Our Growing Up in City Hall series has focused on the children of city managers. Today we broaden the feature by focusing on the children of parent’s involved in other local government capacities. We start by featuring Eric Chambers, City of Gresham senior manager and his dad Jim Chambers, long time parks director for Lincoln County. Jim has also served as a volunteer firefighter, budget committee member, and City Councilor in Toledo.
Since 2007, Eric Chambers has served as a senior manager at the City of Gresham, Oregon. His prior work experience was as a District Staffer, US Congressman Earl Blumenauer. Eric has an undergraduate degree from the University of Portland and an MPA from Portland State University.
Eric’s dad Jim Chambers is a longtime Lincoln County employee, most recently serving as the Parks Director. Jim retired from Lincoln County in July 2014. Instead of us providing a rambling recollection of Jim’s career we turn to Eric for a touching tribute.
My Dad worked at Lincoln County for more than 40 years, and oversaw a heap of new and improved parks and boat ramps, and leaves the county with one of the nicest county parks systems in Oregon. He also spent years on roads and bridges and countless nights, weekends, and holidays clearing roads from storms and slides so people could get to work. I couldn’t be prouder of his legacy and hope I can have even a sliver of the impact in my career that he has had in his.
Well said, Eric! Each of us should strive to have a similar impact in our organizations.
Q & A with Eric
What was it like growing up with a parent who worked in local government?
Both of my parents are public servants in Oregon. My mom works for the school district, and my Dad worked for the Lincoln County Public Works Department for over 40 years (before retiring earlier this month). He started there first as summer help during college, and eventually served as both the Road Maintenance Superintendent and eventually finished as the Parks Director, which was his passion.
Growing up, policy and public service and government were just a way of life for us, the same way I assume farming and ranching are for kids who grow up in agrarian families. Honestly, I loved growing up in that environment. It felt like our family had a purpose, and I liked that, which I imagine was the impetus for my own public service career.
Anything I could have done without? Well, Dad’s work on the road department side of things meant that he was often out on the roads until the wee hours of the morning and/or on holidays, clearing slides, directing the crew during severe weather, or plowing snow. On the other hand, I never questioned my Dad’s work ethic, and I grew up being really proud of how hard he worked and the service he was providing.
Did you move around a lot growing up? If so, what was that like?
The wonderful thing about Dad’s 40+ year legacy at Lincoln County was that we never had to move. I loved growing up down there, and still love the area.
How did having a parent in local government influence your career choice? Was there pressure to follow in their footsteps? When did you become interested in pursuing this career path?
My parents didn’t pressure me in any particular direction, but public service was so ubiquitous in their household that it was probably a forgone conclusion. My sister is an elementary teacher, so we both ended up going into public service. In addition to his work at the County, Dad was also a volunteer firefighter, budget committee member, and City Councilor in Toledo for a number of years, and also served a term as Mayor, so I grew up hearing him talk a lot about city government as well, and how much opportunity there was to improve the quality of life in a community. I think that is really when I became acquainted enough with local government to know that it interested me.
Did you learn any lessons from their career or experience? If so, what are they?
Dad worked tremendously hard and put in a lot of hours, but he almost never complained about it, and focused a lot on the value of what he was doing. That was fundamentally important to me, because I learned that when you really care about what you are doing, the whole “work/life-balance” thing just sort of takes care of itself. His life’s work was his labor, and he gave it everything, and we were also part of that.
As a result, we too take pride in his legacy and all that he accomplished. Dad oversaw the expansion and renovation of nearly every park and boat launch in Lincoln County, and added a bunch of new parks and boat launches to their portfolio. They have an awesome network of parks, trails, and boat launches now, and that is something that he can tangibly point to and say that it was worth it. Between his long hours at the County and his volunteer work, it seems like I would have never seen him growing up, but it wasn’t like that at all. I think that is really cool, and I want my work in public service to [eventually] look something like that as well.
Has your career path been different than your parent’s? How so?
I’m not a public works or parks guy, so in that way, yes it has been a bit different. At the end of the day, I think all local government service is similar, in that we are meeting people at their most direct points of service needs, and trying to make things better.
Do you have a professional relationship with your parent? Do you exchange work related advice?
Dad and I are avid recreational salmon fishermen during the fall, so naturally I made sure over the years that he heard my public input on where I thought the new or improved boat launches should go, not that my lobbying was ever particularly effective! Other than that, Dad and I talk often about work stuff, and he has always given good, measured advice. He’s dealt with everything you would imagine, from irate customers to HR nightmares, and always remained net-positive, and focused on the service.
What does your parent think of you following in their footsteps? Did they think it was a terrible idea or were they supportive?
I don’t know that I’ve ever really discussed it with them, but I think both of my parents are proud that their kids decided to go into public service.
Would you encourage your children to pursue a career in local government?
It’s tempting to say no, given how tough things seem now, and how critical the public has grown about the services they collectively own – though I think they tend to be more positive about the value they get from local government.
Mark Hatfield told me once in graduate school that people should go into business first and make money before they pursue public service so that they have more financial flexibility and freedom. Ultimately, we only get so many good years in life, where our impact and labor and passion can be worthwhile to whatever enterprise we pursue. I can’t imagine how spending those years in public service could ever fail to be worthwhile. I’ll do my best to open as many avenues as possible for my kids, and, ultimately, I’ll be happy with anything they pursue, as long as they feel like it is valuable.