This is the latest post in our series about growing up with a parent who is also a City Manager. For each installment we 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 Will Norris the Special Projects Officer for the Long Beach, CA Police Department.
Will Norris (LinkedIn and Twitter) is a Special Projects Officer with the City of Long Beach, CA. He has completed rotations in the City Manager’s Office, Gas & Oil Department, Finance Department and Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine. Will holds undergraduate degrees in Finance and Public Administration from the University of Oregon. Between college and graduate school, Will completed a term of national service in AmeriCorps and interned in the Oregon Governor’s office during the 2010 special legislative session.
Will earned his MBA at Willamette University’s Atkinson Graduate School of Management, one of two MBA programs in the US to be dually accredited for both Business and Public Administration. During his graduate studies, Will completed a 10-year financial plan with proposed rate increases for The Dalles Water Department. He also supported the State of Oregon’s planning and response to the end of federal forest payments to counties as part of Oregon’s Office of the Chief Operating Officer. At Willamette University, Will founded the Atkinson Public Administration Association. This group introduces Careers in Public Service to fellow MBA students.
Linda Norris is the City of Salem (OR) City Manager, appointed in June 2008. Her public career began in Colorado and took her to the City of Eugene in 1988 where she worked as a department director and assistant city manager. She worked for an international semiconductor manufacturer and in owned a business before being hired by Salem in 2004. She has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Colorado State University and completed course work for an executive master’s degree in public administration from the University of Colorado at Denver before moving to Oregon.
Q & A with Will
What was it like growing up with a mom who was a city manager? Was there anything you liked, anything you could have done without?
I do not remember too many perks associated with my mom’s job. No fire engine rides or parades like a few others have mentioned (I’ll need to follow up with her now on why that was). The best part was just growing up around other local government folks. The field attracts friendly, interesting, and smart people. That was our circle of friends, which was a great environment to grow up in.
The biggest downside was Monday Night Football. One of our family friends (a County exec whose board met on Wednesdays) would watch me on Council nights. This was great for most of the year, except football season when Monday Night Football was non-negotiable. Even though I enjoy Monday Night Football now, as a child, it was torture. The end of a Council meeting meant perhaps an early reprieve from finishing the game.
Did you move around a lot growing up? If so, what was that like?
I was lucky that our family only moved once before I started school. My mom left the City of Greeley, CO to be the Human Resources manager for Eugene. This was not as easy for my sister who was in high school at the time. As soon as she graduated, my sister returned to Colorado for college. I grew up only living in Eugene and Greeley.
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?
Having a parent in city management really did not influence my career choice until late in my college years at the University of Oregon. It has been interesting to read about other children of City Managers who generally say the same thing. There was not any pressure or expectation to enter the field.
Instead, I fell in love with public administration while at the University of Oregon. During my junior year, I decided to try a public administration course (I thought perhaps it could be a minor). It immediately fit. I never knew that I could be as interested or passionate about my coursework. Political science classes had seemed to be all ideas, with no implementation. Business courses were all implementation, but with the primary goal of generating cash. Government administration was the best of both. Government administration covered implementation and took a more complex perspective on what creates wealth in a community (like quality of life).
After two terms, I added Planning, Public Policy, and Management as a second major and have not looked back since.
Did you learn any lessons from their career or experience? If so, what are they?
My takeaway is that all that matters in the long-run is integrity, hard-work, and good judgment. No single mistake or setback is insurmountable, anything can be fixed with help from the right team.
Has your career path been different than your parent’s? How so?
My career path has been completely different, primarily due to opportunities that I had that my mom did not. Particularly in the beginning of my mom’s career, she had to face widespread gender inequities in the workplace. Through an incredible amount of hard work, she moved from a typist position, while putting herself through college, to city manager.
In comparison, I have had every advantage. The option to attend college was given, I could take unpaid internships, and I was fortunate to start in a city management fellowship right after graduate school. This is a huge head start over the opportunities my mom had as a young mother/professional in the 1970s.
Do you have a professional relationship with your parent? Do you exchange work related advice?
My mom is a great resource, but one that I try to use sparingly. She really enjoys her time with family and away from work (what little there is), so I try to keep the shop talk to a minimum.
Also, I think she would like me to learn for myself, as she did, instead of being given the answers to the test.
What does your parent think of you following in their footsteps? Did they think it was a terrible idea or were they supportive?
I have been lucky to have a parent who supports whatever I am interested in. I’m pretty sure I could have majored in interpretive dance and my mom would have loved attending the recitals. She is happy that I have a job I am passionate about and provides a good/stable living.
How do you describe your parent’s job to friends? ‘City manager’ has to be one of the most confusing jobs to explain to non-government folks.
While in business school, I explained that the city manager is the CEO of city government. The council is the Board of Directors, the mayor is the Chairman of the Board, and the public is the shareholders. Department heads are like product-line vice-presidents.
I’m not sure I kept my fellow students’ attention for the whole explanation. Maybe I should have stuck with, “she tells people what to do.”
Would you encourage your children to pursue a career in local government?
I am going to take the same tact as my mom. There are a lot of ways to contribute positively outside of local government. Whatever my kids are passionate about is what I want them to do, even if it ends up being interpretive dance.