Who doesn’t love a good ol’ fashioned performance reivew? ELGL loves them so much that we’re embarking on a “360 Review of Local Government.” We’re going to evaulate every single inch of the local government arena by talking to ourselves (a.k.a: other local government professionals), tech companies, journalists, professors, and anyone else who hasn’t blocked our email address.
Katie Babits, Veneta, OR management analyst, leads us off in this new series. Katie has local government experience in Oregon and Missouri. She has an MPA from Missouri State University.
Getting to Know Our Evaluator
Best and worst part of working in local government:
I love the direction in which local government is moving. Innovation and fresh ideas are becoming the norm, and now it’s more about how service delivery can be efficient & effective & no longer a position that people have just because of the benefits.
Conversely, there’s still some resistance to change “because this is how we’ve always done it” or “we’re not that type of city/agency.” The adage is true that people fear change, which is unfortunate, because there are amazing new ideas that will truly help one’s constituency, but it requires the people making the decisions to be bold, & at times, adventurous.
- 80’s was……. transformation in the workplace for women’s rights (too serious? OK, slap bracelets).
- 90’s was…… teased bangs as high as the hair spray would hold them.
- 00’s was….. voting, college, independence.
- Last year was….. moving back to Oregon!
- Today is…. the opportunity to do amazing things & hopefully influence some future bright stars in local government.
Your hometown? What is it best known for?
My hometown is Shedd, OR. It is unincorporated, and probably home to about 150 people (so even if it best known for something, it probably isn’t known by many). Needless to say, it is probably the farm I grew up on, which is now a state park: Thompson’s Mills State Heritage Site.
As of right now, I would want alt-J & Milky Chance. If they’re not available, then definitely The Dan Band.
Best holiday gift that you’ve received? Fish tank/herb garden that is a complete eco system. The fish eat from the roots & dirt, the fish poop fertilizes the herbs, & boom, herbs year round.
Given? iPod. Hey, don’t judge, it was 2006 (yep, pre-iPhone days) & an iPod was the most coveted gift a person could receive).
Describe the current state of local government.
Local government is going through a changing of the guard. There are two large groups: (1) those who have been working in the sector for a long time and (2) the new wave who have been in the sector for 10 or fewer years. Among those groups there are two types of thinking – more traditional school of thought and the innovation group. I look up to the innovation group. Those who saw the direction of local government and knew that taking risks was necessary to improve local government. I think of them as trailblazers who have made the more manageable path for the next generation.
Overall, the future is bright for local government. The trailblazers have been successful by taking risks and thinking outside of the box that it is becoming the norm, which will lead to more innovative and a continuing drive to make service delivery as efficient and effective as possible.
Give us three areas in which local government is succeeding.
Planning, transportation, sustainability
Give us three areas in which local government needs improvement.
Educating and encouraging young people to consider a local government path, being open to new ideas, communication
Evaluate local government’s willingness to embrace new technologies.
I almost used technology as a success, but I think it really depends on the organization. There are many advances coming out of the technology world that can benefit local government, and most involved in local government would like to implement as much as they can. The challenge across the sector is it’s difficult for public entities to compete in pay with the private sector in the technology field. The key is to attract professionals who are interested in both – government and technology.
Even after attracting a talented workforce, there becomes the issue of funding new technology initiatives. Some local government staff attack the issue by going out on their own to start companies that provide new technologies to local government.
It is a slow path, but the willingness to embrace is increasing because of these trends and the answer is leading away from “we don’t have the money” and leading toward an environment where people are finding ways to bring the technology to local government.
For local government, was there any good that came from the Great Recession?
Yes. The Great Recession created a sense of community. It leads back to the previous statement about new technologies. The Great Recession forced people to find alternatives to achieving effective and efficient service delivery. Collaboration efforts were spawned and entities found methods that benefit their constituents without spending as much money. Now these entities can continue using the cost effective methods, like MuniRent, and are able to free up funding as income increases. And really, isn’t the sense of community something we are striving to bring back?
Evaluate whether local government is prepared for the ongoing wave of retirements.
When I was in graduate school I was told that finding a job in local government would be a cake walk because everyone would be retiring. That was not the case. Baby boomers are waiting longer to retire, and I think this will benefit the sector. Millennials are more interested in local government, especially in planning, development, and transportation. The longer it takes someone to retire, the more time they have to cultivate and mentor new employees. Once the retirement wave finally occurs, there will be a highly educated, eager, & trained workforce to move into their positions.
Wave a magic wand – what three wishes would you grant local government?
Not to toot your horn, but ELGL supports a demographic not originally served. People in local government are passionate about what they do; however, if you are in an organization where you are not surrounded by others with the same passion, it’s easy to become discourage. It is imperative for the people who will be replacing the retirees to have a cohort of likeminded people to support and cultivate one another.
Give a brief evaluation of your state government and the Federal government.
State and federal government face similar challenges as local, but I think their challenges are greater because it is harder to change things the higher the level of government. Changes are coming from local government which is often the trailblazer for state and federal change – either through people transitioning from local to state or federal, or when state & federal sees the change in local government and understands that they can no longer sustain “the way things have always been.”
What question(s) should we have asked?
If you could start a non-profit to assist local government, what would it be & why?