Fifty Nifty Takeaways
What do we hope to learn from this series? We hope you will gain a better understanding of the unique characteristics of local government in each state, we hope you will learn that there are others like you who are motivated to make a difference through the public sector, and we hope you will learn that it is best to learn from other’s mistakes than yours.
Our Take on Kentucky
This is ELGL’s first stop in a Commonwealth.Kentucky is one of four U.S. states to officially use the term commonwealth. Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia are the other three commonwealths. Interestingly, the Commonwealth of Kentucky was once part of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
When ELGL thinks Kentucky, we think of Happy Chandler belting out “My Old Kentucky Home.”
Brings a tear to our eye every time. What else is great about Kentucky? For starters, basketball, bourbon, horses, and Kentucky Fried Chicken are all part of pop culture.
On the government side, Kentucky stirs up notions of the Paul Brothers (Rand and Ron) and Abraham Lincoln (born in Hodgenville). That’s right about as opposite as you can get.
Kentucky is one of only five states that elects its state officials in odd-numbered years (the others being Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia). Kentucky holds elections for these offices every 4 years in the years preceding Presidential election years. Thus, Kentucky held gubernatorial elections in 2003, 2007, and 2011.
Kentucky is subdivided into 120 counties, the largest being Pike County, and the most populous being Jefferson County. Kentucky’s two most populous counties, Jefferson and Fayette, have their governments consolidated with the governments of their largest cities. Louisville-Jefferson County Government (Louisville Metro) and Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government (Lexington Metro) are unique in that their city councils and county fiscal court structures have been merged into a single entity with a single chief executive, the Metro Mayor and Urban County Mayor, respectively.
Kentucky is just like every other state we have visited, it has its share of “unique” laws.
- Danville: Each year, the mayor must appoint “three intelligent housekeepers” to the Board of Tax Supervisors.
- Fort Thomas: Dogs may not molest cars.
- Lexington: it is illegal to carry an ice cream cone in your pocket.
- Lexington: anyone who has been drinking is “sober” until he or she “cannot hold onto the ground.”
- Owensboro: A woman may not buy a hat without her husband’s permission.
Laura Milam Ross
Managing Counsel for Member Legal Services
Kentucky League of Cities
Education: University of Kentucky College of Law, Doctor of Law; Tulane Law School, Summer Study Abroad Program, Siena, Italy, International Art Law, EU Law, International Human Rights Law; and University of Kentucky, Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), Integrated Strategic Communication
Background Check on Kentucky League of Cities
KLC provides cities, leaders and employees with a number of services including legislative advocacy, legal services, community consulting, training and online training, policy development and research, and more. KLC also provides enterprise services such as financing options for cities and the Kentucky League of Cities Insurance Services(KLCIS) insures more municipal clients than any other insurance carrier in Kentucky.
KLC is governed by an 18-member Executive Board of Directors representing communities of all sizes. The 53 members of the KLC Board of Directors develop a legislative agenda every year, provide legislative strategy and review policy issues.
KLC was formed in 1927 when 12 Kentucky cities came together to create a unified front on common legislative issues, and to benefit from economies of scale for purchases. Today, KLC continues to respond to our members’ changing needs.
Best piece of advice from your parents.
My parents were both public school teachers, and I’m a product of KY public schools from kindergarten through law school. They taught me that education is priceless, but is not about the price tag. Success shows itself through limitless curiosity and limited debt.
In a dream world, which bands would headline your retirement party?
I would say Jimmy Buffett if it weren’t such a cliché, so let’s go with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Journey, and Alabama Shakes. And Jimmy Buffett.
(Complete the sentence) Before I die I want to…Travel the world, make the perfect Caesar salad, live up to my potential, and live out the life of my dreams.
Three most influential books in your life.
Only three?! Ok, if I must:
- The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett, (To remind me to grow, and to make things grow)
- A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway, (To remind me to follow my passion and live life to the fullest)
- My Mommy Hung the Moon – Jamie Lee Curtis, (To remind me of the type of mother I want to be)
If you could FaceTime with five people (dead or alive and not including family members), who would be on the list?
- Edith Wharton
- Kristin Wiig
- Ernest Hemingway
- Julia Child, and
- Anthony Bourdain
Describe the inside of your car.
The aftermath of a 12 round fight between Elmo and an absentminded law professor, in which Taco Bell burritos and Diet Cokes were the weapons of choice.
What’s the meaning of life?
To evolve, contribute, and regret only the things you didn’t do, not the things you did.
Give us three bullet points that best describe local government in Kentucky.
- Pleasantly surprising. Many people may not think of Kentucky as a hotbed of progressive local government, but our cities are taking amazing strides: Our local planning and zoning laws are considered some of the best in the nation; communities are capitalizing on the “Buy Local” movement to showcase incredible local products and natural resources; and to dissolve your sterotypes about our culture, just Google “Vicco mayor.”
- Unnecessarily complex. We have 120 counties, 418 cities, and six different classifications of cities that lead to hundreds of conflicting and confusing laws based on arbitrary and outdated factors. KLC’s phenomenal legislative team is working hard to revise the classification system to provide for more uniformity and clarity. This is much needed to help our local officials get down to the business of governing without the distraction of unnecessary legal hang-ups.
- Connected. For a rural state where communities are often somewhat isolated, we have a core group of city officials – growing all the time – that attend every training and conference we offer, call me daily with new questions or solutions they want to run by me, and show up en masse at the state capital during our legislative session to promote city issues. Most of them have full-time jobs, few of them are compensated for the work they do, and yet so many are truly dedicated to improving their communities and the state as a whole. Their enthusiasm and involvement is why I do what I do.
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?
At 12, I still thought I would be an astronaut – I hadn’t yet discovered that I was terrible at math and science. I started out in state government working as a staff attorney for the Kentucky legislature, but my passion was always cities. I went to law school with my boss at KLC, and he sought me out when he was ready to fill my position. To his credit and mine, it’s a perfect fit.
Give us your top three career accomplishments.
- Taking and passing the bar exam while working full time.
- My public speaking evolution – from shaking in my boots in front of a crowd of 3 to lovin’ to rock the mike in front of a crowd of 300
- Every time a city official tells me I gave them the tools or knowledge they needed to do their job better.
We often learn from our mistakes. Name one or two career mistakes that you have made that you think we could learn from.
I once broke up with the law for a while to work for a firm that specialized in lobbying and government relations. This was a mistake – I found myself forced to advocate for issues I didn’t believe in. The experience taught me that you cannot fake passion, nor can you truly be fulfilled in your career without it. I found my passion in cities. It is an amazing feeling to not have to fake it, and to love what I do.
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?
Nobody understands what I do – my standard answer is: “I work for a membership organization that provides a variety of services and products to our member cities to support community innovation, effective leadership and quality governance.” I’m greeted by blank stares and the sound of crickets chirping. At which point I sigh and say, “I help city officials around the state with their legal questions.”
How can local governments better communicate their role in the everyday lives of the community?
Use that wonderful thing called technology and tweet, post, blog, and photograph your way into the lives of your citizens! Have office hours, like any college professor! When you speak at council meetings or in public forums, pretend your audience is your 90-year-old grandmother and your 16-year-old nephew, and make sure both of them would understand and believe what you’re saying.
Would you encourage your family and friends to consider a career in local government?
Absolutely! I truly believe that cities are our future – they are where great minds meet and rally to change the world. Victor Hugo described great cities as “the sinks into which commerce, industry, intelligence, population, all the vital juices, all that is life, all that is soul in a nation filters and collects, drop by drop, century by century.” Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
Hypothetically, if we find ourselves interviewing for a job in front of you, talk about three steps we can take to make a good impress.
One: Please, please proofread. I have thrown out otherwise acceptable applications due solely to poor spelling or grammar.
Two: Do your homework. KLC has a great website, as do most organizations these days. It is very easy to find out about what we do, and to customize your cover letter and prepare for the interview accordingly. If you cannot be bothered to do Steps One and Two, I cannot be bothered to interview you.
Three: In her fascinating book, Lean In, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recounts a story about a woman who contacted her and frankly asked, “What is your biggest problem and how can I solve it?” This resonated deeply with me. Don’t just tell me about your skills; show me how your skills are relevant – or better yet, indispensable – to my department and this organization.
Mentoring is such an important part of local government. Name three of your mentors.
- My boss (but don’t tell him I said so). His true dedication to Kentucky cities combined with his razor sharp legal mind make him an amazing advocate for our communities, and set a standard I’m constantly working towards.
- My sister (but don’t tell her I said so). She juggles a high-stress career and two children with grace and determination. She has offered advice every time I’ve been at a crossroads. Sometimes it was solicited, sometimes not. Sometimes it was taken, sometimes not. But it was always appreciated.
- My coworker, Sarah. I believe wholeheartedly in peer-mentoring. She probably doesn’t realize it, but her fresh take on city issues from a non-lawyer perspective, as well as her honest take on office glitches, have time and again helped me make the right decisions.
(Complete the sentence) In 2018, local government will be ….more critical than ever to the future of our world.
What question(s) should we have asked you?
Why do you do what you do?
Because I truly love it and believe it makes a difference.
What is your life slogan?
Be the woman you were too lazy [scared] [tired] [unfocused] [full of excuses] to be yesterday.
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50 Nifty Project Profiles
- AZ: Gabriel L. Engeland, Town of Gilbert, Assistant to the Town Manager
- SD: Sean Pederson, City of Canton, City Manager
- MI: Clay Pearson, City of Novi, City Manager
- WA/UT: Jon Amundson, City of Richland, WA and City of Orem, UT
- CA, FL, OR: Douglas Ayres, Former City Manager of Inglewood (CA), Melbourne (FL), and Salem (OR)
- California: Brian Angus, Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission, Chief Executive Officer
- Washington/California: Julie Underwood, Shoreline City Manager
- New York: Jay Gsell, Genesee County, County Manager
- Arkansas: Jeff Dingman, Fort Smith Deputy City Administrator
- Connecticut: Roger Kemp, Former City Manager and Current President, Kemp Consulting
- Iowa: Geoff Fruin, City of Iowa City, Assistant to the City Manager
- Washington: Doug Schulze, Bainbridge Island City Manager and WCMA President
- Utah: Rick Davis, West Jordan City Manager
- South Carolina: Katherine Hendricks, City of Pickens
- Colorado: Tim Gagen, Breckenridge Town Manager