360 Review with Dave Kanner, City of Ashland, OR

Posted on January 28, 2015

ELGL green icon


Who doesn’t love a good ol’ fashioned performance review? ELGL loves them so much that we’re embarking on a “360 Review of Local Government.” We’re going to evaluate 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.

City Administrator Dave Kanner began work at the City of Ashland in February 2012. Dave served as the county administrator in Deschutes County from 2006-2011, deputy county administrator in Jackson County from 2000-2006, assistant to the city manager in Wilsonville from 1992-2000 and briefly as senior public affairs specialist for Metro.  He has also held several management-level position in private sector broadcasting and public relations.  He has an undergraduate degree in communications from Carnegie-Mellon University and did his graduate work in public administration at Portland State University.



What I’m Reading: The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

What I’m Watching: I don’t watch TV except for sports.  My wife likes Modern Family and I occasionally watch it with her.

What I’m Doing: Besides answering this survey?  I work too much.  I’m trying to get settled in a new house.

What I’m Proud of: My children have grown up to be wonderful, loving, generous adults.

What I’m Listening to: What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World by the Decemberists

What I’m Thinking:  What’s for dinner tonight?  Can there ever be lasting peace in the Middle East?

What I’m Afraid of:  Not achieving all of the things I’d like to achieve in life, most of which have little to do with work.

What I Want to Know From You:  If a prune tree needs pruning, does a plum tree need plumbing?



giphy (1)

Best part of working in the local government arena. Most frustrating?

The best part is just knowing that the work makes a difference in the community and positively impacts people’s day-to-day lives.  I love stepping back after a project is done and enjoying the incredible sense of accomplishment.

The most frustrating part is the speed at which we frequently move.  That’s often an unfortunate necessity in public life.  Americans like to rant and rail about “efficiency” in the public sector, but we cherish “due process” above all else.  If we’re going to have due process, it’s going to slow things down.  Endless hearings and appeals are not an “efficient” way of doing business, but that’s how we do (and must do) things.  People might complain about inefficiency, but they in truth wouldn’t have it any other way.

Describe the current state of local government. Grade?

I can’t speak for local government, only for the government agency I head.  We recently completed a National Citizen Survey (results) and our scores were above or much above than our comparative communities, so in that sense, I’d give us a very high grade, because that’s what our citizens gave us and it’s their opinion that ultimately counts.

Give us three areas in which local government is succeeding.


  • We by and large do an excellent job of responding to our constituents’ needs.
  • My first point is born out by numerous surveys that show much higher confidence in local government than in state or federal government.
  • To the extent that there’s innovation in government, it happens at the local level.

Give us three areas in which local government needs improvement.

Here’s two:

  • We need to learn how to embrace change.  I have a poster in my office that describes “The Box.”  It says:  We make rules and decisions based on reasons that make sense.  We follow those rules and abide by those decisions.  Time passes and things change.  The original reason for following the rules and abiding by the decisions is gone, but we still follow the rules.  Think outside the box.
  • We need to recognize when it’s time to end the discussion and act.

For local government, was there any good that came from the Great Recession?images (1)

I’m sure many local governments learned how to maintain service levels with less staff.

Evaluate whether local government is prepared for the ongoing wave of retirements.

Hard to say.  I’m seen a lot of bright young managers who are just not interested in moving up to city manager/administrator positions.  But all it takes is one good, bright, motivated person who is interested and that retirement isn’t a problem.

Evaluate local government’s willingness to embrace new technologies.

download (2)Again, hard to say.  Our organization is willing to embrace new technology but is often hampered by the cost, which can be difficult to reconcile with the benefit or perceived benefit.  Too, I’ve seen too often the implementation of new technology just because we can, not necessarily because it made us more effective or efficient.  New technology for new technology’s sake is a trap we need to avoid.

Supplemental Reading

City survey shows residents largely satisfied

Despite law, Oregon cities pass pot tax. What now?

Ashland Council Approves City Administrator

Opportunities for civic involvement are plentiful in Ashland

Ashland, Oregon, Is Newest Bee City USA Community

On Campus with the Portland State MPA Program

360 Archives

Close window