CO: Robb Kolstad, Management and Budget Director, City of Thornton

Posted on January 24, 2014

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Fifty Nifty Takeaways

What do we hope to learn from this series? We hope you will gain a better understanding of the unique characteristics of local government in each state, we hope you will learn that there are others like you who are motivated to make a difference through the public sector, and we hope you will learn that it is best to learn from others’ mistakes than yours.

Our Take on Colorado

We return to the Mile High State as the Super Bowl match-up between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos looms over us. If you watched the AFC championship between Denver and New England, you will remember how according to the announcers, John Elway owns everything in Colorado from car dealerships to the Colorado Crush to steakhouses to a Snuggie outlet store (might have made up this last one).

Our first visit to Colorado also known as the Centennial State (although we think only two people know that fact or even care about that fact) was to visit Tim Gagen, Breckenridge town manager. We discussed with Tim the unique characteristics of governance in Colorado, his dream job as a child (which unsurprisingly enough did not involve government), and then finally, we imagine the state of local government in 2018.

imagesWhen we reflect on Colorado, we think about that friend from college who randomly migrated to Colorado without a job and much of a plan. This may have something to do with the great skiing, incredible beverages, and the “pot shops.” When we think of less anecdotal characteristics of Colorado, we find universal envy at their light rail, we acknowledge their innovative use of a the former Stapleton Airport, and we marvel at the Rockies (the mountains not the baseball team).

Colorado does have its share of obscure laws including: one may not mutilate a rock in a state park, car dealers may not show cars on a Sunday, no liquor may be sold on Sundays or election days, andtags may be ripped off of pillows and mattresses.


Robb Kolstad


Thornton Management and Budget Director

Experience: L.P. Cookingham Management Fellow, City of Kansas City and Management Analyst, City of Thornton

Education:  Indiana University Bloomington, MPA and Valparaiso University, BA

Connect: LinkedIn

Background Check on Robb

After graduating from Valparaiso with degrees in Political Science and Spanish, Robb began work on a MPA at Indiana University. By concentrating in public finance and local government management, Robb prepared himself for a career in that field. In addition to coursework, Robb landed an internship with the City of Cincinnati City Manager ‘s Office, worked as a teaching assistant, and even found time to play club rugby.

Following his time at IU, Robb completed a yearlong postgraduate fellowship with the City of Kansas City. As a Cookingham Management Fellow, Robb worked for the City Manager and rotated through four city departments.

Background Check on Thornton

Connect: Facebook, Twitter, World Wide Web, and YouTube

Incorporated in 1956, Thornton (population: 118,722) is a “home-rule” city, meaning that it has its own constitution. The Denver metropolitan area in which Thornton is located consistently ranks as one of the most desirable areas to live in the United States. Thornton is the sixth most populous city in the state of Colorado and the 213th most populous city in the United States. Thornton is 10 miles of the state’s capital, Denver.

68725_491583346116_2268716_nThornton has nine City Council members, who with the assistance of the City Manager, are responsible for setting policy, making laws, and developing goals for the city.

Thornton has aggressively pursued recreation programs with nearly 1,000 acres of land developed or designated for public parks .Thornton has 81 city parks and nearly 2,000 acres of parks and open space. There are over 80 miles of trails throughout the city.

Famous resident: Todd Helton, Major League Baseball player

Lightning Round


Best piece of advice from your parents. Work hard and good things will happen.  Or “you can’t always get what you want” sung to the Rolling Stones tune.

In a dream world, which bands would headline your retirement party?  Elliott Smith, but he is dead and kind of a downer.  So maybe whichever band I’m really into 40 years from now.



(Complete the sentence) Before I die I want to…….Have a positive impact on my community and the people around me.

Three most influential books in your life.

  • To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  • The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
  • On the Road – Jack Kerouac

If you could FaceTime with five people (dead or alive and not including family members), who would be on the list?

  • L.P. Cookinghamabout-us-history
  • Jane Jacobs
  • Bill Cosby
  • Robert Moses
  • Neil Degrasse Tyson

Describe the inside of your car. I don’t own one.  But my bike is filthy and covered in grit, grime, and road salt

What’s the meaning of life? I don’t know, but I’ll tell you if I figure it out.  Maybe to do good and enjoy yourself?

Q & A with Robb


Give us three bullet points that best describe local government in your state.

  • Professional in the delivery of services
  • Responsive to the needs of the community
  • Innovative in the right areas

Vintage-Lego-Ad-e1363902125706We’ll assume you didn’t grow up dreaming about a career in local government. What was your dream job as a 12-year old? 

As a kid I would spend hours building things with Legos and everyone said I would grow up to be an engineer. Which didn’t make any sense to me, because I thought engineers were train conductors?  I didn’t see the connection to building things.

What was your first local government job? 

My first local government management job was in 2006 as a Seasongood Good Government Fellow with the City of Cincinnati, Ohio.  But I my real first job in local government was in 1997 as a Clubhouse Helper at Nagawaukee Golf Course, a Waukesha County Parks facility.

Powell_Orville_LHow did you end up in local government? 

My interest in working in local government began in earnest at Indiana University Bloomington while pursuing a Master of Public Affairs degree.  Orville Powell, a professor in local government management, had some influence in pushing me toward a career in city administration.

Give us your top three career accomplishments.

  • Getting a job
  • Not getting fired from my job (yet)
  • Having some modicum of success in my job.

Most everything I’ve accomplished has been due to people giving me an opportunity and people helping me achieve success.  I am proud of what I have accomplished. But more than that, I am grateful for those who have helped me.

We often learn from our mistakes. Name one or two career mistakes that you have made that you think we could learn from.

  • Thinking I know more than I actually know, and
  • Not listening enough to people much smarter than me.

econ_16sOur experience has been many of our friends, family, and neighbors are not well versed in what it is we do in local government, many think we are a “planner” or “mayor”. Has this been your experience?

When I tell people I work on the city budget, many people ask me if I’m an accountant.  And I tell them no, I’m terrible with numbers.  I think it’s all across the board. Some people have a decent understanding and appreciation for what local government does and others haven’t given it a second thought.

How can local governments better communicate their role in the everyday lives of the community?

I’m not sure they need to.  Or at least I’m not sure it needs to be such a strong point of emphasis.  Transparency is absolutely necessary, that is a given.   But I wonder if at times local governments are tempted to go beyond communicating what the community wants or needs to know.  If citizens don’t have a reason to think about local government might that indicate we are doing our job?

Would you encourage your family and friends to consider a career in local government?

Of course.  In my short career I’ve found work in local government to be challenging, enjoyable, and rewarding.  If someone is motivated to serve and make a difference, I think local government is one of the best places to have a real positive and lasting impact on the community.

Hypothetically, if we find ourselves interviewing for a job in front of you, talk about three steps we can take to make a good impression.


I read somewhere that Warren Buffet hires for integrity, intelligence, and energy.  If those three characteristics are there, you can figure out the rest.  I think that makes sense. A positive attitude helps too.

Mentoring is such an important part of local government. Name three of your mentors.

So many people have helped me along the way.  It’s difficult to highlight just three.  I don’t think I’ve ever had a mentor, but the following three people did have an incredibly positive influence on my career:

(Complete the sentence) In 2018, local government will be …………Hopefully led by honest, capable, idealistic, and dedicated professionals who can continue to good works done by prior leaders.

What question(s) should we have asked you?

  • How do you deal with stress?

Supplemental ReadingKolstad

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