Are you need of career advice? Do you have doubts about how important a network can be in your career? Do you love Lionel Richie? We have the perfect person to help you. Alice has built a successful local government career through top notch work in cities throughout Oregon including Gresham, Milwaukie, Roseberg, and Tualatin. Along the way, she built an impressive network of mentors (Erik Kvarsten, Mike Swanson, and Sherilyn Lombos) and has been active in professional associations including being the only non-city manager on the Oregon City/County Management Association board of directors.
As if you need another reason to keep reading, Alice outlines how to make a good impression if you find yourself facing an interview panel with her.
Name: Alice Cannon Rouyer
Organization: City of Tualatin
Position: Assistant City Manager
Education: University of Colorado at Denver, MURP, Urban and Regional Planning and University of Oregon B.S; PPPM, Planning and Public Administration
Experience: Community Development Director, City of Tualatin, Oregon; Executive Manager, City of Gresham / Executive Director, Gresham Redevelopment Commission; Senior Planner, David Evans and Associates, Inc.; Director of Community Development and Public Works, City of Milwaukie, Oregon; Planner, City of Boulder, Colorado; Planner, City of Roseburg, Oregon
Q & A with Alice
Three professional accomplishments that you are most proud of.
On two occasions, I successfully encouraged unhappy landowners to donate property to their cities. In both cases, the parcels had valuable natural resources that later became invaluable park land. Also during the donation process, the cities were able to restore damaged relationships with these influential landowners. I felt great about planting these seeds.
In fall 2000 at the City of Milwaukie, we had been working briskly on a new downtown plan. The team of staff worked methodically with each property owner to resolve concerns along the way. This was all happening on the heels of a recall of three Council members and a major time of transition in Milwaukie. The City Council unanimously passed the plan. The only public testimony offered praise about the project and the process.
I am proud of those moments when I am able to watch staff stretch and grow. I love it when the outcome of their work is so much better than I ever could have imagined. I have experienced this countless times and feel blessed to be working with such talented staff and colleagues.
Give us a couple things to be careful of while advancing up the local government career ladder.
Mid and senior-level employees are sometimes threatened by energetic, emerging employees. As a new professional, I was so distracted in my efforts to do a good job that I wasn’t always aware that my energy and efforts could be a threat to others. In time, I understood that my energy signaled change. Change is difficult for most people. The key for new professionals is to retain all that energy and enthusiasm but combine it with observation. Try to observe how others are reacting to your energy and use that to make small adjustments in style. It’s important to keep moving and stay positive. We need that energy in the workplace.
Creativity and flexibility are important. In some public service positions that are steeped in regulation, it is easy to become trapped in the “system” with its rules and customs. In our business, we are ultimately here to serve people. A wise person I know told me that our daily mantra should be: “Give the people what they want!” Finding creative solutions is really our value in public service. That is also where we find the most fulfillment.
Your local government mentors.
I have been very fortunate to have many people who have influenced my style and thinking:
Ron Secrist, former Boulder City Manager – Ron is a man with a methodical and measured style. He looked me in the eye one day and told me to not begin the bad habit of working on weekends.
Lou Della Cava, Boulder real estate developer – Lou exposed me to the private sector real estate development world while I was a current planner in Boulder, Colorado. This was invaluable.
Mike Swanson, former Milwaukie City Manager – Mike is genuine and a man of his word. He taught me that the little things matter when dealing with citizens and employees. He had a charming habit of giving every employee a personal birthday card filled with colorful confetti. His relationships with the work force were without equal.
Erik Kvarsten, Gresham City Manager – Erik introduced me to many fine people in Oregon City and County Manager’s Association (OCCMA). I am forever grateful. His love for laughter in the workplace, the outdoors and literature continue to leave a lasting impression on me.
Sherilyn Lombos, Tualatin City Manager – Sherilyn is positive and loves her work. As a result we are all inspired to work hard, laugh hard and care about making a difference in Tualatin.
There is not a perfect way of managing work/life issues but tell us how you’ve managed these challenges.
Find quiet time at the end of each work day – even if it is 15 to 30 minutes. It took me awhile to learn that those 30 minutes are valuable and give me more energy to be present in family life. In local government management jobs, we need to be present and listen for 8 to 10 hours each day – sometimes without a break. The body and brain need a pause before jumping in to the fun and sometimes chaotic world of kids and home.
As a teenager I used to snicker at my dad for his seemingly boring and unwavering “end of day” routine. Without fail each day, he sat in his recliner with his newspaper and his favorite beverage for 20-30 minutes. If we gave him his space, he would be far more willing to listen to our stories from the day (and give his teenagers important things like cash for Friday night movies).
Walk us through your career progression through becoming the Tualatin assistant city manager.
I stumbled into city government professions through the influence of my dad. I was studying journalism at the University of Oregon, while working at the Oregon Daily Emerald newspaper. During my sophomore year, I became discontented with the chatter in the newsroom. While the student reporters and editors all had good ideas, their profession didn’t allow them to be involved in an issue beyond reporting it.
My dad began telling me about city planning as an option. He talked about the Planning Director in my hometown – Albany, Oregon. He thought the issues in planning were interesting and would give me chance to be involved in the community. In a small-world way, I would later become quite acquainted with that Planning Director after he became Albany’s City Manager. His name is Steve Bryant – he was Albany’s City Manager for nearly 30 years. Steve doesn’t remember this but he connected me with a summer internship in 1990 at the City of Albany. I have been hooked on city government ever since. Through another interesting turn of events, when I arrived I at the City of Tualatin, one of the first people I met was the Community Development intern who happened to be Steve’s son — Ben Bryant. He is now a Management Analyst on my staff.
I landed my first planning job out of college at the City of Roseburg, Oregon. After two years, we were on the hunt for an opportunity to live out of state and attend graduate school. I landed a planning position at the City of Boulder, Colorado where I worked for six years. After obtaining my Master’s degree and working for another year, it was time to return to Oregon.
In 1999, I became the Planning Director in Milwaukie, Oregon. Metro’s COO Martha Bennett hired me when she was Asst. City Manager in Milwaukie. I later learned that she had a connection to Steve Bryant. He had been her boss in Albany – where she was Assistant to the City Manager. After Martha moved on to the Columbia River Gorge Commission, I took her position in Milwaukie as Director of Community Development and Public Works overseeing 45 employees in Engineering, Building, Planning, Public Works Operations, Economic Development and Fleet/Facilities.
In 2004, I became a new parent to two great kids and decided to leave Milwaukie for a position that would give me more time and flexibility. I worked as a Planning and Development consultant at David Evans and Associates for 18 months before concluding that I love local government. City Manager Erik Kvarsten had opened a new position in Gresham called Executive Manager. With a need to jump-start and refocus the organization on growth and development in 2006, the time was right for me to make the move to Gresham. While in Gresham I worked on a variety of issues and projects in the City Manager’s office, leading department head meetings and managing the City Recorder’s office. Later, Erik tapped me to lead the urban renewal agency.
Sherilyn Lombos offered me the Community Development Director position in Tualatin in 2011. I was excited about this opportunity because Tualatin was in the midst of a major transition. Several long-time department heads were retiring and the community was transforming from a period of rapid growth to a more settled place – where citizens were aspiring to be more engaged in the City government. After the retirement of a long-time Engineering Director, my portfolio expanded to include Engineering, Building, Planning, Economic Development and Urban Renewal.
After two years on the job in February of this year, Sherilyn changed my title to Assistant City Manager to better reflect my role in the organization. I love my job. I am blessed to work with an amazing staff, great department head colleagues and the most positive City Manager in the business.
Your first local government job.
I started my career at the City of Roseburg, Oregon as an assistant planner. I reviewed land use applications, building permits and was a reluctant code enforcement coordinator. One of my most puzzling cases involved one of the hoarders in town. The homeowner was a ninety-pound elderly woman who came to visit me in City Hall every time she received an enforcement letter. It took her 15 minutes to travel the short distance from the parking lot to my office with her walker. I never understood how she was able to stack so many mounds of heavy garbage in her front yard. Her house was clearly an eyesore and a blight to the neighborhood but I was convinced she had special, super-human powers.
Roseburg is in a beautiful setting and was the perfect place to begin my career.
Since you probably didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming an assistant city manager, tell us what you dreamt of becoming as a kid.
I love to write. I had my sights on a career in journalism. I didn’t want to write heavy investigative, “gotcha” pieces. I wanted to write feature articles about interesting people. Deep-down, I probably wish to be a novelist or short-story writer.
Tell us about three projects that you are currently working on.
Downtown Tualatin Redevelopment – My team is assisting a private developer who aims to bring life to a 32 acre site with a dead, former-Kmart on the east end of downtown Tualatin. The development will include a Cabella’s store, a specialty grocer, several restaurants, a health club and Tualatin River amenities.
Southwest Corridor – Many Tualatin residents and business leaders are passionate about transit. Transit service in this corner of the region is very poor. Many Tualatin employers tell us that their biggest barrier to hiring and retaining employees is the lack of good transit service and congested roads. Metro, in partnership with TriMet and ODOT, is developing options to improve transit service between downtown Tualatin and Sherwood. Tualatin is an enthusiastic participant and is seeking solutions even before the project is complete. The Tualatin Chamber recently received a sizable grant from Metro to expand its employee shuttle program.
OCCMA Board member and Next Generation Committee Chair — I am in my second year on the OCCMA Board. I also serve as a Chair of the Next Generation Committee. ELGL has become such an important resource to newer professionals. On July 18, ELGL is hosting a lunch forum with International City Manager’s Association (ICMA) President Bonnie Svrcek. I am currently working with the new ICMA-PSU Chapter and the OCCMA Board to co-host a reception for President Svrcek when she visits the Portland area. More details will be available soon. It has been a pleasure getting to know the leaders in the PSU ICMA Chapter.
(Complete the sentence) Before I die I want to…..
…accompany both of my kids on one of their “before I die” adventures. They both like to try new things and love to travel so it is certain to be a cool adventure. As for me, I would like to spend more time in South America, visiting the Andes and Patagonia.
So, give us some advice if we ever encounter you on an interview panel. What are two or three skills/traits that you are looking for?
I love to encounter candidates who are genuinely interested in the job. They come prepared with information about themselves that is tailored for the position. Good candidates offer a spark of enthusiasm and genuine qualities that allow you to see who they really are. I love it when I come away from an interview learning something new or encountering someone who is excited about making a difference in the organization.
The best candidates are those that ask questions of the panelists at the end of an interview. During nerve-racking interviews, most candidates forget that people love to talk about themselves. If the panel is spending the day listening to candidates, it is always a refreshing change to be asked a few questions about the organization or work environment.
The Commodores at the Memorial Coliseum in the early 80s. There is nothing better than dancing to “Brick House” and my other Lionel Richie faves “All Night Long” and “Dancing on the Ceiling!”
ELGL is hosting its inaugural conference in October, give us three ideas for speakers or topics.
I would be interested in learning more about emerging trends in public involvement. This area is always evolving. The challenge: How to engage busy people who would if they could.
It would be fascinating to hear a panel of emerging leaders speak about government revenue reform. The most creative ideas out there are coming from those who have a fresher perspective. Speakers like Eric Chambers at the City of Gresham or Seth Reeser at the City of Portland would be excellent. You might include some folks in smaller organizations too. Justin Cutler in Seaside, Scott Pingel in Dayton and Jacque Betz in Florence may have some creative ideas.
It would be refreshing to a speaker or panel talk about things that give them inspiration outside of work and how that adds meaning during the work day.
Finally, would you encourage your children to consider local government as a career.
Yes, if they feel called to this work. They both seem wired for a service-oriented career. My advice to them is to find a workplace that is rich with fun experiences and stories. Stories are the spice of life.