Connecticut: Roger Kemp, Former City Manager and Current President, Kemp Consulting

Posted on July 25, 2013

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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 other’s mistakes than yours. With that said, on to the main event, the first ever installment of the Fifty Nifty which has the same feel as Opening Day in baseball, Christmas Eve, the ol’ TGIF on ABC, and the Fiscal (New) Year.

P.S:  Contribute to the Fifty Nifty project by sending those names in your lil’ black book to ELGL. Here’s who is on the list so far: Updated 7/8: Contribute to the Fifty Nifty Project

Our Take on Connecticut

The Fifty Nifty journeys on to Connecticut. If this wasn’t a virtual tour, we would stop for a cup of coffee and a bunch of donuts at Dunkin’ Donuts. But, it’s not so we head to the World Wide Web to gather the important information on Connecticut.

ct78Connecticut is known as the “Constitution State”. Unlike all but one other state (Rhode Island), Connecticut does not have county government. Connecticut county governments were mostly eliminated in 1960, with the exception of sheriffs elected in each county. The eight counties are still widely used for purely geographical and statistical purposes, such as weather reports, and census reporting.

 The state is divided into 169 towns, which serve as the fundamental political jurisdictions.There are also 21 cities most of which are coterminous with their namesake towns and have a merged city-town government. There are two exceptions: City of Groton, which is a subsection of the Town of Groton, and the City of Winsted in the Town of Winchester. There are also nine incorporated boroughs which may provide additional services to a section of town. One, Naugatuck, is a consolidated town and borough.

backwardsmanThe state (with the exception of the Town of Stafford in Tolland County) is also divided into 15 planning regions defined by the state Office of Planning and Management. The Intragovernmental Policy Division of this Office coordinates regional planning with the administrative bodies of these regions. Each region has an administrative body known as either a regional council of governments, a regional council of elected officials, or a regional planning agency. The regions are established for the purpose of planning “coordination of regional and state planning activities; redesignation of logical planning regions and promotion of the continuation of regional planning organizations within the state; and provision for technical aid and the administration of financial assistance to regional planning organizations.”

Just like other states, Connecticut has its share of interesting laws such as:

  • You can be stopped by the police for biking over 65 miles per hour.
  • In order for a pickle to officially be considered a pickle, it must bounce.
  • It is unlawful to walk backwards after sunset.
  • You may not educate dogs.
  • It is illegal for a man to kiss his wife on Sunday.


Name: Roger Kemp


Position: Retired, former City Manager, Meriden, CT (1993-2005), The longest tenured City Manager of a city formed in 1806.

Prior Experience:  Previously served as Assistant to the City Manager of Oakland, City Manager of Seaside, Placentia, and Vallejo, CA; and City Manager of Clifton, NJ.

Connect: LinkedIn

Connect with Kemp Consulting: the Web

Background Check

Roger L. Kemp has been a municipal Chief Executive Officer of cities in Connecticut, New Jersey, and California during his career in local government. Prior to this, he worked his way through school while serving as the Assistant to the President of a real estate brokerage and appraisal company in San Diego, California. In fact, Roger was the recipient of a scholarship from the California Real Estate Association (CREA) to complete his undergraduate education. He subsequently received a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Business Administration, with a Specialization in Real Estate, from San Diego State University (SDSU).

imagesAfter receiving his Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree from SDSU two years later, he began his public service career in the Office of Budget and Management Services (OBMS) and, later, in the Office of the City Manager, in the City of Oakland, CA. Roger attended Golden Gate University’s (GGU) doctoral program in Public Administration in the evening while serving in Oakland. He received his degree five-years later. Roger became a city manager the same month that he received his doctoral degree.

During his city management career, he has taught graduate seminars at leading universities on both the West and East Coasts. These schools included the University of California, California State University, Golden Gate University, Rutgers University, Farleigh Dickinson University, the University of Connecticut, the University of New Haven, and other leading educational institutions.

Roger has written, edited, and been a contributing author to nearly 50 books dealing with cities. Many of his books focus on various aspects of cities, and highlight national best practices being used to improve the quality of their services as well as their livability. These best practices include minimizing the negative impact of automobiles, growth management, the restoration of nature, the positive aspects of using the arts for inner-city renewal, and state-of-the-art economic development practices. Roger has also written about the importance of strategic planning, financial management, and how to properly plan for the future of America’s cities.

When Roger was a city manager in Southern California he taught for GGU and completed the requirements for, and received, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree in management. Most recently, he received the Outstanding Alumni of the Year Award for 2007 for “Distinguished Service in the Field of Public Administration” from the School of Public Affairs at SDSU. This honor is recommended by the faculty, and is based upon the graduate’s contributions to the field of public administration during his or her career in public service.

During his career, he also graduated from the Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; the Advanced Government Finance Institute, School of Business, University of Wisconsin, and the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA); and the Academy for International Development, International City/​County Management Association (ICMA).

UNHRoger is presently the Founder and President of Kemp Consulting, LLC, a featured speaker at many conferences focusing on various aspects of America’s cities, a Distinguished Adjunct Professor and Visiting Scholar for both classroom and online graduate courses. He just completed research on his latest book, titled Town and Gown Relations: A Handbook of Best Practices, which is scheduled for publication in early 2013. His previous book was titled The Municipal Budget Crunch: A Handbook for Professionals, which was published in the Fall of 2012.

Roger’s presentations focus on societal trends impacting our cities. He stresses that public officials should proactively plan for the future, rather than merely react to events as they occur. Based on his recent research, he also focuses on city (town) and college (gown) relationsihps. This process enhances the quality-of-life for all of the stakeholders in a community.

Dr. Kemp was recently appointed as the Practitioner in Residence, Department of Public Management, College of Business, University of New Haven, for the academic years 2011-12 and 2012-13. Roger is also a member of the Citizens’ Ethics Advisory Board (CEAB), State of Connecticut, and was just appointed to the Connecticut Digital Library Advisory Board (CDLAB). Roger just received the designation of Distinguished Adjunct Professor at Golden Gate University, San Francisco, where he has taught graduate seminars for more than a quarter century.

Lightning Round

Best piece of advice from your parents.

I recall my mom saying “Make sure that you get a good education, it’s one of the most important things in life.

In a dream world, which bands would headline your retirement party.



Growing up in Southern California, my favorite bands were The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and The Rolling Stones.  Love to have them appear at my retirement party!

(Complete the sentence) Before I die I want to……

“… Have The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and The Rolling Stones play at my retirement party.”

[ted id=1553]

Most influential books in your life.  


I recall reading, while in graduate school, the following books, that were a big influence on my management education and career in the public service:

The Human Side of Enterprise by Douglas McGregor (1960),

The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker (1993), and

The Practice of Management by Peter F. Drucker (2006).

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

  • Abraham Lincoln (Questions about the Civil War)
  • Woodrow Wilson (Questions about World War I)
  • Franklin Roosevelt (Questions about World War II)
  • Lyndon Johnson (Questions about the Civil Rights Movement)
  • Barack Obama (Questions about the State-of-America)

Describe the inside of your car:



Grey (to match the outside color of my car), and simple, but I must have an automatic transmission, air conditioning, and a disk player so I can hear The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and The Rolling Stones.

What’s the meaning of life?

Develop your desired skills, the best that you can, and apply them in the field that you choose, with the goal of becoming a respected leader in your profession.

The Interview

Give us three bullet points that best describe local government in Connecticut.yourturn

  • Too many first selectmen forms of government (going back to the olden days)
  • Too many strong mayor forms of government (going back to the olden days)
  • Need more Council-Manager forms of government to better serve the citizens/taxpayers.  City Managers hire employees based on their expertise, not their loyalty.  City managers may come and go, but department heads can stay there for their entire career so long as they are competent.

We’ll assume you didn’t grow up dreaming about a career in local government. What was your dream job as a 12-year old? What was your first local government job? How did you end up in local government? 

I’m not sure I had a “dream job” when I was 12 years old, except to do my paper route as best as possible for the citizens that I served.  I also served citizens as a city manager, with the same goal in mind!

My first local government job was as an Administrative Analyst in the Office of Budget and Management Services in the City of Oakland, California.  I got this job from asearch for a public sector job in the Bay Area since I planned to go to Golden Gate University to earn my Ph.D. degree in public administration (a nighttime program that took 5 years to complete).  I applied for this job when I was completing my MPA degree at San Diego State University.

I accepted this position, and worked my way up during this 5-year period to being an Assistant to the City Manager in the Office of the City Manager.  The same month that I received my Ph.D. degree in public administration, I accepted the position of City Manager in the City of Seaside, California.

Give us your top three career accomplishments.

1651_1One:  Getting a job as a City Manager the same month that I completed my Ph.D. degree in public administration at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, CA.  Thiswas a great career experience, and made me feel that my educational experience was worthwhile.

Two:  Being able to use my position, and apply for jobs, on both coasts of the United States, and serve as a City Manager in cities on both coasts of our nation during my public service career.  It was a pleasure walking around cities on the West Coast (like Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oakland,  and San Francisco), and also walking around cities on the East Coast (like Boston, MA, Providence, RI, Hartford, CT, and Manhattan, New York City, NY, to name a few).

Three:  My career goals were achieved by making all efforts to give credit to the elected officials (the Mayor and City Council) for all things that went well, and for taking the blame for all things that went bad.  I felt that this was appropriate, since they were elected by the citizens, and I was appointed by them!

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

First City Manager Job – I accepted a position in a city that had several city managers in about a 10 year period.  I took this position to get the title which, at the time, I thought was appropriate.  I was there about three and one-half years, and held the longest tenure of any recent city manager in the city’s history (as of the time of my departure).

One of My last City Manager Jobs – I took a job, late in my career, to go to the West Coast, only to realize that this city recently had several city managers due to their political turmoil.  It was good for my pension, but not necessarily good for my city management career.  I would encourage folks to think twice about applying for such city management jobs.

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



City Manger’s Role – I’ve had to explain many times to different relatives that I’m not the Mayor, but that I’m the person appointed by the mayor and city council (the city’s elected officials) to be “their” city manager – the person selected to run/manage/operate their municipal organization.  I hire all department managers, and they all report to me.

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

Yes!  I career in local government provides you with the opportunity to see the results of your work!  I’ve talked with folks in higher levels of government, and it is difficult to see the results of your hard work in them (e.g., state and federal levels of government).

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

WTF-local-news-headlines2Step 1 – Go to the city’s library (where you applied for a job) and check-out their local newspaper (front page going back a year, to find out the main issues in the city), then ask to review their annual budget (overview of revenues and expenses), and also their annual audit (to see their fund balances).

Step 2 – Talk to business people (at your hotel, where you buy your meals, and other businesses, about what they think of the city, its services, and their taxes).

Step 3 – Talk to citizens, as you meet them (at your hotel, restaurants, gas stations, etc.) and ask them what they think about their city, its services, and their taxes.

These processes will give you more information than the other job applicants will likely have.  I’ve done this several times for job interviews, and usually wind-up in the top three of all of the applicants being interviewed for the city manager position.

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

628x471Randy Hamilton, Visiting Scholar, Institute of Governmental Studies, University of California, Berkeley, CA.; Professor and Dean, Dept. of Public Administration, Golden Gate University, San Francisco, CA.; and former City Manager, Carolina Beach, N.C.

Otto Butz, President, Golden Gate University, and former President of a California State University, Sacramento, CA.

Tom Fletcher, former City Manager of San Diego and Davis, CA., and Deputy Mayor of Washington, DC.

(Complete the sentence) In 2018, local government will be …………

… the “model” for all levels of government, where elected officials hire professionals to manage their organizations and its operations.  All hiring is based on competency, and loyalty is not a factor in the selection process.

What question(s) should we have asked you?

What other job would you have rather selected that that of a City Manager? 

3City_ManagerAnswer:  None!

I’ve enjoyed working in local government, always did well during their selection process, and felt that I could make excellent decisions, and see the results of them during my tenure in the city that I worked in at the time that they were made.

I can drive through cities that I’ve worked in many years ago, and see the improvements that I facilitated and/or created during my tenure – cleaning up neighborhoods, building parks and open spaces, planting trees in their downtown areas, and much more.  You can see the results/impacts of your decisions that you made (hopefully with the help of others) during your tenure as city manager.  This makes it a great job!!!

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