Civic Leaders is an exclusive local government web-interview series hosted and operated by Springbrook Software, produced by the VOLSTA Media Network, and syndicated on ELGL. Each month the show shares a candid look into the challenges and triumphs experienced by passionate public employees that are committed to their calling.
Aaron Olsen, City of Saint George, UT, City Treasurer
Persistence is key. Working on the front lines carries as many rewards as it does challenges. When one customer is calm and appreciative, the next might seem out to get you. Aaron discusses some of his more notable experiences serving his community and the things he’s learned to take with him on the road ahead.
00:29: A Home in Gov: Why #localgov? Aaron tells how he found his fit.
02:09: Confronted: An unruly customer and Aaron’s most challenging day at work.
05:25: Understanding: What should residents know about public employees?
07:40: Power Through: How can public employees see through the tough stuff?
Episode Q&A (Video is Above):
A HOME IN GOVERNMENT
How did you decide that local government was a place you could call home?
When I first came in, I was taken aback by how long it takes for just a standard customer to get services turned on…it had to do with the application process, and what we were asking our customers to give us in terms of information, what we we’re asking them to agree to, to read, to check certain boxes…to initial certain things. And I really questioned all that and asked why do we need that? What are we doing this for?
And [we] really took the process backwards, reinvented the wheel and created a process that was ten percent as time-consuming as it was before. We took application times that took ten to fifteen minutes down to four minutes or five minutes.
We [turned] an experience that was dreadful in terms of reading something that was multiple pages, and filling something out for a long period of time, or paying multiple, random fees that needed to be explained into a quick, electronically formatted, simple application in which people paid only five dollars, and had all their answers delivered to them in whatever medium–whether they wanted email, whether it be person-to-person, or whether it be a phone call, whether it be a text message–have all that information delivered to them on their schedule, in the way that they want to consume it. So really…my aha moment was about me making things simple and finding successes [in] making it simple.
What has been your most-challenging experience on the job?
We have disconnects for non-payment. This is when people haven’t paid their bill for two months in a row–they’re required to make their payments and they haven’t done it. So they come in once their is power shut off, and they want their power restored, and usually they come in in not very good terms–meaning they’re very angry–like you can tell some of them had just walked outta bed and are extremely upset. They come in using expletives, yelling, saying “What the hell do you think that you’re doing?”. And imagine inside my lobby I have like thirty people already in line, and they just charge right to the front and push the other people aside and say “You shut my power off and the computer shut down and I was in the middle of [this or that]…” and you have to deal with them, right then. And we basically told this person “Hey, you are a hundred and thirty dollars short…”–they came in with a hundred and twenty, and unfortunately, in this situation I needed the hundred and thirty.
We had enough of a reputation that that was the minimum requirement. After a few more expletives–she was calling me all sorts of names and yelling at me. She walked back out and came back about thirty minutes later with a jar full pennies, nickels and dimes and said “Here’s your damn ten dollars!” and throws the change jar and it just pours out all over the desk. From there–you got a couple people [with] mob mentality–people that jump on and try to ride that little disruption, then you got these other people who are scared to death, you got a couple people just dart out the back door because they’re scared–it’s just an awkward, tense moment. And add on the fact that right after that person did that, another customer within the lobby said something along the lines “I should have done the same damn thing to you” and you just think to yourself “What am I battling here? How can this be better?”.
That was one instance that I can tell you–I will never forget that. I will never forget the feelings that I had, I’ll never forget that customer’s face…and I can tell you what it smelled like in the room at that time! But honestly, it’s hard–and to put icing on the cake was when we found out that the person I was dealing with actually lives across the street from the administration building–actually lives directly across the street from the location that I work every day! And since then, things have gotten better. She knows where I stand, and we have an understanding in terms of paying with change, that but that’s one never to forget…
What do you wish residents knew about public employees?
I wish that they would understand that we’re not all the same. I wish that every citizen in my great city knew that every governmental worker is not the same. Their are people on the side that work in government that really do care and want the whole system to be easier, to be more serving for you–I wanna help you out.
Like any organization, we have some players that are in the organization for reasons other than you as the customer. They may be looking for a paycheck, or they may be looking for a promotion or some other reason why they’re here. But, there are people that really are here because they care. Instead of just–you know next time…instead reacting fiercely and angrily to something that’s happened in your life–that the government’s done to you–and just dumping that all on the next governmental person or the next worker you run in to…take the time to realize that perhaps that person had absolutely nothing to do with the situation that angered you, or that affected you. So, give everybody the same shot that you would want as a citizen. Give every government worker the opportunity to serve you and to help you and and I think that you’ll find you’ll get a lot farther in getting what you need done, than [by] treating them badly or poorly. I would just ask everybody to realize that we’re all here for different reasons and some of them are here to serve you and seek out those ones that will listen and have them help you out–and they will.
What advice do you have for your peers who face adversity and a seemingly long road ahead?
Don’t take the easy road…don’t waste your time–doing whatever your charged with, whatever responsibilities you have–don’t waste your time doing it less than you’re capable of doing. Put your whole heart, and put all the effort you have in that moment, and what you’re doing right then. And put your heart in, and your passion and all your love, and all your skills–put it in everything that you do all the time.
A lot of times I’m guilty of “Yeah, [I kinda] brushed over this project, I’ll do XYZ, slip through real-quick and you know it’ll get done…” But I found nine times out of ten–in fact almost every time–that when I didn’t do it right the first time, meaning I didn’t do it at the excellent level that I would want to see, that it all ultimately comes back to haunt me in one way or another. So don’t cut any corners, don’t waste any time, doing your best all the time. And really applying yourself, no matter how small the task is or how large the task, or whether your job is on the line, or whether nobody’s gonna see. Be your best–all the time. And when you’re tired, or you’re when you’re hungry, or when you’re fed up, or you’re bored or you’re mad, or you’re angry and all those emotions that we all have–take a break…and then come back and do it right–do it right the first time.