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360 Review with Matt Bronson, San Mateo, CA

Posted on May 18, 2015


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.

Matt Bronson (LinkedIn and Twitter) is the Assistant City Manager for the City of San Mateo, California. Prior to that, he served as the Assistant to the County Administrator as well as a Administrative Analyst for the County of Marin. He received his Masters of Public Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a graduate of the Senior Executive Institute at the University of Virginia Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.

Evaluator

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What I’m Proud of:

Track record of working with amazing people to improve the community and organization and helping people grow in their careers.

What I’m Thinking:

The opportunities we have in San Mateo to make long-lasting improvements for our community and create a high-performance organization to deliver them…as well as our upcoming summer plans and kids’ activities this weekend.

What I’m Listening to:

Bay Area news radio driving to/from work and whatever Spotify music channel fits my mood in the evening.

What I’m Reading:

Beyond professional journals like Governing, I enjoy reading Time, The Atlantic, Fast Company, and our daily local newspapers (I’m married to a former newspaper reporter)

What I’m Watching:

Love the political dramas…House of Cards and The Good Wife.  Parks and Recreation was of course was on my list as not many shows feature a city manager, let alone one played by Rob Lowe.

What I’m Doing:

Living a good life by serving my community with passion and pride and being a proud husband and father.

What I’m Afraid of:

Looking ahead too much and not enjoying the moment.

What I’m Missing:

Much of a social life beyond work and family.

What I Want to Know From You:

How can I add value?

Evaluation


Best part of working in the local government arena. 
Working with elected officials, community members, and staff in making a community a better place.  I can see the results of my contributions first-hand from installation of energy-saving LED streetlights to redevelopment of a commercial area to improving the City’s response to graffiti.  Local government work provides immense meaning and value that is difficult to replicate in other fields.
Most frustrating?
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Understanding those who don’t value or worse disparage the role of government in our society.  I’m passionate about public service and working for the greater good as well as the critical role that local government plays to help shape a community.  Business also plays a fundamental role in our society and I have great respect for our partners in the private sector.  While we can implement business practices, government at its core is not a business given our unique role in not only providing community services but balancing and facilitating community interests.
Describe the current state of local government. What grade would you give it?
I’d say B+. While we can always improve, I feel a strong sense of optimism about the current state of local government and how we’re positioned for the future. A previous ELGL post referenced a speaker describing local government as “male, pale, and stale.” Though the data backs up the male and pale components, I disagree with local government being stale. From West Linn OR to Lancaster, TX, from Berlin MD to San Mateo, CA, there are countless examples across the country of exciting and meaningful local government programs that show the strength and value of our profession and our organizations.
Give us three areas in which local government is succeeding:
Demonstrating prudent financial management and taking steps to bolster finances for future downturns. With the worst economic downturn of our lives, local government took appropriate steps to weather the storm through reducing expenditures, increasing revenues, and developing reserves.
Identifying needed infrastructure improvements within our communities. The investments made by previous generations are now aging with new infrastructure and facilities needed in our communities. We’re doing a much better job of identifying and planning for these future needs though we need to make significant investments as a society to improve and modernize our infrastructure for future generations.
Being more transparent in sharing transparentgovernment information. Local government is much more open today in sharing information with the public. This information has long been public but government didn’t think much about making it accessible. From simple spreadsheets with salary data to sophisticated open data portals, sharing information is increasingly in our DNA as just part of our role in local government.
Give us three areas in which local government needs improvement:
Talent management needs to be a greater area of focus. Local government needs to place greater emphasis on cultivating talent and helping it flourish to develop future leaders and help the organization. A related area is changing organizational culture and systems to reflect today’s needs. Most organizations still function under an old model of top-down, command-and-control management. Organizations need to change to be more adaptive, collaborative, and focused on performance and results. This involves both changing an organization’s culture and the systems, structure, and processes to make this sustainable. This type of organization can work not only for the younger generations coming into the workforce, but also for other generations in providing a better work environment to serve the public.
talentLastly, local government needs to be more committed to engaging its community in programs, policies, and services. While local government has improved its transparency, true engagement with the community needs to be improved. Groups like the Davenport Institute in California and IAP2 along with other private and non-profit partners play a key role in providing expertise and tools to help local government be successful in community engagement.
For local government, was there any good that came from the Great Recession?
The scope of budget reductions forced us to rethink long-held assumptions about what services to provide and how to provide them. The recession also led to many communities having frank conversations about what kind of community it wanted to be – given limited resources. Local government in general is more cautious about expanding services and more aware of long-term costs for areas such as retirement and infrastructure.
Evaluate whether local government is prepared for the ongoing wave of retirements. What could we do to better prepare?

Local government is preparing for this ongoing wave though more work is needed given the rapid pace of retirements. Over the next five years, nearly the entire Executive Team in my organization will likely turnover after a long period of stability. We need to accelerate leadership development programs and reach all levels of the organization not just those at the top. We also need to create programs such as internal and external rotation programs such as San Mateo County’s Management Talent Exchange Program. to provide experience in different areas of local government. Lastly, we need to realize that our future leaders will likely not stay for as long as previous generations and thus we need to build an even deeper talent bench.
In your opinion, does local government have a lack of diversity in its workforce?

Local government still has much more work to do to reflect the diversity of our communities. Lack of diversity is an issue for every profession in our society and local government has made progress over time. Yet we need to do more to recruit and retain a diverse workforce as evident recently by the findings of the ICMA Task Force on Women in the Profession and the extensive #13Percent discussions by ELGL about the lack of women in executive management positions. This must change for the long-term success of local government and given the quickening pace of changes within our organizations, I believe we will make significant improvements in both gender and racial diversity over the next several years.
“Innovation” is a trendy word and thrown around a lot in local government. What examples would you point to as government innovation?
Innovation in the public sector is different from the private sector where innovation is often focused on a new product or service. Our innovations can be more subtle than those in the private sector though still critical in improving how we serve our communities. From mobile service request apps to smart infrastructure using sensors to creation of “safe zones” for online transactions, local governments are constantly testing new approaches to public service.
Evaluate local government’s willingness to embrace new technologies.

I think we are willing to embrace new technology though it takes us longer than the private sector. Much of this is systemic given the nature of our business: longer procurement processes, need for inclusion in development process, cost considerations, public oversight, etc. Some of it is also generational as we’ll see a faster pace of new technologies with newer generations coming to the workforce. While considering new technologies, it’s alo important to modernize back office systems to help our employees work more effectively.
Wave a magic wand – what three wishes would you grant local government?

More revenues that are more equitably generated, local government seen as the top public sector career by each new generation, and a new phrase in our language…great enough for government work.
What question(s) should we ask the next person that completes this questionnaire?
What brought you to work for local government?

Supplemental Reading

San Mateo Helps Residents Be Ready, Be Safe, Be Involved

Management Talent Exchange Program

Matt Bronson profile

How Gen X is Shaping Government

The Archives: 360 Review 

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