The Future Leaders of Local Government Interviews with Alliance for Innovation Marvin Andrews Fellows Past and Present

ARTICLE | Nov 17, 2011

Nicole Dailey
Budget and Financial Planning Analyst
Gilbert, AZ
Marvin Andrews Fellow, Class of 2007

1. Why did you choose to make a career out of public service?

I chose to make a career out of public service because I enjoy the meaningful work that we do as public servants. I am constantly challenged by and inspired by my work each day, but at the end of every day, I can absolutely connect my work to a meaningful benefit for the community. I love the variety of the work in public service and the opportunity to understand, interpret, and transform a community’s vision into a tangible reality.

2.  How do you see yourself as a future leader? What do you see as the challenges? We expect that you will be leaders in local government, so how do you think local government will be different when you are in a leadership role?

As a future leader, I see myself as a manager who is able to successfully guide communities through a change in the arena of public administration and government service. I intend to give back to my profession by mentoring and teaching students of public administration and inspiring a respect for the profession of public service as a whole. Government services are changing and the understanding of the community’s will is an ever-present challenge in how we as public servants care for and guide our communities. I see myself as a transformative leader able to navigate the changing waters as we evolve in how our communities are governed.

The extreme polarization of many communities and lack of an easily identifiable common ground will be a major challenge for public servants as we seek to understand and implement the community vision. We will be challenged to help guide communities to common points of interest and agreement. Additionally, the economic situation dictates an additional area of caution for public servants as resources are scarce and industries are changing. Economic instability and fear of change combined with fiscal distress have all the makings of a recipe for disaster for our communities, and managers will need to be ahead of the game in leading our communities towards positive futures and outcomes even in the midst of fear and change. Finally, I believe the technology of today creates a great opportunity but also a great challenge. The blogging communities have great potential for citizen input but also for extreme abuse of staff and elected officials, which can detract from a community’s focused vision. Technology allows us to be transparent in our operations, but a lack of understanding of when and how it is appropriate to utilize tools available can create problems, even with good intent. Councils or citizens may push too far in the direction of “transparency” and ultimately end up over-bureaucratizing our organizations or compromising confidentiality.

I consider myself to already be in a leadership role, even as a Budget and Financial Planning Analyst. I represent the Town for which I work and am always “on” as a representative of my community. The simplest of interactions can create great repercussions, and it is critical that public servants at all levels understand how we each contribute to the success of the community as a whole. Internally, my interactions with departments must support the vision of management and the Council, and I must ensure that my actions are congruent with that vision. The little stuff DOES matter! However, by the time I have a role in the upper management of an organization, I expect local government to be operating in a more transparent manner technologically and bureaucratically speaking. I think the methodologies employed to engage citizens and receive community input will be much more collaborative and web-based than they are now. Virtual town halls, meetings with “instant voting” technology to gauge input, and other feedback mechanisms will focus less on people coming to City Hall and more on City Hall going to the people where they are. Process wise, I believe the methods for notifying the public of changes and possibly the requirements for approval prior to instituting changes will be different. While I am a firm believer of going above and beyond a small-print notice in the legals section of a newspaper, taking TOO much control out of the hands of the policy makers may ultimately slow down progress and prevent forward movement more than it would assist a community in moving forward with implementation of Council vision. I also believe the HR regulations will change – competition for jobs is fierce, and as managers we will need to negotiate an increasingly litigious society in terms of hiring, performance management, and discipline within our hired staff.

Essentially, I believe there are service delivery changes and organizational changes that will occur in all of our governments as our communities evolve according with economic and social developments, but as servants who remain aware of these changes and, almost more importantly, self-aware of our own operational practices, we will be able to transform our communities successfully.

Pam Weir
Alliance for Innovation
Management Intern
Marvin Andrews Fellow, Class of 2012

1. Why did you choose to make a career out of public service?

Throughout my life I have been very conscious of the ways in which I have benefited from access to public services -- from public schools, to transportation, to parks and recreation programs. In order to create a just, livable community, I believe it is necessary that people come together to both promote and work for robust public services, rather than work exclusively for personal gain. I am drawn to a career of public service so that I may work to create strong partnerships across communities. Public service is also an attractive choice because it will allow me to deal with a wide variety of issues and subjects while putting me in contact with many different parts of the communities I will serve.

2. How do you see yourself as a future leader? What do you see as the challenges? We expect that you will be leaders in local government, so how do you think local government will be different when you are in a leadership role?

Regardless of the specific leadership roles I will hold, I will prize strong ethics and work to forge lasting partnerships, both inside and outside of government. I hope that as a leader in local government I will not be set apart from the communities I work with, but rather seen as an equal stakeholder in the prosperity of the community. I envision that in the future the line between government and citizenry can be blurred so that neither side sees the other as completely set apart. A citizenry that suffers from disillusion by their government will have little belief in or willingness to contribute to sustain it. Local governments and the communities they serve must have reciprocal relationships; both provide for the other, and both shape the other. I hope that in the future these relationships will be seen as beneficial to both parties. Facing the future challenges of local government will be less daunting when governments can work with their citizens rather than be perceived to be working against them. Probably the largest challenge to being a future leader will be ensuring the fiscal health of local government. To be a successful manager I will not only have to use revenue efficiently to make sure that all necessary programs and services may function smoothly, but also remain vigilant against waste and fraud in order to avoid undermining the government’s and my own legitimacy and authority. In the future local governments should also work to improve their relationships with the media, from social networking outlets to large broadcasting corporations. Right now, the media can be a public servant’s best friend or worst enemy. In the future, the media and governments may develop a far more symbiotic relationship, protecting the interests of each other.

Sam Feldman
Business Retention and Expansion
Community and Economic Development
Phoenix, AZ
Marvin Andrews Fellow, Class of 2009

1. Why did you choose to make a career out of public service?

Public service is the place where I felt I could use my talents and time to make a difference in the world.  My parents taught me that I should leave this world better than I found it, and public service helps me be a part of that change. Each day, I try to spend a moment or two on my way to work or first thing in the morning focusing on the reason I am doing what I do: to serve the people who pay my salary. I am their employee. That reminds me that despite frustrations, I still have a purpose each day, and I need to pursue that purpose.  Daniel Pink has identified a new form of motivation in the age of increasingly automated logarithmic tasks.  Employees working on heuristic tasks are the ones that require a new form of motivation, one that focuses on mastery, autonomy and purpose.  By finding my purpose each day, I reaffirm my career choice in public service and provide myself the motivational boost I need to keep positively pushing for innovation and change.

2. How do you see yourself as a future leader? What do you see as the challenges? We expect that you will be leaders in local government, so how do you think local government will be different when you are in a leadership role?

I see myself as a leader now - there are too many issues in our communities and public organizations to think that I can wait to be a leader. Addressing those challenges cannot wait until retirements sweep executive and management staff.  In my role today, I use forms of soft power and respect to make change happen, and I let the power of the idea and the achieved results speak for themselves.

I think we spend too much time on position-based discussions instead of focusing on interest-based priorities.  Instead of, for example, having a social media policy that stakes out a position on how it should be used, I think we need to work at developing policies that focus on the interests that guide the policy, including protection of the organization's reputation and the public's perception of government work.  If we focus on the interests that would guide a position, we can remain flexible as the pace of change continues to accelerate.  Positions change, and need to change quicker than they do now, but interests will always stay the same.  It can be said for ethics policies that the best policies are the ones that teach ethical decision-making but refrain from dictating what is acceptable or not acceptable.  I think that should be extended to many more policies.

If one looks at the way government has communicated in the past decades, it has been about representing the organization as a faceless monolith.  Organizations from the 20th century do not have personalities -- and that is the challenge.  For too long, a "public employee" has not been considered a neighbor or friend -- they are a bureaucrat, an empty suit.  When you ask people if they like teachers, fire fighters, park rangers, et cetera, people are supportive.  When you ask about government employees, they are negative. And yet we still run our organizations like they are "public organizations," instead of a collection of real, live humans.

Look at the official language of most governments -- often there is no "I" or "we," it is "The Organization." We personify The Organization so that no one person is identified as being behind the curtain. And then we are surprised when people cannot relate to government?  We need to change the language we use to talk about our work.  One of my goals is to reduce my use of that language when communicating with the public -- let's write letters, tweets, emails and press releases that sound like they come from a real person, not a computer program. We need voice, personality, and appropriate emotions in our letters.  When we do something wrong, let's admit our mistake and move along.  No one is fooled when we use a fake apology - they are usually just incensed.  Organizations, for the record, do not think or feel -- in fact, they do not "do" anything.

The other big change I am attempting to make right now is to reduce or eliminate entirely our use of PowerPoint.  Edward Tufte has written famously on this subject, and all "public employees" should read his short work, "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within."  We need to stop being boxed-in by PowerPoint.  It is a surprise to me that my generation will, hopefully, be the one that eliminates PowerPoint as a crutch for presentations.  I suppose, however, it's because we have suffered through more PowerPoints than anyone else and we know what a poor job they do of communicating information.  Once you start to recognize the damaging effects of PowerPoint on the framework of a presentation or discussion, it is difficult to see any value in the tool at all, though there may be some limited uses.

Caitlyn Mitchell
Phoenix Aviation Department Intern
Marvin Andrews Fellow, Class of 2011

1. Why did you choose to make a career out of public service?

I chose to enter the public sector because I believe in it. There are things that the public sector does that the private sector cannot. Misanthropy aside, I believe in helping others. I want to be a part of something that improves the lives of my community- not just friends and family. I believe that unless you are willing to make a difference and work towards change, you have no reason to unhappy with government. The current political climate obviously does not agree with me. It is so easy to scream privatization at the top of your lungs and hang teabags from your ears, but to positively affect a change takes much more.

2. How do you see yourself as a future leader? What do you see as the challenges? We expect that you will be leaders in local government, so how do you think local government will be different when you are in a leadership role?

I will be a very open and inclusive leader. If the situation allows I would prefer to reach consensus or as close to consensus as possible before making decisions. I realize that this is unrealistic in some cases, but my over all idea of leading is tied to building buy-in and fostering cohesiveness. The most effective leaders do not have to dictate or micromanage.

Some of the challenges the profession faces are the economy, increased citizen awareness and overall sustainability. The economy is the elephant in the room that everyone has acknowledged by now. Local governments that have already made cuts to the bone have had to lop off limbs. Departments have been eliminated, but the demands for their services have not. Citizen awareness is a blessing and curse. Local administrators want more productive citizen input and increased participation, but productive citizens are not necessarily the ones becoming more involved. Sustainability is linked to the economy issue, but it also has broader implications as well.  A focus on sustainability will encourage decision makers and citizen to think beyond the immediate.

Niel Curley  
Alliance for Innovation
Management Intern
Marvin Andrews Fellow, Class of 2012

1. Why did you choose to make a career out of public service?

Public service was appealing because it allows me to make a meaningful impact on the community in which I live.  I wanted to be part of a group that takes on the challenges of improving communities in an equitable manner.  Public service also provides the opportunity to take on many different issues that affect many different populations.  The diversity and range of knowledge needed to address these issues offers a career that presents a lifetime opportunity for learning.  I would like to use the knowledge I gain throughout my career for the greater good and apply that knowledge to create stronger communities.

2. How do you see yourself as a future leader? What do you see as the challenges? We expect that you will be leaders in local government, so how do you think local government will be different when you are in a leadership role?

I see myself as a collaborative leader that works with many different people and other government organizations to effectively solve problems.  Some of the challenges that will be faced are citizen engagement.  I think managers and public officials will need to become part educator to the public and work to keep them informed about solutions being formed to address their concerns.  New ways to keep citizens informed and involved will have to be explored.  One of the biggest challenges will be working with citizens to find the right role desired of their local government.   Local government will be more collaborative with other levels of government and other local governments in their region.  The desire for immediate response will become greater from citizens, making local governments more nimble and quick to adopt change.  There will also become an increased relationship with the private sector to accomplish goals set by local government as well as crossover in adoption of best practices to become more efficient.

Izzy Murguia
Town of Queen Creek Intern
Marvin Andrews Class of 2011

1. Why did you choose to make a career out of public service?

It is safe to say that there is something innate that prompts one to seek a career in public service. For me, the desire to pursue a career in public service is drawn from several aspects. I chose a career in public service because I truly enjoy helping others. There is no better feeling than finding a solution for an individual in need of assistance that can’t find help anywhere else. Moreover, I pursued a career in public service because it provides me with the opportunity to make a difference in the community that I am serving. Working on pressing issues of today and working on solutions for tomorrow’s problems offers a work environment not seen anywhere else.

2. How do you see yourself as a future leader? What do you see as the challenges? We expect that you will be leaders in local government, so how do you think local government will be different when you are in a leadership role?

Governments are expected to experience many challenges in the upcoming future. Among the challenges is the exiting of the baby-boomer generation from key posts in government, and the continued sustainability of government. These challenges provide an opportunity to be a leader in the organizations we serve as these respective challenges arise.  The exiting of the baby-boomers presents a key opportunity to rise as a leader in an organization that could experience a loss of institutional knowledge. Thus, it is up to the younger generation, like myself, in government to be prepared and demonstrate the ability to move into key leadership roles when the time arrives. Another key area where leadership will be needed is in sustainability both in an environmental and financial management standpoint. From an environmental sustainability perspective, it is up to me and other future managers to ensure we are using resources consciously and ensuring we are leaving a society that is better for those ahead of us. Lastly, financial sustainability will be a continuing major challenge for governments. As the trend for government continues to be “doing more with less,” there is leadership to be had in finding innovative ways to deliver services that were once provided by government. As leaders, we will have to look at reforms, such as pension reform, and be willing to make such changes for the betterment of society.

Daniel Ortiz
Management Analyst
Casa Grande, AZ
Marvin Andrews Class of 2009

1. Why did you choose to make a career out of public service?

I chose to make a career out of public service because in my mind and in my heart there is no other career more satisfying or rewarding. I believe that local government is best suited to address the needs of citizens and communities in a proactive manner. More importantly, in local government you see the impact you make and find joy in doing what you do day in and day out. Whether working on plans to create a new community park, creating partnerships with the school districts and community colleges, helping to bring a major economic development project to the community, or simply assist the police department revise

2. How do you see yourself as a future leader? What do you see as the challenges? We expect that you will be leaders in local government, so how do you think local government will be different when you are in a leadership role?

It is difficult to imagine how I see myself as a future leader as I view the future clouded with uncertainty. We are in a new reality and the world is in a state of transition. The current economy paints a murky picture of what the world will look like in the future. This is not to say that I imagine things will be bad, just different. In local government for instance the days when local governments can rely on the state or federal governments for money to fund basic infrastructure needs such as roads are long gone. Local government leaders will have to contend with the increasingly competing interest of small business owners (the heart and soul of small communities) and multi-national corporations. Communities love the unique character of their community that distinguishes them from the major metropolises but also want the amenities that such metropolises are known for - the coveted fortune 500 hundred corporations, entertainment, retail, educational resources, etc. To sum it up, most communities desire diversity and variety.

There are a variety of challenges facing local government leaders. For starters, local governments have taken a beating. They have been poked, prodded and placed under a microscope in the wake of a handful of city management scandals, the most notorious in Bell, CA. The scandals that plagued Southern California have brought to light intricate details of local government operations as well as public employees’ compensation. They have provided ammunition to critics who call for the privatization of government services and seek large cut backs in public employee salaries and pensions. Such scrutiny on public employees will make it difficult to retain talented individuals that may be easily lured by more appealing salaries and retirement benefits in the private sector or larger government organizations. Additionally, the increasing transparency of government may cause some employees to question whether they enjoy having details about their compensation public displayed and scrutinized.

The ideal candidate for any supervisory or management role ideally requires a master’s degree.  However, many of the nation’s universities have posted double digit percentage increases for tuition year after year. Students with aspirations of having rewarding careers in the public sector not only have to contend with tuition increases but also new fees, reduction in financial assistance, and costly textbooks and supplies. The overall price may very well dissuade many students from seeking to advance their education or even seek employment in the public sector. The cost-benefit of taking out large student loans for a career that may not offer a salary substantial enough to pay these loans and have a comfortable quality of life may be difficult to overlook. I believe that while a surplus of qualified candidates that hold master’s degrees currently exists, the coming decades may not be so bountiful. In addition, the current economic downturn has forced many public organizations to reduce or eliminated tuition reimbursement programs and the rise in tuition may force others to rethink the amount of benefit or how many they can offer it to.

Local government will be different in the future. “Local” will not be defined by the geopolitical boundaries that distinguish one community from another. “Regional” and “Global” will replace how future leaders perceive “local”. A leader will have to know and understand not only his/her community but also every community in the region. This is true today but will take on more importance and scope as megapolitan regions grow. The future will be marked by greater collaboration and teamwork among regional communities and governmental entities.

As a future leader I understand that I will wear many hats, however, I do not believe leadership will differ greatly from what we currently perceive it as. Expectations may change, the level of required knowledge may increase, and the scopes of influence we exert as well yield to will grow and change. My generation’s leadership ability will be measured by how well we cope with the increasingly changing demands and challenges of a globalized society.

To learn more about ASU's MPA program, visit their website. View the companion piece The Future Leaders of Local Government in the Knowledge Network.

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