The Takeaway with Roger Jordan, Former Dallas City Manager

Roger Jordan

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Former Dallas City Manager and Current OCCMA Range Rider

Roger Jordan is a true range rider as you will learn in this profile. He left an indelible mark on local government through his leadership in the City of Dallas and has continued to “pay it forward” by being an active presence with ELGL and other leadership initiatives. It is not everyday that we get to hear from a professional who has a park named after him and enjoys listening to Rihanna on long drives through the state.

You are a range rider for OCCMA after spending the bulk of your career as city manager of Dallas.  Your impact on Dallas is evidenced by the Roger Jordan Park that exists in Dallas.  What were three keys to your success in Dallas?

The City Management profession is very dynamic with lots of highs and lows and is often very high profile.  Fortunately, I am a very driven and strategic “Type A” person which served me well in such a challenging career where there is never a dull day.  As I was growing up and went through school, I spent much of my time playing sports that taught me the importance of discipline, being part of a team playing my position, how to compete, and most of all, how to handle losing and winning.  I always enjoyed seeking a high profile leadership position so it is not surprising I chose city management for a career.  I found in the city management profession there are all different types of personalities, skills, and styles and the most important key to success is matching your skills and style to the community, council and the staff.    I believe the most important aspect leading to success is picking the right job to match your skills.

I learned that a community’s needs in leadership style changes so the style of management needs to adapt to the changing needs or you will need to seek another position.  Just like in sports, managers can be very successful in one community and not be successful for in another or be successful at one point in time for a community and wear out your welcome over time..  While I was employed in Dallas, I was able to match the needs of the community and council by adapting to the needs of the times without changing my basic style of leadership.  Fortunately Dallas and the City Council always wanted a strong leadership role for the City Manager which matched my style.  The same was true for my tenure as City Manager in Sandy, Oregon.   Both communities and their elected officials treated me very well and wanted me to take part in key, high-profile leadership roles with a strong, risk taking style.  For this the elected leaders provided me strong support during the difficult times.  Of course, there were those who did not support me or like my aggressive leadership style but the general community was very supportive during my tenure allowing my success.

Another characteristic for my success was creating a culture in the organization for the council, staff, and city committees that reflected community values.   I understood early on, that my success in managing a city is not all about me, but about all of the people working throughout the organization.  We were fortunate to hire or appoint, train, inspire and retain competent and motivated staff   and volunteers at the city that often stayed with the City a long time leading to competent commitment and stability.  At the same time, in order to keep new ideas in the organization, we often recruited from outside the organization, especially in the city manager assistant position that played the role of an outside review of how we are doing and proposing changing to keep the city current.

Lastly, I spent a lot of time developing and nurturing relationships at the management, city council, staff and community level.  I encouraged everyone at all levels of the organization to participate in community activities.  We were especially careful to insure that all parts of the community had a stake in the success of the city.

Give us your most interesting travel experience as a range rider.  Talk about life on the road as a range rider – favorite music while driving; most scenic place you’ve visited; best restaurants.

Probably the most interesting characteristic of my Range Riding is the fact that in the summertime I “ride the range” on my Harley Davidson.  Upon retiring I missed the adrenalin rush of the profession which to me, as with most managers with my style, is the reason we are in such a challenging high-profile profession.  So I joined the ranks of those who enjoy riding on the open road knowing at any time you might be on the pavement.  “Ride to live – live to ride”.  While riding, I listen to Rihanna and Katy Perry songs because they have a strong beat to get my blood flowing and help me forget about my aches and pains.  There is not a trip on the Harley in the leathers that I don’t see beautiful parts of Oregon, but I especially enjoy Central Oregon where my wife, Susie and I have part ownership in a condo.  I try to spend one week per month in Central Oregon at Eagles Crest riding, golfing and relaxing while visiting in the area with friends and colleagues in the area cities.  While there, my favorite restaurant is the Pine Tavern in Bend.

You have counseled a number of city managers throughout the city as part of your OCCMA duties, based on those experiences; give us three tips for navigating issues often faced by city managers.

My experience has taught me that in our profession there are always different ways to deal with the problems and issue we encounter.  Just like there are different personalities and styles in managers, the solutions to problems and approaches to issues depends on the situation, timing, the people involved, and the background of the area.  However, there are some things I was taught or learned along the way that are basic to any issue or problem:

  1. Do not underestimate the importance of common sense and experience. Not everything can be learned from a book.  You will often be dealing with multiple issues at the same time and you do not need to be the most knowledgeable but be able to pick up information quickly and be a good translator from technical information to general so it is something that folks can understand.

  2. Build a support network of colleagues and mentors who you can turn to give you advice or who will just listen to you that are not part of the city organization since sometimes you should not use the Mayor, Council, Manager’s or staff as your closest advisors.  It can be lonely at the top and you will need friends.  Also make sure you pick your professional staff carefully because getting the right people on the bus will serve you well.
  3. Get personally involved so you understand the organization, the council, staff and community.  Building relations and wandering around so you know firsthand what is going on and who you can count on.  (You will be surprised what happens in a bureaucracy without your knowledge unless you take responsibility for oversight and insure it’s culture reflects something of which you can be proud).

Give ELGL a few suggestions for strengthening connections between the different generations working in local government.  How can we both learn from each other?

Our profession is lucky to have many strong leaders who step up to leadership roles and understand the value of building relationships.  The profession is blessed by having leaders in all age groups who want to help one another.  Therefore, it isn’t surprising that so many are willing to share their talents.

In the profession, we are gaining some of the best and brightest who challenge the status quo and implement new ideas and tools to keep our profession moving forward.  Fortunately these young managers bring a lot of enthusiasm and push for change in a field that needs fresh ideas.  At the same time, we have senior managers who are willing at the end of their career to donate their time as advisors or coaches connecting those who have been in the trenches with those who are in the trenches.  There is a wealth of knowledge and experience that should be shared. We need to encourage both groups to work together to improve professional management in local government.  Efforts like the birth of the ELGL group, creation of the Oregon Local Leadership Institute, a recommitment to OCCMA coaching and mentoring programs and continuation of the OCCMA range rider program speaks well for Oregon’s partnerships.

Tell us about three experiences during your career where you felt that you were really making a manager.

As you know, I was lucky to have a great career in City Management and now in teaching and advising local governments.  In Oregon I was one of the few that lasted a long time in one community that appreciated and supported strong professional management.  Our profession is often a very mobile one with most managers’ tenures at any one city ranging five to ten years.  The experience that I am most proud of is the confidence and support I received from the communities in both Dallas and Sandy.  I was extremely lucky to land in communities that celebrated my tenure.  Sometimes that does not happen.  I am very proud that Dallas celebrated my tenure by naming a major city park in my honor.  I was especially lucky to manage both communities during significant growth periods which always created challenges to keep me on my best to succeed.  In fact, Dallas grew by almost 300% during my time and we were involved in not only dreaming with the community what we wanted for our community to be but also to be able to actually implement the vision and see the community accomplish those visions.  Whether it was the Aquatic Center, the tripling of the park system, the park trail system along Rickreal Creek, the expansion of every phase of the infrastructure, sewer, water, transportation and general government or the success of six of seven ballot measures there was lots of excitement over the 25 years.

However, out of everything that happened during that time, what meant the most was the confidence and support of the community expressed in the community survey the city conducted a few months after I left which showed that well over 85% of the community thought the city had done a great job over the long term and said they loved living in Dallas.  I know from that survey that the average person in the community had appreciated the hard work, battles over implementing the long term plan, and strong leadership that was required to build and maintain a wonderful community.  As I return to Dallas I can remember the debates and discussions and difficult time on each of hundreds of issues or projects and see the positive results in a number of community and civic buildings and projects.  Most of all, I can see that residents love their community.

On the flip side, can you talk about the most difficult experience you encountered as a city manager?

As I have said, the profession is very challenging and high-profile with a lot of risk for the decisions we were making in a dynamic and growing community.  Dallas was a full service city that affected a lot of citizens and businesses in a number of ways.   I cannot remember any problem or issue where everyone agreed on any one solution, or 100% agreement to approve the building of a major project.  Sometimes our decisions or my recommendations or actions became personal for those who do not agree.  Certainly with my upfront style, some chose to accuse me of having an inappropriate personal interest or leading a project so I could leave it as a legacy for my tenure.  In the “old” days it was “letters to the editor” and now it is blog where those who oppose or felt negatively affected by a decision or actions by the city can lash out and make it personal about you and get their day publicly.  Those are clearly the difficult times because I always cared about how everyone felt but in democracy we never seem to gain 100% of agreement and conflict is inherent in our profession.  Sometimes leadership is a lonely position and having a tough skin is important to be successful and making the best of it.

In addition, for me, terminating or laying off employees was also an uncomfortable action to take since I knew it was affecting someone’s life and often their ability to take care of their family, however sometimes the community or organizational needs dictated the necessity for the action.  The most difficult situations were for things that happened that involved the loss of life.  Whether it was a police officer getting shot, an officer using deadly force, an ambulance attendant not being able to save someone, the fire department dealing with a devastating fire or accident where someone dies or is seriously injured, a major natural disaster where someone was injured, or a workers’ compensation death or injury.  In each of these cases, I would age another ten years dealing with the families of the victims, emotional impact on fellow employees and community members, lawsuits, disciplinary actions, and other things which all occurred as a result of the tragic incidents.

When you were in high school, what was your career ambition?

In high school I just enjoyed playing ball and playing around.  My thought was that if I didn’t play ball when I grew up I would probably be in Viet Nam since the war was going strong at that time.  Fortunately since my family could not help, I got a scholarship to junior college to play golf.

Ever think of pulling a Michael Jordan by coming out of retirement for one final city manager gig? What about running for elected office?

Unfortunately by the time I got to retirement I had let the stress of the job get to me so much that there is no way my health would allow me to get back into the profession full-time.  As I said I do miss the fulfillment of being in the trenches and seeing good things happen for the community but I have had my day and know I will be satisfied teaching, coaching, and mentoring the next generation.  I would not make a good elected official since I am sure I would be a micro-manager which is the last kind of politician anyone would want in office.

Who were your local government mentors?

I had a number of senior managers who I owe a lot to including some of Oregon’s finest from successful cities in Oregon and throughout the country.  I owe a lot to my MPA advisors and Howard Brandvold who brought me into the profession and mentored me in my first position in city management.   I also owe a lot to a number of elected officials who I worked for and community leaders who inspired me over the years.

Give us three suggestions for speakers in our 2013 speaker series.

The city of Dallas went through a lot of turmoil with issues surrounding Jerry Wyatt.  Was it difficult to watch from the sidelines as Dallas and its citizens faced the media spotlight?

It would be inappropriate and unprofessional to comment on the former city manager’s issues in Dallas, but I care a lot for my city and even though I do not live there anymore, I visit often and still feel a part of the community.  One thing everyone learns as former city managers is that the best thing you can do as a retired manager is let the city move on and in my case I moved to Newberg and settled at the Chehalem Glen Golf Course where we are close to five of our six children.  Being involved with helping our kids and grandchildren has always been our passion and we are lucky to have such a close family so staying out of the operation of the city has been my role.  Fortunately the city hired my friend and colleague, Jon Nelson, as interim manager who has set the city on a good course and the city recently hired a new manager who everyone feels will do an excellent job.  I wish him and city well because I know Dallas is a wonderful community with a good future.  It will always be my “hometown” and I will always feel lucky to be a small part of the history of the community.

Anything you would change about your career?

I would find more positive outlets for stress rather than have it affect my health.  Put things in perspective for work-life-balance, which the next generation is doing a better job.  While as city manager I played a critical role in my community I learned you are only one small part of a bigger system and after you retire you realize how quickly things can move on without being in the driver’s seat.

Finally, what book(s) is on your nightstand or e-reader?

On my nightstand is a copy of Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns, a copy of Golf Digest, and Harley Davidson Owner’s Group magazine.  I am retired remember and so I want to spend the majority of my time enjoying life and my family while giving back by volunteering and donating to our profession and nonprofit groups who serve the not so fortunate.

What’s an e-reader?

 

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