Ben McCready, Rock Island (IL) assistant to the city manager, adds to ELGL’s ongoing series on assistant city manager and deputy city managers by profiling the Assistant County Administrator in Peoria County, IL.
Peoria County Assistant Administrator Scott Sorrel holds a degree in Community and Regional Planning from Iowa State University and will soon complete Master of Public Administration degree at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Scott Sorrel began his career as an Associate Planner for Peoria County rising to the level of Deputy Director of Planning and Zoning. In 2002 he became Assistant to the County Administrator and had opportunities to serve as the Interim Budget Director and Interim CFO before being named Assistant County Administrator in 2012. Since that time he has also served as the Interim Information Technologies Services Director.
As Assistant County Administrator Sorrel helps direct and coordinate the daily activities of county government. He serves as a senior member of the executive management team, with responsibility and oversight of Planning & Zoning, Recycling & Sustainability, Facilities & Fleet Management, Capital Construction, Intergovernmental Cooperation, implementation of the Strategic Plan, and special projects. Sorrel is an advocate for the profession and has served as a president for the Illinois Association of County Administrators, ILCMA executive board member, and leader in the Illinois Association of Municipal Management Assistants (IAMMA).
Background Check on Peoria County
ELGL has been a big fan of Peoria County since County Administrator Lori Curtis Luther participated in a live Twitter chat earlier this year.
With a population of 186,494 Peoria County is the 12th most populous County in Illinois. Peoria County is home to Bradley University and Caterpillar Inc. MLB fans are familiar with Peoria as being the boyhood home of Jim Thome.
Peoria County has a board-administrator structure. The 18 member board elects a chairperson and delegates day to day duties to the administrator. The business of the board is conducted through 10 standing committees responsible for oversight and budgetary control in different areas. Every two years the board reorganizes to select a new chair and re-assign committees.
Richard Pryor, Actor, Comedian
Sam Kinison, Preacher, Actor, Comedian
First concert you attended:
The Black Crowes in a little gymnasium in Milwaukee, WI
Despite the fact that I generally do not believe in a bucket list, I would complete this sentence by saying, “Before I die I want to have played golf at my list of 25 of the greatest golf courses on Earth. At the top of the list that I haven’t played yet is Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, CA.”
Dream job as a child:
For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be an architect. My favorite toy was Lincoln Logs.
Book you are currently reading:
- Being in grad school, my text book for this semester is “The Power of Communication” by Helio Fred Garcia.
- I’m just finishing “Brian on Fire” by Samantha Cahalan.
- I’m just starting “The Night Ranger” by Alex Berenson.
- I keep picking up and putting down, “Back to Work” by President Bill Clinton.
Best restaurant in your community:
There’s so many to choose from, but one of our favorites is Se7en in Peoria Heights, IL.
Q & A with Scott
Your first local government job.
If you count working concessions at a park district baseball complex when I was in high school…. My first real local government job was an intern in the planning department for the City of Elgin, IL during my undergrad years. After college, Associate Planner for the County of Peoria.
Three professional accomplishments that you are most proud of
Over 20 years, you can rack up many accomplishments, but if I had to narrow it to just 3, I would say the construction of two iconic $40+ million building projects in my community.
First is the Peoria Riverfront Museum (PRM). I was the county’s project manager. The total investment was over $83 million for a multi-discipline art and science museum on Peoria’s Riverfront. The PRM was finished on time and under budget, and achieved LEED Gold.
Second, Heddington Oaks nursing home. Total project cost was $47 million, and I was the county’s project manager. Our 214 bed nursing home is state-of-the-art; has the largest collection of nursing home beds dedicated to all stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s in Central Illinois; and once we get confirmation from USGBC will be the first publicly owned and operated nursing home in the United States that is LEED Silver or better. The unique thing is that these two projects were overlapped in time.
The third accomplishment that I’m most proud of would be the work I did as interim budget director almost a decade ago. In an eight-week period, we pivoted and redesigned the budget submittal process for our departments. At the same time, we made the budget document much easier to read and understand for the citizen.
Give us a couple things to be careful of while advancing up the local government career ladder.
First, have realistic expectations. There are some MPA students today that moved straight from undergrad to grad school and they think they should be hired as an assistant manager straight out of school. The profession wants new and young people, but you have to climb the career ladder by starting at or near the bottom of the management ladder. You can’t climb the ladder if you start one rung from the top of the ladder.
Second, don’t be afraid to say no if the job or the community or both are not the right fit for you. You don’t have to take the first job offered to you and once you have a job be willing to move if it’s right. The ‘right fit’ isn’t something that can be taught or imparted from a more seasoned person in the profession. It’s something that you have to figure out on your own and in your own way.
Third, make the effort to live your life in concert with the ICMA Code of Ethics. You never know when an opportunity will present itself for a promotion with your current employer or another employer. When I interview you, I will subtly probe to see if you are an ethical person. Fourth and as I talk about later, work / life balance is important to being successful.
You’d think that after 20 years, there would be a whole host of people that have influenced me. In all honesty, there hasn’t been that many people that I would consider a mentor.
That said, Patrick Urich is probably the person that has been most influential in my professional growth. Patrick is currently the City Manager for the City of Peoria, Illinois, but he was the Peoria County Administrator for a decade prior. He was the one that “cherry-picked” me out of Planning & Zoning.
The second person in local government that I would consider a mentor is Lisa Haderlein. At the time, she was Senior Planner that gave me a chance by hiring me out of college. She’s out of local government now, but she was instrumental in starting my professional career.
Thomas H O’Neill III would be the third person I might call a mentor. Tommy is our current County Board Chairperson. He came onto the County Board about 3 months before I started working for Peoria County, and we’ve had a friendship from early on. Tommy comes off as unassuming and liking to have a good time, but he’s very politically astute. Additionally, he brought a unique perspective to the job as County Board Member, because his full time daily job was that of a union electrician in the Public Works Department of the City of Peoria. The man knows where and how every signalized intersection in Peoria is wired. Being a local government employee during the day has made him endearing to county staff that has had to work with him closely over the years.
Finding the right work/life balance is a constant struggle for many of us, what is your approach to maintaining your personal life while leading a successful professional career?
Work / Life balance is more important than many of us think it is, and to a degree it’s a bit more challenging for me while I’m working on my MPA. Many times, I don’t start working on schoolwork until after the kids are in bed and the dog walked. This usually means somewhere around 9:00 at night. It’s a good thing that I’m more of a night owl than early bird.
Putting the schoolwork aside, I try to make time for non-work things each day. It could be coaching one of my sons travel soccer team or going for a bike ride with my other son or taking a walk with my wife. When I’m playing golf, I have a rule that I don’t talk about work, period. I also have the benefit of living in an extremely close-knit neighborhood. There are about a dozen families that have kids all the same ages and similar views on life.
(Complete the sentence) Local government is……
County, even more than local, government is all about being able to compromise, because the County Administrator, typically, does not have sole authority of the entire organization. There’s likely to be constitutional officers that are elected like the Sheriff, the State’s (or district) Attorney, Clerk, etc. In Peoria County, we have 9 of them.
ELGL is hosting its second annual conference in October, help us out by suggesting three topics of speakers we should include.
Basics about the process of getting not the first job, but the next one. Any of the recruiter search firms would be a good source for this topic. In the Pacific Northwest, that would be Prothman or Peckham and McKinney. In the Midwest, that would be Heidi Voorhees at GovHR. Nationally, that would Mercer Group or Ralph Anderson Associates.
Panel discussion of first time managers that have been a manager for less than 1-year, preferably less than 6-months.
Service Collaboration. There are many great examples from across the country to pick from.
If we ever encounter you on an interview panel, give us a few specific tips for making a good impression.
Make eye contact.
Prepare for the interview so you know to expect the difficult question and can answer it easily.
Come prepared to ask good (not softball) questions.
The job interview should be about the prospective employer interviewing you, and you interviewing the prospective employer. You can look good on paper, and so can the local government and the position you’ve applied for, but you really can’t know for sure until you ask some questions of the person conducting the interview.
Lastly, always be aware of your surroundings. You never know who might be sitting next to you at the bar or a ballgame or whom you’ll run into at the grocery store.
Case in point: I was at an event for Illinois’ Assistants Association earlier this year, and an MPA student was badmouthing her program. While she was not talking about the University of Nebraska-Omaha (where I’m currently enrolled), she was demonstrating a terrible attitude. I will never forget her face or name, and quite honestly, she has probably lost any chance of ever getting an interview with me or anyone I might know that I could influence. Getting a job in this profession is part technical skills; part presenting yourself as a professional on your resume and in the interview; and part being cognizant of your surroundings at all times.
What does city management look like in 2020?
I think that will vary from state-to-state as municipalities and counties have different powers in each state. For example, counties are strong forms of government in Virginia and North Carolina, and counties are equally weak in Illinois and other Midwestern states.
In Illinois, I think the fiscal stress of the state government will continue to force local governments, regardless of the type, to deliver services with collaborative solutions. I would not expect to see a reduction in local governments in Illinois despite the fact we have more than any other state by a wide margin. ‘Doing more with less,’ or ‘working in the new normal’ doesn’t always mean cuts in service. It can mean collaboration of service delivery.
Finally, would you encourage your children to consider local government as a career?
I would if they were looking for something to consider. My two boys, however, have had their minds set on their careers for about half their lives at this point. My oldest, at 12, has wanted to be a pilot for about 5 years. My youngest, at almost 11, has wanted to be a veterinarian since he was 5. They’ve both already decided where they want to go to college too.