watched a complete basketball game this year, and I know I haven’t seen any of the Ducks’ victories in the NCAA tournament. I attended a couple of Duck football games last year (both wins) but gave up season tickets years ago. Though I’m proud of the athletic accomplishments of my alma mater, I would much rather see higher rankings for academic achievements and more attention given to scholarship. The U.S. reputation for having the best universities in the world is starting to suffer, and I doubt the basketball championship will do much to improve it.

College sports are a means to an end and a generally enjoyable part of the higher education experience in our country. The end is a quality education for all who seek it, and I am most grateful for the chance I had to attend the University of Oregon. My experience there had nothing to do with any athletic skills, but instead was made possible by the G.I. Bill. I wish veterans today had the same quality of educational benefits that were available to my father and me.

While I will be cheering for the Ducks over the next week, I will also be quietly supporting the Beavers, Vikings, Wolves, Red Raiders, Bearcats, Mountaineers, Roadrunners, Bobcats, Owls, Boxers, and every other Oregon college and university as they go about the important business of enriching our lives by offering educational opportunity.

 

BUREAUCRATS MAKE US HAPPY

I can’t think of a better retirement gift than to have my career choice validated on the front page of the newspaper with only three months left to go. The tribute came from an odd source under the headline, “Who’s happy, who’s not: Norway tops list, US falls.” Like most headlines, this one is a little misleading.

The story explains that Norwegians are the happiest people in the world, while those of us in the U.S. have fallen from number 13 on the happiest-people list to number 14. I don’t know when the survey was taken, so it’s hard to say what is influencing our state of mind. The most important point of the story, however, related to one Norwegian’s explanation of why he and his fellow citizens are so happy.   “The answer to why Norwegians are happy – it’s a bit boring – it’s well-functioning institutions. The schools, health care, police, all the bureaucracy treat people with respect and that trickles down and makes us happy, makes us trust each other, makes us feel a part of the whole community. So it’s very boring: bureaucrats are the secret to our happiness.” The quotation comes from a Norwegian comedian named Harald Eia, who seems to be a very insightful guy.

Unlike the Norwegians, I think many Americans have lost whatever appreciation we may have had for civil servants. Part of the problem are self-serving office seekers who continually remind us of how awful government is while aggressively seeking to take it over to use it to their own ends. Bureaucrats are often characterized as obstructionist, self-serving, small-minded people who are responsible for many of society’s ills. You don’t see many tributes in public forums to IRS agents, urban planners, social workers, utility billing specialists, or the many other public employees who help provide the services that hold society together. In Norway, more than 34.6 percent of all employees work in the public sector, while in the U.S. the number is less than 15 percent.

I have heard the argument that the primary reason Norwegians are happy is that they are an oil rich country, and I’m sure overall prosperity is a part of the country’s success. Nevertheless, Denmark, the number 2 country on the list, has essentially no oil; but 34.9 percent of their workforce are public employees. Mister Eia may be onto something. It should come as no surprise that the least happy places on the list – Syria, Afghanistan, etc. – have almost no functioning bureaucracy. My own experience in these places backs up both the dysfunction and the unhappiness.

As my career quickly approaches its end, I hope we will take a critical look at our attitudes toward public service and recognize the importance of both the public and private sector. A well-functioning society requires competent, caring people in government as well as private industry. We will not achieve that goal with a knee-jerk attitude that bureaucracy is bad. More often than not, bureaucrats are good people; and they may just be essential to our happiness.

City Manager Search

Next week, the City Council will begin interviewing five candidates to be Albany’s next city manager. I know three of those competing and have spoken with one other.   Based on their resumes and what I know of the candidates, I think the next manager will have the education, experience, and temperament to do the job well. I have my own bias about who I believe would be the best choice, but I do not think any of the candidates would be unqualified.

The plan is for the Council to interview the five semifinalists Friday, March 24, and then invite back a smaller number to be interviewed by a citizen advisory group, City Department Directors, and the Council. This process is very similar to the one I went through before I was hired in 2005. Employees and the public will have a chance to meet the finalists at a City Hall reception on April 3. Final background checks and contract negotiations can take some time, but there should be no problem having someone hired before I leave on June 30.

The new city manager will inherit their share of challenges, just as I did a dozen years ago. I had two department directors resign in my first three months and another leave about a year later. We have several upcoming director retirements, so the turnover may be even higher for the new manager. I would expect there to be a younger, more diverse management team by this time next year. Despite the inevitable changes, whoever is lucky enough to get this job will be working with a great group of people.

Albany has been fortunate to have good leadership at the Council level, many great volunteers, and employees who genuinely care about their community. Our mission and values focus on service, and I have more stories than anyone would be willing to listen to about employees going beyond expectations to serve others. I think the new manager will bring many new opportunities for constructive change, but I hope the commitment to service I found when I arrived here remains constant.

New management understandably creates both uncertainty and anxiety; however, I think the upcoming change will be healthy for all concerned. The new manager will bring new energy, insight, and skills to tackle problems and create opportunities. Most city managers also understand that their first responsibility is to carry out the will of an elected city council. Managers bring ideas to the table, but important policy decisions require the approval of a majority of the council.

I see an important new role for myself as a full-time grandfather after the new manager is hired. I will certainly be happy to answer questions, but I plan to follow Steve Bryant’s example and let the new manager do the job s/he was selected to do without worrying about her/his predecessor. I’m sure the community will be in good hands.