What was your local government moment? What keeps you in local government? Who have been the influences in your career? We take a deep dive into these questions by asking you (the practitioner) to tell your local government story. You can sign up to participate in the bi-monthly feature at Finding Local Government. Thanks to Matt Wojnowski, City of Altus, OK, for developing and coordinating the feature.
By Tim Wolff (LinkedIn, GovLove, ELGL Profile, Twitter)
Village Manager at Village of Lake Isabella, MI
Without question, the single item that peaked my interest in local government at an early age was the game SimCity. Originally introduced to the game via the Nintendo Entertainment System I enjoyed spending hours trying to balance and skillfully locate the 3×3 blocks of R, C, and I. Over the years to come I would own and enjoy many different installments of the game.
Fast forward a few years to my junior year of college and as a Political Science major I decided to run for a seat on my hometown Village Council… and won. This experience was incredibility formative in the direction that my professional life would take. The main focus of my college’s Political Science program was national politics, international politics, and NGOs. State and local government were at best a passing topic of study, and the field of Public Administration was mainly examined from the perspective of the federal bureaucracy.
I quickly found that my time working on local issues, and meeting the needs of my community was vastly more rewarding than what I was studying in college. That is in no way to detract from anyone working at the state or federal level, or with an NGO. For me, the ability to make a quick and meaningful impact in solving problems that impact the day-to-day lives of people was a level of fulfillment that I did not expect to find when I ran for public office. Frankly, I thought it was something that would look good when trying to find a job after graduation.
Once I graduated, I began looking for a job in local government. I must have submitted close to 100 resumes to various local units of government around the Great Lakes region. After months of searching I finally landed an interview for a Village Manager position. As luck would have it, I landed that job and have been here ever since. With my tenure passing 12 years, I have almost doubled the average stay for a manager in the profession.
While I have had offers to leave my community over the years and have explored a couple of different job openings in recent years, for me the fit here has been too good to leave. I have been blessed with a very stable and supportive Council, the ability for further my education and professional development, and a great neighborhood to call home. Plus, I sincerely appreciate that my Council took a chance when they hired a 24 year-old to be their Village Manager. I’ve worked hard to repay them for taking a chance.
When it comes to why I’ve opted to stay in local government, particularly a small town in a rural area, the answer is simple. It is the right fit for me and affords me a very high degree of satisfaction knowing and seeing that the work we do impacts other people. I sincerely teach our staff that we are in the business of public service, and to embrace that we have a purpose of serving our community. To me this is a critical mindset to have when working in local government. As Mark Sanborn illustrates in his best-selling book The Fred Factor:
“When you don’t see much meaning in what you do, you won’t bring much value to what you do.”
For me, it is very easy to see the value and meaning in what we do at the local level. The work we do at the local level accounts for the vast majority of the “government” that people interact with on a day-to-day basis. Roads, police, fire, garbage collection, recycling, parks, water, sewer… the list goes on. These are things we get to do at the local level. Our ability to see that all of these things have a purpose in how we do them matters. That is what keeps me coming back; there is always meaningful work that needs to be done. There are always new opportunities to serve our residents better. And as a parent, I can pride in knowing that the work my team does give my kids a great place to grow up at and call home.
And, if you are wondering, I still play a little SimCity from time to time.