IL: Patrick Rollens, Village of Oak Park, Communications and Social Media

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 Illinois

Our quick name association game with Illinois yielded: Bartman, “Vote Early and Often”, Devil in the White City, Michael Jordan, Oprah, and the Chicago Carnage (ok, maybe not the last one). We believe this to be a pretty thorough list of everything we need to know about Illinois. However, just to make sure, we have enlisted Patrick Rollens, Village of Oak Park, Communications and Social Media. Patrick is a former Chicago Tribune staffer who came to our attention through Bridget Doyle, Midwest ELGL coordinator.

Patrick describes his current position as,

 I work at the intersection of social media, news, crowdsourcing and web publishing. My job is to serve people who want up-to-the-minute coverage of their community — whether that’s a city, a school district or a neighborhood block. Often my role is more focused on facilitating conversation and engagement among readers, rather than just pushing out news updates. It’s all a matter of identifying what readers want on a daily basis.

But enough about Patrick, let’s find out more about the 5th most populous, which is often noted as a microcosm of the entire country.

We start at the top when we look at Illinois’ impact on local, state, and federal government. Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan and Ulysses S. Grant each have roots in the Illinois. Ronald Reagan, really? Yes, Ronald Reagan started his political career in California but is the only U.S President born and raised in Illinois.

While it’s nice to have a four presidents with roots to your state, Illinois also carries a nefarious reputation for political scandals. To refresh your memory, Blago, Jesse Jackson Jr., and George Ryan each stem from Illinois and will not be found on a state Chamber of Commerce brochure anytime soon.

Daley is the name you need to know to understand local politics in Chicago (the largest city in Illinois). Richard J. Daley served 21 years as Mayor of Chicago while Richard M. Daley outlasted his father by serving 22 years as mayor. Richard J. Daley’s two other sons were involved in government. William M. Daley is a former United States Secretary of Commerce and White House Chief of Staff. John P. Daley is a member of the Cook County Board of Commissioners and served in the Illinois State Legislature.

If you love local government Illinois is the state for you. Illinois has more units of local government than any other state—over 8,000 in all. The basic subdivision of Illinois is like almost every other state, the county, and Illinois has 102 of these. About half of these counties, in turn, are divided into townships, which is much the same as many other Midwestern states. Finally, Illinois has a number of cities, villages, and towns commensurate with a state of its size. But these make up only about a quarter of the governmental units. Single-purpose governmental entities make up the rest.

With so many local governments, it’s inevitable that a number of unique/strange/odd laws exist. Here are our favorites:

  • Chicago: It’s illegal to serve liquor to the feeble-minded.
  • Eureka: A man with a moustache may not kiss a woman.
  • Evanston: Bowling is forbidden.
  • Normal: It is against the law to make faces at dogs.
  • Springfield: “Dwarf-tossing,” is outlawed in bars.
  • Zion: It is illegal for anyone to give lighted cigars to dogs, cats, or any other domesticated animals.

Vitals

Patrick Rollens

Patrick Rollens

Village of Oak Park, Communications and Social Media

Previous: Digital producer, Chicago Tribune Media Group and Freelance Editor, Fantasy Flight Games

Awards: First Place, Use of Social Media, National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors and Best Website Redesign Society for News Design

Education: University of Missouri-Columbia, Bachelor of Journalism

Connect: LinkedIn and Twitter

Background Check on Oak Park

Connect: Facebook, PinterestTwitter, World Wide Web, YouTube

 

Oak Park is the 29th largest municipality in Illinois as measured by population. Oak Park since 1951 has been organized under the council-manager form of municipal government. The village government comprises an elected village board who hires a village manager to conduct the day-to-day affairs of the village administration.

Frank Lloyd Wright spent the first 20 years of his 70-year career in Oak Park, building numerous homes in the community, including his own. He lived and worked in the area between 1889 and 1909.  Other notables from Oak Park include:

  • Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s
  • “Bob” Newhart, comedian and actor (The Bob Newhart Show)
  • Betty White, actress, comedian
  • David Axelrod, political strategist and current White House official
  • Mike Shanahan, head coach for the Los Angeles Raiders Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins; three time Super Bowl winner

Lightning Round

Best piece of advice from your parents.

Be financially responsible! Pay yourself first, even if it’s just a tiny amount. Before I moved out to go to college, my mom showed me the age-yellowed receipt from her very first checking account that she opened when my dad got this first job. It showed the tiny deposit from his paycheck – and the even smaller amount that was immediately set aside for my parents’ nascent savings.

In a dream world, which bands would headline your retirement party?

John Williams, conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, and he’d perform all his best movie scores: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, E.T., Close Encounters, Jurassic Park…I could go on and on.

 

 

(Complete the sentence) Before I die I want to…….write a novel.

Three most influential books in your life.

Watchmen, The Stand, Lord of the Rings trilogy

If you could FaceTime with five people (dead or alive and not including family members), who would be on the list?

  • JRR Tolkien
  • Mary Shelley
  • Neil Armstrong
  • Stephen Hawking
  • Hannibal

Describe the inside of your car.

Way, way tidier and cleaner than any of my friends’ cars. You can find the seat and the seat belt, and if you happen to have a beverage, you can find an empty (!) cupholder for it.

What’s the meaning of life?

Be a good ancestor. Live a life that will be remembered fondly by your family centuries from now.

Q & A with Patrick

Give us three bullet points that best describe local government in your state.

(Disclaimer: none of these describe the state of local government in Oak Park, Illinois. But in aggregate, these points capture local gov across Illinois.)

  • Reputation for corruption – See the latest headlines from the Dixon, Illinois comptroller, who managed to embezzle $54 million from her small town over many years.
  • Lurching toward open gov/transparency – Chicago is leading the way on this front, and other towns are following suit as best they can. Still more are resisting the movement toward open data and transparency.
  • Varying levels of service – Residents of some towns have made it clear they want a high level of service from their local government. Other towns are quite pleased with a barebones government structure that keeps the roads paved and does little else.

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?

My dream job was to be a journalist at a major U.S. newspaper. Thankfully, I was able to live that job – I worked for nearly 4 years at the Chicago Tribune, where I specialized in digital news and helped launch many websites. It was a great job, and it was also the perfect transition point to local government. I now work in the communications department for one of the local governments I used to cover for the Tribune. This is my first local government job.

Give us your top three career accomplishments.

  • Being named TribLocal’s Journalist of the Year in 2009, the first year the award was given.
  • Authoring TribLocal’s entry in the Society of News Design’s annual competition, where we won the award for best redesigned Web site in 2010.

We often learn from our mistakes. Name one or two career mistakes that you have made that you think we could learn from.

I reached a little too high in the early days of my journalism career.  I accepted a job heading up a website and monthly print publication, but quickly found that I wasn’t yet ready for such responsibilities. I was honest with my employer about this deficiency, and luckily I had other opportunities lined up and didn’t miss a beat in my career path. Lesson learned: Don’t rise too far, too fast.

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?

To be honest, I still say that I work “in media,” since most of my daily duties involve managing social media sites, writing press releases and TV scripts, editing photos and designing publications. I don’t craft policy or run citizen commissions. Saying that I work “in media” seems to satisfy friends and family, especially those who knew me as a journalist in my previous career. If anyone follows up, I can then explain my duties at my local government.

How can local governments better communicate their role in the everyday lives of the community?

I’m a big proponent of local government driving the daily conversation on social media. Not just having a presence – actually shaping conversation and treating social media as a two-way street. In my current role, I spend as much time each week listening as I do pushing out content and news links.

Would you encourage your family and friends to consider a career in local government?

Yes, although I have to say I’m glad I came to local gov after a solid stint doing something else. I hope that perspective brings a fresh look to the challenges that will face local gov in the future.

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.

Good question. I’ve had six professional jobs in the last decade, so I’ve had plenty of time to get good at job interviews. (These are the battle scars of a decade spent in the modern journalism biz, which has been struggling to reinvent itself for many years.)

  • First step, be a good conversationalist! The employer wants to know how comfortable you are in conversation. Because, y’know, talking with people is a huge part of most jobs. Know when you’re just chatting with the interviewer, and when you are consciously selling yourself. I’d wager that the average interview is 70% chat, 30% selling yourself. The sum total of this interaction will be what the employer looks at when deciding whether or not to invite you back.
  • Next, think on your feet! If the interviewer mentions that he or she grew up in Kentucky, you must lob that ball back at him with some relevant tidbit. (Ex: “You know, I visited Mammoth Cave when I was a kid and I still have great memories about driving through the hills of Kentuck.”) This is Basic Conversation 101 but you’d be surprised how many people are still wooden.
  • Don’t assume there will be a second interview! The last three jobs I’ve had have all been one-interview affairs. Be sure to ask all relevant questions, even about salary. This might be your last chance to look the interviewer in the eye and ask important questions face-to-face.

Mentoring is such an important part of local government. Name three of your mentors.

Nancy MunsonNancy Munson – She was my editor at the Chicago Tribune, and shortly after I transitioned to local government, she entered the industry as well. I’ve always been able to count on her advice, first in journalism and now in our new career in government.

David Powers – He is my current boss at the Village of Oak Park. As an old-school journalist, Dave made me feel comfortable transitioning careers from journalism to local government. I couldn’t have asked for a better person to introduce me to this new field.

I’ll have to get back to you on that third person, as I’m really quite new to local government (15 months and counting…) and will doubtless meet many more helpful folks over the course of my career.

(Complete the sentence) In 2018, local government will be ……

Almost entirely digital! Elected officials will receive agendas packets on ipads and tablets. Municipal departments will release raw datasets on the internet for local developers to use in apps and third-party websites. Microsoft Word will be a relic of the past. PDFs will be as quaint as faxes are today. Photocopiers will sit, dusty and forgotten, in the corner of the mailroom.

What question(s) should we have asked you?

If you transitioned to local government from a previous career, how did that career help prepare you for local government?

I’ve got lots to say about this topic, since several of my friends have transitioned to local gov from previous careers. In fact, virtually no one in my age group who works for local gov actually got a degree in public administration or urban planning or a related field. We all found our way here from other industries and careers, and we’re doing fine! It’s my hope that we “transplants” will be able to drive change in local government in coming years.

Supplemental Reading

 

 50 Nifty Project Profiles