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.