I Have to Ask You: My Other Local Government Job

Posted on October 16, 2017

In this series, guest columnists respond to one of three topics selected by ELGL co-founder Kent Wyatt. This week, Matt Yager, City of Plano, TX, discusses other jobs than his current one.

By Matt Yager, LinkedIn and Twitter

The best part of watching James Lipton interview actors and other entertainers on Inside the Actor’s Studio for me is always the last segment, where guests answer the same set of ten questions and then field questions from the students in the audience.

These questions are great warm-up or wind-down questions if you ever interview someone, providing a great window into personalities and values.  The next to last two questions – “What profession other than your own would like to attempt/not like to do?” came roaring back to mind when Kent asked what other job I’d take and why as part of the three options for this week’s “I Have to Ask You” – and since ELGL provides wide editorial latitude, I have three in mind for both jobs I’d love to try.

  1. Librarian –  My first and strongest contact with local government growing up where San Antonio’s branch libraries my family would visit every weekend and even more frequently during summer breaks.  Between browsing the collections, joining in the programming and looking at the display cases (Star Trek memorabilia was my favorite), you could say these places left me strong memories of learning and belonging.  Today I keep the tradition alive with my own daughters, and as libraries have shifted from being buildings that house collections to places that build communities, it’s something I’d love to play a greater role in.  There are a number of ways libraries are expanding their reach, be it as a place to hold meaningful community dialog and deliberation, a location where tools and know-how for MakerSpaces are accessible to everyone or a calm space for students of all ages to meet, study and learn. When I think of librarians, it’s their willingness to help patrons on a human level that sticks out – and that’s something I’ve tried to emulate in my current role in the Budget Office.
  2. Maintenance Worker – These jobs are often overlooked, but are among the most critical to making sure the work of local government gets done.  When Clay Pearson and Nick Woolery spoke about their Hurricane Harvey experiences at Dallas PopUp, they made sure to highlight the contributions from Public Works employees as first responders when their cities experienced flooding and needed debris cleared.

    For me the attraction to maintenance work probably stems from a desire to get away from the desk, enjoying Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe and the deep sense of satisfaction I get after doing yardwork or low grade home improvement projects.   While I recognize working outdoors can be overly romanticized – who wants to labor in the heat of summer or in the depths of winter – over the long term it’s ultimately healthier than sitting down for hours on end.  There’s  also a desire to get better at many of tasks that fall to maintenance workers in my own life – whether it be installing a light fixture, clearing a flower bed or replacing a sprinkler head.

    The final thing that appeals to me about maintenance work is that most tasks have finality to them – it’s clear right away that a job has been done and done well, while in most of my current budget work, the adjustments and corrections seem endless.

  3. GIS Technician – Like many other ELGL members, I enjoy studying maps and creative ways of displaying data, which makes working with GIS the last job I’d like to try.  Local government in inherently tied to geography – few people working outside of City Hall have a clear understanding of where the city limit lie and why that’s important – and GIS is another in the long list of skills I’d like to acquire.  The ability to better look at how data is distributed across an area, examine what-if questions and illustrate different approaches both builds on what I get to do as a budget analyst and helps to better understand the consequences of decisions.

    GIS also helps to communicate information in a clear, concise format that is accessible to both professionals and casual observers – which builds trust and helps to elevate discourse from conjecture to evidence.  Lastly, I see GIS as an opportunity to exercise the creative side of my brain and produce something that looks sharp and catches the eye.

If you ask me to answer the same question next week I’ll probably have different answers, which just illustrates why local government is so interesting and a good field to work in.


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