ELGL member Amber Mathiesen sat down to discuss her first two months as the city administrator in Falls City, Oregon. She previously was a management analyst for the City of Cornelius. Just in the first two months, Amber has made strides in Falls City by increasing their social media presence and handling an unexpected sewer issue. The joys of local government!
Describe your thoughts walking into city hall the first day on the job?
My first thoughts were that the Mayor was very organized and definitely more involved in day to day operations than the average Mayor. On my first day she presented a several page spreadsheet of projects and tasks aptly dubbed the “laundry list”. I knew I had a big job ahead of me if all I had to do was to complete the list, but of course there are many other things to do as well.
What one word would describe your emotions?
One word… excited! I could not wait to get started I knew coming in this is a city where I can make a difference.
What are two things you did before starting in Falls City to prepare yourself for the job ahead?
Just 2? I did several things, but I think most important was I made sure to attend the City Council meetings and to read the last year’s worth of minutes to be sure that I was reasonably familiar with recent Council activity and conversations. The second was to take a vacation so I could be sure I came to work rested and prepared for whatever was in store for me.
If ELGL were to visit you for lunch in Falls City, what restaurant would you take us to?
The Bread Board. The giant wood burning brick oven makes the artisan bread there unique and it gives the pizza a great crust. Not to mention the funky artsy interior and the nice outdoor seating makes The Breadboard a great gathering place.
What is one issue that you encountered in Falls City that you were not expecting?
The sewer issues that presented my second week were not anticipated. I knew we were operating an aging system, but I was not planning on shutting down a high school football field to investigate potential leaks. This certainly connected me with many members of the community in a hurry.
What are your goals for the first few months on the job?
My goals in the first few months include getting up to speed on all of the ongoing projects, developing personnel policies, records management policies and looking for grant opportunities. I am looking to do “a few loads of laundry” so to speak so we can mark off some things on the Council’s list.
ELGL has taken notice of your increased social media presence. Are you spreadheading the effort? What do you hope to accomplish?
I am spearheading the effort of joining social media and updating our electronic presence. I am hoping to get more residents involved in City affairs in a positive and fun way. I am also hoping to have more people know about Falls City so I don’t have to explain where we are. Perhaps this way I can also draw some outside money to our businesses through tourism.
Two biggest issues facing Falls City?
Like every other city we have aging infrastructure and a lack of resources to replace it.
Have you thought about hiring an intern?
I have, and my primary barrier is funding. I am aware that just because you are a student does not mean you don’t have bills to pay, other cities offer money for intern services I would like to think we could find a way to pay as well. I am hoping to find the right project to pair with a grant to help create a spot for an intern to have some meaningful work with us.
Based on your recent experience, give our readers two tips for transitioning jobs?
Plan ahead to be as well rested as you can. Be ready to work hard and do your best to plan for surprises.
What are your thoughts on ELGL becoming a nonprofit and charging $20 dues?
Frankly it’s about time members gave something for all the services ELGL offers. I can’t say enough good things about the great speakers, the opportunity to connect with professionals of all departments and all levels of experience, and the connection students entering the profession. ELGL has done a great job and I can see the organization being able to better support members with funding.
Who is your dream speaker for ELGL?
I would like to see a leader from the police or fire professions on the agenda. Perhaps Louie Gomez, Oakridge or Paul Rubenstein, Cornelius could offer insight about how police and administration connect and where they disconnect. I think it’s safe to say both gentlemen could also lend insight on the subject of leadership in tough times.
How will you measure whether you’ve had a successful first year?
As simple as it sounds my measurements will be how many of the items on the laundry list I have marked off and compare that to the number of things I have queued up for the future. To me it is not enough to just do what was presented to me, but to accomplish that and more.
Finally, and most importantly, what book are you reading?
Your Heart Belongs to Me by Dean Koontz. Make fun if you must, but reading suspense novels is a guilty pleasure.