360 Review with Matt Huffaker, City of Watsonville, CA

Posted on December 4, 2014

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Update: Matt Huffaker to take over as Watsonville city manager

Shawn Ahmadi, Socrata, Ryan Mannion, SeeClickFix, and Katie Babits, Veneta, OR have participated in our 360 review of local government. Matt Huffaker, Walnut Creek, CA Assistant to the City Manager is next up with his evaluation.

Our Evaluator


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

Like many local government folk, I joined public service to make a difference. From public safety to land use, local government has the most direct and substantive impact on the quality of life of the communities we serve.

Probably the increased scrutiny under which we operate. From blogs to public record requests, there is a lot of misinformation out there. It is especially important that local governments be proactive in pushing-out factual and timely information on key issues.

(Complete these phrases) Best thing about the….1

80’s was Reebok Pump sneakers and the 49’ers

90’s was my first home computer and start of the World Wide Web (Yep, we used to call it that)

00’s was volunteering for my hometown’s incorporation effort and sparking my passion for local government

Last year was welcoming my second son, Jack, to our family

Today is the rain! We need it.

Your hometown? What is it best known for?

My hometown is Oakley, CA. Located in the heart of the California Delta, the community has its roots in farming and was once one of the leading almond producers in the state. Today, it’s best known for its great fishing and watersports.

Which bands would play at your retirement party?

I have a heart for folk and bluegrass, so any band with a banjo! I like The Civil Wars, Nickel Creek and The Lumineers.

Best holiday gift that you’ve received?

An official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle!

A trip to Germany to visit my wife’s family for Christmas a few years back. Germany is serious about their Christmas celebrations!

The Evaluation

download (1)Describe the current state of local government.

Post-recession local government is leaner, more efficient and has a renewed focus on core services and fiscal sustainability.

Give us three areas in which local government is succeeding.

Open Government: Whether watching a Council meeting from the comfort of your couch or reporting a pot hole via a mobile app, local governments are more accessible than ever.

Economic Development: as cities emerge from the recession, we have a renewed entrepreneurial focus, working proactively with the private sector to grow and strengthen the local economy.

Technology: from networked smart parking meters to public Wi-Fi and online permitting, cities don’t get enough credit for all the great technology improvements underway.

Give us three areas in which local government needs improvement.

E-Services: While local governments are becoming more accessible online, we’re only scratching the surface of the multitude of services that the public could access and utilize online.

Regional Partnerships: in local government we talk a lot about opportunities to regionalize certain services and better capture economies of scale. I think the future of local government in more regional.

Fiscal Sustainability: most cities rely on three main revenue streams—property tax, sales tax, fees for services—all of which are highly sensitive to changing market conditions. Cities need to do a better job of diversifying their economic base, ensuring greater financial stability over the long-term.


Evaluate local government’s willingness to embrace new technologies.

Local governments get a bad rap when it comes to embracing new technology. I’ll often see headlines prescribing new technology solutions to ‘fix’ the local government bureaucracy. However, local governments are embracing new technologies in many innovative ways that are not always obvious, from adaptive traffic signal timing systems to using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to build interactive online maps of everything from tweets to crime statistics.

For local government, was there any good that came from the Great Recession?

In many ways, the Great Recession served as a reset button for cities, allowing local governments to take a hard look at what services we provide and how best to provide them. In the wake of the recession many cities are leaner and more efficient, allowing for greater fiscal health over the long-term.

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

Is there a ‘silver tsunami’ starting to build in local government? Maybe. Is there also a large pool of bright and experienced middle managers eager to step in, I would argue yes. I understand the concern and potential loss of important institutional knowledge, but I think those challenges can be overcome with advanced planning and proactively working on transition and succession plans for key positions.

Wave a magic wand – what three wishes would you grant local government?

  • More regional coordination of services
  • Protection from state government revenue grabs (hey, one can hope, right?)
  • Greater public understanding of local government services

Give a brief evaluation of your state government and the Federal government.

It’s no secret that both the California state government and the Federal government are highly polarized. However, California’s economy is improving and the Governor and legislature succeeded in brokering more bipartisan agreement than we’ve seen for several years. That’s good news.

What question(s) should we have asked?

Are local governments competitive in attracting the next generation’s best and brightest?

Supplemental Reading

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