360 Review with Josh Hawkins, City of Ashland, MO

Posted on March 25, 2015

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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.

Since 2013, Josh Hawkins (LinkedIn and Twitter) has served as the City Administrator for Ashland, a growing community in Boone County, Missouri. Josh has also worked as Gretna, Louisiana’s Chief Administrative Officer and with the Jefferson Council on Aging, Inc. Josh has an MPA with an emphasis in Hazard Policy from the University of New Orleans.


What I’m Listening to: The Neighbourhood.
What I’m Reading: “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen.
What I’m Watching: UEFA Champions League matches and Bill Dance Outdoors.
What I’m Doing: Transitioning from our annual budget process to a comprehensive transportation planning project.
What I’m Proud of: The fiscal and operational turnaround the City of Ashland has experienced in my 18 months on the job.
What I’m Thinking: Ashland is growing. Are we doing enough to organize and prepare for our rapid growth?
What I’m Afraid of: Complacency.
What I’m Missing: New Orleans.
What I Want to Know From You: Is local government really the noble, altruistic career choice of young and ambitious professionals who want their work to make a difference but also want to challenge themselves professionally and intellectually?


Best part of working in the local government arena. Most frustrating?
The best part of my job is helping the community work together to come up with a plan and a vision for what they want their city to be or what they want it to become. Too many public managers want to implement their own vision; it is our job to be an advisor and a problem solver for the people we work for. Obviously, possessing limited resources organizationally brings an expected amount of frustration.
Describe the current state of local government. Grade?
In Missouri, jurisdictions vary as far as performance goes but we are not doing well across the state in promoting the value of local government and the importance of local control in policy-making. It seems like the Feds and the state are happy to dump regulations onto and take control away from local government. This is actually a problem in several states. The “Life Well Run” campaign is non-existent in Missouri. D-
Give us three areas in which local government is succeeding.
Between crawling out of fiscal stress and rethinking land-use and transportation planning, local governments are beginning to engage with Americans and how they want to live: multi-modal transportation, place-making and downtown redevelopment are all seen as important tools in economic and community development. Having these conversations with your community is vital for communication, these tools help engage the public and gauge their priorities.
Give us three areas in which local government needs improvement.
Bell_104340833Ethics: Too many people in government give the profession a poor image. Professional organizations need to address this problem.
Citizen Engagement: Why do so many larger cities view their residents and businesses as a source of revenue? Mid-sized and smaller cities demand that the staff live and work with the people we serve, not just view them as shareholders who we can pitch fancy policy ideas to.
Public Image: People do not want to think about government, they shouldn’t have to. That said, local government is falling behind in a wave of state and federal policies and I am not sure our neighbors know this and how it impacts their community.
For local government, was there any good that came from the Great Recession?
Local governments that learned from the recession how to make smarter decisions concerning organizational structure will be able to redefine how they serve their constituents. Hopefully, your local government is being very careful in how they approach capital projects and personnel.
Evaluate whether local government is prepared for the ongoing wave of retirements. What could we do to prepare?
256-interrupting-something-important-impossible-i-work-for-governmentWill these retirements we keep reading about actually happen? Millenials are unfairly tagged as lazy or as dreamers but the reality is that they have student debt the size of a car or house loan and nobody will hire them because of their lack of experience; they want to work they just don’t know where to find employment. Unless you are an engineer or an accountant you don’t need a specialized degree or training to work in local government; you need to be able to solve problems and possess excellent customer service skills. Recruiting for local governments has many obstacles to finding good talent: location, pay/benefits, proper mentoring/on-the-job training, politics and maybe most importantly, the lack of open jobs.
In your opinion, does local government have a lack of diversity in its workforce?
It would be unfair to brand all local governments one way or the other but I firmly believe that an organization committed to diversity will be able to demonstrate an amount of diversity on their roster.
“Innovation” is a trendy word and thrown around a lot in local government. What examples would you point to as government innovation?
tumblr_mxi5v35OhC1qeweuno1_500I am a fan of electronic permitting; if Domino’s allows you to track the progress of a pizza delivery, why shouldn’t builders be able to track the progress of their permit?
Multi-functional municipal websites and GIS programs are great but they remain unaffordable to many cities. I have also found a consensus exists among local government professionals that financial and billing software could be less burdensome and less expensive.
Evaluate local government’s willingness to embrace new technologies.
In 2015, if your organization can afford and properly utilize a new technology, you probably have the political support to invest in said technology.
Wave a magic wand – what three wishes would you grant local government?
The ability to shield employees from politics, this is a major problem in some jurisdictions
Better training & professional development opportunities – ICMA is unaffordable for most jurisdictions; even in-state travel can be difficult for small, cash-strapped jurisdictions. We also need to train managers to be less policy and revenue wonks and more stewards of the community’s money.
An overall commitment to professional development in smaller cities, towns and counties is needed.
What question(s) should we ask the next person that completes this questionnaire?

  • Do you believe your MPA or Public Policy program adequately prepared you for the daily operations of local government?
  • Do you believe you have a good pulse on what your residents expect of you and your organization?
  • Do you find value in any national or state professional organizations?

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