Woo Pig Sooie! The ELGL Fifty Nifty has landed in Arkansas to hear from Jeff Dingman, Fort Smith deputy city administrator. Our immediate thoughts before arriving in Arkansas: Bill Clinton, Walmart, Nolan Richardson, calling of the hogs, and incredible food. A more thorough review of Arkansas and its history provides better insight into what makes Arkansas tick.
Arkansas is the 29th most extensive and the 32nd most populous of the 50 United States. The capital and most populous city is Little Rock, located in the central portion of the state. Six Fortune 500 companies are based in Arkansas, including the world’s #1 retailer, Walmart.
Little Rock has been Arkansas’s capital city since 1821 when it replaced Arkansas Post as the capitol of the Territory of Arkansas. The state capitol was moved to Hot Springs and later Washington during the Civil War when the Union armies threatened the city in 1862, and state government did not return to Little Rock until after the war ended. The Fayetteville–Springdale–Rogers Metropolitan Area is the second-largest metropolitan area in Arkansas, growing at the fastest rate due to the influx of businesses and the growth of the University of Arkansas and Walmart. The state has eight cities with populations above 50,000 (based on 2010 census).
- It’s strictly prohibited to pronounce “Arkansas” incorrectly
- Alligators may not be kept in bathtubs.
- Honking one’s car horn at a sandwich shop after 9 PM is against the law.
- Dogs may not bark after 6 PM.
- Flirtation between men and women on the streets of Little Rock may result in a 30-day jail term
Current Position: Deputy City Administrator
Prior Experience: City Administrator, City of Baldwin City, KS, Assistant County Administrator, Sebastian County, AR, Administrative Aide to the City Manager, City of University Park, TX, and Management Intern, City of Bonner Springs, KS
Education: Baker University, BA, History & Political Science, University of Kansas School of Law, JD, Law, and University of Kansas, MPA, Public Administration
The City of Fort Smith with a population of 86,209 is the hub of a diverse economy, a rich history, and a promising future. Home to Arkansas’ oldest symphony orchestra and the state’s oldest continuously-running volunteer little theatre, Fort Smith is also steeped in Old West lore, from books and films like True Grit to some colorful real-world characters like Belle Starr, Judge Isaac C. Parker, U.S. Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves, and the Founder of the U.S. Army Rangers, General William O. Darby. The U.S. Army established Fort Smith as a military outpost in 1817. Incorporated on December 24, 1842, the city still boasts an active military presence, with the Fort Chaffee Maneuver Training Center, operated by the Arkansas National Guard, and the 188th Fighter Wing, Arkansas Air National Guard. Forbes magazine recently named Fort Smith as the number one city in America for cost of living. The publication also highlighted Fort Smith for its highest-paying tech jobs in the nation.
Famous figures connected with Fort Smith:
- Priest Holmes
- Marty Stouffer, creator of the famous Wild America TV series.
- Zachary Taylor (1841-1844), President of the United States, Military Commander at Ft. Smith
- William O. Darby (1911–1945), heroic World War II general.
Best piece of advice from your parents.
The Golden Rule: Treat people they way you want to be treated.
In a dream world, which bands would headline your retirement party.
Willie Nelson and Matchbox 20
- The Greatest Generation,
- Johnny Tremain (it got me interested in history at a young age), and
- The Bible
If you could Facetime with five people (dead or alive and not including family members), who would be on the list?
- Steven Spielberg,
- Steve Wozniak,
- Benjamin Franklin,
- Henry Ford, and
- Lou Gehrig.
Describe the inside of your car: Clean, until the kids get in.
(Complete the sentence) Before I die I want to……Visit Europe
What’s the meaning of life? I’m not that deep of a thinker.
Jeff is a credentialed ICMA city manager and holds a law degree and MPA from the University of Kansas. Jeff has spent his career in Kansas and Arkansas in various local government positions. Ron Holifield, Strategic Government Resources (SGR), is the ELGL member who connected ELGL with Jeff. Thanks Ron!
Give us three bullet points that best describe local government in Arkansas.
We’ll assume you didn’t grow up dreaming about a career in local government. What was your dream job as a 12-year old? What was your first local government job? How did you end up in local government?
As a 12-year old I was going to be a Kansas City Royal. As a high schooler, I was going to be a lawyer. As a junior/senior in college, applying to law schools, I checked the box that indicated my interest in a joint-degree (JD/MPA) program due to my interest in both law and political science/government. During the course of graduate/law school, the local government administration focus really piqued my interests more than my original idea of becoming an attorney, and realized the complementary values of both courses of study. I enjoyed the focus on city management and local government, andgot my first job
Give us your top three career accomplishments.
- Downtown revitalization efforts in the small town in which I was serving as administrator. It was a community effort, and was fun to be a part of.
- Successful campaigns for sales tax initiatives to support capital projects on a couple of occasions, and seeing those needed projects come to fruition.
- Participating in and achieving ICMA Credentialed Manager designation
We often learn from our mistakes. Name one or two career mistakes that you have made that you think we could learn from.
Don’t take too much credit. I’ve realized that accomplishing the objective is its own reward. The elected officials want and deserve the credit, so let them have it. They, along with peers, co-workers, family and friends usually recognize your efforts.
Don’t think your direction can’t or shouldn’t be changed. We often are tasked with finding a way to accomplish objectives when the path is not very well defined. We settle on a direction and set out to do it. Don’t be afraid to alter the plan along the way. Seek and listen to input, tweak as necessary, do the best you can with what you’ve got, and don’t sweat it.
Our experience has been many of our friends, family, and neighbors are not well versed in what it is we do in local government, many think we are a “planner” or “mayor.” Has this been your experience? How can local governments better communicate their role in the everyday lives of the community?
It is often difficult to relate the job to “outsiders”. It is both a good thing and a bad thing when people always think you will know the answer to a question or hold the solution to an issue. The hardest part I’ve found is that people often think that changing policy or approaches to problems can always be an immediate fix. They don’t realize that such change usually requires a process of seeking buy-in from any number of other individuals or groups, and that takes time.
Would you encourage your family and friends to consider a career in local government?
Sure. It’s been rewarding for me, and it fits my interests and personality. In that vein, I have some family and friends that would be good at it, while it wouldn’t work for others quite as well.
Hypothetically, if we find ourselves interviewing for a job in front of you, talk about three steps we can take to make a good impression.
When people reach the point of fact to face interviews, they have survived initial review of education & experience factors. At that point as a potential employer, I’m much more interested in personality, conversation, and determining if a person’s personality will be a good fit with the workplace and the team already in place. Technical proficiency can be taught/learned, while fitting in and being productive as part of a team will prove just as important, if not more so , than technical skill. Be open and conversant when answering questions. Be engaging, provide more than one or two word answers to questions, and ask questions yourself along the way. In my opinion, a conversation is much more telling for both parties than a traditional “interview”.
Mentoring is such an important part of local government. Name three of your mentors.
- Bob Livingston, City Manager of University Park, Texas. Bob hired me as an intern, and he and his wife have kept up with me ever since. He has mentored several interns like me, and makes a point to catch up from time to time. He always takes a personal interest in our professional and personal lives.
- Craig Weinaug, County Administrator of Douglas County, Kansas. Craig is a long-time administrator, and while I was working for a city in the same county, he offered advice and encouragement on several occasions.
- Ray Gosack, City Administrator in Fort Smith, Arkansas. In working with Ray the past two years, I respect his ability to attack issues from an academic perspective. Ray is good at relating to people as an instructor/educator, in order to explain issues or technicalities in a way that can be widely and easily understood.
(Complete the sentence) In 2018, local government will be …………still struggling to provide the services and amenities citizens desire while at the same time reducing taxes and overall cost of living.
What question(s) should we have asked you?
What is the toughest part about relating to a governing body? My answer would be establishing and fostering a relationship of trust. Elected officials, especially when newly elected, are often predisposed to be untrusting of the administrator/manager. It is then your job to show them that your actions are indeed based on best practices, your best experience, maintaining your integrity, and finding the best solution for the community as a whole even when some members of the community may disagree. Once a manager establishes credibility with the governing body, the discussion can more quickly get to the merits of issues instead of focusing on perceived motivations.
- Dingman resigning, accepting position in Fort Smith, Ark.
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