What was your local government moment? What keeps you in local government? Who have been the influences in your career? We take a deep dive into these questions by asking you (the practitioner) to tell your local government story. You can sign up to participate in the bi-monthly feature at Finding Local Government. Thanks to Matt Wojnowski, City of Altus, OK, for developing and coordinating the feature.
By Randall Heye, Director of Economic Development, Town of Sunnyvale, TX
I came to the decision that local government was the broad career path I wanted to follow while working for a United States Senator. As a Staff Assistant, only the next position up from an intern, I communicated with constituents on a daily basis about a variety of issues. Those issues of concern were typically about the Senator’s policy positions, federal programs, and federal benefits.
However, far too often I would also hear from constituents conveying their frustration about their respective city’s core services. “I drove through a pothole and I want my tax dollars to fix it!” “My trash wasn’t picked up yesterday and now the animals have gotten into it. I expect the someone from the Senator’s office to come down here and clean it up!”
In return I would politely explain the concept of federalism and clarify that many of their requests were outside of the Senator’s jurisdiction. Only then did I begin to understand former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil’s adage that, “All politics is local.”
After coming to this realization, I decided to enroll in graduate school and pursue a degree in city planning. After all, who doesn’t love SimCity 2000? I also decided it would be wise to start gaining professional experience in the field versus continuing to work for an elected official.
So I told my frequent callers at the Senator’s office goodbye and accepted a planner position with the North Central Texas Council of Governments. The North Central Texas Council of Governments was established to assist local governments in planning for common needs, cooperating for mutual benefit, and coordinating for sound regional development.
Working for the council of governments also had many benefits and provided many unique opportunities that I am grateful for today. There I was exposed to the role of city management from the unique perspective of both a graduate student and a working professional.
In the classroom I learned from adjunct faculty and guest lecturers of the complex details involved with managing a city at the micro level. While professionally I worked in coordination with these same individuals on issues affecting their municipalities at a more macro level such as regional passenger rail, transportation finance, and metropolitan planning.
I then had my second epiphany. As much as I enjoyed long-range planning, I didn’t want to find myself as a city planner counting plants on a site plan after graduation for the rest of my career. Hyperbole? Maybe. Instead, I liked the idea of coordinating several moving pieces to achieve an objective for the public good.
I thought of my experiences learning from and working with City Managers. After speaking with several, their recommendation was to pursue a graduate degree in public administration and begin working for a municipality as soon as possible.
Heeding their advice, I finished the degree in planning, finished a second degree in public administration, and ultimately found myself working in a City Manager’s Office on Economic Development. Today I am working for my second municipality, and oversee both our economic development department and parks department.
I hope to continue to align myself professionally and develop a strong skill set that will lead to an Assistant City Manager position when the time is right. From these formative experiences over the last ten years, my passion for local government and ambition for the city management profession have grown exponentially.
Without John Q. Public’s phone call to the Senator’s office about their neighbor’s high grass, I may never have found city management and local government.
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