Life as a City Manager’s Child with Sean Pederson, City of Canton, SD

This is the latest post in a new series about growing up with a parent who is also a City Manager. We will interview a current local government professional who followed their mother or father’s footsteps into public service. You can check out past installments here: Growing Up in City Hall. Today, we hear from Sean Pederson the City Manager of Canton, South Dakota.


Sean Pederson

sean pederson

Bonner Springs, KS – City Manager

Connect: LinkedIn

Background Check

imagesELGL encountered Sean during the 50 Nifty Project. Sean started his local government career as the interim city manager in Yankton, SD. Before landing in Canton, Sean worked for Sen. Tim Johnson and City of Hamilton (OH) Economic Development Coordinator. Previously, Sean was the Canton (SD) city manager. He currently serves as the city manager in Bonner Springs, KS.

Jeff Pederson started as the City of Paducah, Kentucky city manager in 2010.

Pederson brings more than three decades of experience in city government to Paducah including three years as the City Administrator of Grand Island, Nebraska, two years as the City Manager of Dodge City, Kansas, and 13 years as the City Manager of Vermillion, South Dakota.

Pederson holds a Master of Public Administration from the University of South Dakota.  He received the ICMA (International City/County Management Association) 30-year service award in 2013.  Pederson served as the President of the South Dakota City Management Association in 2001 and 2002.  He also served as the President of the Great Open Spaces City Management Association in 1997 and 1998.

Q & A

What was it like growing up with a parent who was a city manager?  Was there anything you liked, anything you could have done without?

images (1)I have to assume that when growing up you are somewhat oblivious to your parent’s jobs. That being said, I grew up with relatively quick access to my Dad at City Hall, grew up around fire trucks (City Hall and Fire Station were combined), and in between Monday Night Football I was able to see my Dad on TV! All in all, my childhood was pretty neat due in part to my Dads choice of profession.

Did you move around a lot growing up? If so, what was that like?

My Dad’s career path took him and my family to Vermillion, South Dakota when I was about 3 years old. Although my Dad did have opportunities to “move up” the proverbial ladder to different / larger communities, he ultimately chose to not uproot the family and stayed in Vermillion.

My Dad’s decision to stay in a community for 13 years (which I believe is still the longest tenure for City Manager in South Dakota) was a decision that I believe characterizes him and the overall profession of City Management – more often than not, we do things for the betterment of others, rather than ourselves.

How did having a parent who is a city manager influence your career choice?  Was there pressure to follow in their footsteps? When did you become interested in pursuing this career path? 

For me, college was about finding out what I really wanted to do with my life. I was never “pushed” into a particular field or profession. Albeit, I think I was also able to convince my folks I knew what I was doing. While attending the University of Kansas, I ultimately decided to pursue areas that I truly had a passion – political science and history. While looking through what Political Science courses I was going to take my junior year I came across a few courses in a new undergraduate field – Public Administration.

The choice to take Intro to Public Administration was really the “straw that broke the camel’s back” in regards to my career plans.

While taking the course, two factors truly influenced my pursuit into City Management:

  • My professor Marilu Goodyear – She truly brought the importance and impact of local government to light
  • The camaraderie the subject matter sparked between me and my Dad.

Following the completion of the course, I knew I wanted to follow in my Dad’s footsteps and complete my MPA. Ultimately, I was admitted to my Dad’s Alma Mater – the University of South Dakota!

Has your career path been different than your parent’s? How so?

At the time of starting graduate school, I was unmarried and had no children. Contrast this to my Dad, who at the same life milestone and age, was married to my Mom and raising my older brother and sister. To support our family, he was working in City Manager roles (Hawarden, IA & Eagle Grove, IA) while still completing his MPA. Needless to say, my ability to take on job opportunities was a bit different.

sen tim johnsonWhile finishing my MPA, I was able to pick up and move to Washington DC to work for Sen. Tim Johnson. However, I knew I wanted to get back to the local level, and, on my Dad’s guidance, pursued opportunities in economic development. I accepted a position in an organization that was undergoing a renaissance of sorts when I signed up to work under the City Manager of Hamilton, OH in the Economic Development Department.

At 26 years old, I was able to transition to being a City Manager in my home state of South Dakota. Although a slightly different path, in the end, we both started our management careers at a relatively young age.

Do you have a professional relationship with your parent? Do you exchange work related advice?

Absolutely. Having a person to bounce things off of one call away is a great benefit. With his 30+ years of experience, there is not much that he hasn’t had to deal with at some level. I also think that my career choice has reinvigorated his passion in public management. We work through things together, and I believe having that kind of bond is something we both deeply value.

What does your parent think of you following in their footsteps? Did they think it was a terrible idea or were they supportive?

Both of my parents have been supportive of my decision to pursue City Management. I do recall when telling my Dad that I planned to pursue my MPA he said, “Well, you can never say I pushed you to do that.” In the end, my ability to succeed thus far in my career has been heavily influenced by both my parents and their willingness to help me along the way.

What advice can you give to kids whose parent is a city manager?

My advice would be to embrace it. The fact of the matter is that as a City Manager, your parent oversees several different jobs – police, utilities, planning, HR, finance, etc. – which can give you a glimpse into things you may have an interest. Also, to echo what Kent said, don’t get arrested.

Would you encourage your children to pursue a career in local government?

I intend to let my kids determine their own path. If in the end (like what happened to me) they find that City Management is what they want to do, I hope that I can be as great of a mentor as my Dad has been to me.

Supplemental Reading

SD: Sean Pederson, City of Canton, City Manager

The Q&A – Paducah’s New City Manager Jeff Pederson

Land bank’s success helping city’s redevelopment efforts

City to hire Jeff Pederson

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