As a part of our ongoing series interviewing Assistant City (and County) Managers, ELGL sat down with Bo Ferguson from the City of Durham, North Carolina. He gave some great interviewing advice and tips for Assistants everywhere.
He answered questions for one of our most successful Twittersations, sat on a panel for the first Southeast ELGL lunch & learn, and even appeared in Ben Kittelson’s #PDXtoRDU running blog. And now it’s time for Bo Ferguson to get his own ELGL profile.
Bo has been the Deputy City Manager of Durham, North Carolina for almost two years. Durham is a city of 245,475 located in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh and Chapel Hill. The Triangle is home to over 2 million people and is one of the fastest growing areas in the state. Durham does a video series called “City Hall This Week,” check it out here:
Prior to his position in Durham, Bo was the City Manager for Hendersonville, NC a town of 13,466 people. Originally from North Carolina Mr. Ferguson got his MPA from the University of Kansas. But before going back to North Carolina he worked at the cities of Greenbelt and Rockville, Maryland. And his first job back in North Carolina was at Black Mountain, North Carolina (population 8,080).
First concert you attended: Chicago. The band, not the city.
(Complete the sentence) Before I die I want to……. Travel to a lot more places than I have been so far.
The TV show Parks and Rec – good or bad for government? Good. It gets it right a lot of the time, and we need to take ourselves less seriously.
Best restaurant in Durham. Watts Grocery.
Dream job as child. What kid didn’t want to be president? That didn’t work out so well.
Your ultimate mix tape. Cold Play. DMB. Counting Crows. Ray LaMontagne. Pink. (yes, I said “Pink.”)
Longest public meeting you’ve been a part of. 8 hrs. Budget adoption meeting in Greenbelt, MD. We set the tax rate after 2 AM.
Book that you are currently reading. “Decisive” by Dan Heath
Q & A
What was your first local government job? Not counting internships, I was a Management Analyst for Greenbelt, MD.
Give us three professional accomplishments that you are most proud of.
- Developing and shepherding through a funding increase to support needed improvements for parks and trails maintenance in Durham.
- Rebuilding the historic Main Street and streetscape in Hendersonville.
- Attending and facilitating scores of public and neighborhood meetings on a range of issues in Rockville, MD.
Tell us about three projects that you are currently working on.
- Improving the special events review and oversight process for the city.
- Ensuring that all City facilities have comprehensive response plans for Active Shooter scenarios and that employees are trained how to react.
- Implementing a new enhanced maintenance program for city parks and trails.
Give us three tips for succeeding as an assistant city manager.
- Lead. Having been both a manager and an assistant, I can say with confidence that the City Manager wants and needs his/her assistants to be full participants in providing executive-level leadership of the organization.
- Communicate. Keep your staff and your boss in the loop on major issues and minor ones that may become major. Don’t be the reason somebody doesn’t have information they need to do their jobs well.
- Build bridges. Assistants are well-positioned in organizations to play an important role in bridging the divide between departments that may not always work well together on their own.
If you were picking a starting five for those who assisted you in your career, who would be on the team? I’ve been blessed to work for awesome bosses and mentors. Tony Caudle, Catherine Tuck-Parrish, Julia Novak, Mike McLaughlin, Tom Bonfield, but there are many others I am indebted to.
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? Choose your job wisely. I have young kids, so this was a critical factor for me in considering whether or not to come to work in Durham. My boss convinced me I would work hard, but I would have the flexibility and freedom to balance personal demands with the priofessional. He has kept that promise, but I’d caution everyone that this issue is critical and can differ wildly from place to place. You need to do your homework before you take a job.
(Complete the sentence) Local government is…… by far the best way for young people to live out their passion for improving the world we live in.
If we ever encounter you on an interview panel, give us a few specific tips for making a good impression.
- Be succinct – I lose patience with long answers.
- Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something or don’t have a certain type of experience – I far prefer that to someone trying to fake it.
- Relax – a good interview feels like a conversation to me. The more formal or guarded a candidate is, the less likely I will be to get what I need to know out of the conversation.
Finally, would you encourage your children to consider local government as a career? Absolutely, but they would be well-informed about the pros and cons.