Welcome to week #7 of the Cookingham Connection. Today, we hear from Allen Barnes, the city manager of Gonzales, Texas. Mr. Barnes had been city manager in Sachse, a suburb of Dallas, from 2007-11, and was city manager at Liberty from 2002-07. He has a Master of Public Affairs degree. Barnes and his wife, Brenda, have been married 23 years. They have five children and 10 grandchildren.
“Don’t let any problems frighten you, for there is a logical solution to each one you have to face. If they seem too tough for today let them go until tomorrow whenever possible, for then they will seem simpler. The problems that concern you today may be completely forgotten in a week or two.”
The old dirge “Nobody knows the troubles I seen. Nobody knows my sorrows.” comes to mind when discussing Guidepost 7. City Management is fraught with problems that are unique to our chosen field and as practitioners we need to understand the problems we face are transitory, they will be solved one way or another. We must accept the problems and face them head on.
We would not be in this business if we were not problem solvers. As a problem solver, it is often difficult to determine what the impact of a problem is going to be. At first a problem may seem little more than an annoyance but if left alone it will blossom to a seminal point in one’s career. Other times a problem may seem like the end of the world and it turns out to be nothing.
If fear enters into the problem solving equation, the resolution of the problem is often flawed. As most City Managers and City Staff recognize the utmost importance should be placed on developing a solution that is in the best interest of the communities we serve. I tend to try to not let my emotions become involved in my business decisions. This is easy to say but often it is not easy to do. When I find that I have let my emotions enter into one of my decisions, I normally back away from the situation and spend time thinking about whether or not my solution is truly the right thing to do.
In many situations fear can be a selfish emotion, and one that is difficult to overcome. The decisions we make every day can impact our family, our career, our standing in our community, and our own well-being. When faced with a problem we believe tends to encroach into these areas, we often cannot help but to become frightened. When you establish a reputation for doing the right thing in all cases, without fail, without falter, and without compromise, you tend to reduce the number of problems that frighten us.
Sometimes we must step away from our problems to find that logical solutions. There are a relatively few number of problems that present themselves that cannot be put off. I’m not saying avoid the problem and it will go away. The majority of problems we face as public officials can be delayed while we search for a solution. Once we work through the visceral reaction to the problem we can look at it with a fresh assessment of the situation.
There are those rare occasions where the logical solution to problems is just beyond our grasp. I personally use two primary sources to find strength to develop the solution. The first is my faith and the second is my professional network.
My faith gives me the strength and perseverance to pursue the solution to my problems. I try to hand my problem to God and ask for His solution. Often in my daily quiet time a potential solution will occur to me that is often so simple it is hard to grasp. Most of us have a place where we find peace and tranquility whether that is with our faith, family, or some physical location.
The development of a professional network of colleagues you can count on is absolutely essential. Simply discussing the problem with an empathic ear can lead you to the solution on your own. If talking about it does not lead you to the solution, someone in your network has most likely dealt with the problem you are facing or at least they may give you some insight into a potential solution.
I believe there are a couple of reasons why problems seem to be forgotten so quickly after we find the solution. First when we find a solution the problem is no longer omnipresent in our minds and we tend to file it away and address other issues. Secondly our lives are so fast paced today that we don’t have time to dwell on the problems of yesterday because we have new situations that demand our attention. There is a third reason the problems are forgotten. We did the right thing, found the correct solution to the problem and resolved it in the best way possible.