Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Reflections on what I do for a living

Today, I participated in a speaking panel for the Municipal Management Association of Northern California (MMANC). Along with two other city/county managers, I was asked to provide encouragement and insight to those who are starting their career or seeking to advance to the next level of their career in municipal government. I chose to speak of the values that drove me to this line of work. I have condensed my remarks here for you, in the hopes of giving you some insight as to my motivation for being here in Fairfax and serving you in this role.

I grew up in a small urban blue collar pocket of L.A.; my father came to this country as a political refugee of the Hungarian revolution in the 50s. That’s important to note as it helped frame the value I place on democracy and our democratic processes and institutions. My father worked as a skilled laborer, and I was the first in my family to earn a college degree. He frequently shared stories with me about the governing systems in Eastern Europe that were inequitable and undemocratic, and I was at a young age determined to be a part of making our own country a better place to live and a place of even greater equity.

I am asked questions pretty frequently relating to my choices I’ve made in my career, somewhat because I think it is still somewhat of an anomaly for a younger woman with young children to become a city manager.

What brought me to the city government profession?

I like working for the form of government that is closest to the people. I get a great deal of enjoyment out of being able to affect the day to day lives of people. Furthermore, one of the reasons I chose the public sector because it seemed to me that minorities and women could advance more rapidly based on merit not on the good old boys network, or what social status you were born into (because I knew I did not have that going for me). For the most part, this has held true. I have found the public sector merit system, while not without flaws, to be fair and equitable overall.

Why did I choose to become a city manager?

My motivation was to live my values in the city management field, the values that keep me working in the public sector. As I progressed in my career, the values that I hold dear were becoming more and more clear to me, and two in particular:

1. The value of service –As the manager, for me that is the opportunity to put into practice each day my strong belief in customer service by doing what I can to make government more responsive to its residents.

2. The value of representative self-government; democracy – As the manager, I am able to serve elected representatives by giving them the best information and the tools they need to do the best job that they can. In this way, I think I play an important role in helping a community govern itself.

When I looked at all of the jobs available in local government, I knew right away that the position of city manager was where I could live those values and advance those values most strongly, and have the maximum impact on a community. And in the end, enhance my own sense of personal satisfaction and happiness.

I strongly believe that if you are in this business for the right reasons, it’s not about you. As you move up it in the city management profession, it becomes less and less about you and more about helping others and helping a community. It’s about making your community successful, helping your council be successful individually and as a group, and helping your staff be successful. And if you’ve got all of those going for you, then you will be a success.

I encourage you to reflect on what values draw you to the work that you do, and think about what type of position will help you best live those values in your everyday work. For me, being a city manager is where the rubber meets the road and where I have the privilege of putting my values to work everyday and impacting the community and impacting the organization in a positive way. The experience with Fairfax so far has been immensely fulfilling for me.