Fifty Nifty Takeaways
What do we hope to learn from this series? We hope you will gain a better understanding of the unique characteristics of local government in each state, we hope you will learn that there are others like you who are motivated to make a difference through the public sector, and we hope you will learn that it is best to learn from other’s mistakes than yours.
Our Take on Illinois
The 50 Nifty is back in Illinois to support the launching of Midwest ELGL. This time Northern Illinois graduate and current Clarendon Village manager Randy Recklaus walks us through his career in the Midwest and provides a number of recommendations for succeeding in today’s local government. If Randy’s education at Northern Illinois sounds familiar, it might be from our 2012 ” On Campus with Northern Illinois University MPA Program.” Ben McCready, Midwest ELGL leader, is another graduate of the NIU MPA program. NIU may be on your radar, if you are not as “wonky” as we are, from the NIU football team’s appearance in the 2013 Orange Bowl.
But we digress and move on to Illinois and a quick name association game with Illinois which yielded: Bartman, “Vote Early and Often”, Devil in the White City, Michael Jordan, Chicago (the band), Oprah, and the Chicago Carnage (ok, maybe not the last one).
We start at the top when we look at Illinois’ impact on local, state, and federal government. Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan and Ulysses S. Grant each have roots in the Illinois. Ronald Reagan, really? Yes, Ronald Reagan started his political career in California but is the only U.S President born and raised in Illinois.
While it’s nice to have a four presidents with roots to your state, Illinois also carries a nefarious reputation for political scandals. To refresh your memory, Blago, Jesse Jackson Jr., and George Ryan each stem from Illinois and will not be found on a state Chamber of Commerce brochure anytime soon.
If you love local government Illinois is the state for you. Illinois has more units of local government than any other state—over 8,000 in all. The basic subdivision of Illinois is like almost every other state, the county, and Illinois has 102 of these. About half of these counties, in turn, are divided into townships, which is much the same as many other Midwestern states. Finally, Illinois has a number of cities, villages, and towns commensurate with a state of its size. But these make up only about a quarter of the governmental units. Single-purpose governmental entities make up the rest.
With so many local governments, it’s inevitable that a number of unique/strange/odd laws exist. Here are our favorites:
- Chicago: It’s illegal to serve liquor to the feeble-minded.
- Eureka: A man with a mustache may not kiss a woman.
- Evanston: Bowling is forbidden.
- Normal: It is against the law to make faces at dogs.
- Springfield: “Dwarf-tossing,” is outlawed in bars.
- Zion: It is illegal for anyone to give lighted cigars to dogs, cats, or any other domesticated animals.
Village of Clarendon Hills, Village Manager
Education: Northern Illinois University, Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Political Science and Government and Northern Illinois University, Master of Public Administration (MPA), Urban Management
Background on Randy
Randy Recklaus was appointed village manager for Clarendon Hills in January 2011. Prior to Clarendon Hills, Recklaus served as the Assistant City Administrator for the city of Batavia from 2000 to 2011. While in Batavia, Recklaus oversaw the Human Resources Department and worked closely with staff on union negotiations and difficult financial decisions over the past several years. Recklaus served as the project manager for the city’s financial sustainability project, studying all revenues, expenditures and city operations, resulting in a savings of $1 million annually. He also directed the city’s economic development function, negotiating several agreements for successful mixed-use and commercial projects in downtown Batavia.
Background on Clarendon Hills
The Village of Clarendon Hills is a well-established, affluent west suburban Chicago community located in eastern DuPage County, just west of I-294 and Route 83 and just south of I-88 and Ogden Avenue. Originally planned in the 1870s and later incorporated in 1924, the Village is home to approximately 8,500 people and more than 80 businesses. In 2012, the Village was named the second-best place to live in the Chicago area by West Suburban Living. The Village offers a high quality of life for residents, including a low crime rate, top-rated schools, high average home values and vibrant downtown served by its Metra commuter rail station.
Notables from Clarendon Hills
- Stanley D. Jaworski, author and noted Polish prisoner of war in World War II liberated by American soldiers
- Bill Laimbeer, Former Basketball Center with the back-to-back 1989-1990 NBA Champion Detroit Pistons, current GM/Head Coach of the New York Liberty
Best piece of advice from your parents. From my father: “Sometimes you make your own luck.”
In a dream world, which bands would headline your retirement party?
Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, and Elvis (you said this was a Dream World)
(Complete the sentence) Before I die I want to…….…..feel like I’ve made a difference
Three most influential books in your life.
- Dune by Frank Herbert
- Boss by Mike Royko
- Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
For me, all three are about leadership and how leadership style impacts the both the lives of those being lead and the ultimate fates of the leaders themselves. I find myself thinking of the central characters in those books often.
If you could FaceTime with five people (dead or alive and not including family members), who would be on the list?
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Albert Einstein
- Julius Caesar
- William Shakespeare
- Thomas Jefferson
Describe the inside of your car. Generally much cleaner than it was in my 20’s, unless my kids were recently in it.
What’s the meaning of life? Find happiness that you can sustain, and that you can share
Q & A with Randy
Give us three bullet points that best describe local government in your state.
- Numerous – most in the nation
- Diverse – both in terms of function, and culture (often a result of the diversity of Illinois’ people)
- More functional than most people realize.
We’ll assume you didn’t grow up dreaming about a career in local government. What was your dream job as a 12-year old? What was your first local government job? How did you end up in local government?
I have always been interested in a career in government service. However, I wanted to be a career Naval Officer for much of my youth and even into young adulthood. I literally fell into local government when I was asked to finish the term of a resigning County Board Member when I was still a college student. That was my first local government position. For the most part, ever since then I’ve felt like local government is where I belong.
Give us your top three career accomplishments.
When I started in Clarendon Hills, IL as Village Manager, I was coming off an 11 year period as the Assistant City Administrator of Batavia, IL. I was leaving on very good terms and was anxious to see if I could have as good of an experience with another organization. However, a number of unforeseen challenges arose in Clarendon Hills at the beginning of my tenure. An investigation discovered theft had occurred in the Police Department evidence room, there were a couple of planned and unplanned departures of long term department directors, and a major storm hit the community, causing significant damage, all within the few first months. However, I am very proud to say that the organization was up for the challenges in every case, and I was able to weather my “trial by fire” period well. Making it through that period has given me a lot more confidence.
Secondly, I am very proud of the work the City of Batavia did in response to the great recession, and the role I was able to play. In the immediate aftermath of the downturn, the City had to conduct layoffs. However, things were not getting better and significant cuts were still required to balance the budget. My boss asked me to start a project called the Financial Sustainability Project, which aimed to look for ways to reduce costs without layoffs. Over a one year period, we were able to cut $2 Million from the annual budget, through some voluntary incentivized retirements, and convincing members of each of our 6 labor unions to agree to pay and benefit cuts in exchange for a promise of no layoffs for the duration of their contract. It was a great example of what an organization can do when everyone works together on a problem.
Lastly, I have been very fortunate to work under some supervisors who encouraged risk taking and out of the box thinking. When working in Batavia, the City wanted to explore the siting of a waste transfer station in one of our industrial parks. We knew this was going to be a very difficult proposition from a public opinion perspective. I was asked to lead up the public input portion of the project. There were a number of opponents of the project from the get go. Rather than try to work around the opposition, we appointed the most vocal critics of the project to an advisory committee, asking them “under what conditions would a waste transfer station be acceptable.” The came up with a number of fairly strict standards. We were able to find an operator that was willing to meet those standards, and offer us a generous revenue sharing agreement. As a result of involving the opposition from the beginning, our public hearings for approval went smoothly. The alternative process we used garnered a lot of attention in the waste industry and I received calls from numerous municipalities, including Atlanta, GA about getting more information about what we had done.
We often learn from our mistakes. Name one or two career mistakes that you have made that you think we could learn from.
When looking for the “next job”, I sometimes wasn’t open minded enough. You can often get good experience from an organization or type of organization you weren’t initially targeting. There was a time that I was being too stubborn with what I was looking for, and that held me back.
Secondly, when working within your community, always be expanding the network of people you know and that give you feedback. There have been times in my career when I was surprised by a hidden undercurrent of public opinion in my community on a given issue. It becomes too easy to fall into the bad habit of relying on a few people in your inner circle to gauge public opinion. When you do that, you often form an incomplete or distorted picture. The more groups and perspectives you can tap into, the better picture you and your organization will have when determining the impacts of a given decision. It can be unpleasant to network with people with whom you normally disagree, but it is far less unpleasant than being blindsided in a public meeting about a major project.
Our experience has been many of our friends, family, and neighbors are not well versed in what it is we do in local government, many think we are a “planner” or “mayor”. Has this been your experience?
This has been my experience as well. Often friends and relatives will ask me, “so when are you going to run for mayor?”
How can local governments better communicate their role in the everyday lives of the community?
This is a tough issue. On the one hand, too much promotion can seem like self- serving propaganda, and undermine the public trust. It also can push the limits of the political neutrality that public administrators must adhere to. I think fear of those negatives is why many in our profession don’t promote the accomplishments and successes of their communities as much as they should. But I truly think this generation of public administrators needs to find a way to promote the value of local government in general, and professional local government in particular more. ICMA’s Life Well Run campaign is a good start.
I think the best way to promote the role of local government is to talk about what you do to people in your own community and in your own life. The greatest strength of our profession is the quality of the individuals who serve. I think if more people saw the type of people who are public administrators, it would challenge their stereotypes of what a government employee looks like, and the value of the services we provide.
Would you encourage your family and friends to consider a career in local government?
Depends on the day. But seriously, I continue to believe it is a noble profession. It takes a special kind of person to stay positive while you are being constantly scrutinized, and seemingly every course of action will result in heavy criticism. It is important work. The stakes are very high and I think our generation of public administrators, can lead the way in regaining the trust of society in our public institutions.
I’d like to think in 30 years we will look back on this period as one where many difficult decisions were made and much good came of it. I am very proud to serve on the front lines of that story. I still would encourage any young person who is looking to lead people and make a difference with that leadership to consider a career in local government. Just because it is hard, does not mean it is not worthwhile.
Hypothetically, if we find ourselves interviewing for a job in front of you, talk about three steps we can take to make a good impression.
- Answer the question being asked, don’t try to list your resume with every answer. The interviewer has already read it. Generally interviewers are trying to get at how you think, not what you’ve done.
- Secondly, don’t complain about your current situation. Every boss, or organization can go through hard times, including the one you’re interviewing with. You don’t want to come off as someone who can’t handle challenges.
- Lastly, and I know this is cliché, be yourself. Sincerity can’t be faked, and finding someone that can be trusted is always the most important goal of a search.
Mentoring is such an important part of local government. Name three of your mentors.
There have been many, but I will name two.
The former City Administrator of St. Charles has been the biggest influence in my professional life. While I worked for him, he had a very firm, yet calming way about him that I’ve always tried to emulate. He never had to raise his voice, but he was so well respected by his staff, everyone was terrified of disappointing him.
My cross country coach from high school, also had a huge impact on me. He was the most positive person I have ever met. I don’t know anyone who has ever seen him in a bad mood. I was a pretty shy and uncomfortable soul in high school, but when Coach Kupisch told you he believed in you, you had no choice but to believe in yourself. For me, it never wore off.
(Complete the sentence) In 2018, local government will be …………
As it is today, for better or for worse, a reflection of the society it serves. Given the current political climate, I think local government will probably find interesting ways to become more responsive to residents’ immediate needs and wants over the next 5 years, probably with the use of technology. However, I think those advances may come at the cost of lost organizational efficiency. But it seems like the pendulum in local government is always swinging between greater efficiency and greater responsiveness.
What question(s) should we have asked you?
I had a great answer to “What would your death row meal have been?”
- Batavia assistant administrator heads to Clarendon Hills
- Clarendon Hills weighs proposed $12.7 million spending plan
- Police Merger: Social Security Benefits ‘Big Hurdle’
- Clarendon Hills likely to consider beekeeping ordinance
- Village Hosts Second Home Rule Informational Meeting
- Village of Clarendon Hills Manager’s Report – E-Gov Link
50 Nifty Project Profiles
- NC: Mitchell Silver, City of Raleigh and American Planning Association
- IL: Patrick Rollens, Village of Oak Park, Social Media and Communications
- KY: Laura Milam Ross, Kentucky League of Cities
- AZ: Gabriel L. Engeland, Town of Gilbert, Assistant to the Town Manager
- SD: Sean Pederson, City of Canton, City Manager
- MI: Clay Pearson, City of Novi, City Manager
- WA/UT: Jon Amundson, City of Richland, WA and City of Orem, UT
- CA, FL, OR: Douglas Ayres, Former City Manager of Inglewood (CA), Melbourne (FL), and Salem (OR)
- California: Brian Angus, Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission, Chief Executive Officer
- Washington/California: Julie Underwood, Shoreline City Manager
- New York: Jay Gsell, Genesee County, County Manager
- Arkansas: Jeff Dingman, Fort Smith Deputy City Administrator
- Connecticut: Roger Kemp, Former City Manager and Current President, Kemp Consulting
- Iowa: Geoff Fruin, City of Iowa City, Assistant to the City Manager
- Washington: Doug Schulze, Bainbridge Island City Manager and WCMA President
- Utah: Rick Davis, West Jordan City Manager
- South Carolina: Katherine Hendricks, City of Pickens
- Colorado: Tim Gagen, Breckenridge Town Manager