After college graduation, I was attending a community college fire-academy, working to begin a career as a first responder—something I had always wanted to do. The academy training was on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but I needed to make money on my days off. As a recent graduate with a bachelor’s degree in political science, I figured I could fill a role within our town’s local government (a field I had never thought of or had any idea about).
The city manager immediately put me to work as an intern, assisting her with special projects. The city I worked in was relatively small (pop. 6,500), but she had previously managed a city of more than 50,000. She had years of experience and a great passion for the role of the professional city manager. I thoroughly enjoyed showing up to work at city hall. The manager gave me more and more responsibility and my relationship with local government administration started to grow. I became very involved in the position and the career field.
I started to find out all I could about city managers, how they operated, what they did to get there, how cities were organized, and what education was needed to fill the role. I joined ICMA and investigated what MPA programs were around. About once a month, the city manager and I met after work to continue my informal education in the career. Master’s degrees can teach you a lot, but getting to pick the brain of an experienced public administrator is a rare opportunity. We discussed various parts of the job, the beginnings of her career, and how most managers get to the chief administrative position. I learned how to navigate situations that she had faced in the past. She gave me several PowerPoint slides and sheets of paper with information that she had referenced throughout her career. She was never too busy for a question and would stop whatever she was doing to thoroughly explain what was happening—although, there wasn’t always an explanation.
She valued the “learn as you go” methodology. Projects that I had no idea how to start—let alone complete—would be given to me without much background information. At the time I thought it was a weird way to delegate tasks, but quickly learned that this was what I needed. This type of experience forced me to get creative, communicate with departments, find subject matter experts, and figure things out for myself. It was a huge confidence booster and a great way to learn.
I owe my passion for local government management to City Manager Judy Gilleland and the group of ladies I worked with in Germantown, Ohio, for my first year in city government. I recently worked under another female city administrator and have just as much admiration for the daily efforts she makes to help the residents of her town. I hope that I can be half the manager these women continue to be and I hope they know the impact they have made on me.
CODY BREM is a consultant with Matrix Consulting Group.